"Zik was one of the most practical, most pragmatic people that I knew during
my political life. Whenever he was in London, I was always very, very happy
to welcome him to my residence at 8 Aylestone Avenue, Brontesbury Park, for
our group discussions about our individual and collective fight for independence
and self rule. Zik would listen quietly as so-and-so said this-and-that and
as arguments and discussions would stray from reality. When Zik finally spoke
in his careful, measured and logical way, it would refocus our discussions to
the more practical and achievable objectives.
I had great admiration for his intellect, his logic and most of all, his intense
love for his Motherland, Nigeria."
Ngwazi Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda
Founding President of Malawi
In his own words, discussions with the author
Azikiwe, Premier of East Nigeria, shown upon arrival at Idlewild Airport
from London 7/5/59.
There is a profound feeling of humility and inadequacy that comes over me whenever
I begin to write about one of the great indigenous men and women of Africa.
No matter how well I think I may have known them, personally or through the
written word, I am very aware of their complexity as people with feet in two
worlds, the contemporary and the traditional. As a non-African friend of Africa,
I realized years ago that I have been and am privileged to have been allowed
only rather superficial glimpses of their complexity and the elements that made
them great. No where is that more apparent to me than attempting to write about
the incredible life of the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the great "Zik of Africa",
first President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe was born on 16 November 1904 in Zunguru, Northern Nigeria,
to Onitsha Ibo parents. At a very early age, he was exposed to the inequities
of colonialism (a realization that was to cause him to eventually drop his anglicized
first name), when his father, Obed-Edom Chukwaemeka Azikiwe, a civilian clerk
for a British army regiment, was forced to leave his job because of discrimination.
The memory of this sorrowful event was to have a continuing major influence
on his political attitudes and actions in the years to come.
most of the African greats, young Nnamdi had an insatiable quest for knowledge,
and the rural life of turn-of-the-century Zungura provided only the barest minimum
of educational opportunity. In his early years, he spoke only the Hausa language
of the north but at the age of eight, he was sent to Onitsha to live with his
paternal grandparents where, under their determined tutelage, he became fluent
in the Ibo and Yoruba languages and eventually, English. His earliest formal
schooling began at the Roman Catholic and Church Missionary Society’s Anglican
missions at Onitsha where he excelled both in academics and sports. Outgrowing
Onitsha’s academic capabilities, Nnamdi moved on to the Wesleyan Boys High School
in Lagos and then again to the Hope Waddell Training Institute in Calabar, an
historic place to which he would return years later under much different circumstances.
Once again, in common with his fellow African greats, schooling was insufficient
to fuel his towering intellect. He read voraciously. He devoured the philosophy
of Marcus Garvey and the writings of W. E. B. DuBois. He followed very closely
the career of The Great Aggrey of the Gold Coast (Great Epic Books Newsletter
archive: May, June, July, 1998) . The "Black Zionism" of Garvey intrigued him.
DuBois’ THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK, Chicago, A. C. McClurg, 1904, shocked him and
The Great Aggrey inspired him. He was to tell me many years later that the fortuitous
finding and reading of an obscure 1903 DuBois publication, POSSIBILITIES OF
THE NEGRO; THE ADVANCE GUARD OF RACE, was to be an everlasting and enormous
influence on his business and political life.
Azikiwe was also carefully tutored in the great customs and traditions of his
Ibo people and of the Nigerian nation. He quickly recognized the dichotomy of
the two worlds in which he was part; that of the contemporary educated African
and of the future custodian of venerable and vital tribal traditions and national
culture. He vowed never to sacrifice one for the other and he remained ever-faithful
to that vow.
unfulfilling civil service employment followed secondary school. Determined
to continue his education, Azikiwe traveled the well-worn path to the United
States. In 1925, at age 21, he enrolled at Storer College at infamous Harpers
Ferry, West Virginia, where he quickly acquired the nickname "Zik", by which
he was to be known for the rest of his life. He spent one year at Storer, also
enrolling in an intensive correspondence course in American Law and Procedures
through LaSalle Law School of Chicago. He excelled in both.
America of the 1920’s, while offering Zik obvious opportunities, was oftentimes
disillusioning, and indeed hostile, to the young Nigerian. Poverty stricken,
depressed and homesick for Africa, and deeply affected by racial taunts, he
went from job to job under the name of "Ben Zik", trying to earn enough to continue
with his education. In 1926, he matriculated to Howard University in Washington,
D.C. where a hoped for job fell through causing even greater financial strain.
Finally, in early 1927, an offer of a steady on-campus job at Lincoln University
enabled him to complete his undergraduate degree in Political Science. On to
Columbia University and a part-time teaching assistantship, allowing him to
obtain a certificate in journalism while editing the COLUMBIA
UNIVERSITY SUMMER SESSIONS TIMES (1930), his first foray into the publishing
world. In 1930, Zik was back at Lincoln University where he was awarded an M.A.
in Political Science with honors and wrote and published his first book, LIBERIA
IN WORLD POLITICS, self, 1931. Finally, in 1932, he traveled on to the University
of Pennsylvania on a scholarship where he earned an M. Sc. With honors in Anthropology,
coming to the attention of the great Professor Bronislaw Malinowski of London
After graduation in the late spring of 1934, Zik journeyed back to Africa,
passing up Malinowski’s offer of Doctoral pursuits at London University in favor
of beginning his efforts on behalf of Africa. While in transit in the Gold Coast,
Zik met the already well known trade unionist and newspaperman, I. T. Wallace-Johnson
of Sierra Leone. Wallace-Johnson offered Zik his first professional employment
as editor of the AFRICAN MORNING POST, an Accra newspaper which he accepted
and worked diligently at for three years, narrowly escaping prison after being
arrested for publishing a "treasonous" article, a charge that was fortunately
overturned on appeal.
In February, 1937, Zik finally returned to Nigeria filled with a passion to
somehow be of great influence in the future of his homeland. He was very well
educated. He had read broadly, absorbing the spectrum of politic philosophies,
embracing everything from the days of ancient Greece to the current state of
world political dogma. He had succeeded as a journalist, tasting Britain’s wrath
when their colonial system was challenged. He was keen to pursue business and
commercial interests. Physically, he was an imposing figure in any crowd. Zik
was more than six feet tall, broad shouldered and of very pleasant countenance.
He possessed a courtly, almost "old world" charm. When he spoke, it was in a
clear, mellifluous voice that at once pronounced the speaker’s humility and
authority. His voice and delivery were described as "seductive, eloquent, persuasive
Zik, though still considered young at 33, living in a land where wisdom is
equated with age, was clearly a very gifted man, destined to figure prominently
in colonial Nigeria’s future. He knew it. His fellow Nigerians knew it and,
watching uneasily, the British colonists and authorities also knew it. Just
what his role and impact was is the subject for December’s Great Epic’s Newsletter
"Zik of Africa, The Business and Political Years".