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Nnamdi Azikiwe

When the British likened Nnamdi Azikiwe to “Hitler”

23 October 2019

A flyer from 1947 surfaced on social media last week publicising an event entitled “How can Nigeria help Britain”, organised by the Pan African Federation of Great Britain. Speakers at the event included a delegation of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) headed by Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik).  Zik at the time was a firebrand nationalist leading the agitation for the independence of Nigeria from British colonial rule, which made him an “enemy” of the British state.  The NCNC delegation were meant to be on a “goodwill mission”.  But that wasn’t how it was seen in official circles at the centre of the British government.

This was clear from a letter published under the British Documents on the End of Empire Project (BDEEP) by the the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in the University of London.  The letter came from George Beresford-Stooke, Chief Secretary to the colonial government in Nigeria, to A B Cohen, who was the Assistant under-secretary (director) for the Africa Division in the Colonial Office, “describing views of Nigerian govt on Dr Azikiwe’s personality, his methods, his delegation and his financial support”.

George Beresford-Stooke, Chief Secretary to the colonial government in Nigeria

The following comments on Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in particular, and the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons in general, may be of some interest to you in view of the proposed visit to England by a delegation of this body.

The first point to be made about Azikiwe is that he is an Ibo. An outstanding characteristic of the Ibos is that their tribal authority is unusually weak. A Yoruba commented to me the other day that the Ibo youth will speak to his local Chief, or indeed to his own father, in a manner which would not be tolerated for one moment amongst the Yoruba. The individualism and independence of the Ibo is very marked.

You will find when you meet him that Azikiwe himself is well spoken and, on the surface at any rate, very reasonable. He usually succeeds in impressing people with his sincerity of purpose and in persuading those who do not know him very well that he is sadly misunderstood. He will say that he is anxious to co-operate with the Government; that he is not at all anti-British, nor indeed, anti-European, but that he has been driven into his present position by an unsympathetic and hostile Government. That is where he can be so very dangerous. He is quite unscrupulous, and is always ready to say whatever he thinks will appeal to the audience of the moment. He has no regard whatever for the truth, and will make any statement or give any promise which will advance his cause with no more intention of keeping his promises than the late Mr. Hitler had. In fact, his methods in many ways remind one of Hitler, and have possibly been copied from him. However, the point is that he is able to impress people—particularly people who do not know very much about Nigeria.

In many ways he is clever. He has of course put us in a weak position by organising this delegation to England without giving us any intimation at all of what his real aims and objects are. We have no idea what he is going to ask for or what arguments he is going to put forward, and consequently it is very difficult for us to brief you satisfactorily. We can only guess the line that he is going to take and brief you on that.

It seems likely that he will object to the new Constitution [Richards Constitution of 1946) on the grounds that it is not democratic, since Native Authorities are part of the Government of Nigeria, and that whatever we may say, their representatives will feel themselves bound to support Government. In this, of course, he hardly does justice to his own friend Nyong Essien. He may ask for universal franchise, but I think he will certainly demand an unofficial majority of Elected Members whatever the basis of franchise may be. On this point the remarks, at the last meeting of Legislative Council, of Chief Bowari Brown, himself from the Eastern Provinces, are of interest.

It is important to note that Azikiwe has not succeeded in gaining the support of a single responsible and intelligent African. You will see from the biographical sketches of the other delegates that they can hardly be called a very impressive collection. The people of Lagos are getting so tired of Azikiwe that the United Front Committee led by Sir Adeyemo Alakija is now gaining considerable support. It is also notable that the Lagos Chiefs, some of whom strongly supported Azikiwe a little time ago, have now withdrawn their support from the N.C.N.C.

It has been reported that the N.C.N.C. proposes to institute legal proceedings in England against the Nigerian Government for ‘constituting an illegal Council’ as they hold, apparently, that the presence of the Lagos Members in the Council is essential to its legal constitution. In this contention they appear to have been supported by some lawyers in London. We do not know the name of the firm but their telegraphic address is ‘Rexworthys’. It seems that the only people who are likely to profit from this manoeuvre will be the lawyers themselves.

You may be interested to have a note of the finances of the N.C.N.C. If their accounts are anything like correct they have received over £13,000 in donations from the public. It is said that of this £13,000, some £5,000 is ‘unaccounted for’. Of the money actually collected over £3,000 have already been spent. £1,120 appears under the vague heading of ‘Allowances’. Postage has absorbed already the high figure of £254, and no less than £1,088 has been spent on transport. They expect that the costs of the delegation will be about £8,500 of which passages account for £1,400, board and lodging for the delegates £2,700, transport £1,000, Secretariat expenses £1,000, legal expenses £1,000, and propaganda £1,000 with £350 for outfits for the delegates.

After Azikiwe left Lagos a meeting of the Executive Committee approved the payment to Dr. Nimbe of £1,000 down, plus monthly payments to cover the salaries of the staff at his Nursing Home during his absence in England. The account of the meeting states that Mr. Adedoyin presented a ‘similar claim’ which was also approved. These payments can be met either by reducing the expenses of the delegation at home, or by raising more funds, and it was decided to send the Assistant Secretary of the Council on a tour of Nigeria to raise more funds. He has, however, not yet left Lagos.

It is interesting to note that Azikiwe does not apply his democratic principles in the affairs of the National Council for Nigeria in that the selection of delegates to represent different parts of the country has been made, not by the subscribers, but arbitrarily by Azikiwe and his friends here in Lagos. In this he has had a little difficulty. His first selection, made as recently as last April, was as follows:—

Nnamdi Azikiwe

Dr. Olorun-Nimbe

Adeleke Adedoyin

Nyong Essien

Dr. Udo Udoma

Dipcherima of Bornu

Mallam Abubakar Balewa of Bauchi

(2nd Northern Member of the Legislative Council)

and in addition:

Chief Oluwa

Chief Onikoyi, and

Chief Oniru of Lagos, on the understanding that these last three paid all their own expenses. Mallam Abubakar Balewa replied to the invitation in the following terms: ‘I will not join a delegation with the aims of which I do not agree’. Dr. Udo Udoma decided to join the United Front Committee instead.

Early in May the list of the chosen was:—




Chief Shodipo of Abeokuta

Dipcherima of Bornu

Kale, from the Cameroons, and

Chief Amobi of Ogidi.

By this time the Lagos Chiefs had ceased to take any further interest in the N.C.N.C. It is not clear whether or not Chief Shodipo of Abeokuta refused to go, or whether on reconsideration Azikiwe thought that Mrs. Ransom Kuti would be a better person. Chief Amobi of Ogidi was also dropped, and so we come to the final selection which has already been given to you.

Dipcherima recently visited Lagos and appears to have been so disappointed with the company in which he found himself that he returned to the North. He will not, we gather, join the deputation to London [Zanna Bukar Dipcherima eventually went to London with the delegation].

A report just received from Patterson [John Robert Patterson, Chief Commissioner, later governor, of Northern Nigeria] says that the educated and progressive men in the Northern Provinces are so perturbed at the claim of Azikiwe and his friends to have authority to speak for the Northern Provinces that the proposal has been made that a delegation from the North should be sent to the U.K. for the sole purpose of denying this claim.

Colonial Office London

The people whom Azikiwe chiefly represents are the ‘have-nots’—those members of the educated and semi-educated classes who are dissatisfied because their education has not given them the lucrative returns which they hoped for. If Azikiwe were to disappear from the stage tomorrow, his place would at once be taken by another. The movement is, in fact, a symptom of the stage of development through which Nigeria is now passing. A sound cure can be provided only by progressive economic and political development. The foundations for this development have been laid in the new Constitution and the Development Plan, but success will depend largely upon keeping economic and political development in step with each other. Azikiwe wants to push political development ahead of economic development. That would be fatal to both.

It is pertinent to note that since Zik was likened to Hitler several others have been put in that category by the British elite including Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, and Robert Mugabe.

On 13 August 1947, the NCNC delegation met the Secretary of State for the colonies, Arthur Creech Jones, and a record of the meeting on Zik’s comments noted:

Dr. Azikiwe thanked the Secretary of State and the Colonial Office for giving the Delegation this opportunity for an exchange of views. He said that there was no need for conflict; what was wanted was an adjustment of the present situation. The Delegation had great confidence in the people and the Government of this country and the Colonial Office. It was because they had this confidence that they left Nigeria on their mission. The main problem at present was constitutional. It was desirable that the people of Nigeria should have more representation in the conduct of their own affairs. Other developments were also necessary in the social and economic sphere but these were not possible without the people of the country having political power. The Delegation had nothing against the officials of the colonial administration, though they to some extent tended to ignore the literate and educated elements in the country and to regard them as extremists if they put forward political views. The policy of discrediting the educated elements was not, however, a good one. They had a right to express themselves and felt that they should be the spokesmen of their people more than anyone else.

Secretary of State for the colonies, Arthur Creech Jones

Turning to the laws to which objection was raised in the memorandum, Dr. Azikiwe said that the Delegation did not object in principle to the purpose of laws permitting, for example, land to be acquired for public purposes. This was right and proper. The Delegation objected, however, to those sections which gave arbitrary powers to the Governor.

Dr. Azikiwe referred also to various grievances which should be removed, for example, the employment of European women to the detriment of Nigerian ex-service men; the breaking up of lawful processions as in the Idu Bridge incident where there had been no provocation by the demonstrators; incidents elsewhere involving arrests of people in procession; and the existence of deportation laws which went against basic human rights. He referred also to a trade dispute at Ikoyi and to the detention of a chief in the Ibibio division for six months without his having been told of the nature of his offence. He objected to the use of taxpayers’ money to finance newspapers which were used to attack taxpayers. He also objected to the discouragement of Africans in the Civil Service. In this connection, however, Dr. Azikiwe expressed appreciation of the policy announced by the Governor of avoiding racial discrimination in hospitals and schools, etc. There was no mention of the issue of racial discrimination in the memorandum and Dr. Azikiwe instanced this as showing that the Delegation had no intention of acting irresponsibly by making accusations where these were not justified.

Dr. Azikiwe then referred to the relations between Great Britain and the Protectorate as laid down in the many treaties. Under these treaties the native rulers agreed to the abolition of sacrifices and of the slave trade and undertook to encourage missionaries. On the other side, it was agreed that native law and customs should be respected. In his view the treaties were not designed to give Great Britain exclusive internal jursidiction.

In these representations Dr. Azikiwe stated that the Delegation had a large measure of support throughout Nigeria. He did not claim that every Nigerian supported them, but generally speaking they were supported by all sections. There was full evidence of this, details of which could be provided in their tour of Nigeria in which they had raised the very large sum of £13,000, quite a notable achievement in view of the poverty of the country. This had been done despite the fact that in some cases officials had sought to besmirch their personal characters, and Dr. Azikiwe objected that even the Governor had seen fit to ask for enquiries to be made into their personal lives. Even embezzlement had been alleged by officials. Dr. Azikiwe emphasised, however, that the Delegation’s action was purely constitutional and they were anxious to help evolve in Nigeria a constitution based upon a study of modern practices in, for example, Australia, Ceylon, New Zealand, the United States and Great Britain. He appreciated that the constitution which the Delegation had recommended was not necessarily perfect, but it was a genuine endeavour to harmonise modern democratic practice with the traditional African way of life, which was communal.

One of the aims of the proposed constitution was to enable a truly independent judiciary to be set up. Today the judiciary was not independent and the general impression he had was that persons not liked by the administration suffered in the courts. He suggested that there was scope for a commission of enquiry into the judiciary and also into the working of indirect rule.

Dr. Azikiwe drew attention to the fact that all parts of Nigeria, including the north, were represented on the Delegation. Moreover, many Emirs in the north had intimated to him in confidence that as servants of the Government they could not come into the open. Some Chiefs in the south similarly supporting the aims of the Delegation were also afraid to come into the open.

Lastly Dr. Azikiwe asserted that the powers given to the Governor over the Chiefs made the present constitution a mockery of democracy. He realised that there was a new approach to these problems in London but it would take a long time unless energetic steps were taken to bring about the changes which were desirable.

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