Born Nov. 16, 1904, in Zungeru in northern Nigeria, where his father was stationed as a colonial civil servant.
Nnamdi Azikiwe attended English-run missionary schools. He then went to the United States, where he studied at Storer College in West Virginia, Howard University in Washington, D.C., Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and Columbia University in New York City.
Dr. Azikiwe taught political science at Lincoln University for three years in the early 1930′s before returning to Africa, where he founded the first of five newspapers he would create, The African Morning Post, in Accra, Ghana, in 1934.
In Ghana, Dr. Azikiwe became a mentor to Kwame Nkrumah, the Premier of that British colony who would go on to become the President of the first African country to free itself from European rule, in 1957.
Dr. Azikiwe returned to Nigeria in 1937 and worked as an editor and essayist before throwing himself into the limited local politics under colonial rule, becoming a member of the Legislative Council in 1948.
Making a name for himself as an outspoken advocate of independence, he went on to become Premier of the country’s Eastern Region in 1954.
As a lawyer, political scientist, journalist, political activist, President and for many years Nigeria’s elder statesman, Dr. Azikiwe towered over the affairs of Africa’s most populous nation, attaining the rare status of a truly national hero who came to be admired across the regional and ethnic lines dividing his country.
After years of agitation for nationhood, Dr. Azikiwe became Governor General of the Nigerian Federation at independence from Britain in 1960, and President in 1963, when the country was declared a republic.
While in office, he introduced universal adult suffrage and moved to extend schooling throughout the country.
Early in his career, Dr. Azikiwe seemed to realize that his Ibo group, the smallest of Nigeria’s three major ethnic sub-divisions, could never rule the country outright. This insight led him to form alliances with northern politicians from the Muslim Hausa-Fulani ethnic constellation that would give him a far greater say in the country’s affairs than he could have hoped for alone.
In 1960, Queen Elizabeth II appointed him to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. He was conferred with the highest national honour 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, which 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.
Azikiwe was actively involved in sports at every stage of his life, and he was successful in many of the events that he participated in. He won letters in athletics (Lincoln 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 University) and cross country (Storer College and Lincoln University), swimming (Howard University), and football (soccer) (Lincoln University);
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; Advancement of Science; American Society of International Law; American Anthropological Association; etc.
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.
Dr. Azikiwe’s speech:
“My stiffest earthly assignment is ended and my major life’s work is done. My country is now free and I have been honored to be its first indigenous head of state. What more could one desire in life?
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.
Originality is the essence of true scholarship. Creativity is the soul of the true scholar.
Ours is a country built more on people than on territory. The Jews will come from everywhere from France, from Russia, from America, from Yemen. … Their faith is their passport
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.
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.”