ZIK: The footprint of a legend
By Nwachukwu Ngige ( first published in Thisday, 16/11/08)
EVERY 16th of November is a golden opportunity to reflect on essentials of leadership as Africa remembers one of her heroes, Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, a foremost pan- Africanist. The Zik of Africa as popularly known was born in Zungeru, in today’s Niger State in 1904. Young Zik travelled to the United States in 1925 in quest for education.
By sheer dint of hard work, determination and perseverance, he bagged strings of academic laurels across colleges and universities such as the Storer, Howard and Lincoln. It was while in America that Zik came in contact with the ideological dynamics of African–American politics of the time. He was thus influenced by the Harlem Renaissance and the inspirational Africanist visions of Marcus Garvey.
He found a great companion in the works of all time great African –American scholar and leader, W.E.B Du Bois. In America too, Zik also experienced the Negritude movement as well as Afro Cubanism in Cuba. These experiences forged him into the most urbane, internationalized and most intellectually equipped of all Nigerian independence advocates.
At the end of his studies, Zik secured a teaching job at the Lincoln University . It was there as a lecturer in 1933, that African history was for the first time introduced into the curriculum of an American university. With this, Zik proved to the sneering white imperialists like Hugh Trevor-Roper of the 1950’s Oxford that Africa has a great history that is different from one long night of savagery. Zik proved “that African history is not an unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes.”
However, the comfort of an American job held no attraction for Zik who had a flaming passion to engage his towering academic attainments for the liberation of Africa from the manacles of imperialism. There was a steely conviction in him that his baggage of degrees meant nothing if not deployed to free Africa from the bondage of colonialism, thus his return to Africa in November 1934.
The emergence of Zik in Africa of the 1930s was a big momentum for the anti-colonial struggle. In Ghana in 1934 as the editor of the African Morning Post, the impact of Zik’s anti colonial evangelism was electric. He did not just fire imagination; he inspired concrete steps towards de-colonization.
While addressing Africans in Ghana in January 1937 for instance, Zik declared, “if because I am an instrument of destiny through which imperialism in West Africa is to be challenged and liquidated, and if in this mission I am compelled to pay the supreme penalty, then there is no need for me to quake or to quiver. I am becoming convinced day by day that the New Africa is destined to become a reality. No force under the heavens can stem it. Even my death cannot postpone its crystallization.”
It was his quintessential journalistic torch-bearing, nascent political vibrancy and oratory that attracted disciples like Kwame Nkuruma whom Zik assisted to secure admission at Lincoln University. Nkuruma returned later to lead Ghana to independence. It is on record that Pan Africanists such as Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Houphouet Biogeny of Côte d’Ivoire , Nelson Mandela of South Africa and even Obafemi Awolowo were influenced by Zik.
It is also on record that Zik was one of the conveners of the Pan African conference of 1945 in London where blacks all over the world united for the first time to fight imperialism in Africa. Back in Nigeria , Zik re-engineered the NCNC; fine tuned its course and cause, making it a gritty national political platform for the independence struggle. The Zik’s group of newspapers championed by the West African Pilot was a thorn in the flesh of colonial government.
Under Azikiwe’s inspiration, Nigerians first began to demand total independence. His deep understanding of power dynamics, his nationalism, black philosophical consciousness and above all, intimidating intellectual and academic prowess jolted Nigeria’s independence struggle out of slumber, while affronting the pride and conceit of colonial masters.
His vision and strong belief in one united Nigeria was unmitigated and unmatched. Thus, while some of his contemporaries were content creating impregnable regional bases, Zik pursued a pan Nigerian constituency. From every stretch of calculation, Zik is decidedly the father of Nigeria .
Today, Zik is no more but he has shown the light and our people have found their way. In other climes where tribalism and mediocrity do not blur the vision of leaders, Azikiwe deserves a better memorial. Without Zik historians have noted, the path to Nigeria’s independence would have been different.
He was the eagle on the tallest iroko. Unfortunately, today at Inosi Onira Retreat Onitsha, the Zik mausoleum is still under construction, thanks to President Jonathan under whose leadership work has been renewed on it after being abandoned for over a decade.
Today that ethnic nationalism and terrorism are affronting the adhesive of national unity; Nigerians have a lot to learn from Zik’s unshakable commitment to the unity and progress of Nigeria. Today that politics has become a do or die affair, Nigerians should draw endless lessons from Zik’s maturity, sagacious sense of dialogue and compromise as a panacea to good governance and national cohesion.
*Nwachukwu Ngige, a journalist is the Head of Social Media at the National Secretariat of the PDP.