Nnamdi Azikiwe

Nnamdi Azikiwe


Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe (November 16, 1904May 11, 1996), usually referred to as Nnamdi Azikiwe, or, informally and popularly, as "Zik", was one of the leading figures of modern Nigerian nationalism and the first President of Nigeria, holding the position throughout the Nigerian First Republic.

Early life

Azikiwe was born on November 16, 1904 in Zungeru, northern Nigeria to Igbo parents. Nnamdi means "My father is alive" in the Igbo language. After studying at the Methodist Boys' High School in Lagos, Azikiwe went to the United States. While there he attended Howard University, Washington DC before enrolling in and graduating from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania in 1930. He obtained a masters degree in 1933 from a prestigious Ivy League institution, the University of Pennsylvania. He worked as an instructor at Lincoln before returning to Africa.

Newspaper career

After teaching at Lincoln, Azikiwe, in November 1934, took the position of editor for the African Morning Post, a daily newspaper in Accra, Ghana. In that position he promoted a pro-African nationalist agenda. Smertin has described his writing there: "In his passionately denunciatory articles and public statements he censured the existing colonial order: the restrictions on the Africans' right to express their opinions, and racial discrimination. He also criticised those Africans who belonged to the 'elite' of colonial society and favoured retaining the existing order, as they regarded it as the basis of their well being. As a result of publishing an article on May 15, 1936 entitled "Has the African A God?" written by I.T. A. Wallace-Johnson he was brought to trial on charges of sedition. Although he was found guilty of the charges and sentenced to six months in prison, he was acquitted on appeal. He returned to Lagos, Nigeria, in 1937 and founded the West African Pilot which he used as a vehicle to foster Nigerian nationalism. He founded the Zik Group of Newspapers, publishing multiple newspapers in cities across the country.

Political career

After a successful journalism enterprise, Azikiwe entered into politics, co-founding the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) alongside Herbert Macaulay in 1944. He became the secretary-general of the National Council in 1946, and was the following year elected to the Legislative Council of Nigeria. In 1951, he became the leader of the Opposition to the government of Obafemi Awolowo in the Western Region's House of Assembly. In 1952, he moved to the Eastern Region, and was elected to the position of Chief Minister, and in 1954 became Premier of Nigeria's Eastern Region. On November 16, 1960, he became the Governor General and on the same day became the first Nigerian named to the Queen's Privy Council. With the proclamation of a republic in 1963, he became the first President of Nigeria, while Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the Prime Minister.

Azikiwe and his civilian colleagues were removed from power in the military coup of January 15, 1966. During the Biafran (1967–1970) war of secession, Azikiwe became a spokesman for the nascent Igbo republic and an adviser to its leader Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. After the war, he served as Chancellor of Lagos University from 1972 to 1976. He joined the Nigerian People's Party in 1978, making unsuccessful bids for the presidency in 1979 and again in 1983. He left politics involuntarily after the military coup on December 31, 1983. He died on May 11, 1996 at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, in Enugu, Enugu State, after a protracted sickness.

His time in politics spanned most of his adult life and he was referred to by admirers as "The Great Zik of Africa". His motto in politics was "talk I listen, you listen I talk".

The writings of Azikiwe spawned a philosophy of African liberation Zikism, which identifies five concepts for Africa's movement towards freedom: spiritual balance, social regeneration, economic determination, mental emancipation, and political resurgence.

Places named after Azikiwe

Places named after Azikiwe include the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu, and the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, Anambra State. His portrait adorns Nigeria's five hundred naira currency note. Several streets and university campus hostels are also named after him including Nnamdi Azikiwe street in Lagos, Zik Avenue in Enugu, Ziks Flat at University of Nigeria, Nsukka and Azikiwe Hall at University of Ibadan, Nigeria.


  • Zik (1961)
  • My Odyssey: An Autobiography (1971) — ISBN 0900966262
  • Renascent Africa (1973) — ISBN 071461744X
  • Liberia in World Politics (1931) — ISBN 0837137748
  • One hundred quotable quotes and poems of the Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (1966) — ISBN 9782736090

Notable quotes

"There is plenty of room at the top because very few people care to travel beyond the average route. And so most of us seem satisfied to remain within the confines of mediocrity" — from My Odyssey, No. 5

Further reading

  • Zikist philosophy
  • Zik of New Africa (1961), by Vincent Ikeotuonye
  • A Life of Azikiwe (1965), by K.A.B. Jones-Quartey



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