NO historical sketch about the struggle against imperialism in Nigeria will ever be complete without a mention of the impact of the Zikist Movement; a radical revolutionary youth body, which was, founded 70years ago on 16th February 1946 (to be precise) by young enthusiastic multi-ethnic Nigerian nationalists. Among its founding members were Kolawole Balogun who became the first President, M.C.K Ajuluchukwu who became the first Secretary-General, Abiodun Aloba, Nduka Eze, G. Onyeagbula, M. Aina, G. Ebo, J. Inoma and S. Aderibigbe but to mention a few.
In the 1940’s, the youths were unsure about the pace and commitment of the elders to immediate self-government. This period was also an era of self-determination and educational expansion. World War II and its immediate aftermath ushered in a worldwide depression and this in turn ignited the demand for self-governance. Some notable changes that began to take root before the down turn of this era included urbanization, western education and transportation. All this contributed to the growth of nationalist activities.
Newspapers, magazines and information began to circulate and this influenced opinions. Political and nationalist ideas also grew and proliferated within cities.
The spread of western education especially in the south created a population segment that could read and write, producing leaders with new ideas, visions and ambitions. A growing local media allocated space for anti-colonial issues and political associations emerged and quickly became key nationalist platforms. The General Workers Strike of 1945, the formation of the Zikist Movement in 1946 and the Burutu Strike of 1947 were all key catalysts of change that fueled and intensified this national clamour for self-governance although from a political viewpoint, the formation of the Zikist Movement was arguably the most significant of these historical occurrences.
The leaning of the Zikist Movement was socialist and anti-colonial in outlook and in its early years acted more or less as the youth wing of the NCNC (National Council of Nigeria and the Camerouns). The Movement pledged positive action in defending Nnamdi Azikiwe against attacks by his opponents and to further take on the repressive nature of colonial rule by seeking its end. The Movement garnered some of its inspiration from the writings of Nwafor Orizu in his book “Without Bitterness” and from Nnamdi Azikiwe’s own book “Renascent Africa”.
Orizu has been credited with coining the term “Zikism” a vague expression that he described as not being racialism, jingoism, anarchism, monistic or sarcastic but a form of social life that strives to redeem Africa from social wreckage, political servitude and economic impotency. The aims and objectives of the Zikist Movement were as follows:
i. Zikism holds that self-determination constitutes the inalienable right of the people, and that colonialism is wholly incompatible with this right.
ii. Zikism accepts the Marxist thesis that the economic factor conditions the moral, legal and political aspect of development in any society and therefore urges the need for a just distribution of national wealth.
iii. Zikism strives towards the establishment of “the Zikist Way of Life” and to make the Movement an effective organ of expression for the revolutionary youth.
iv. Zikism represents the revolt of the youth against the desecration and vicious influence of imperialism in Africa, and against the complacence and reactionary tendencies of old Africa in a fast changing world”.
The Movement’s height in popularity was between 1948 and 1949 at a time self-determination movements had just propelled India to Independence in 1947 and a riot in Ghana had resulted in some political concessions being granted to the nationalists over there.
By the beginning of 1947 the Zikist Movement had 29 branches all over Nigeria and was attracting dedicated young people who were willing to sacrifice their careers for a righteous political cause. Notable among such people were Raji Abdallah and Adesanya Idowu.
By 1948, preparatory measures were in full swing for the recruitment of youths and other interested members into this active anti-colonial group. The movement began to intensify its attacks on colonialism and ensured that their ideas became more potent and remained in public consciousness by making use of strikes and boycotts, as well as other propaganda through-lectures, publishing of newsletters and revolutionary pamphlets.
A particularly revered newsletter was written by Osita Agwuna called ‘A call to Revolution’. A call to Revolution was also delivered as a lecture by Osita Agwuna under the chairmanship of Anthony Enahoro. It called for positive action, which included:
. Boycott of British goods.
. Boycott of schools and employment (including the Police and the Army).
. Non-payment of taxes to Government but instead to the NCNC and other nationalist organisations.
. Mass violation of every law and executive order that negates human rights.
The flooding of the prisons with protesters in the mode of India under Ghandi.
The programme of non-cooperation with the authorities and civil disobedience as a means of liquidating imperialism in Nigeria.
In a call for revolution, the movement also asked for direct participation from Nigerian school proprietors who had suffered from grants-in-aid and asked that they inculcate contempt for the British authorities amongst their pupils. It also encouraged students abroad to take courses in military science and called for young people to join in ending tyranny through militant tactics. The movement not only directed their frustration against British interests and persons but also African nationalists and organisations that were viewed as stooges of imperial interests. For this type of public call and similar activities, some Zikists were arrested and tried. The trial came to an end on 2nd February 1949. The five men who were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment were: Anthony Enahoro, Osita Agwuna, Raji Abdallah, Oged Macaulay and Smart Ebbi. Finally, on the 12th of April 1950, the Zikist Movement was banned.
Although as already outlined, the Zikists’ agitations were directed against two main quarters, namely the British colonial administration and agents of British Colonial rule in whatever form, it did not appear that their extremist stance had the blessing off the NCNC or its leadership. Zik in his INSIDE STUFF column in the West African Pilot had described them as “fissiparous lieutenants and cantankerous followers”. In a Presidential address at the Annual Convention of the NCNC in Lagos on 4th April 1949, Zik, in an obvious reference to the Zikists, said:
“We must inculcate a sense of discipline and responsibility in our cadre. An unprincipled and irresponsible army is a liability, and not an asset, to any nation; individuals must realize that membership of a national movement is neither a permit for licentiousness nor a warrant for irresponsibility. Lastly, the rank and file of our national movement must rely on the leadership to develop its own techniques, strategy, tactics and logistics. This requires implicit obedience, loyalty and tact. A disobedient, disloyal and tactless followership is just as suicidal to the national cause as an unprincipled and cowardly leadership. When the followership becomes impatient of its leadership, the course to follow is not to lose faith and become confounded, sullen and disillusioned, rather it must trust those at the helm of the ship of state, remembering that ‘true courage is always mixed with circumspection’, this being the quality that distinguished the courage of the wise from the harshness of the rash and foolish…
We must make allowance for the bold and timid, hoping that this will vindicate the correct perspective. When, therefore, the militant elements among us feel that the time of positive action has arrived, they must ponder deeply that for such action to succeed, there must be, first, a mobilization of forces, second, a disciplined army, third, a well-protected general staff, fourth, a line of communication; and, lastly, a cause worth fighting and dying for. Failure to plan any warfare, totalitarian or Unitarian, on a detailed basis as above, is not only folly of the highest degree, but it is an invitation to disasters.”
The Zikist Movement is sometimes criticized for being too radical and that it laid too much emphasis on anti-colonialism without any necessary emphasis on the future outlook of the prospective Nigerian state that would eventually emerge after independence. It was also seen as being overtly enthusiastic without any due concentration on discipline. Irrespective of these criticisms and the lack of ideas on the future outlook of the Nigerian state, the Zikist Movement is still often credited with the re-awakening of nationalistic political endeavour among Nigerians at a time when there was a lull in activity and in some respects, the Zikist Movement was partly responsible for the introduction of a new Constitution in 1951 namely the Macpherson Constitution. It is nevertheless debatable as to what course events would have taken if the NCNC had declared full support for the Zikist Programme of Action.
Perhaps, independence would have come earlier than 1960. Perhaps, the Action Group would not have been born. Perhaps, there would not have been the NPC (Northern Peoples Congress), and the spokesmen of the Northern Nigeria might have been Aminu Kano, Raji Abdallah, Saad Zungar and Zana Bukar Dipcharima rather than Ahmadu Bello and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Perhaps, too, there might have been shedding of innocent blood! Whatever the case, the Zikist Movement remains the most influential youth organization in Nigerian political history and its place remains secure in the annals of the political evolution of the Nigerian state.
(Kola-Balogun is a former Commissioner for Youth Development in the State of Osun and the son of the Late Chief Kolawole Balogun the founding President of the Zikist Movement)