Azikiwe, Nnamdi

Azikiwe, Nnamdi
born Nov. 16, 1904, Zungeru, Nigeria
died May 11, 1996, Enugu

First president (1963–66) of independent Nigeria.

Azikiwe's National Council party won the important 1959 federal elections and helped stimulate Nigerian independence. In the conflict over Biafra (1967–70), Azikiwe first backed his fellow Igbo but then threw his support to the federal government. Thereafter he was a leading opponent of the ruling party.

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▪ 1997

      (BENJAMIN AZIKIWE; "ZIK"), Nigerian political leader (b. Nov. 16, 1904, Zungeru, Nigeria—d. May 11, 1996, Enugu, Nigeria), was a longtime champion of African nationalism and became Nigeria's first president when the country became a republic in 1963. Although he was in office only until 1966, when he was ousted in a coup, he came to be regarded as Nigeria's elder statesman. Azikiwe was educated in the U.S. and taught at Lincoln (Pa.) University before returning to Africa in 1934, first to the Gold Coast (now Ghana), where he worked as a newspaper editor, and then in 1937 to Nigeria. There he founded a chain of newspapers and became active in politics. He wrote columns promoting nationalism, joined the Nigerian Youth Movement, and was (1944) one of the founders of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons. In 1948 Azikiwe became a member of the Nigerian Legislative Council, in 1952 he became a member of the Western House of Assembly, and from 1954 to 1959 he served as premier of the Eastern Region. He became governor-general of the newly independent Nigeria in 1960 and served in that post until he became president. In 1967 when his fellow Igbo (Ibo) attempted to form the independent Republic of Biafra, Azikiwe at first supported them and tried to gain the recognition and help of other countries. By 1969, however, he had concluded that the cause was lost, and he shifted his allegiance to the federal government. Although he was denounced for this move and kept a low profile for a time, he became a leader of the new Nigerian People's Party and ran unsuccessfully for president in 1979 and 1983.

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▪ president of Nigeria
born November 16, 1904, Zungeru, Nigeria
died May 11, 1996, Enugu
 first president of independent Nigeria (1963–66).

      Azikiwe attended various grammar and high schools in Onitsha, Calabar, and Lagos. He spent almost 10 years (1925–34) studying in the United States, where he attended several schools, including Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1934 he went to the Gold Coast (now Ghana), where he founded a newspaper and was a mentor to Kwame Nkrumah (Nkrumah, Kwame) (first president of Ghana) before returning to Nigeria in 1937. There he founded and edited newspapers and also became directly involved in politics, first with the Nigerian Youth Movement and later (1944) as a founder of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), which became increasingly identified with the Igbo people of southern Nigeria after 1951. In 1948, with the backing of the NCNC, Azikiwe was elected to the Nigerian Legislative Council, and he later served as premier of the Eastern region (1954–59).

      Azikiwe led the NCNC into the important 1959 federal elections, which preceded Nigerian independence. He was able to form a temporary government with the powerful Northern Peoples Congress, but its leader, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Balewa, Sir Abubakar Tafawa), took the key post of prime minister. Azikiwe received the largely honorary posts of president of the Senate, governor-general, and, finally, president.

      In the conflict over Biafra (1967–70), Azikiwe first backed his fellow Igbo, traveling extensively in 1968 to win recognition of Biafra and help from other African countries. In 1969, however, realizing the hopelessness of the war, he threw his support to the federal government. When Olusegun Obasanjo (Obasanjo, Olusegun) turned the government over to civilian elections in 1979, Azikiwe ran unsuccessfully for president as a candidate of a newly formed Nigerian People's Party and retired from politics.

      Azikiwe was often at odds with Obafemi Awolowo (Awolowo, Obafemi), a political rival who did not agree with his attempts to form coalition alliances with other ethnic groups, particularly those from the north. An important figure in the history of politics in Nigeria, Azikiwe had broad interests outside that realm. He served as chancellor of the University of Nigeria at Nsukka from 1961 to 1966, and he was the president of several sports organizations for football, boxing, and table tennis. Among his writings is an autobiography, My Odyssey: An Autobiography (1970).

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Universalium. 2010.

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