NNAMDI AZIKIWE ( 16 November 1904 - 11 May 1996)

It is impossible, in a short account, to give more than a blurred image of Zik, the dedicated, full-time politician. He approached politics as he did everything in life, with zeal, creativity and total commitment. Zik’s fundamental philosophy of life was "anything worth undertaking requires no less than complete commitment". And commit he did!

Calling upon a political base developed in the early 1940’s with the establishment of the powerful Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM)and the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), Zik soon had Political Action Groups working in support of his plans and objectives for the Eastern Region. Paramount amongst these was bringing an end to tribalism and division that existed throughout the east and, in fact, all of the nation. He had never hidden or disguised his ultimate nationalist objective for Nigeria, independence from Britain and self rule. He was determined to build bridges of cooperation and unity from his Eastern Regional capital of Enugu to his politically and culturally diverse counterparts in the country’s other regions. This was essential in order to present the truly unified front demanded by Britain as a precursor to independence. Using his incredible charm, diplomacy and communication skills, he traveled throughout the Eastern Region and the nation, preaching the gospel of unity and loyalty to One Nigeria. His very apparent sincerity and oratory soon resulted in a formidable nation wide-wide political following. Zik’s efforts culminated in a speech before an estimated 60,000 people in Lagos on 27 November, 1958 in which he announced that Britain had agreed in principal to grant independence and self-government to Nigeria with effect from 1 October, 1960. His speech was attended and cheered by a broad spectrum of senior ministers, business and church men and women from every corner of Nigeria. Zik charged his cheering audience with the continuing task of hard work and dedication in order to realize their common independence goal. Commenting at the conclusion of the speech, an oft-time political opponent and esteemed Nigerian educator, Mr. Mbonu Ojike, stated "The Doyen of Nigerian nationalism has brought to the three Regions of Nigeria, self-government on a platter of gold and thank God, this Herculean task has been accomplished without bloodshed. Only Zik could have chronicled this epoch".

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In the meantime, other efforts began to pay off. Schools and clinics were being constructed throughout the region in a shining example of self-help schemes. Zik’s enthusiasm for development and the resulting economic prosperity was achieving his stated goal of bringing people together for a common purpose and greater good.

In 1959, Zik was elected to the Nigerian House of Representatives and shortly thereafter, was appointed Minister of Local Government. His greatest frustration at this point in his political life was the intense hostility that divided his own Ibo people, manifest by the deep schism between the Onitsha and Non-Onitsha Ibos. His attempts to arbitrate were met with derision and hatred from both sides. In the middle, and desperately frustrated, Zik considered resignation from his office and return to the business world. To the people of his hometown, Onitsha, he said "I have been fighting all my life. I fought in the U.S. I fought in London. I fought in Accra. I fought every inch for freedom in Lagos. You know I can fight. But I have not returned home to fight, and if my people do not want me, I am prepared to go. I told my father this and I tell you the same: let me fall and be forgotten. I am convinced I have tried my best to serve my people and live up to my philosophy. But I will not fight my people, for in their hearts, is my sanctuary".

But Zik did fight. For love of country and to satisfy his burning nationalism, Zik fought his enemies on the political stump and in courtrooms. He refuted allegation after allegation and, in January, 1960, he was sworn in as President of the Nigerian Senate. On 16 November, 1960, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe raised his right hand and swore his oath as Nigeria’s first indigenous Governor-General and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, with the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa serving as Nigeria’s first Prime Minister. On that same day, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, appointed Zik to the Queen’s Privy Council, the first Nigerian to be so honored.

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Finally, on 1 October, 1963, Nigeria became an independent Federal Republic and H. E. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, assumed the mantle as her first President, appointed unanimously by the Federal Parliament. It was a long and sometimes very tortuous road from a humble Onitsha childhood to the largely ceremonial position as Federal President. Ceremonial though it was, the great Zik had fulfilled his motivating dream and objective, the independence and self-rule of his motherland, Nigeria.

january99_4.jpg (14921 bytes)Zik served diligently and faithfully as Head of State until his removal from office by a military coup d’etat on 14 – 15 January, 1966, resulting from pre-election political rioting throughout the country. Zik was succeeded by the Chairman of the National Military Government, General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi.

Deeply disappointed over the events in his now troubled homeland, Zik left Lagos for his country residence at Nsukka where he spent his time writing and contemplating his future. After several months of thoughtful consideration about his future, he was, after all, only 62 years old, Zik was determined to continue playing a guiding role in his nation’s future.

It was clear to all of us who knew Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe that the word "retirement" was not in his vocabulary. Seclusion at his country home at Nsukka lasted throughout much of 1966, during which time Zik wrote, walked and worked diligently to suppress his disappointment at the political turn of events that brought about military rule in Nigeria.

In April of 1967, I had my first opportunity to spend time with Zik since his withdrawal from politics. We met in London for dinner at one of his favorite restaurants, Boulestan. I was struck immediately by how subdued and melancholy he was; his usual ebullience constrained and his demeanor lacking the customary Zik extrovert personality. I commented with respect, on my observation. He said nothing for perhaps 30 seconds and then allowed me a glimpse of his soul. "Don, I am still in mourning for my country Nigeria". He went on to talk for over an hour about the condition of his country, socially, economically and politically. "I am trying to find a role that will have the greatest impact on the future of Nigeria because if the continued neglect of matters concerning tribal, ethnic and religious division and hostilities, economic deprivation and political and social unrest continues, Nigeria will explode, even more than it already has, in catastrophic warfare". Zik went on to describe in grim detail, the July to October, 1966, massacre of an estimated 35,000 Ibo in the Hausa dominated north and the plight of at least 2 million Ibo refugees flooding the east.

Sadly, on May 30, 1967, Zik’s prophetic words were fully realized when the Ibo of the Eastern Region of Nigeria attempted to secede from the Republic through a unilateral declaration of independence for a new state of Biafra. It is not my intention to discuss this horrendous war which tore Nigeria asunder, other than to say that, as a first hand observer, it set in motion a conflagration too horrible to contemplate, in complete fulfillment of the worst of Zik’s nightmarish prophecy.

Ironically, it was out of chaos and war that Zik found his mission, his raison d’être. As an Ibo who understood the basic philosophy and objective of secession, his immediate inclination was to support the action of the head of the Eastern Region and now leader of Biafra, Lieutenant Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. His tacit support was accompanied by a stern message in which Zik spelled out his demands for a peaceful, political reconciliation of differences between Ojukwu and General Yakubu Gowon, the military leader of the Federal government. Zik insisted on peaceful resolution and stated unequivocally that if reconciliation could not be achieved without bloodshed, then a unified and peaceful Nigeria must result.

Zik’s support was manifest through an extensive but very low key tour of European and African capitals to win recognition, support and aid for the new nation, Biafra. Most doors were quickly closed to Zik’s pleas, although he found limited success with recognition of sovereignty from Zambia, Gabon, Tanzania and Ivory Coast. Discussions with the government of France yielded a limited quantity of weapons, but the military might of the Federal government, amply equipped by the Soviet Union and United Kingdom, soon led to open warfare. Zik’s worst nightmare was realized.

Zik appealed for the intercession of the Organization of African Unity, the United Nations and the Vatican as a means to reconcile the combatants. In early 1969, Zik, in complete despair at the fighting now raging in his homeland, announced that he could no longer, in good conscience, support the Biafran endeavor and opted instead for a peaceful settlement and a united Nigeria, a goal that he pledged to work hard for.

I was privileged to be at Rhodes House, Oxford, on February 16, 1969, when Zik delivered a masterful address outlining his peace proposals for ending the civil war. In delineating the horrors before the high level group in attendance, Zik sparked a wave of international sympathy for the plight of the millions of starving men, women and particularly children, of breakaway Biafra. Within days of his powerful address, airlifts of food and medicine began from the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States and Canada to Enugu and Port Harcourt.

The last of Biafra’s poorly equipped and demoralized forces were finally overcome in pitched fighting south of Enugu on January 12, 1970. General Ojukwo and his senior officials escaped Federal arrest and detention by fleeing on January 8, 1970, to the Ivory coast. Finally, on January 15, 1970, the Biafran adventure collapsed and ceased to exist, surrendered by an acting President, Philip Effiong.

The fighting that savaged Nigeria was over, but the tragedy was far from finished. The nation, particularly the Eastern Region, was a shambles, with millions of starving and destitute people left in its wake. Zik was a whirlwind of activity, working to calm people and travelling extensively, now seeking support for refugee assistance and national reconstruction and finding a strong measure of international support. Aid flowed and along with it, Zik’s popularity was renewed. In 1970, he announced his re-entry into politics in opposition to General Gowan’s continued military rule. His overtures met with failure and Zik again retreated, this time to an old love, sports. He became active in organizing and running amateur football. He chaired the Nigerian Boxing Board of Control and started the Nigerian Table Tennis Association.

Best of all, through the persistent urging and nagging of his many friends, including me, he completed a work long in progress, his autobiography, published in 1970 in London and New York, entitled MY ODYSSEY. Sadly, it was never updated, so much of Zik’s later years are somewhat clouded. I do know that he found much satisfaction in his appointment on January 1, 1972, to the office of Chancellor of the University of Lagos. This lasted until late 1975 when he was replaced by General Gowon’s military successor, General Murtala R. Muhammad. Turning again to writing, Zik completed ECONOMIC RECONSTRUCTION OF NIGERIA and MEDITATION, a collection of poetry, and finally, his last book, an anthology, TREASURES OF WEST AFRICAN POETRY.

february99_2.jpg (60023 bytes)In 1996, Zik was greatly honored in a traditional way when he was initiated into the esteemed Ibo Ozo Society of Onitsha, rising to eventually be inducted into the high office of Owelle of Onitsha.

Zik made one last political run, taking up the leadership of the National Peoples Party after the return to the brief four year civilian rule of President Alhaji Shehu Shagari. In 1982, he announced his candidacy for President in the elections scheduled for 1983. He campaigned with great vigor throughout the nation, expressing his determination to rebuild Nigeria. "Change ’83!" rang throughout Nigeria. But, Zik’s election was not to be. On December 31, 1983, General Mohammed Buhari re-established military rule as Chairman of the Supreme Military Council. Military rule has continued to this day in Nigeria under a succession of army generals.

Zik retired back to his home at Nsukka where he lived in peace until his death on May 11, 1996. He is survived by his second wife, Dr. Uche Azikiwe, an esteemed educator. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was one of the "Grand Old Men" of Africa. His was a life of great achievement and enormous dignity. He will always be remembered as the Father of Nigerian nationalism, Independence and self rule. He touched the lives of all who knew him and will never be forgotten.

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Great Leaders - Nnamdi Azikiwe and Patrick Henry

Both Nnamdi Azikiwe and Patrick Henry though they lived more than two hundred years apart from each other, were leaders of their own time. They both lived through unbearable, and inhumane conditions. Nnamdi Azikiwe through slavery in Nigeria, and Patrick Henry through the unbearable things that Great Britain had placed upon the colonists.

The conditions in both of their times might have been similar, but certainly not equal. The Africans were under much worse conditions than the colonists. They had to deal with the segregation of all the people around them. Separate benches, and even different restrooms for the Nigerians and the white men. The ex-servicemen didn't get the same privileged that the white men did. They were denied many things. Political freedom, economic security and social emancipation. They had to give up all that was theirs so that others could rule over them. The Nigerians were denied their basic human right that all people get. They were treated as if they of another kind like an animal or beast. Slavery was one of the worst things that the Nigerians had to live through. Working for others, and barely earning what would be just enough for their families, if they even got that, because some didn't get any money if they were stolen, so that other Nigerians could get money. They were sold, traded and tossed around as if they were not people. They were forced to live under humiliating conditions. The conditions were unbearable to what the average person in America might be able to handle in this day and age. The Nigerians were torn from one of the most basic rights that we have here in America today. The right to freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. Through these conditions it is unnatural to live life, so that is why they needed their freedom.

The Americans were treated in a similar way. They were forced to live under laws that today would seem to be the craziest ideas, and they seems like they could never actually happen to anybody, but they did a very long time ago. They were taxed major amounts. They paid taxes on almost every item. There was only tax on the items that they purchased from Great Britain, However they got all their items from Great Britain because there was no other place that they could get these items, so they paid taxes on everything. They could get their supplies no other way. They had several different acts that placed taxes on items. To name a few there was the stamp act which placed a tax on every item that was exported or imported (both ways) that needed a stamp, the tea act that placed tax on teas and the sugar act which placed a tax on sugars, and molasses, and some other items. They paid so much tax that it almost drove them to starvation. They had less money to spend on their families needs because of all the taxes they owed to Great Britain. They were forced to shelter soldier whenever they came. They had to provide the soldiers with all their needs, such as food and shelter for their animals. These people did not have the money to do these things, but they were forced to. If they did not do as the soldiers told them they had to suffer the punishments from their mother country Great Britain.
In these two places so very far apart you see a connection. A connection that was through their many hardships. In Patrick Henry's speech he states that the colonists duty was to Great Britain, and that the colonists had no intentions on not being Englishmen until after all of the mistreatments that took place. Similarly, In Nnamdi Azikiwe's speech he makes a small point of how the Nigerians opinion of the people from Great Britain changed through time as slavery, and all the other bad treatments from them took place.
Another thing that is similar in the speeches by both of the men is When Patrick Henry states that the Nigerian people are not weak and they have power. Where as in Nnamdi Azikiwe's speech states the rights that the people of Nigeria should have. When he states this he gives the impression on the reader that the people of Nigeria are not stupid and they know what is going on around them even if it is not happening in their country. He shows the reader that the people of Nigeria are not as naive as the people of Great Britain believe that they are. Patrick Henry also says in his speech that he considered his speech to be a question of freedom or slavery, likewise Nnamdi Azikiwe states that only those who accept slavery as their destiny would continue to live under such humiliating conditions without asserting their right to live their lives and pursue their happiness. When he states this it creates the image that his speech was a question of freedom or slavery as well.

In Patrick Henry's speech he basically says to the people to take of their blinders and see that the colonists last ten years have been unbearable. In comparison, Nnamdi Azikiwe also states that they are living through the unbearable and the humiliating. Both of the men are basically using the same words to describe what is happening to them and their people.

Another major similarity between these speeches is the fact that they are both fighting for what they believe in, and are just asking for their freedom. They both state why freedom is important to them and their people. The one thing that sticks out in these two speeches is that both of them are going through this because of Great Britain, and that they want the same things for their people just a better life for them to live, so they can be equal, and see each other as different because one is white, and the other is of another ethnicity.

In conclusion, there are a lot of similarities between these two very separate speeches that are written in two separate times that are almost two centuries apart. It just goes to show that back in those days the most important thing to the people was their freedom, and how their people were treated. They all wanted freedom so they could live their lives without prosecutions for not following the rules, or following what they believe in. They just wanted to follow their hearts and wherever they took them they knew it was the right thing. These two men were courageous and cared for the people around them, and only wanted to be free. They wanted what was best for their people and their country, so that they could live without fear and be the people that they wanted to be in their countries.

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