By Eric Elezuo
If the great ‘Zik’ had lived, he would have been 114 years today (November 16). But he lived only but 91 years old when he died on May 11, 1996. His achievements speak volumes on his behalf, having as well as carved more than a niche for himself as a nationalist, politician, journalist, academic as well as family man.
Popularly referred to as Zik by his many admirers, Azikiwe was born in Zungeru, in present day Niger State, Nigeria in 1904 and was the first president of the independent Nigeria. After his education both in Nigeria and outside the country, Azikiwe went to Ghana, then called Gold Coast and established a nationalist newspaper. He was also a mentor to Kwame Nkrumah who later became the first president of Ghana. His quest for education created in him the infamous stowaway status when he hid in a ship, hoping to travel to England. He was however, discovered in Ghana where he was offloaded.
On his return to Nigeria, Azikiwe romanced journalism and politics, displaying a high level of dexterity and professionalism with the Nigerian Youth Movement and as founder of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons, which later metamorphosed into the National Council of Nigerian Citizens.
Azikiwe in his lifetime displayed an undying love for truth and justice. He was Chancellor of the University of Nigeria at Nsukka from 1961 to 1966. Some of his writings include Renascent Africa (1937) and an autobiography, My Odyssey (1970).
His birth in the northern part of Nigeria, gave him the advantage of speaking the Hausa Language (the main indigenous language of the Northern Region). Azikiwe was later sent to live with his aunt and grandmother in Onitsha (his parental homeland), where he learned the Igbo language. A stay in Lagos exposed him to the Yoruba language; by the time he was in college, he had been exposed to different Nigerian cultures and spoke three languages (an asset as president).
Azikiwe traveled to the United States and attended Storer College, Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania and Howard University before returning to Africa in 1934, where he began work as a journalist in the Gold Coast. In British West Africa, he advocated Nigerian and African nationalism as a journalist and a political leader.
As the founding editor of the African Morning Post (a new daily newspaper in Accra, Ghana), he was given a free hand to run the newspaper. He also wrote a column with the title “The Inside Stuff by Zik”, where he preached radical nationalism and black pride which raised some alarm in colonial circles. He promoted a pro-African nationalist agenda and also criticized 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.”
Azikiwe returned to Lagos in 1937 and founded the West African Pilot, a newspaper which he used to promote nationalism in Nigeria. In addition to the Pilot, his Zik Group established newspapers in politically- and economically-important cities throughout the country.
Azikiwe’s political career picked up when he became active in the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), the country’s first nationalist organization.
He entered politics, co-founding the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) with Herbert Macaulay in 1944, and becoming the council’s secretary-general in 1946.
His militancy in advocating self rule for Nigeria pitched in the frontline after the country won her independence from Britain in 1960, making him Nigeria’s first Governor-general, and later the first president when the country became a republic in 1963.
Zik’s effort to forge a united Nigeria even as the civil war raged was obvious. He had initially supported the Biafran movement but later retraced his steps calling for ‘one Nigeria’.
With to the return of civil rule in 1979, he co-founded the Nigeria People’s Party, one of the five political parties registered during the period. Zik’s political activities ended with the military coup of December 1983.
He died on May 11, 1996 at the age of 91, and was buried in his home town, Onitsha.
Zik of Africa s remembered today as a detribalised Nigerian, and for his many radicalised propositions which put Nigeria in the map of relevance, leading to the actualisation of self rule