NIGERIA: Down But Not Out (TIME Magazine Monday, Aug. 06, 1956)

 Monday, Aug. 06, 1956

In Pittsburgh one day in the late 19205, a tall, weedy college student named Nnamdi Azikiwe (commonly known as “Zik”) learned that Boxer Jackie Zivic was looking for sparring partners. Fired with a sudden ambition, Zik offered his services. “They knocked me around so much,” he recalled years later, “that I gave it up.” Audacious tries and rough comeuppances are characteristic of Zik’s dashing career.
Last week ebullient. ebony-black Nnamdi Azikiwe, now Premier of the Eastern Region of Nigeria, was taking the worst knocking around he had suffered since his sparring with Zivic. He was hard hit; he reeled; but he was not yet out.
Zik, now 51, has made a career out of battling the British in his native land. The son of a clerk in the Royal West African Frontier Force, Zik passed up Oxford or Cambridge to enroll in West Virginia’s Storer College. Supplementing his original stake (his father’s $1,200 retirement gratuity) with jobs as a coal miner, busboy and dishwasher, Zik spent nine years in the U.S., wound up with an M.A. in anthropology and government from the University of Pennsylvania.
Going back to Africa, Zik started the West African Pilot, filled it with rejuvenation ads, social notes and inflammatory anti-British editorials. It was an instant success. Today Zik owns five daily news papers in southern Nigeria.
Man with Six Tails. Alarmed by his agitation for Nigerian independence, the colony’s British authorities in 1937 tried unsuccessfully to convict Zik of sedition, and in the decade that followed, some times had as many as six detectives tailing him at once. In the past few years, how ever, the Colonial Office’s onetime hos tility toward Zik has changed to a re signed cordiality.
Today Britain is committed to giving Nigeria — like the nearby Gold Coast —independence within the Commonwealth as soon as Nigerian self-government proves workable. The chief obstacle is present ed by the Nigerians themselves. The largest (pop. 32 million) of British colo nies, Nigeria is divided among three mutu ally hostile peoples : the tough Hausa tribesmen of the Moslem north, the town-dwelling Yorubas of the southwest, and the aggressive, hard-driving Ibo farmers of the east. Each region now has its own semi-autonomous government. Britain would like them to federate with a strong central government. The only Nigerians who are keen for this idea, because they are confident they would dominate the federation, are Zik and his fellow Ibos.
Family Affair. Two years ago Zik became the Eastern Region’s first Premier. Still simmering over an old experience in a British bank in Nigeria (“Not only did the manager keep me standing in his office for some minutes, but he was curt and condescending”), Zik used his new power to transfer $5,600,000 in government funds into a hitherto modest native bank, the African Continental. The catch was that the African Continental Bank had been founded by Zik himself, and, although he had resigned as a director upon becoming Premier, he and an organization called Zik Enterprises Ltd. still held 28,000 shares in it. A few months after the transfer of government funds, some of the bank’s directors (who include Zik’s father and cousin) quietly agreed to make Zik lifetime chairman of the board.
“My Humble Advice.” These novel banking practices aroused no public comment until three months ago, when Zik, “aghast at public reports of corruption” in his government, fired an old crony from a cushy government job. The old crony, E. R. Eyo, is both an ex-convict and a member of the Eastern Region’s House of Assembly. Out for vengeance, Eyo rose in the House to blurt out about the government funds in Zik’s bank. The Speaker of the House ruled him out of order on a technicality. British Governor Sir Clement Pleass was not so easily silenced, asked for a commission of inquiry.
Fortnight ago, clearly hoping to scare the British into dropping the matter, Zik fired off to Colonial Secretary Lennox-Boyd in London a message threatening that he and his fellow ministers would resign en masse unless Governor Pleass, a man of “pathological stubbornness,” was promptly removed. Stormed Zik: “My humble advice is that you be careful not to mess up the affairs of Eastern Nigeria as is the case in Cyprus and Singapore. We are ready for any eventuality, and will not stand nonsense from anybody. You have been warned.”
“Invidious Task” Last week in the House of Commons, Lennox-Boyd gave his answer. Staunchly supporting Pleass, “who has a most difficult and invidious task,” the Colonial Secretary ordered appointment of a commission to investigate Zik’s relations with African Continental. The investigation, he added, would force postponement of the Nigerian constitutional conference originally scheduled for September, and consequently a delay in fulfillment of Britain’s promise to give Nigeria self-government.
Oddly enough, as the inquiry got under way, Zik had the British in his corner, for a change. The British privately hoped that the accusations against Zik would prove unfounded. They are anxious to get on with federation, and if Zik proves not to be the man, they can see no one else in sight to build around.

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