Nnamdi Azikiwe was born on Nov. 16, 1904, of Ibo parents in Zungeru, Northern Nigeria, where his father served as a clerk in the Nigerian Regiment. His parents gave him the name Benjamin, but he later turned it to Nnamdi. He attended school in Onitsha, Lagos, and Calabar. In 1921, when he discontinued his secondary school education, he was flowing in the languages of the three major ethnic groups of Nigeria–the Hausas, the Ibos, and the Yorubas–a significant asset for the future Nigerian nationalist. Between 1921 and 1924 he served as a clerk in the Nigerian treasury in Lagos.
In 1925 Azikiwe went to the United States to study. He visited Storer College and then Howard and Lincoln universities. He received a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Lincoln in 1931 and first degrees from Lincoln in 1932 and the University of Pennsylvania in 1933. As a penurious black student (nicknamed Zik), Azikiwe worked at a wide range of mostly lowly jobs and was frequently a victim of racial discrimination. His American experience was undoubtedly a source of his pan-African patriotism.
Between 1932 and 1934 Azikiwe taught political science at Lincoln University. At this time he began writing seriously, and his productions reflected his pan-African inclination. He devised a “Syllabus for African History” and wrote a book, Liberia in World Politics (1934), in defense of the black republic. In 1937 he published Renascent African, the most significant single expression of his pan-African ideology.
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Newspaper Career In 1934 Azikiwe returned to Nigeria and accepted an offer to edit the African Morning Post, a new daily newspaper in Accra, Ghana, which he quickly made into an essential organ of nationalist propaganda. In 1937 he returned to Lagos and established the West African Pilot, which grew to become “a fire-eating and aggressive nationalist paper of the greatest order.” In the next decade, Azikiwe controlled six daily newspapers in Nigeria: two in Lagos and four strategically located in the urban centers of Ibadan, Onitsha, Port Harcourt, and Kano. These performed a crucial part in stimulating Nigerian nationalism. To support his business ventures and to express his economic patriotism, Azikiwe founded the African Continental Bank in 1944.
Azikiwe also became directly implicated in political campaigns. In 1937 he enlisted into the Nigerian Youth Movement, transmitting it for the Nigerian National Democratic party in 1941. In 1944, on Azikiwe’s leadership, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) was founded to “weld the heterogeneous bodies of Nigeria into one hard block.” Azikiwe was elected the council’s general secretary and in 1946 its president. In this period his major political writings, apart from his newspaper articles, were Political Blue Print of Nigeria and Economic Reconstruction in Nigeria(both 1943).
Between 1947 and 1960 Azikiwe, as leader of the NCNC, held some elected public offices. He was a part of the Nigerian Legislative Council (1947- 1951), member of the Western House of Assembly (1952-1953), premier of the Eastern Region (1954-1959), and president of the Nigerian Senate (1959-1960). During these years he had proceeded to play the single most vigorous role in Nigeria’s march toward independence. While premier, he significantly expanded educational facilities in the Eastern Region and laid the foundation of the University of Nigeria at Nsukka, formally opened in September 1960.
On Oct. 1, 1960, Nigeria became independent, and Azikiwe was appointed governor-general with the prime ministership going to Sir Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, deputy governor-general of the Northern People Congress, the largest single party of the federation. On Oct. 1, 1963, Nigeria became a republic, and Azikiwe was named its first president, a position he held until he was deposed by the military coup of Jan. 15, 1966.
In the Nigerian-Biafran civil war, May 1967-January 1970, Azikiwe at first reluctantly supported Biafra, but in August 1969 came out against Biafran secession and in favor of a united Nigeria.
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From 1978-1983 Azikiwe led the Nigeria People’s Party (NPP); he was the NPP’s candidate in the presidential elections of 1979 and 1983. He retired from politics in 1986.
Azikiwe died in eastern Nigeria on May 11, 1996, following an extended illness. Marking his death, the New York Times commented that Azikiwe “towered over the affairs of Africa’s most populous nation, attaining the rare status of a genuinely national hero who came to be admired across the regional and ethnic lines dividing his country