By Enyinnaya Appolos
Today is the 119th birthday of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Owelle-Osowa-Anya of Onicha, affectionately called Zik of Africa, a remarkable figure in Nigerian and African journalism and political history.
As the world marks Zik’s 119th posthumous birthday today, tribute must be paid to an iconic tall image who left an indelible mark on the nation’s sand of time.
Dr. Azikiwe’s life and contributions as a journalist, politician and statesman are not only worthy of celebration but the story about Zik should be religiously told and transferred to generations unborn, in remembrance of a Great Icon.
He is among the central figures in the Nigerian independence struggle which earned him the title of the “father of Nigerian nationalism.”
A Nigerian by all metrics. Zik, a full-blooded Igbo, from Onicha in Anambra State, was born in Zungeru, in today’s Niger State on November 16, 1904, and died on 11 May 1996 at age 91, in Enugu State.
Zik’s father, Obed-Edom Chukwuemeka Azikiwe, was born in 1879 and died on March 3, 1958. His mother, Rachel Chinwe Ogbenyeanu Azikiwe, born in 1883, died two months before his father, in January 1958,
His father, Obed-Edom Chukwuemeka Azikiwe, was a clerk in the British Administration of Nigeria. He travelled extensively as part of his job.
Smart and intelligent young Zik got his early education at various mission schools, from Holy Trinity and Christ Church Schools in Onicha, to Hope Waddell Training College in Calabar, and then to Methodist Boys High School in Lagos.
Zik later travelled to the United States of America, where he earned degrees from several institutions, including Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.
Zik’s academic sojourn abroad was influenced by his teacher, James Aggrey, who believed that Africans should receive a college education abroad and return to effect change.
Zik’s academic experiences abroad exposed him to liberation struggles and Pan-Africanism, which later inspired his commitment to the struggle against colonialism and fight for independence, for a united Africa, at first and later Nigeria.
I am particularly in love with Zik’s life and contribution as a fearless and die-hard journalist and media investor. As a journalist, Zik invested his media prowess and intellectualism to propagate and advocate for social and political change in Africa and later Nigeria.
His depth and mastery of journalism qualified him to skillfully and oratorically express and convey the grievances and agitations of Nigerians against the colonial provocateurs, thereby earning him the respect and admiration of not only Nigerians but even the Colonial Merchants.
Zik began his journalism career as a columnist for the Baltimore Afro-American, Philadelphia Tribune, and the Associated Negro Press, in America. He later moved to Gold Coast, presently Ghana, where he accepted an offer from Alfred Ocansey to become the founding editor of the African Morning Post, a daily newspaper in Accra. Zik was at liberty to run the newspaper and recruited many of its original staff.
Zik had a column known as “The Inside Stuff Zik”, in which he preached radical nationalism and black pride which raised some alarm in colonial circles. As editor of the African Morning Post, Zik promoted a pro-African nationalist agenda.
He founded and edited several newspapers, including the “West African Pilot,” which became a powerful tool for advocating for Nigerian independence and unity. Zik’s writings and editorials conveyed strong messages of self-determination and empowerment to the Nigerian people, earning him a reputation as a vocal and eloquent advocate for people’s rights.
As a politician, Zik was also fearless and resolute. He was a political enigma, a political mentor who understood the importance of making and empowering men. Little wonder there was a Zikist Movement, a group of political enthusiasts and activists that believed in Zik’s leadership and ideology.
As aforementioned, Zik’s role in the struggle for Nigerian independence was not limited to journalism. He teamed up with other nationalists across Nigeria in politics to fight for its independence and quickly rose through the ranks.
For Zik, “Leadership is not about the position one holds, but about the positive impact one has on others.” He also opined that “Leadership is the great unifier, the builder of nations, the spearhead of progress.”
Zik was aware that Nigeria’s diverse ethno-religious groups could derail every progressive nationalistic struggle for a better nation, and he insisted that “In diversity lies the strength of a nation, for it is in different perspectives that true progress is born.”
Zik was a man of words and honour with infectious oratory powers. Despite attaining higher heights in public service, he held tenaciously to the belief that “The true measure of a leader is not how they rise to power, but how they use that power to uplift others”, insisting also that “Leadership is not about the position one holds, but about the positive impact one has on others”.
Zik was a member of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), the country’s first nationalist organisation. He later co-founded the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) with Herbert Macaulay in 1944.
It is instructive to note that Zik was the first President of the Nigerian Senate from January 1st, 1960 to 1 October 1960. On his 56th birthday on November 16, 1960, Zik assumed the role of Nigeria’s Governor-General, marking a significant step towards self-governance for Nigeria. He was later appointed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. This appointment emphasized his influence on the global political stage.
When Nigeria transitioned to a Republic in 1963, Zik, a Pan-Nigeria, was inaugurated as Nigeria’s first President. His leadership at this critical juncture in Nigeria’s history signified the realisation of long-held dreams for self-rule and sovereignty. Under his presidency, Nigeria made significant progress in building a strong foundation for the newly-established Republic.
His unwavering commitment to the cause of Nigerian nationalism earned him the title of “Father of Nigerian nationalism.”
He played a pivotal role in uniting Nigeria’s diverse ethnic groups and fostering a sense of national identity. His vision for a united, independent Nigeria was instrumental in shaping the nation’s destiny.
An astute Pan-Nigerian, Zik could speak fluently the three major indigenous languages – Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba. He exemplified the ideals of detribalised Nigeria, statesmanship, leadership, and dedication to the betterment of Nigeria and the Black Race.
For me, nothing should be left out in celebrating the enduring impact of this Great Leader of all Time. He was an Iconic Tall Image, who helped paved the way for Nigeria’s independence and continues to inspire future generations.
He remains a significant figure in Nigeria’s history. It is, therefore, crucial to acknowledge the significant role he played in shaping Nigeria’s destiny. His unwavering commitment to the independence struggle paved the way for future generations, instilling the values of unity, patriotism and leadership in Nigeria.
Therefore, I call on well-meaning Nigerians to join in celebrating and honouring the life and legacy of this Great remarkable statesman, the “father of Nigerian nationalism,” whose contributions have left an indelible mark on Nigeria’s history, reminding us of the power of determination and resilience in the pursuit of a better future.
To buttress the importance of Zik’s contributions to Nigeria, he appears to be the most immortalized and honoured Nigerian leader with several national monuments, like Nnamdi Azikiwe’s portrait on N500 note, the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja, and many roads and streets named after him across Nigeria.
There is no major city or town across Nigeria that does not have at least one road or street with the name Nnamdi Azikiwe. There is Azikiwe Road in Aba, Azikiwe Road in Umuahia all in Abia State, Zik Avenue, Onicha, and Zik Avenue Oka, all in Anambra State. There is also Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UniZik) Oka, Anambra State. Zik Avenue, Enugu State, Azikwe Road Port Harcourt, Nnamdi Azikwe Express Way, Abuja, Nnamdi Azikwe Street, Lagos, Nnamdi Azikiwe Street, Kaduna, Nnamdi Azikiwe Library, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu; Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi; Nnamdi Azikiwe Press Centre, Dodan Barracks, Lagos; Azikiwe Avenue in Dar-es-Salam, Tanzania among others.
Zik was a lover of sports. He participated in boxing, athletics, football and tennis competitions. He later founded Zik’s Athletic Club (ZAC), to encourage sport-related activities for lovers of sports in Nigeria.
Let’s celebrate Zik.
Happy 119th posthumous birthday, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe! Happy 119th posthumous birthday, Owelle-Osowa-Anya of Onicha!
Happy 119th posthumous birthday, Zik of Africa!
***Appolos, a journalist, writes from Abuja