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Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe

In office
October 1, 1963 – January 16, 1966
Preceded by None (position created)
Succeeded by Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi

In office
November 16, 1960 – October 1, 1963
Preceded by James Robertson
Succeeded by None (position abolished)

In office
January 1, 1960 – October 1, 1960
Preceded by None (position created)
Succeeded by Dennis Osadebey

Born November 16, 1904(1904-11-16)
Zungeru, Nigeria
Died May 11, 1996 (aged 91)
Enugu, Nigeria
Political party National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons;
Nigerian People's Party
Religion Christianity[1]

Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe (November 16, 1904 – May 11, 1996), usually referred to as Nnamdi Azikiwe, or, informally and popularly, as "Zik", was one of the leading figures of modern Nigerian nationalism and the first President of Nigeria, holding the position throughout the Nigerian First Republic.


Early life

Azikiwe was born on November 16, 1904 in Zungeru, northern Nigeria to Igbo parents.[2] Nnamdi means "My father is alive" in the Igbo language.[3] After studying at the Methodist Boys' High School in Lagos,[4] Azikiwe went to the United States. While there he attended Howard University, Washington DC[5] before enrolling and graduating from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania in 1930. He obtained a masters degree in 1933 from a prestigious Ivy League institution, the University of Pennsylvania.[6] He worked as an instructor at Lincoln before returning to Africa.

Newspaper career

After teaching at Lincoln, Azikiwe, in November 1934, took the position of editor for the African Morning Post, a daily newspaper in Accra, Ghana. In that position he promoted a pro-African nationalist agenda. Smertin has described his writing there: "In his passionately denunciatory articles and public statements he censured the existing colonial order: the restrictions on the Africans' right to express their opinions, and racial discrimination. He also criticised those Africans who belonged to the 'elite' of colonial society and favoured retaining the existing order, as they regarded it as the basis of their well being."[7] As a result of publishing an article on May 15, 1936 entitled "Has the African A God?" written by I.T. A. Wallace-Johnson he was brought to trial on charges of sedition. Although he was found guilty of the charges and sentenced to six months in prison, he was acquitted on appeal. He returned to Lagos, Nigeria, in 1937 and founded the West African Pilot which he used as a vehicle to foster Nigerian nationalism. He founded the Zik Group of Newspapers, publishing multiple newspapers in cities across the country.

Political career

After a successful journalism enterprise, Azikiwe entered into politics, co-founding the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) alongside Herbert Macaulay in 1944. He became the secretary-general of the National Council in 1946, and was the following year elected to the Legislative Council of Nigeria. In 1951, he became the leader of the Opposition to the government of Obafemi Awolowo in the Western Region's House of Assembly. In 1952, he moved to the Eastern Region, and was elected to the position of Chief Minister, and in 1954 became Premier of Nigeria's Eastern Region. On November 16, 1960, he became the Governor General and on the same day became the first Nigerian named to the Queen's Privy Council.[4] With the proclamation of a republic in 1963, he became the first President of Nigeria, while Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the Prime Minister.

Azikiwe and his civilian colleagues were removed from power in the military coup of January 15, 1966. During the Biafran (1967–1970) war of secession, Azikiwe became a spokesman for the nascent Igbo republic and an adviser to its leader Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. After the war, he served as Chancellor of Lagos University from 1972 to 1976. He joined the Nigerian People's Party in 1978, making unsuccessful bids for the presidency in 1979 and again in 1983. He left politics involuntarily after the military coup on December 31, 1983. He died on May 11, 1996 at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, in Enugu, Enugu State, after a protracted sickness.

His time in politics spanned most of his adult life and he was referred to by admirers as "The Great Zik of Africa". His motto in politics was "talk I listen, you listen I talk".

The writings of Azikiwe spawned a philosophy of African liberation Zikism, which identifies five concepts for Africa's movement towards freedom: spiritual balance, social regeneration, economic determination, mental emancipation, and political resurgence.[8]

Places named after Azikiwe include the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu, the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, Anambra State, Nnamdi Azikiwe Press Centre, Dodan Barracks, Obalende, Ikoyi, Lagos. His portrait adorns Nigeria's five hundred naira currency note.

Five hundred Naira

Several streets in major cities in Nigeria are named after him. In addition, hostels like Ziks Flat at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and Azikiwe Hall at University of Ibadan, Nigeria, are also named after him.


He was inducted into the prestigious Agbalanze society as Nnayelugo in 1946. Then, in 1962, he became a second-rank red cap chief (Ndichie Okwa), as Oziziani Obi. In 1970, he was installed as Owelle-Osowa-Anya, making him a first-rank red cap chief (Ndichie Ume). In 1960, Queen Elizabeth II awarded him the title of Privy Councilor to the Queen of England. He was conferred with the highest national honor of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) by the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in 1980. He has received fourteen honorary degrees from Nigerian, American and Liberian Universities. The schools include Lincoln University, Storer College, Howard University, Michigan State University, University of Nigeria Nsukka, University of Lagos, Ahmadu Bello University, University of Ibadan, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, and University of Liberia.


He was actively involved in sports at every stage of his life, and he was successful in a lot of events that he participated in. They include Welterweight Boxing Champion Storer College (1925–27); High Jump champion, Howard University Inter-Scholastic Games (1926); Gold Medallist in Cross Country, Storer College (1927); Back-stroke Swimming Champion and No.3 swimmer in Freestyle Relay team, Howard University (1928); Captain, Lincoln University Soccer Team (1930); Winner Two Miles Run, Central Inter-Collegiate Athletic Association Championships at Hampton Institute Virginia (1931); Bronze Medallist, Richmond Cross Country Marathon (1931); Gold Medallist in the 1,000 yards run, One Mile Run and Three Miles Run, Catedonian Games in Brooklyn, NY (1932); Silver Trophy winner in the Half Mile race, and Silver Cup winner in the One Mile Race, Democratic Field Day Championships, New Haven, Connecticut (1933); Runner-up(with G.K. Dorgu) at the Lagos Tennis Men’s Double Championships (Division B 1938); anchor man for the ZAC team which won the 50 yards Freestyle Relay at the Lagos Swimming Championships (1939); Won letters in athletics (Lincoln University) and cross country (Storer College and Lincoln University), swimming (Howard University), and soccer (Lincoln University); entered to compete in the Half-Mile Race and One-Mile run at the British Empire Games to represent Nigeria, but was rejected by the A.A.A of Great Britain on technical grounds (he dropped his English Christian name, “Benjamin”); and Founder (with M.R.B. Ottun) of the Zik’s Athletic Club to promote athletics, boxing, cricket, soccer, swimming and tennis in Nigeria.


During his lifetime, he held political posts all over the world, especially in Nigeria. They include Executive Committee Member of Mambili Party, Accra (1935–37); General Secretary of National Council of Nigerian and the Cameroons (1944–45); President of the NCNC (1946–60); Vice-President of the Nigerian National Democratic Party (1947–60); Member for Lagos in the Legislative Council of Nigeria (1947–51); Member for Lagos and Leader of the Opposition in the Western House of Assembly (1952–53) Member for Onitsha in the Eastern House of Assembly (1954–60); Minister of Internal Affairs (Jan.–September 1954); Minister of Internal Affairs, Eastern Region (1954); Member of His Excellency Privy Council, Eastern Nigeria (1954–59); Primer of Eastern Nigeria (1954–59); President of the Senate of the Federation (Jan.-November 1960); Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria (1960–63); President of the Republic of Nigeria (1963–1966); and Chairman and Presidential candidate of the Nigeria People’s Party (1978–83). Professional World – He also made a name for himself in the professional world. He was a Third-class Clerk, Treasury Department, Lagos (1921–1924); Recruit, Gold Coast Police Force (Jul.-September 1924); Solicitor Clerk to the late Mr. Justice Graham Paul at Calabar (Jan.-Aug.1925); Instructor in Political Science, Lincoln University (1931–34); University Correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American (1928–34); General and Sports Correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune (1928–34); Editor-in Chief of the West African Pilot (1937–45); Correspondent for the Associated Negro Press (1944–47); Correspondent for Reuters (1944–46); Managing Director of Zik’s Press Limited printers and publishers of the West African Pilot (Lagos), Eastern Guardian (Port Harcourt), Nigerian Spokesman (Onitsha), Southern Nigeria Defender (Ibadan), Daily Comet (Kano), and Eastern Sentinel (Enugu); Managing Director of Comet Press Limited (1945–53); Chairman of West African Pilot Limited and the Associated Newspapers of Nigeria Limited and six other limited liability companies (1952–53); Chairman, Nigerian Real Estate Corporation Limited (1952–53); etc.

Societies and organizations

He was a member of many organizations and societies, including Anti-Slavery Society for the protection of Human Rights; Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity (Alpha Chapter and Mu Chapter); West African Students Union; Onitsha Improvement Union; Zik’s Athletic Club; Ekine Sekiapu Society of Buguma, Kalabari; St. John’s Lodge of England; Royal Economic Society; Royal Anthropological Institute; British Association for the Advancement of Science; American Society of International Law; American Anthropological Association; American Political Science Society; American Ethnological Society; Amateur Athletic Association of Nigeria; Nigerian Swimming Association, Nigerian Boxing Board of Control; Nigerian Cricket Association; Ibo State Union; and Nigerian Table Tennis Association; Nigeria Olympic Committee and British Empire and Commonwealth Games Association.


  • Zik (1961)
  • My Odyssey: An Autobiography (1971)
  • Renascent Africa (1973)
  • Liberia in World Politics (1931)
  • One hundred quotable quotes and poems of the Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (1966)—ISBN 9782736090

Political Blueprint for Nigeria (1943);
Economic Reconstruction of Nigeria (1943);
Zik: A Selection of the Speeches of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (1961);
Assassination Story: True or False? (1946);
“Essentials for Nigeria’s Survival.” (1965);
“Before Us Lies The Open Grave” (1947);
“The Future of Pan-Africanism” (1961);
“The Realities of African Unity” (1965);
“Origins of the Nigerian Civil War” (1969);
I Believe in a One Nigeria (1969);
Peace Proposals for Ending the Nigerian Civil War (1969);
Dialogue on a New Capital for Nigeria (1974);
“Creation of More States in Nigeria, A Political Analysis” (1974);
Democracy with Military Vigilance (1974);
“Reorientation of Nigerian Ideologies: lecture on 9 December 1976, on eve of the launching of the UNN Endowment Fund” (1976);
Our Struggle for Freedom; Onitsha Market Crisis (1976);
Let Us Forgive Our Children, An appeal to the leaders and people of Onitsha during the market crisis (1976);
A Collection of Poems (1977);
Civil War Soliloquies: More Collection of Poems (1977);
“Themes in African Social and Political Thought” (1978);
Restoration of Nigerian Democracy (1978);
Matchless Past Performance: My Reply to Chief Awolowo’s Challenge (1979);
A Matter of Conscience (1979);
Ideology for Nigeria: Capitalism, Socialism or Welfarism? (1980);
“Breach of Trust by the NPN” (1983); and
History Will Vindicate The Just (1983).

Notable quotes

"There is plenty of room at the top because very few people care to travel beyond the average route. And so most of us seem satisfied to remain within the confines of mediocrity"—from My Odyssey, No. 5
"My stiffest earthly assignment is ended and my major life's work is done. My country is now free and I have been honoured to be its first indigenous head of state. What more could one desire in life?" – Talking about Nigeria's Independence on October 1, 1960.

See also

[[Image:|32x28px|link=|alt=]] Nigeria portal

Further reading

  • Igwe, Agbafor (1992). Nnamdi Azikiwe: The Philosopher of Our Time. Enugu, Nigeria: Fourth Dimension Publisher. ISBN 978-9781560309.  
  • Ikeotuonye, Vincent (1961). Zik of New Africa. P.R. Macmillan.  
  • Jones-Quartey, K. A. B. (1965). A Life of Azikiwe. Baltimore, MD: Penguin.  
  • Olisa, Michael S. O.; M. Ikejiani-Clark, eds. (1989). Azikiwe and the African Revolution. Onitsha, Nigeria: Africana-FEP. ISBN 978-9781752230.  
  • Ugowe, C. O. O. (2000). Eminent Nigerians of the Twentieth Century. Lagos: Hugo Books.  



Preceded by
Position created
Senate President of Nigeria
Succeeded by
Dennis Osadebey
Preceded by
Sir James Robertson
Governor-General of Nigeria
Succeeded by
Position abolished
Preceded by
Position created
President of Nigeria
Succeeded by
Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi

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Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

No matter how old an individual may be, no matter if he is young or old, if he thinks in accordance with the times he is immortal.

Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe (November 16, 1904May 11, 1996) was the President of Nigeria from 1963 to 1966. He was the first person to assume the office of the Nigerian Presidency.

There is plenty of room at the top because very few people care to travel beyond the average route. And so most of us seem satisfied to remain within the confines of mediocrity.


  • My stiffest earthly assignment is ended and my major life's work is done. My country is now free and I have been honoured to be its first indigenous head of state. What more could one desire in life?
  • The realization of New Africa can only be possible by the African cultivating spiritual balance, which leads to the practicalization of social regeneration, to realizing economic determination, becoming mentally emancipated, and ushering in a political resurgence.
    • Quoted in A Life of Azikiwe by K. A. B. Jones-Quartey (Penguin, 1965), p. 116
  • No matter how old an individual may be, no matter if he is young or old, if he thinks in accordance with the times he is immortal.
    • Quoted in A Life of Azikiwe by K. A. B. Jones-Quartey (Penguin, 1965), p. 121
  • There is plenty of room at the top because very few people care to travel beyond the average route. And so most of us seem satisfied to remain within the confines of mediocrity.
    • My Odyssey (1971), No. 5

Quotes about Azikiwe

  • Zik believed in a nation in which people are free to practice their faith without losing faith in our common patrimony, a nation of proud men and women able to hold their heads high among humanity because as Africans they possess a certain dignity.
    At the tactical level, his belief in compromise meant that he survived major political battles in order to fight the next battle.
    With regard to the evolution of democracy in our country, our present experience can benefit immensely from politics as it was played by Zik and his contemporaries. In this regard, one thing that marks out men like Zik … is that they believe in something. Their political activities were informed by certain core values which subsequently grew into a body of beliefs which largely inspired their politics. Those who followed them understood that they had to abide by those beliefs. In other words, the politics of ideals and ideas were the guiding principles of our founding fathers. In the case of the great Zik, it became fashionable among his adherents and supporters to be a Zikist. But interestingly, Zikism was not synonymous with an ethnic ideology nor did it a divisive cause. Instead, Zikism was more an ideology for African reniascence emphasizing the restoration of the dignity of the black man after centuries of colonial imposition and exploitation.
    It sought to empower the black man in general and the Nigerian in particular to attain great heights especially in the pursuit of knowledge which, for Zik, was critical to the emancipation of the black man. Yet Zikism did not degenerate to the level of a theology for a personality cult. This in fact is one of the refreshing and intriguing facets of Zik's political legacy.

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