Nnamdi Azikiwe with rounded black cap
President Nnamdi Azikiwe. Photo: Guardian NG

Azikiwe Nnamdi; First Nigerian governor- general and later ceremonial president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Before this, Zik became the Premier of the Eastern Region in 1954. His party, the National Council Nigeria and the Cameroons, NCNC dominated the politics of Eastern Nigeria, winning for the Region internal self-rule in 1956. Zik was at the forefront of the fight for Nigeria’s independence. He led many delegations to Britain in the quest for an end to imperialism. In 1954, he led the African delegation to the Pan-African congress in Manchester, England, alongside Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta.

Following the 1959 federal elections in which his Party placed second to the Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC), his party entered into an alliance with the winning party. Nnamdi Azikiwe was appointed president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria when Nigeria became a republic in 1963. Through his Fabian tactics of calculation and compromise, Azikiwe served as a stabilizing influence during the stormy early days of the First Republic. The military staged a coup which ended the government ceremonially headed by him while he abroad in 1966.

Azikiwe was touched by the genocide committed against his Igbo people in the North that he enlisted his service for separatist efforts. One of his poems was modified and adapted into the national anthem of the young nation. Later, he made pact with General Yakubu Gowon, the then Nigerian Head of State, on behalf of the Igbo that punishment will not be meted on separatists. Gowon kept his words with the “no victor, no vanquished” policy of the post-war years[i].


Place of Growth

Azikiwe was born on 16 November 1904, in Zungeru. He had his early education at the Hope Waddel Institute, Calabar. Azikiwe spent his most productive years in the Yoruba West. He spoke Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba fluently, as well as a number of other Nigerian languages.


Nnamdi was married to Ogui, Enugu State born educationist who was born 1947. They got married in 1973 and raised two sons[ii].



Nnamdi Azikiwe was educated at the famous Hope Waddel Institute, Calabar and the Methodist Boys High School, Lagos before proceeding to the United States for further studies. He came back with a string of degrees in 1934, having studied at Storer College, West Virginia, Howard and Lincoln Universities and the University of Pennsylvania.


Azikiwe joined the Nigerian Youth Movement NYM at a time it was dominated by such figures as Kofoworola Abayomi, Adeyemo Alakija and H.O. Davies. Anthony Enahoro got baptized into nationalism after his meeting with Azikiwe during the King’s College, Lagos saga. Azikiwe, then editor of West African Pilot, took him in and got him trained as a journalist[iii].



Nnamdi Azikiwe started out in the Accra Morning Post in 1934. He founded The West African Pilot, newspaper that blazed the trail in the nationalist struggle. He joined forces with the NYM whose objective was “to unify the different tribes of Nigeria by adopting and encouraging means which would foster better understanding and cooperation between the tribes so that they may come to have a common goal”.  In 1994, Zik found an ally in Herbert Macaulay who was then leading the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). On August 1944, the NCNC was inagurated with Macaulay as President and Azikiwe as General Secretary.

Azikiwe’s NCNC were poised to form the government in the Western House of Assembly in 1951 when, at the last minute, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his Action Group turned the tables. He therefore retreated to his indigenous base of Eastern Nigeria. Nnamdi Azikiwe became the Premier of the Eastern Region in 1954. His party, the NCNC dominated the politics of Eastern Nigeria, winning for the Region internal self-rule in 1956.


Strangely, there was a quarrel between Nnamdi Azikiwe and the Zikists themselves who advocated militant approach towards the colonial government. The Zikists wanted Azikiwe, in the latter’s own words, to do as Nkrumah was doing in Ghana. They implored him to let them drive the whites out of Nigeria as in Ghana. Instead of toeing the militant line, Azikiwe finally made allies in the formation of the NCNC, demonstrating his gradualist approach which graduated into centrism when in 1972 he preached diarchy for his desperation to proffer a solution to the first republic experience where civilians took laws into their own hands. He dropped this idea decades later while in the middle of fierce military dictatorship. Azikiwe was himself spurred with the reading James Garfield’s biography, From the Log Cabin to the White House, and concluded one can conquer adversity and end up as the president of one’s country.

[i] Gateway Mirror October 7, 2007

[ii] Newswatch Who is Who

[iii] Tell May 26, 1996

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer