Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe was born in Zungeru town (now in Niger State) on the 16th of November 1904 to an immigrant Ibo family from the then Eastern Nigeria. He was popularly and simply called Zik. His father was a clerk in the colonial administration while his mother was from the Onitsha traditional royal family. As a result of the nature of his father’s involvement in the colonial administration, Zik had his education in a number of schools in Onitsha, his home town, Calabar and Lagos. In Onitsha, he attended Holy Trinity School and Christ Church School. He even took up employment as a pupil teacher in Church Missionary Society (CMS) Central School, Onitsha. He later attended Hope Waddell Training Institute in Calabar and later, Methodist Boys High School in Lagos.
His sojourn and educational pursuit in different schools and towns in the country assisted him to create a network of friends and acquaintances across the country, early in life. He became exposed to different people, languages and cultures and these greatly helped in shaping his behaviours and views about life and the colonial condition of his time which he experienced everywhere he went to.
His interest for higher education made his father to sponsor his travel to the United States for higher education. He studied in among other places, Storer College, Hapers Ferry, West Virginia, Howard University; Washington DC and Lincoln University, Pennsylvania. He finished his studies in 1934 and returned to Africa in the same year. At this juncture, it is important to point out that Zik had a very passionate feeling about the problem of colonialism not only in Nigeria but on the African continent. His vision, therefore, was about the liberation of Africa from the shackles of colonialism. This is why many people describe Zik as not just a nationalist, but a pan-Africanist. In fact, he was simply called Zik of Africa. This was because he saw the whole of Africa as the theatre for liberation struggle even though later in his life, circumstances beyond his control made him to carry out his liberation struggles as a nationalist in Nigeria.
It was not surprising, therefore, that after his education in the U.S. and his return in 1934, Zik took up employment in the then Gold Coast (Ghana) as the first editor of a newly established private daily newspaper known as African Morning Post. He saw the newspaper as an effective tool for the struggle against colonial domination and the liberation of people. He published articles that were very critical of the colonial governments and supportive of liberation struggle movements in the entire African continent. This got him into trouble with the colonial governments a number of times and narrowly escaped being jailed in Ghana.
In 1937, he came back to Nigeria and settled in Lagos where he started another newspaper which he named, the West African Pilot, another critical medium for attacks on the colonial government’s exploitative and obnoxious policies on free speech and colonial domination of the people. The West African Pilot which started with the production of 6000 copies grew to 20,000 copies in 1950. By this time also, Zik had established a number of other newspapers under the umbrella of Zik Group of Newspapers. This was possible because the publications of Zik thrived on challenging the colonial government, raising the awareness of general populace against colonial exploitation and mobilizing them for the struggle for independence of the country.
The writings of Zik in his struggle for the independence of Nigeria had tremendous impact on many Nigerians to extent that a movement known as the Zikist Movement was established in 1946 by a group of Nigerians from different parts of the country-East, West and North such as MCK Ajuluchukwu, Abiodun Aloba and Raji Abdalla. The overriding objective of the Zikist Movement in Nigeria was to propagate and defend the philosophical and political ideas of Zik. It was the radical wing of the NCNC and played effective role in the political struggle for the liberation of Nigeria which was led by Zik and the NCNC as a political party.
The opposition of the NCNC and the Zikist Movement to the Richards Constitution which was a revision of the 1922 Cliffords Constitution was very vigorous nationwide. The main opposition was the emphasis on the increase in the nominated instead of elective African members of the Legislative Council. Zik championed the opposition against the constitution and led a broad based Nigerian delegation including Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Zanna Dipcharima, Abubakar Olorunimbe and Nyong Essien to England where they stated their grievances against it. It was the strong protest against the Richards Constitution that led to another Constitution known as the Mcpherson Constitution in 1951.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe later became:
- The premier of the Eastern Region in 1954;
- Governor-General of Nigeria in 1960;
- President of Nigeria in 1963.
He is one of the celebrated nationalists in the country who are being remembered for so many reasons including the fact that as the Premier of the Eastern Region, he was the first to establish a full-fledged university in Nigeria, Nsukka in 1960. He has been immortalized in several ways: the Nigerian government put his portrait on the country’s five hundred naira note, named the Abuja International Airport after him and a university in Awka as well.