A Force in Library Development in Nigeria

C.C. Aguolu and L.E. Aguolu

floral device Abstract

This is the first attempt to coherently document the immense contributions of one of Africa’s foremost nationalists and pan–Africanists to the development of libraries in Nigeria. Although he is best known for his achievements in politics, journalism, and sports, Dr. Azikiwe saw the library as a vehicle for the intellectual emancipation of Nigerians from colonial rule.

As President of Eastern Nigeria in the 1950s, the first and only indigenous Governor–General, and first President of Nigeria in the 1960s, he was able to wield sufficient political influence to ensure a legal basis for public library development in Nigeria, the establishment of the University of Nigeria Library – named after himself – and the eventual creation of the National Library of Nigeria.

floral device Introduction

Born on 16 November 1904, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first and only indigenous Governor–General of Nigeria (1960–1963), and the first President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1963–1966), died on 11 May 1996. He was buried on what would have been his 92nd birthday, 16 November 1996. A very articulate and potent force in the achievement of Nigerian independence in 1960, and endowed with an unusual, if not a mythical, combination of enviable qualities, he was widely regarded as Nigeria’s greatest orator, and excelled in sports, journalism, politics, and authorship. He received his university education in the U.S., attending Columbia, Lincoln, and Pennsylvania Universities, where he studied anthropology, religion, economics, political science, and journalism. For a brief period (1925–1934), he was an instructor in political science at Lincoln University before returning to Africa.

An ardent nationalist as well as a pan–Africanist, Dr. Azikiwe returned to Nigeria in 1937 after a three–year sojourn in the Gold Coast (Ghana), where he had begun his journalistic career, by founding and editing the highly-influential newspaper, African Morning Post. This served as a springboard for nationalist agitation in the Anglophone West African countries. His two seminal works — Liberia In World Politics (1932) and Renascent Africa (1937) — embody his original thoughts on colonialism, African independence, and education. On his return to Nigeria in 1937, he set up a string of newspapers — all aimed at achieving political independence, and socio–cultural and economic transformation, in Nigeria. His highly eclectic academic background was solid preparation for his enduring political and journalistic careers.

His newspapers included the most influential one, West African Pilot, which he personally edited from 1937 to 1947; The Eastern Nigerian Guardian, published in Port Harcourt; the Daily Comet and Nigerian Spokesman, published in Onitsha, his native town; Southern Nigerian Defender, published in Warri and Ibadan; The Sentinel, published in Enugu; and the Nigerian Monitor, published in Uyo. As Uwujaren has noted about his career in journalism, His entrance into the profession in 1937 really changed the face of the Nigerian media, as the press became more courageous with an overt bent towards helping to loosen the noose of the oppressive colonial system and the shackles of the feet of oppression. What makes Zik’s brand of journalism unique is that he preached what he professed. His almost vitriolic writings were perfectly complemented by his political activism in the nationalist struggles. His philosophy was quite represented in the motto of his West African Pilot, which read, “Show the light and the people will follow the way.” Zik’s gift stands for boldness, equity, and social justice. His unrestrained pursuit of these values at some point brought him into conflict with the law, but it never deterred him [1].

Dr. Azikiwe believed in dialogue as the best instrument of settling disputes rather than resorting to violent confrontation. He spoke fluently all three of Nigeria’s major languages — Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba — in a country marked by an enormous ethnic and cultural divergence with over 400 languages. He founded, in 1944, the first viable Nigerian political party — the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC) — with an elder nationalist, Herbert MaCaulay, who was President of the party which spear–headed the independence movement. Azikiwe, the Secretary–General of the party, became its President in 1946, on the death of Herbert MaCaulay, who was generally acknowledged as “the father of Nigerian nationalism.”

Thompson has enunciated, in A History of Principles of Librarianship, [2] these three basic principles: (1) libraries are subject to political, social, and economic processes operating in the society; (2) library development, in general, fluctuates with the rise and decline of learning; and, (3) librarians, however influential they may be, have no power over the ultimate existence of libraries they manage. The society that created the libraries may conserve or destroy them.

Thus the return of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe to Nigeria in 1937 was a turning point, not only in Nigeria’s political history, but also in its educational and library history, as shown by his words and actions from the 1930s to the 1960s. At his death in May 1996, there was a sudden deluge of writings on his contributions to politics, journalism, and sports, but there was no mention of his outstanding contributions to the development of libraries in Nigeria. The purpose of this paper is to identify and elucidate those contributions, which are still either incoherently documented or scattered in various sources. This is the first attempt at crystallizing the enormous contributions of this intellectual and political giant — Zik of Africa — to Nigerian library development.

floral device Public Libraries

In 1939, the Carnegie Corporation sponsored a survey of library needs of British West Africa, undertaken by Margaret Wrong and Hans Vischer, two years after the return of Dr. Azikiwe to Nigeria. The survey report [3] indicated the British lack of interest in library matters in Nigeria, it noted that in 1939, of the 152 subscribers to the Lagos Library, only seven were Africans and 145 were Europeans. Azikiwe had been very critical of the Lagos library service as highly discriminatory — a reminder of the racist practices he had experienced in the United States. The few Africans who could use the library were “those with sufficient Western education, social standing, and connections not to feel out of place in such a milieu… it provided valued recreation for the British administrative and professional class and for their wives, and for an even tinier group of Nigerians of similar background and mind.” [4]

The Carnegie Corporation, nevertheless, in 1940, made financial grants to Nigeria for library development. Table 1 gives an overview of financial grants to Nigeria from 1932 to 1959—a year before Nigerian independence [5].


Table 1: Carnegie Grants to Nigeria, 1932 – 1959*
Purpose of Grant Date Grant
(in U.S.$)
1. Library Development 1932 $6,000.00
2. Books for Schools and Colleges 1940 $3,000.00
3. Purchase of Books for Lagos Public Libraries 1940 $27,323.00
4. Regional Libraries and Reading Rooms 1940 $1,412.00
5. Library of Congress Catalog and Supplement for University College, Ibadan 1951 $1,126.00
6. Purchase of Books for Library of Nigerian College of Arts, Science, and Technology 1954 $10,000
7. Library Training Course at the University College, Ibadan 1959 $88,000.00
  Total: $136,861.00

*Florence Anderson, Carnegie Corporation Library Program, 1911–1961
(New York: Carnegie Corporation, 1963): 99.

Paradoxically, although the establishment in 1940 of the Standing Committee to Advise Government On Provision of Libraries by the Colonial Government could be regarded as a concession to local aspirations. Malcolm MacDonald, British Colonial Secretary, wrote on 8 November 1939 to Sir Bernard Bourdillon, Governor of Nigeria, that he would support anything that would promote literacy and intelligent reading among Nigerians, provided the necessary funds “could be made available from non–government sources — I do not wish to give the impression that I should desire colonial governments to incur themselves more than a small outlay upon the subject at the moment.”

The colonial administration was ready to spend on libraries whatever money was given by the Carnegie Corporation, but hardly any from its purse. But the special condition of the Carnegie grants was that their recipients would be prepared, after the grants were exhausted, to continue to finance the projects for which the grants were originally made. The reply of the colonial Governor in Lagos to the British Colonial Secretary inevitably brought Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe into an open confrontation.

On 12 April 1940, the colonial Governor, Sir Bourdillon, wrote to the British Colonial Secretary in London, informing him that “the Carnegie funds had little practical value. African reading interests were considered to be limited and to be too closely associated with personal advancement to justify expenses on reading materials of broader scope.” [6] Dr. Azikiwe, on learning about this correspondence, denounced it as “irresponsible” and “racist” in his highly influential newspaper, the West African Pilot. He questioned the basis of the colonial government’s assertion on African reading interests, and contended that the government had never provided Nigerians a free public library service, or even an opportunity of reading materials of narrow scope, not to mention providing them with library materials of broader scope.

It is surprising that the colonial government depended, at that time, upon the Carnegie Corporation for the provision of any sort of library service in Nigeria. In the 1940s, there were no regional libraries. Regions, as political divisions, were only created in 1952. The British Council had arrived in Nigeria in 1943 during World War II, establishing reading rooms across the country to promote the British culture and ideas. They were filled with British newspapers, political tracts, bulletins, and radio propaganda about the on–going World War.

Towards the end of the War, some perceptive British colonial officials who recognized the inevitable progression of political events towards Nigerian independence, had begun to question the British policy on libraries in Nigeria. Thus, in 1950, J.O. Field, a colonial civil servant, criticized the colonial government’s misuse of the financial grants from the Carnegie Corporation:

The whole trouble in the past and quite clearly a considerable part of the trouble now is the failure to realize that there have got to be libraries and that part of the available public revenue has to be appropriated to their establishment. [7]

The UNESCO Seminar on Public Library Development In Africa, held at Ibadan in 1953, was the first international conference or seminar on libraries ever held in Africa. It gave further stimulus to Dr. Azikiwe’s quest for library services in Nigeria. It was not only a catalyst — spurring on the champions of public or national libraries in African countries like Dr. Azikiwe, and Dr. Nkrumbah of the then–Gold Coast (Ghana) — it also helped to stimulate African governments to enact public library legislations and to set up public library boards. The Seminar emphasized that “only legislation can empower the appropriate authorities to provide the services and ensure adequate financial support and efficient administration according to a national standard. Only legislation can define the functions of the providing authority, create the conditions in which it may fulfill those functions, and ensure development.” [8]

As the premier of Eastern Nigeria, Dr. Azikiwe ensured the enactment of the Eastern Nigeria Public Library Ordinance and the Eastern Nigeria Publications Law in 1955. Both legislations were the first of their kind in Nigeria. They helped to speed up library services in the Eastern part of the country. Before the Nigerian Civil War in 1967, public library services in the Eastern Region, based upon a clear authority of the law and controlled by a public library board, were far superior to those of all other parts of the country, where public libraries were left directly under the political umbrella of the Ministry of Education or Information.

The value of public library legislation and a publication law was so obvious that immediately after the civil war in 1970, other state governments in the country enacted public library legislations, set up library boards, and provided for legal deposit in respect of publications issued within their states. Although, the Western and Northern Regional Governments of Nigeria had passed publication laws in 1957 and 1964 respectively, they did not pass the public library board law. Today, most states in the Federation have passed public library laws and have created public library boards of varying degrees of effectiveness. Commenting on Azikiwe’s contributions to library development in Nigeria, John Harris, regarded as the “Father of Nigerian Libraries,” remarked:

As to what happened in Eastern Nigeria, that of course was of utmost significance. It is probably the most significant thing that has happened in Nigerian library development… what happened was that Dr. Azikiwe, when he did begin to come on some real power in the country, did not forget libraries; and in the Eastern Region, he very soon after coming into power there did set about establishing a regional library service ... He did consult with librarians and it developed from there. The whole library law of Eastern Nigeria was quite certainly worked out and we all know how successful its development was that it was well–based. [10]

No state government in Nigeria today would pass any public library board law without a provision for legal deposit requirements. Besides, in the Nigerian library profession, the success of the public library services in Eastern Nigeria in the 1950s, from the early promulgation of public library law under the premiership of Dr. Azikiwe right up to the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War in 1967, has become a historic reference point for the librarians, justifying their pressure upon their state governments to enact public library legislation, which would provide for a library board and legal deposit.

floral device University Libraraies

Before the establishment of the University of Nigeria at Nsukka in 1960, based upon his educational philosophy, and drawing inspirations from the American land–grant colleges, Dr. Azikiwe had called for a democratic, functional, and broad–based university education, in contradiction to the prevailing rigid British educational pattern. He contended that Africa needed political emancipation no more than intellectual emancipation, which could only come if Africa had its own universities, rooted in the African ideology, closely reflecting Africa’s needs. Thus, in his classical work entitled, Renascent Africa, Azikiwe remarked:

Universities have been responsible for shaping the destinies of races and nations and individuals. They are centres where things material are made subservient to things intellectual in all shapes and forms. No matter in which field of learning at any university, there is an aristocracy of mind over matter — Black Africa has no intellectual centre where the raw materials of Africa humanity may be re–shaped into leaders in all the fields of human endeavor — with 12 million pounds there is no reason why the libraries, laboratories, professors cannot be produced right here, and continent (Africa) can become overnight “A Continent of Light.” [11]

It is significant that in 1937, when Azikiwe made the above statement — the year he returned to Nigeria from his study in the United States after spending some three years in Ghana (then the Gold Coast), he had realized from his experienced in the use of American university libraries that the proper equipment of any university library was the basis of quality university education.

Azikiwe’s perception of the role of libraries in African universities clearly anticipated and antedated the comments of the two British 1945 Commissions On Higher Education in the Colonies, namely, the Elliot Commission On Higher Education In West Africa and the Asquith Commission On Higher Education In the Colonies. Both commissions were set up by the British Parliament in 1943, as a decolonizing device, to establish university colleges for the preparation of high–level personnel to man the colonies when they achieved their political independence. Both commissions, which reported to Parliament in 1945, emphasized the organic role of the library in any university college to be established. The Asquith Commission specifically remarked that:

The development of the universities will depend to a large extent upon the provision of fully–equipped libraries and laboratories… we cannot emphasize too strongly the paramount importance …of the building up of a university library. [12]

Thus, when the University College, Ibadan, affiliated to the University of London, was set up in 1943, there was a strong emphasis on the maintenance of a good university library.

The University of Nigeria, founded by Dr. Azikiwe with the objective of restoring the dignity of the “black man,” was Nigeria’s first full–fledged indigenous university, modelled upon the American educational system. At its establishment, Ibadan University College had inherited the small library of the Yaba Higher College in 1948, in addition to the 18,000 volumes of the Henry Carr Library, which the Nigerian colonial government had purchased in 1946.

Seeing that the University of Nigeria had no such collection with which to take off, Azikiwe, who became the University’s first Chancellor, donated some 12,000 volumes of his books and 1,000 journal issues in different subject fields to the university to serve as its initial library nucleus. He also made financial donations. In addition, he secured for the university the technical assistance of the Michigan State University, which lasted from 1960 to 1969. This involved both human and material resources. The library was the first one in Nigeria to adopt the use of the U.S. Library of Congress Classification Scheme and the List of Subject Headings, thus setting the stage for Americanization of Nigerian library practices and professional ideals.

A book collector, Azikiwe was reported to have assembled over 40,000 volumes in his private library, not to mention thousands of pamphlets, journals, memorabilia, and government documents, before their destruction in the Nigerian Civil War, 1967–1970. After the war, he started to rebuild the library, which had served as an important research centre to scholars in diverse fields, especially historians, political scientists, biographers, and constitutional lawyers.

floral device The National Library

Although the quest for a national library in Nigeria dates back to the 1940s, it was not until 1964 that one was legally established in Lagos. Dr. Azikiwe’s perception of a national library in the 1950s and 1960s chimed in with that of his contemporary pan–Africanist, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, who in 1961, on the opening of the George Padmore Research Library, declared:

A good national library is at once the repository of a nation’s culture and wisdom and an intellectual stimulant. In this library there shall be no national frontiers, for here shall be stored the cumulative experience, the collective wisdom and knowledge about the entire continent of Africa, and the assessment, revaluations and studies of observers from all over the world. [13]

Azikiwe understood the value of such a library as a depository of cultural heritage and as a research centre where authentic studies on Africa could be conducted.

Unfortunately, some Nigerian nationalists, like the colonial administrators, thought of a national library largely as a magnificent, monumental edifice, with the best architectural design, involving an enormous financial outlay. Azikiwe also perceived the national library as a living agency of progress, intellectual enrichment, and public enlightenment, not as a repository of artifacts or archival documents of the past.

The 1953 UNESCO Seminar on the Development of the Public Libraries In Africa, held at Ibadan, not only encouraged Azikiwe to press for a national library for Nigeria, but also helped to crystallize the national library concept on Africa. Before the seminar was held in Nigeria, the Nigerian Council of Ministers — Nigeria’s first representative government — had rejected the national library concept, contending that all library matters should be relegated to the regional governments, and to local and private organisations. The council was unable to see that while the regional governments would cater for the public libraries, it was the responsibility of the central government to establish a national library for the country [14].

To be fair to the colonial government, it had purchased the Henry Carr Library in 1946, probably to serve as the nucleus for the national library. Dr. Can, a renowned educationist and the earliest and best–known Nigerian book collector, was the first African Commissioner for the Lagos Colony, and Chief Inspector of Schools in the Southern Provinces of Nigeria. His collection, numbering over 18,000 volumes, covering the humanities and social sciences, was the largest private library ever assembled by any West African. When Ibadan University College opened in 1948, is Principal, Kenneth Mellanby, persuaded the colonial government to deposit the collection, unused for two years and faced the grim physical deterioration, with the University College Library on loan [15]. It has remained there ever since. An opportunity of establishing a national library appeared then to have been lost.

The national library concept originated in the early 1960s, when Dr. Azikiwe was the first indigenous Governor–General in 1960 and later the first President of Nigeria when it achieved republican status in 1963. He helped to ensure that a feasibility study was conducted on the national library by Dr. Frank Rogers, Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, sponsored by the Ford Foundation of America in 1961.

On the attainment on Nigerian independence in 1960, the perception of the national library by the Council of Ministers, which had rejected in 1952 the participation of the central government in any library matter, had taken a nationalist turn. The Council, along with the Nigeria Branch of the West African Library Association, established in 1954, quickly accepted the Rogers Report, recommending the establishment of a national library.

At the request of the Nigerian government, the Ford Foundation sent Professor Carl White, former Dean of the School of Library Science, Columbia University, to serve as Library Advisor to the Nigerian government on setting up the National Library of Nigeria. On his arrival in Nigeria in March 1962, Dr. White was shocked to learn that there was no budgetary provision for the newly proposed library in the first post–independence National Development Plan, 1962–1968.

The immediate personal intervention of the Governor–General, Dr. Azikiwe, and the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar, saved the day. They asked Professor White to prepare a special report on his financial needs and on the objectives, scope, and structure of the library. His report, known as the “May 1962 Report,” was accepted by the government without delay. By the end of 1962, work on the National Library had begun in Lagos, with three American librarians and Professor White as the Federal Government’s Library Adviser. The National Library Act, drafted by the Adviser, was enacted in 1964, which set the library on a legal footing, and on 6 November 1964 the National Library was opened to the public.

floral device Conclusion

It is intriguing to know that the National Library, whose movement dates from the 1940s, could only be established four years after Nigerian independence, when Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had enough political clout as the Governor–General to win the support of the Prime Minister of Nigeria, who was the executive head of the government. At every turn of events in the Library’s evolution, as the political influence of Dr. Azikiwe grew, the impact of his support on establishing the Library was discernable. An astute, enigmatic politician, he saw the National Library as an evergreen tree of knowledge which could, in such a complex, pluralistic society as Nigeria, contribute to building a richer and better social order, thus serving as a principal instrument in weaving the tapestry of the country’s multi–ethnic and cultural pluralism.

Many of the national libraries in Europe had sprung out of the royal libraries, but in Africa, as demonstrated in the case of Nigeria, the national library, although its scope of responsibilities may vary from country to country, has grown out of the awakening national consciousness, embodied in Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and powerfully expressed, from 1937 when he returned to Nigeria from the United States to 1964 when the National Library of Nigeria was legally established while he served as the first President of the Republic of Nigeria.

floral device References

1. Uwujaren, Wilson, “Zik: The Exit of a Pioneer,” The News (Lagos, 27 May 1996): 14.

2. Thompson, James, A History of Principles of Librarianship (London: Clive Bingley, 1977).

3. Wrong, Margaret and Harms Vischer, West African Library Development (New York: Carnegie Corporation for Colonial Office, London, 1939): 111.

4. Olden, Anthony, Alan Burns, “The Lagos Library and the Commencement of Carnegie Support for Library Development in British West Africa.” Journal of Library History XIII (Fall 1987) 402–4.

5. Quoted in Carl White, The National Library of Nigeria: Growth of the Idea, Problems and Progress (Lagos: Federal Ministry of Information, 1964): 1.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid. p. 2

8. Development of Public Libraries In Africa In the Ibadan Seminar (UNESCO, 1954).

9.Aguolu, C.C. “Father of Nigerian Librarianship,” New Library World 59 (Jan. 1978): 251–253.

10. Harris, John, “Libraries and Librarianship In Nigeria At Mid–Century,” Nigerian Libraries 6 (April/Aug. 1970): 36.

11. Azikiwe, Nnamdi, Renascent Africa, reprint of 1937 ed. (London: Cass, 1968): 140.

12. Asquith, Cyril, Report of the Commission On Higher Education In Colonies (London: HMSO, 1945):18.

13. Quoted in Evelyn Evans, A Tropical Library Service: The Story of Ghana’s Libraries (London: Deutsch, 1964): 133–134.

14. Aguolu, C.C. “The Evolution of the National Library of Nigeria…”Journal of Library History15 (Fall 1980): 404.

15. Mellanby, Kenneth, The Birth of Nigeria’s University (London: Methuen, 1958): 206–7.

floral device About the Authors

C.C. Aguolu is Profesor of Library Science and Chairman, University of Maiduguri Press, Maiduguri, Nigeria.

L.E. Augolu is Pricncipal Librarian, University of Maiduguri, Maiduguri, Nigeria.

©1997 C.C. Aguolu and L.E. Aguolu