You are currently viewing Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe: Origins, Education, and Politics

Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe: Origins, Education, and Politics

The Zik of Nigeria and Africa

“DR Nnamdi Azikiwe who is nicknamed the Zik of Africa is considered a driving force behind Nigeria’s independence, he came to be known as the “father of Nigerian Nationalism”.

Tuesday, November 16, has been officialized as a public holiday in Nigeria, in honour of  Nigeria’s first president, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, for his immense contribution to Nigeria. Nigeria was granted independence on October 1, 1960. With the independence, a new constitution established a federal system with an elected prime minister and a ceremonial head of state.

The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) as headed by Azikiwe (who had taken control after Macaulay’s death in 1946), formed a coalition with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s Northern People’s Congress (NPC) after neither party won a majority in the 1959 elections. Balewa continued to serve as the prime minister, a position he had held since 1957, while Azikiwe took the largely ceremonial position of president of the Senate. 

Following a UN-supervised referendum, the northern part of the Trust Territory of the Cameroons joined the Northern region in June 1961, while in October the Southern Cameroons united with Cameroun to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. On October 1, 1963, Nigeria became a republic. Azikiwe became president of the country, although as prime minister Balewa was still more powerful.

Roots of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe

The great Azikiwe was born on 16 November 1904 in Zungeru, Northern Nigeria. His first name means “my father is alive” in the Igbo language, and his parents were Igbo. His father, Obed-Edom Chukwuemeka Azikiwe,  (1879–3 March 1958), a native Onye Onicha, was a clerk in the British Administration of Nigeria who traveled extensively as part of his job.

Azikiwe’s mother was Rachel Chinwe Ogbenyeanu (Aghadiuno) Azikiwe (1883-January 1958), who was sometimes called Nwanonaku and was the third daughter of Aghadiuno Ajie. Her family descended from a royal family in Onitsha, and her paternal great-grandfather was Obi (Ugogwu) Anazenwu. Azikiwe had one sibling, a sister named Cecilia Eziamaka Arinze.

As a young boy Azikiwe spoke Hausa, the regional language. His father, concerned about his son’s fluency in Hausa and not Igbo, sent him to Onitsha in 1912 to live with his paternal grandmother and aunt to learn the Igbo language and culture. In Onitsha, Azikiwe attended Holy Trinity School (a Roman Catholic mission school) and Christ Church School (an Anglican primary school).

In 1914, while his father was working in Lagos, Azikiwe was bitten by a dog; this prompted his worried father to ask him to come to Lagos to heal and to attend school in the city.[18] His father was sent to Kaduna two years later, and Azikiwe briefly lived with a relative who was married to a Muslim from Sierra Leone. 

In 1918, he was back in Onitsha and finished his elementary education at CMS Central School. Azikiwe then worked at the school as a student-teacher, supporting his mother with his earnings. In 1920, his father was posted back to southern Nigeria in the southeastern city of Calabar. Azikiwe joined his father in Calabar, beginning secondary school at the Hope Waddell Training College. He was introduced to the teachings of Marcus Garvey, Garveyism, which became an important part of his nationalistic rhetoric.

Dr. Azikiwe’s Early Education

After attending Hope Waddell, Azikiwe was transferred to Methodist Boys’ High School in Lagos and befriended classmates from old Lagos families such as George Shyngle, Francis Cole and Ade Williams (a son of the Akarigbo of Remo). These connections were later beneficial to his political career in Lagos.

Azikiwe heard a lecture by James Aggrey, an educator who believed that Africans should receive a college education abroad and return to effect change. After the lecture, Aggrey gave the young Azikiwe a list of schools accepting black students in America. After completing his secondary education, Azikiwe applied to the colonial service and was accepted as a clerk in the’ treasury department. His time in the colonial service exposed him to racial bias in the colonial government. 

Azikiwe’s University Experience

Determined to travel abroad for further education, Azikiwe applied to universities in the U.S. He was admitted by Storer College, contingent on his finding a way to America. To reach America, he contacted a seaman and made a deal with him to become a stowaway. However, one of his friends on the ship became ill and they were advised to disembark in Sekondi. In Ghana, Azikiwe worked as a police officer; his mother visited, and asked him to return to Nigeria. He returned, and his father was willing to sponsor his trip to America.

Azikiwe attended Storer College’s two-year preparatory school in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. To fund his living expenses and tuition, he worked a number of menial jobs before enrolling in Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1927 to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. In 1929, he transferred from Howard University to Lincoln University to complete his undergraduate studies and graduated in 1930 with a BA in Political Science.Azikwe took courses with Alain Locke. Azikiwe was a member of Phi Beta Sigma. 

He then enrolled at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and in the University of Pennsylvania simultaneously in 1930, receiving a master’s degree in religion from Lincoln University and a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1932. 

Azikiwe became a graduate-student instructor in the history and political-science departments at Lincoln University, where he created a course in African history. He was a candidate for a doctoral degree at Columbia University before returning to Nigeria in 1934. Azikiwe’s doctoral research focused on Liberia in world politics, and his research paper was published by A. H. Stockwell in 1934. During his time in America, he was a columnist for the Baltimore Afro-American, Philadelphia Tribune and the Associated Negro Press. Azikiwe was influenced by the ideals of the African-American press, Garveyism and pan-Africanism.

Nnamdi Azikiwe and His Journey Into Politics

Azikiwe became active in the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), the country’s first nationalist organization. Although he supported Samuel Akisanya as the NYM candidate for a vacant seat in the Legislative Council in 1941, the NYM executive council selected Ernest Ikoli.

Azikiwe resigned from the NYM, accusing the majority Yoruba leadership of discriminating against the Ijebu-Yoruba members and Ibos. Some Ijebu members followed him, splitting the movement along ethnic lines.  He entered politics, co-founding the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) with Herbert Macaulay in 1944. Azikiwe became the council’s secretary-general in 1946.

Conclusion

No doubt the man Azikiwe has achieved a lot courtesy of his great role in the NIGERIAN and indeed Africa dream. He was inducted into the Agbalanze society of Onitsha as Nnanyelugo in 1946, a recognition for Onitsha men with significant accomplishments. In 1962, he became a second-rank red cap chieftain (Ndichie Okwa) as the Oziziani Obi. Chief Azikiwe was installed as the Owelle-Osowa-Anya of Onitsha in 1972, making him a first-rank hereditary red cap nobleman (Ndichie Ume) in the Igbo branch of the Nigerian chieftaincy system.

He established the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1960, and Queen Elizabeth II appointed him to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.[90] He was made Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), Nigeria’s highest national honour, in 1980.

From Nigeria Blog Series

Halima Sani Labaran

Halima was born on the 16th of December, 1980. She is a historian, art enthusiast and an ardent fan of islamic books and historical works. She currently teaches at the department of history of the Gombe State University.