Ernest Ikoli was an Ijo from Nembe (Bayelsa State). He was born on the 25th of March, 1893 at Nembe. An important event happened in his town two years after he was born; King Frederick William of Koko Ming VIII of Nembe led 1000 of his warriors in an attack against the trading post of the Royal Niger Company at Membe because the people were tired of the exploitative activities of the British company. As a result, there was a devastating reprisal attack on the Nembe people by the British imperial government. This singular event in the history of the Nembe community became part of the historical consciousness of the Nembe community where Ikoli was born and grew up.
Ikoli had his early education at Nembe, Bonny and Lagos. In 1909, Ikoli made history as one of the pioneer students of the newly stablished King’s College, Lagos. He turned out to be an excellent student and was, on completion of his studies in 1913, retained as an Assistant Mathematics teacher in the college and from mere teacher he rose to the position of the head of the college. The discrimination against the natives (i.e. black people) in the colonial service and administration made Ikoli to resign from the headship of the King’s College.
After leaving the King’s College, Ikoli ventured into journalism because he was looking for an effective avenue for advocating for the end to colonial rule. He became assistant editor at Lagos Weekly Record. Ikoli not only worked as a journalist but also joined organisations and unions that were critical of the colonial order. He founded the African Messenger in 1922 and joined the Union of Young Democrats which was founded in 1923. Ikoli used the African Messenger to support the activities of the young democrats. In 1926, Ikoli became the first Editor of the newly established Daily Times of Nigeria newspapers which absorbed his African Messenger (Ikoli’s paper). He remained the editor of the Daily Times till 1930.
Ikoli was also an active member of the Peoples Union which was established by Dr J.K. Randle who died in 1928. Ikoli’s vision of freedom went beyond Nigeria’s colonial domination. He served as the organizing secretary of the United Negro Improvement Association, a worldwide organization which was led by Black Moses and Marcus Garvey of the United States.
In 1930, Ikoli became the editor of Daily Telegraph and also founded another publication; Daily Service in 1938 to support the activities of another association; the Nigerian Youth Movement of which he was one of the founding founders. He later became its president and won election as Lagos representative in the legislative Council in 1942 and was re-elected for the second time in 1946. Between 1946 and 21st October, 1960 when Ikoli died, he receded to the background in the nationalist struggle but was said to have supported the activities of nationalists like Chief Obafemi Awolowo.