Considered a driving force behind the nation’s independence, and a man who came to be known as one of the “fathers of Nigerian Nationalism”. Nnamdi Azikiwe, was born on the 16th of November 1904 to the Azikiwes. His first name means “my father is alive” in the Igbo language.
Though born to Igbo parents, his place of birth was Zungeru in present-day Niger State, where he learnt how to speak Hausa (one of Nigeria’s three main languages). He later relocated to Onitsha because his father was concerned about his fluency in Hausa rather than his native Igbo. This relocation enabled him to enhance his Igbo speaking ability. Later on, his father decided he moved to study in the college at Lagos; this afforded him the opportunity to learn the Yoruba language. Simply put, the man was a true representation of the ‘WAZOBIA’ Concept.
Early life and Education
In Onitsha, Azikiwe attended Holy Trinity School (a Roman Catholic mission school) and Christ Church School (an Anglican primary school). He finished his elementary education at CMS Central School. Azikiwe then worked at the school as a student-teacher until he began secondary school at the Hope Waddell Training College. It was there that He got introduced to the teachings of Marcus Garvey, Garveyism, which became an important part of his nationalistic rhetoric.
After attending Hope Waddell, Azikiwe 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 Akarigbo 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. 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, Ghana. In Ghana, Azikiwe worked as a police officer. Later, 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, a two-year preparatory school in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. To fund his living expenses and tuition, he competed in athletics and on cross-country teams before transferring to Howard University in Washington, D.C. Azikiwe was a member of Phi Beta Sigma. He then enrolled at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1930, receiving a master’s degree in religion in 1932. In 1934, he received a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania. 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.
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. Azikiwe became governor-general on 16 November 1960, with Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as prime minister, and became the first Nigerian named to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. When Nigeria became a republic in 1963, he was its first president. In both posts, Azikiwe’s role was largely ceremonial.
Some of the Places named after Azikiwe include:
- Azikiwe-Nkrumah Hall, the oldest building on the Lincoln University campus
- Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja
- Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu
- Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, Anambra State
- Nnamdi Azikiwe Library at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka
- Nnamdi Azikiwe Press Centre, Dodan Barracks, Obalende, Ikoyi, Lagos
- Azikiwe Avenue in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
- CRDB Azikiwe Branch in Dar es Salaam
Achievements and Other Notable Facts
- Azikiwe 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. Azikiwe was installed as the Owelle-Osowa-Anya of Onitsha in 1972, making him a first-rank hereditary red cap nobleman (Ndichie Ume).
- He established the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1960, and Queen Elizabeth II appointed him to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. He was made Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), Nigeria’s highest national honour, in 1980.
- Azikiwe competed in boxing, athletics, swimming, football and tennis.
- He was the great-uncle of footballer Jeffrey Sarpong. He was a fan of Celtic FC.
- He was chancellor of the University of Lagos from 1972 to 1976. Azikiwe joined the Nigerian People’s Party in 1978, making unsuccessful bids for the presidency in 1979 and 1983.
- His picture appears on Nigeria’s ₦500 banknote.
Azikiwe died on 11 May 1996 at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu after a long illness and was buried in his native Onitsha.
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