The History Of Nigeria’s Independence of 1960

The History Of Nigeria’s Independence of 1960

Nigeria’s Independence – The 1950s and 60s were regarded as years of sweeping African independence from their colonialists; Pan-Africanism was beginning to gain ground not only in the continent but across the globe. The then leaders of the continent in the various nations felt Africa was ripe and ready to take up their destinies in their hands through self-government. Debates and black conferences were being organized in places like the United Kingdom and many more prominent voices that will play critical role in their country’s journey were beginning to emerge.

Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Uhuru Kenyetta in Kenya, Banda in Malawi and Nigeria had persons like Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello. Nigeria being the most populous black nation in Africa with an estimated population of about 80 million then had huge potentials in leading Africa and eventually becoming a world power.

Nigeria as a nation was colonized by the British who found their way into the country at the dawn of the 20th century. Their penetration into the various ethnic three ethnic groups (Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba) was differently received as they were more welcomed in the Northern region that was dominated by the Hausa-Fulani oligarchy. They have since independence held the title of having the greater population even when you put the two other regions together. They also have the land mass as shown by the map of Nigeria. Nigeria also had some of other smaller ethnic groups which were also distinct in culture and tribe.

The nation called Nigeria was birthed in the 1914 when the then Governor-General, Lord Lugard stationed here by the British government decided that the Northern and Southern Protectorate be amalgamated. Nigeria celebrated the 100 years of that action in 2014 which persons like Ahmadu Bello called the “mistake of 1914”. The decision to amalgamate these two totally diverse regions was done without reference to the will of the people who occupied them. You can say that we were herded together despite the difference in species, religion, tribe, ethnicity, distinct cultures and language. Nigeria as today boasts of having over 250 languages. In an interesting twist, it was said that we were even christened by the mistress of Lugard, Flora Shaw who gave us the name Nigeria (meaning the region in the Niger area). The document of amalgamation as was postulated in 2014 by some had a clause that said if after 100 years and the two regions cannot co-exist with each other peacefully, the two can go their separate ways. That is more like signing the Certificate of Occupancy of a landed property that has a 100 year ownership. The authenticity of such document has still not been addressed.

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The Northern region which is the largest was known to have less educated people compared to the East (Igbo) and West (Yoruba) regions. Nigeria was operating a regional government comprise of the North (Hausa-Fulani), West (Yorubas) and East (Igbos). The North accounted for only about 10 percent of primary school enrollment and in the 1000 people that were in the University of Ibadan only about 50 were Northerners. Despite having two-thirds of Nigeria’s land mass, the number of secondary schools in the South was more with a ratio of twenty to one. In all these Northerners still had more seats in parliament in Lagos, the then capital.

Due to the lack of trust between the leaders of Nigeria and those who led the independence coalition (Awo, Zik, Sardauna), politics was also played to benefits tribe and ethnicity. The Northern People’s Congress was led by the Sardauna openly declaring their motto as “One North, One People; so they represented the northern interests before any other tribe. When other leaders from other regions came to campaign in the North their leaders saw it as an abuse of their territorial integrity and the South felt the same way. The strain was evident among us and this was further complicated by our founding fathers who felt having ethnic parties was the best for a large country like Nigeria. Sardauna at that time was regarded as the most powerful politician seeing that he was leader of the largest party that had more seats in parliament.

The Action Group (West) was headed by Obafemi Awolowo who adopted a socialist agenda in developing the Western region given them the advantage of being more educated. His free education did a lot good to bring them to where they are today. Awo on the other hand thought that the Yorubas should lead the new government whenever Nigeria returned to self-government.

The National Council for Nigerian Citizens was headed by the Nnamdi Azikiwe who by all standards was known beyond the shores of Nigeria. His Zikist movement was very much part of the Pan-Africanism that was sweeping Africa. An Igbo man who believed that Nigeria was already a nation and that the existing party structure then was not a threat. All these showed that even our founding fathers though intellectuals and leaders in their rights and territories did not see beyond their ethnic groups being the leaders of the emerging Nigerian state.

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In a parliament seating in 1953 lawmakers from the South (AG and NCNC) moved a motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1956. This motion was moved by Anthony Enahoro who was still in his 20s then. This motion was vehemently opposed by their Northern colleagues who felt that their region was not ready due to lack of personnel and an education population to handle administrative responsibilities by the said year. As it has always been the motion did not pass due to the North having more seats in the House, so they voted against it. On their way of that seating, they were mobbed by people in Lagos for stopping the motion; that experience was going to remain an embarrassment to them.

After several other constitutional conferences that were held in Nigeria and the UK, it was agreed that Britain was going to hand over power to us in October 1960. When elections were held to prepare for the self-government of Nigeria, northern took more seats in parliament. Nigeria was going to adopt the Westminster-style of government; with Prime Minister as the head of government and a ceremonial President. Some authors say that was the end of it in the similarities of the government of UK and Nigeria; why, because the UK government style was filled with debate on many issues and a lot of political maneuvering which was lacking in Nigeria.

The North was picked to lead the new government that was to be installed and the man picked was Tafawa Belewa. A humble man from Bauchi state was also the deputy to Sardauna in the NPC. Sardauna turned down that post of Prime Minister saying that he would rather be the Sardauna of the North than President of Nigeria. He was like mini-god to the Hausa-Fulani community and he made sure that whatever he did favoured them and this reflected in one of his major policies; Indigenization agenda. Basically it was all about given all jobs to northerners in the north and if there was no northerner to do the job at hand they will employ an expatriate to do it.

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Prime Minister Tafawa on the other hand said that Nigeria was only a nation on paper and was also regarded as the puppet of the Sardauna in Lagos. The NPC led the first republic government and this was completed by a coalition with the NCNC with Nnamdi Azikiwe as the Governor-General which was a ceremonial role. His position was upgraded to President in 1963 when Nigeria became a republic on his birthday. The Independence Day arrangement meant that the AG was now left out to be the only face of the opposition and this did not augur well with Awo and his kinsmen.

Many believed that the south (comprising of AG and NCNC) were more educated and their leaders Awo and Zik were doctorate degree holders while Sardauna and Belewa didn’t even have a degree to their name. This sent a signal to southern politicians that northerners were not fit intellectually to lead the country.

Independence Day morning of October 1, 1960 was one of joy, celebration and happiness despite the existent tension among the various groups. The voice of Tafawa Belewa echoed; “Today is Independence Day and Nigeria has become an Independent, Sovereign nation”. Independent as in self-government, yes, but sovereignty, No! The Union Jack was lowered and the Green White Green flag was hoisted. A new nation is born; an African giant has taken its place and ready to lead the continent. The army officer that was commanding the army guards at the midnight flag raising ceremony was a young Captain David Ejoor; who at that time was unaware the role himself and his colleagues (in the military) would play in this emerging nation. Ejoor would later become the military administrator of the Mid-West region after the military has disrupted the first republic and a democratically elected government of Nigeria.

Whether we like it or not, the events occurring in Nigeria today which we all are weary had the precedents set off by those we now call founding fathers and nationalists. We are grateful for their service and sacrifices but their approaches was not the best we could have gotten.

 


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