"In the case of the great Zik, it became fashionable among his adherents and supporters to be a Zikist. But interestingly, Zikism was not synonymous with an ethnic ideology nor did it a divisive cause. Instead, Zikism was more an ideology for African renaissance emphasizing the restoration of the dignity of the black man after centuries of colonial imposition and exploitation." -Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, Former Military President of Nigeria
Once in every country, a leader emerges from the valleys to chart its course and build a vision for a robust, progressive and prosperous nation. In Nigeria’s case, it was not just only a leader but a colossus and a detribalised Nigerian who built bridges of friendship and unity amongst all Nigerians in an era his contemporaries were busy advancing primordial and ethnic jingles. A man who represented all things that is good to all Nigerians and mankind, The Right Honourable Nnamdi Azikiwe
Smarting from a poor family in Onitsha, the great Zik had a vision of what a true African man should be; in the face of glaring poverty, he kept faith, electing to make the best out of his studies and surmounted all the Alps of challenges and mountains of disappointments that came his way. Ultimately, he graduated in 1933 from University of Pennsylvania with advanced degree thus ending the era of “penurious Zik” as he was nicknamed then.
Zik came back to Nigeria in 1934 after a brief lecturing career in US. However, he departed for Ghana where he worked as the Editor of African Morning Post until 1937 when he relocated to Lagos and founded the West African Pilot, popularly described as "a fire-eating and aggressive nationalist paper of the highest order." He used his chains of newspapers to fight for the independence of Nigeria from the colonialists.
The political life of the colossus known as Zik was an example of patriotic and progressive nationalism, he spoke flawlessly Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba languages and was at home in all parts of Nigeria; he scarified his personal interest for the unity and progress of the young Nigerian nation by accepting the office of the Governor General against that of executive Prime Ministership and never did he meddle into the activities of the prime minister as men of his intimidating credentials would have done. Little wonder though he described the attainment of Independence in 1960 as "the consummation of my life's work" thus "My stiffest earthly assignment is ended and my major life's work is done. My country is now free and I have been honoured to be its first indigenous head of state. What more could one desire in life?" Thus, as the father of modern Nigerian, he was naturally worried that the 1964 general elections were filled bitterness, ethnicity and lack of trust jingles amongst Nigerians leading him on October 1, 1964 to declare “Let it not be said of us that we struggled all these years to win Independence for our people, and when we had the chance to build heaven on earth for them, we made a colossal mess of our country because, in our selfish materialism, we allowed our private prejudices and partial affections to distort our interest to our motherland. Let it not be said of us that when we obtained power, we regarded it as an end in itself and not as a means to bring peace, happiness and contentment to our people”.
Today, the gains of adult sufferage which reorganized the administrative, social and economic development of the Eastern region of Nigeria still stand as one of his greatest achievements as the premier of that region. He also saw the vision of African civilization rooted in its culture and peculiarities; hence he pushed for a coeducational university which metamorphosed into the first indigenous university in Africa-University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He also participated in developing the curricula of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, and donated books from his personal library to ensure its commencement of full academic business.
In an era when Nigeria is still grappling with ethnic challenges and songs, Zik was already exuding a pan-African dream; practicing exactly what he preaches, the great Zik propelled the emergence of Altine Umoru and Bashorun Balogun as the mayors of Igbo dominated Enugu and Port Harcourt districts respectively. It is no more news that the cross-carpeting of members of the Western Regional Assembly momentarily thwarted Zik’s dream of building a Nigeria where every Nigerian will live and become the best he or she can achieve without any hindrance of tribe, religion and sex.
As we celebrate the 107 posthumous birthday of this great African today, November 14, his ever loving and glowing dream challenges us all to build a new Nigeria. A “welfarist” Nigeria where merit, equity and fairness shall always ride the crest and the dignity of man restored through the religious application of the philosophy of Zikism which hinges on political resurgence, mental emancipation, economic determinism, social regeneration and spiritual balance.
In his personal autobiography, Odyssey, Zik had noted "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". Of course, our generation shall not live within the confines of poverty and mediocrity, we must make a change. We are all challenged today to eclipse our group and individual interest for national interest; we, together with the government, must also build a Nigeria where everyone can live in all part of Nigeria without been hindered by ethnicity. We indeed have to fight endemic poverty, create a world class healthcare, abolish state of origin in our statue book, and most, importantly, launch Nigeria into economic development.
According to the New York Times in 1996, 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." It is however saddening to note that the Federal government has been non-committed in immortalising this world renowned Nigerian through the completion of the Zik Mausoleum in Onitsha, a project conceptualized by late General Sani Abacha. It now behooves all Nigerian to urge the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to look into that project and complete it in the earliest possible time because doing that will ensure that we all appreciate the greatness of that rare man called Zik and encourage young Nigerians that patriotism to Nigeria pays in the long run.
For now, it is happy birthday posthumously to The Rt Hon Nnamdi Azikiwe!!!
Okafor C. Udoka Writes
*This article was submitted 15.11.12