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While Nnamdi Azikiwe was running nationalist newspaper in Ghana he became a mentor to Kwame Nkrumah who later rose to be the first president of Ghana.  He founded and became the editor of a newspaper as soon as he came to Nigeria in 1937.

Azikiwe resigned membership of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), the country’s first nationalist organization; accusing the majority Yoruba-led NYM leadership of discrimination meted on the Ijebu-Yoruba and Igbo minority in the organization. The organization soon split across ethnic lines and some of the members followed him out of the NYM to the NCNC.

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As one of the cofounders and earliest members of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) which was founded in 1944, Azikiwe became the NCNC’s Secretary-General in 1946 while his newspaper also played a major role as the propaganda machine for his radical pan-African and nationalist principles.

After the death of Herbert Macaulay, the mantle of leadership of the NCNC fell on Nnamdi Azikiwe who had gained more leverage in Nigerian politics with his association with the bigwigs and his peers in the NYM and the NCNC. The NCNC became increasingly identified with the Igbo people of southern Nigeria from 1951 while Azikiwe was elected to the Nigerian Legislative Council in 1948 under the party’s banner.

Azikiwe later served as premier of the Eastern region between 1954 and 1959. Before the elections in 1959 and on the eve of the Nigerian independence, Azikiwe led the NCNC as a bloc party in the negotiations and advocacy which led directly to the independence from colonial rule in 1960.

After the 1959 elections, Azikiwe formed a temporary government with the powerful Northern People’s Congress which would later define the trajectory of modern politics in the major regions and across the country. The alliance with the NPC helped to elevate the deputy leader of the NPC, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, to become the Prime Minister by independence. And so to reward Azikiwe for this tactical manoeuvre played at the national level, he received with the support of the Northern allies the honorary/ceremonial posts of president of the Senate, Governor-general, and later president. This alliance mainly helped to deflate the power of the Western regional government led by Obafemi Awolowo, and forced him to become an opposition leader in the country.

The power play and bitter struggles ensuing between the major regional governments, and especially in the Western regional politics in the early 1960s brought an abrupt end to Azikiwe’s term as President of Nigeria.  The military coup led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu in January 1966 halted the 6-year progress of the 1st Republic in Nigeria as the politicians of Azikiwe’s ilk who were not killed had to go behind the political scene for years of military occupation.  

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When the civil war broke out in 1967, Azikiwe assumed the role of spokesman for Biafra and at the same time advised its leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. He switched his allegiance back to Nigeria during the war and appealed to Ojukwu to end the war in pamphlets and interviews.

However, in 1969, having realized the hopelessness of the war, he withdrew his support of Biafra and switched over to the federal side once again.

Azikiwe participated actively in one more round of politicking in the 1983 elections as the candidate of a newly formed Nigerian People’s Party (NPP). The planned coalition to win the presidential seat with Obafemi Awolowo Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) never worked out as the alliance was thrashed at the polls by the Shehu Shagari.

Azikiwe, having lived an illustrious life in politics, helping as one of the fathers of the Nigerian nation to shape the trajectory of politics from before independence, serving as chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (1961-1966), and as the president of several sports organizations for football, boxing, and table tennis. He died peacefully in Enugu on May 11, 1996. 



Featured Image Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

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This article was first published on 8th March 2020


Macaddy is mostly a farmer in the day who also dabbles into technology at night, in search of other cutting edge intersections. He's on Twitter @i_fix_you

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