The return of the first and only black Governor-General of Nigeria, the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, to Gold Coast and not Nigeria, his father land, after his sojourn in the US to acquire the golden-fleece, left many surprised years back.
Then, Dr. Azikiwe was eager to return to Africa, but not Nigeria. He went to Gold Coast, the modern day Ghana where he started a Journalism career that did Africa proud. As he took journalism to a new height in African Morning Post, using it to create awareness and fuel, the struggle for self-government in Ghana.
The decision of Dr. Azikiwe to go to Ghana, it could be said without fear of contradiction, was not unconnected with the manner and method of his leaving Nigeria. He was a stowaway. That, undoubtedly, left a sour taste in his mouth especially whenever he was among the educated, the then new black elite. Besides, Dr. Azikiwe was not financially strong to foot the bill of his return home despite that he was a professor of Political Science at Pennsylvania University. His return to Ghana in 1933 was sponsored by a Ghanaian entrepreneur, Ocansey and former President of Liberia, Arthur Barclay.
The late Ocansey, who ran make shift cinema houses in the garages, sheds and open market spaces where he showed silent or mute films for a penny, also had a press. It was that press that was used for printing of African Morning Post, which Dr. Azikiwe edited. The editing of the daily newspaper took Dr. Azikiwe to a new height of prominence where he was regarded as a valuable contributor to the grounswell of nationalism crusading in Ghana.
Zik didn’t leave Ghana for Nigeria until he ran into stormy waters of when his advocacy was regarded by some powerful interests in Ghana felt insulted and threatened.
Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe returned to Africa, specifically to Gold Coast in West Africa after a rewarding educational sojourn in the United States of America (USA). By the time he left the USA, he had many degrees in his kitty. Bachelor of Arts in Political Science (Lincoln University) 1929. In 1932, he topped it with a master’s degree in Authropology (Pennsylvania University); Master’s degree in Philosopy (Howard University; a diploma in Journalism at Pulitzer School of Journalism, Colombia University and later lectured at Pennsylvania University.
With the array of degrees in various fields of study and a diploma in Journalism, as the icing on his educational cake, Dr. Azikiwe was fully loaded and more than ready to spread the fruit of his education to awaken, help and raise not only the advancement, understanding and the economic status of West Africans that could ignite a drive and desire for political control of their fatherland. That exactly was what he did, using African Morning Post as the medium for spreading his campaign for self-government and away from yolk of imperialism and colonialism.
African Morning Post provided a golden opportunity for Azikiwe to prove his mettle in journalism and harnessed the medium’s potential for a journey to popularity and stardom. Dr. Azikiwe was the Editor and later the Editor-in-Chief of African Morning Post, a platform that championed crusade for political freedom and self government in Gold Coast.
In the newspaper, the editor wrote deep, inspiring, inciting columns and commentary to motivate readers thinking on what rosy future awaited them at the exit of colonialists from Ghana. Dr. Azikiwe’s public speeches were telling and enthralling, sending his listners to a new realm that raised level of confidence among them and the belief that they were not inferior to the white masters.
Some of Dr. Azikiwe’s speeches and write ups in African Morning Post did not, however, go down well with some traditional chiefs and political leaders in Ghana. They were not comfortable with most of Azikiwe’s stance and what were even regarded insulting to their positions and status. Very soon, a libel suit was slammed on the editor and the newspaper. Those who were behind taking Dr. Azikiwe and African Morning Post to Court even threatened physical violence. The threat threw jitters down Dr. Azikiwe’s throat and the Publisher’s other businesses were also in danger.
Ocansy was no longer comfortable with the editorship of Dr. Azikiwe. People around the Publisher were hostile to the editor and they pressurised him to send Dr. Azikiwe packing. Which was what the Publisher did. Azikiwe returned to Nigeria in 1936 after an ebullient practice of journalism in Gold Coast where he soared in popularity. He even rode the waves with the late Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana.
The turbulence of the libel trial and the hostility in Ghana sent Azikiwe back to Nigeria. It was a time nationallism crusade was gathering momentum in Nigeria. His anticedent in Ghana made Dr. Azikiwe a target for politicking and struggle for self government in Nigeria. It was not long after his arrival in Nigeria that he set up West African Pilot to continue championing the cause of the people.
Benjamin Nnamidi Azikiwe was born in 1904 at Zungeru. His father, Obed, was a clerk at a Railway Station at Zungeru. Benjamin started schooling at Church Missionary School in Onitsha. He preceded to Hope Wadell Institure in Calabar and ended his secondary education at Methodist High School in Lagos. At 21, he got a job at Treasury Department in Lagos. Despite that Nnamdi quickly got a job after his secondary education, he was not satisfied with that level of education. He yearned for higher education abroad and had the USA in mind, abinition, as the country to do his post secondary education.
It was, therefore, not surprising that he attempted to stowaway, but failed. His second attempt was, however, successful and he found himself in the US. With uncommon resolve and determination to succeed, he explored and exploited all the opportunities the USA could afford to make him a better educated person. He did various odd jobs to pay fees at school. In 1927 when the tide of financial challenges were suffocating, Nnamdi attempted suicide as he could not pay his school fee.
At the most daring moment, a relief came through a good Samaritan and the suicide did not hold. He bagged his first degree in Political Science in 1929 at Pennsylvaning University. Nnamdi did not rest on his oars. He regarded his success a demand for more hard study. In 1932, he made his Master’s degree in Anthropology at Howard University. A second Master’s in Philosophy at Lincoln University and later became a Political Science Professor at the Pennysylvania University. The icing on his educational cake was a diploma in Journalism from Pulitzer School of Journalism at Colombia University.
West African Pilot set up by Dr. Azikiwe on his arrival in Nigeria was a fire-brand forum for sensitising the politically conscious people in the country to up their game and intensify their demand for self government.
The country was made up of three regions: The Northern region, which was the largest; the Eastern and Western regions in the South. There, however, was no unanimity of decision among the three regions on the issue of self government, owing to inter-regional politicking.
The Council of Nigeria and Cameroun (NCNC) led by Herbert Marculay was in the fore-front of the struggle for self government and most popular in the South. The Northern People’s Congress was the favourite in the North led by the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduna of Sokoto.
Action Group (AG), which was led by the late Obafemi Awolowo later emerged in the Western region. Dr. Azikiwe with Master’s degrees and doctorate surfaced in the NCNC as the General Secretary of the party. When the leader of the party, Herbert Marculay died during a national campaign tour, Dr. Azikiwe succeeded him as the National Leader of the NCNC. West African Pilot, a Daily Newspaper had its presence in every city, town and even in rural areas reporting Nigerians to Nigerians. It was an emblem of robust journalism. Dr. Azikiwe’s newspaper quickly expanded and became a group that earned credit and recognition for black man’s ability to run successful business and commercial venture.
Dr. Azikiwe’s first rough encounter on political terrain was during the election of the National Council of Nigerian Students Officials. Zik had the impression that the dominance of NCNC in the Western and Eastern regions, he would win the presidential election of youth movement. He lost. Again, Dr. Azikiwe could not muster a majority in the House of Assembly of the Western region to become the leader of government business in Yorubaland. Dr. Azikiwe, who contested a seat in the Western region on the platform of the NCNC had won the election.
His party, the NCNC, overall won 43 seats, the Action Group (AG), led by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, won 41 seat, while Ibadan People’s Party (IPP) led by the late Chief Meredith Adisa Akinloye won all the the 6 seats in Ibadan Province. Another independent cadidate also won a seat in the Ondo Province. From the number of seats won by the parties, the NCNC came first. It won the largest number of seats in the assembly, while the AG trailed behind in the second place.
Dr. Azikiwe was raring to become the leader of government business in the region. He approached the late Chief Akinloye for the support of IPP’s members of the House of Assembly. He succeeded in having only the petrel of Ibadan politics, the late Chief Adelabu Adegoke, to team up with him. The late Chief Awolowo successfully wooed the leader of IPP’s party, the late Chief Akinloye and four other members to go into coalition with Awolowo’s AG. That was how Awolowo emerged the leader of government business and leader the maiden premier of the defunct Western region.
At that point, Dr. Azikiwe left for the defunct Eastern region. On his arrival in the East, Eta Iyo, from Calabar, was already the leader of government business in the Eastern region. A member of the Eastern Region House of Assembly was asked to step down, withdraw from the House to enable Zik contest and replace the member who had earlier withdrawn as requested by the party.
Immediately, Dr. Azikiwe stepped into the Eastern Region House of Assembly, he was voted the leader of government business and Eta Iyo loudly grumbled. While all these crises were going on, Dr. Azikiwe’s father, Obed, had caused to advise his son to quit politics. By the time his son, Dr. Azikiwe, emerged the first premier of Eastern region, his father was literally swept into a giddy revelry and was proud his son.
In 1959, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe emerged the first black Governor-General of Nigeria, courtesy of an alliance between the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun (NCNC).
The federal election into the House of Representatives that prepared Nigeria for Independence in 1960 had produced a clear pattern of people’s choice.
The NPC overwhelmingly won most seats in the Northern region, the NCNC made a clean sweep of most seats in the Eastern Region and the Action Goup (AG) spared only a few seats for other parties in the Western Region.
Failure of any of the 3 most strong parties to win the constitutionally required number of seats in the House of Representatives to singularly form a government forced them into a coalition and sharing of offices.
Alhaji Abubarka Tafawa Balewa from the NPC became the leader of government business at the federal level and later the Prime Minister. Dr. Azikiwe from the NCNC (a junior partner in the coalition) was named the Governor-General and later President (Ceremonial), while the leader of the AG, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was the leader of the opposition in the House of Representatives.
– Tajudeen Adigun