Ernest Sessi Ikoli, Nigerian first generation politician and journalist who gained a reputation in the 1920s as a colorful nationalist was born in 1893 at Brass, now part of Rivers State. The foray of this cerebral Ijaw man into newspaper publishing after the First World War would provide the energy and the participation that was needed in the cause of the Nigerian nationalists who having seen the usefulness of the colony to imperial Britain are now more confident.
Ikoli was one of the foundational students of the King’s College when the school was opened in 1909. He was a senior prefect and became later in 1913, assistant instructor in science and mathematics. He resigned this position in 1919 to protest an humiliating act of his British principal, which he, in a letter to the Director of Education, Southern Provinces, suggested to be motivated by racism. Ikoli, having won for himself public accolade for his principle, was invited two months later by Thomas Horatio Jackson to join the Weekly Record, a successful newspaper founded by Thomas’ Father, Jackson, as an editor. Ikoli thus became a player in the bustling post-First World War Nigerian journalism and he also joined the Garveyite movement before going ahead to help found the Nigerian Youth Movement.
Although Ikoli was a fierce nationalist, he believed his sentiments must not dissipate useful energy and he preferred collaboration even between ideologically different political groups. The newspaper, African Messenger, which he started in 1921 was positioned to be a third and centrist force with Weekly Record and the rival Nigerian Pioneer. His admiration for the leader of the Nigerian National Democratic Party, NNDP, and Herbert Macaulay will give way to total disenchantment when Macaulay took offence for his refusal to publish a letter he had written to African Messenger. Ikoli’s paper would go the way of many before it, but saved from inglorious end with its acquisition by Adeyemo Alakija’s pro-government Daily Times. The man counted among the nationalists would be forced by financial reasons and loss of his respect for Macaulay to pitch his tent with conservatives. He will not be this way for long.
In 1929 Ikoli started a rival newspaper, Nigerian Daily Mail, which collapsed only after a couple of years. He served as editor to Nigeria Telegraph owned by a Lagos businessman, Mr. J.A. Doherty. It was edited by Ikoli until 1931 when it ceased to publish. From 1938 to 1944 Ikoli edited the Daily Service, the organ of the Nigerian Youth Movement. He was accorded the title of “elder statesman of the Nigerian press” by his professional colleagues. and then the Daily Service, organ of the Nigerian Youth Movement which was to the discontent of Nnamdi Azikiwe who was a founding member an unnecessary business competition to his own newspaper. Ikoli’s controversial bid to replace Dr. Abayomi at the Leglislative Council, led to a crisis, which estranged Obafemi Awolowo and the rest of the Nigerian Youth Movement from Nnamdi Azikiwe and members of Ikoli’s opponent, Samuel Akinsanya Ijebu caucus. This Ikoli-Akinsanya affair is considered by historians as the beginning of tribal politics in Nigeria. Ikoli died on October 21, 1960, three weeks after Nigeria became independent of Britain.