Respect for human dignity : an inaugural address


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Respect for human dignity : an inaugural address


Nigerian literature (English)


A pamphlet of a political nature, 'Respect for Human Dignity', is Nnamdi Azikiwe's Inaugural Address as the first African Governor-General and Commander in Chief of the Federation of Nigeria. Addressing his fellow Nigerians on 16 November 1960, Azikiwe, a prominent nationalist, celebrates the transformation of governorship in Nigeria from "an instrument of absolute authority" during the colonial era to "an instrument of constitutional authority" now that Nigeria is a sovereign state, (pg.2). In his address he includes some political history of the transition to representative democracy before focusing on the themes of human rights and dignity.

He equates his oaths as Nigeria's new leader with the challenge to maintain respect for human dignity, (pg.6). As Nigeria moves out of the colonial past, Azikiwe observes, "The lack of respect for human dignity has led to the political bondage of man by man in Africa," (pg.6). He continues, "Under no circumstance shall we accept the idea that the black race is inferior to any other race." (pg.7). In fact, Azikiwe pledges that Nigeria will avoid entering into relationships with any nations that "practice race prejudice . . . no matter how it may be legally cloaked, (pg.7). Azikiwe forcefully argues,"Without respect for the rule of law permeating our political fabric, Nigeria would degenerate into a dictatorship with its twin relatives of tyranny and despotism. I hold that the arbitrary exercise of power without the restraining influence of the rule of law must be condemned as a fundamental departure from constitutional government. Any justification of such untrammeled exercise of political power is, to me, an outrage on human conscience and a gross violation of human rights," (pg.6).

He sets an agenda for his country that has "come a long way in achieving our independence," (pg.8). In addition, he calls on Africans across the continent to join in liberating efforts. Referring to several white settler regimes "as minorities with great political power" in various parts of Africa, Azikiwe warns that "it is only a matter of time, when the independent African States will come into their own and plan to rescue their kith and kin from this social degradation," (pg.10). Quoting Langston Hughes at the end of his address, Azikiwe calls on Nigerians to "youthfully march together to a greater tomorrow for Nigeria in unity with faith," (pg.18).

This historic speech remains important as a document of the optimistic days surrounding Nigeria's nascent democracy. This was an exuberant time which preceded the crisis and suffering of the Biafran War and the military coups and dictators that came to characterize Nigerian government. With the 2003 re-election of Olusegun Obasanjo as President, Nigeria has returned towards the path to representative democracy. The hope of many Nigerians is that in the21st century an executive leader will serve as "an instrument of constitutional authority," as Azikiwe noted over 40 years ago, (pg.2). Azikiwe's charge in 1960 holds true for Nigerians today: "I appeal to all our leaders, far and near, to forget the wounds which were inflicted in the course of our internecine altercations. The love of our country should out-weight the love of our petty selves," (pg.16-17).


Azikiwe, Nnamdi, 1905-1996


Onitsha, Nigeria : Union Publishing Company


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Azikiwe, Nnamdi, 1905-1996 , “Respect for human dignity : an inaugural address,” KU Libraries Exhibits, accessed June 25, 2024,