Who was Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe?
Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe was the first President of Nigeria. Before becoming the president he served as the second and last Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria, and was also the first Nigerian named to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. A principled and much loved politician, he began his career as an educator at the Lincoln University, teaching political science. He always had a profound interest in politics and was also a very eloquent writer. He devised a "Syllabus for African History" and penned several books outlining his pan-African ideology. Eventually he became a newspaper editor and promoted a pro-African nationalist agenda. Fiercely independent, he was never afraid of openly expressing his thoughts and opinions. During that time Nigeria was reeling under British rule and he founded a newspaper called ‘The West African Pilot’ to fight for independence from the British colonial rule. He joined Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), one of the first nationalist organizations in Nigeria and entered politics. He held numerous posts during his illustrious political career and ultimately became the first President of Nigeria when the country became a republic in 1963. However, he was removed from power following a military coup in 1966 and narrowly escaped assassination attempts on his life.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on 16 November, 1904 to Obed-Edom Chukwuemeka Azikiwe and Rachel Ogbenyeanu Azikiwe. His father worked as a clerk in the British Administration of Nigeria.
He studied at the Hope Waddell Training Institute and the Methodist Boys’ High School. He was fluent in the languages of the three major ethnic groups of Nigeria by the time he finished his secondary school education.
A healthy and athletic young man, he excelled at various sports such as running, swimming and boxing as a student.
He worked as a clerk in the Nigerian treasury in Lagos between 1921 and 1924 before he decided to go to the United States to pursue his further studies.
He went to the US in 1925 and attended Howard University, Washington DC for a while before enrolling at the Lincoln University, Pennsylvania. He graduated in 1927 with a degree in political science and completed his masters in 1930. While at college he took up part-time jobs to pay for his tuition fees.
He obtained a second masters degree in Anthropology and Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania in 1933 after which he worked as an instructor at Lincoln before returning to Africa.
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He went to the Gold Coast (now Ghana) in 1934 and founded a daily newspaper, the ‘African Morning Post’. He promoted pro-African nationalist agenda through this newspaper.
He returned to Nigeria in 1937 and started a newspaper called the ‘West African Pilot’ which he used as a medium to advocate for nationalism in Nigeria. Over the next few years he formed the Zik Group of Newspapers and published multiple newspapers in cities across the country.
Following this he also became involved in politics and joined the Nigerian Youth Movement. Later on he went on to establish the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), and with the backing of this council he became a member of the Nigerian Legislative Council.
He moved to the Eastern Region in 1952 and was elected to the position of the Chief Minister. A couple of years later he became the Premier of Nigeria’s Eastern Region.
He led the NCNC in the 1959 federal elections and was able to form a temporary government with the Northern Peoples Congress whose leader Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, became the Prime Minister upon Nigeria’s independence in October 1960.
After the country’s independence, he was made the Governor General under Balewa, and was also named to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.
Nigeria was proclaimed a republic in 1963, and Azikiwe was made the first President of Nigeria on 1 October 1963. His role, however, was largely ceremonial.
A military coup in January 1966 removed him from power and he escaped assassination bids on his life with great difficulty. During the Biafran conflict (1967-70), he became a spokesperson for the newly independent country and traveled extensively seeking help from other African countries.
He served as the Chancellor of University of Lagos from 1972 to 1976 and joined the Nigerian People’s Party in 1978. This was an attempt to re-enter politics and he ran for the presidency in 1979 and again in 1983, both of which were unsuccessful
He had to leave politics after the military coup in December 1983.
Awards & Achievements
He was inducted into the prestigious Agbalanze society of Onitsha as Nnayelugo in 1946 in recognition of his significant accomplishments.
He was appointed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom by Queen Elizabeth II in 1960, becoming the first Nigerian to receive this honor.
He was the recipient of several honorary degrees from Nigerian, American, and Liberian universities.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Flora Ogboegbunam in 1936. The couple had one daughter and three sons. Flora died in 1983 and Azikiwe remained very sad for long following her demise.
He also had several other wives including Uche Azikiwe who was a lecturer at the University of Nigeria. He had numerous children with his wives and also with the other women he had been involved with.
He lived a long life and died on 11 May, 1996 at the age of 91 in Enugu, Nigeria.