Born of Igbo parents on November 16, 1904, in Zungeru, Nigeria, soothsayers had foretold a great future for Nnamdi Azikiwe. In a traditional African society where the gods saw all and knew all, one fortuneteller named the new babe Ibrahim after a local ruler who stoutly resisted British colonialism in northern Nigeria. Indeed, by his death in May 1996, the "Great Zik of Africa" had left an enviable legacy of accomplishments.
Early in life, Azikiwe clearly understood the importance of Western education in the neocolonial world order. His formal education began at the mission schools in Nitsha in 1912. Afterward, he attended the Wesleyan Boys High School in Lagos, and later transferred to the Hope Waddell Training Institute in Calabar. With this education, Azikiwe acquired proficiency in Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, and Efik languages, while also being attuned to their various indigenous cultures and customs. In 1925 Azikiwe traveled to the United States in search of an American education. By 1931, Azikiwe had earned degrees in journalism, law, political science, and anthropology from different American institutions. American education exposed Azikiwe to the thoughts of black intellectuals like Marcus Garvey (1887–1940), W. E. B. DuBois (1868–1963), and James Emmanuel Aggrey (1875–1927). Prolific in words and writing, Azikiwe authored many articles that were published in scholarly journals. His essays addressed the African experiences with European colonialism and the hope for a renascent Africa. Overall, Azikiwe published over fifty-six books, articles, poems, and monographs, including Liberia in World Politics (1934), Renascent Africa (1937), and his autobiography, My Odyssey (1970).
After he left the United States in 1934, Azikiwe spent three years on the Gold Coast editing the African Morning Post, 1937, Azikiwe established a group of newspapers based in Nigeria, dedicated to the nationalist struggle. That same year he joined the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) and acquainted himself with Sir Herbert Macaulay (1864–1946), the father of Nigerian nationalism. Their friendship blossomed while creating the National Council for Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) in 1944, to accelerate the political development of the country. While Macaulay served as council president, Azikiwe was the secretary general.
In 1945, when the leader of labor, Michael Imoudu (b. 1902), called for a general strike, Azikiwe quickly mobilized his NCNC and chain of newspapers—the West African Pilot, The Eastern Nigerian Guardian, the Daily Comet, The Nigerian Spokesman and the Southern Nigerian Defender—to make the strike a stunning success. For his role, the colonial authorities hated Azikiwe, and there were rumors about an assassination plan as his popularity rose dramatically among the working class. The tragic demise of Macaulay during a nationwide tour organized in protest to the Richards Constitution of 1945—which was packaged without input from Nigerians—left Azikiwe as the undisputed inheritor of national politics.
Azikiwe's charisma and ideas inspired many youths who came together to form the "Zikist Movement." At the same time, his stature and political rhetoric provoked fear and envy among his peers. This would result in a far-reaching political realignment in the early 1950s that polarized Nigerian politics into three major ethnic-based political parties—the Action Group (AG) in the West, the Northern People Congress (NPC) and the NCNC in the East. This formation determined the course of Nigeria's postcolonial politics. On the eve of Nigeria's independence in October 1960, Azikiwe's NCNC forged a coalition with the victorious party, the NPC. This move guaranteed his appointment as senate leader. In 1963, Azikiwe became the first indigenous governor-general of the country.
On January 15, 1966, Nigeria took a rapid plunge into military coups, anarchy, and a civil war that lasted from 1967 to 1970. Nigeria was ruled by various military regimes until 1979 when the Second Republic elections were held. Twice, Azikiwe unsuccessfully vied for the presidency under his new political party, the Nigerian People's Party. In 1983 Azikiwe announced his retirement from active politics. He died on May 11, 1996.
see also Nationalism, Africa.
Azikiwe, Nnamdi. Economic Reconstruction of Nigeria. London: African Books, 1943.
Azikiwe, Nnamdi. Liberia in World Politics. Westport, CT: Negro Universities Press, 1970.
Azikiwe, Nnamdi. My Odyssey: An Autobiography. New York: Praeger, 1970.
Igwe, Agbafor. Nnamdi Azikiwe: The Philosopher of Our Time. Enugu, Nigeria: Fourth Dimension Publisher, 1992.
Jones-Quartey, K.A.B. A Life of Azikiwe. Baltimore, MD: Penguin, 1965.
Olisa, Michael S. O. and M. Ikejiani-Clark, eds. Azikiwe and the African Revolution. Onitsha, Nigeria: Africana-FEP, 1989.
Ugowe, C. O. O. Eminent Nigerians of the Twentieth Century. Lagos: Hugo Books, 2000.