Nigerian Independence: History & Details

If you’re interested in the history of Nigeria, a couple of questions you may have asked include how did Britain get to colonize Nigeria and how did Nigeria break free and become an independent nation?

Well, in this post, we will answer these questions and many more.

Nigerian Independence: Historical Account

nigerian independence history

After the Napoleonic wars, the British expanded trade with the Nigerian interior and by 1885; it was well known in the international scene that the British had a considerable influence on this West African sphere.

By 1900, the company’s territory had come under the control of the British Government, which moved to consolidate its hold over the area of modern Nigeria and on the 1st of January 1901, Nigeria became a British protectorate meaning it was part of the British Empire, the foremost world power at the time.

In 1914, the area was formally united as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. Administratively, Nigeria remained divided into the Northern and Southern Provinces and the Lagos Colony.

After World War II, in response to the growth of Nigerian nationalism and demands for independence, successive constitutions legislated by the British Government moved Nigeria toward self-government on a representative and increasingly federal basis. Hence on the 1st of October 1954, the colony became the autonomous Federation of Nigeria. By the middle of the 20th century, the great wave for independence was sweeping across Africa and on 27th October 1958, Britain agreed that Nigeria would become an independent state on 1 October 1960.

The Federation of Nigeria was granted full independence on October 1, 1960 under a constitution that provided for a parliamentary government and a substantial measure of self-government for the country’s three regions. From 1959 to 1960, JajaWachuku was the First Nigerian Speaker of the Nigerian Parliament also called the “House of Representatives.” JajaWachuku replaced Sir Frederick Metcalfe of Britain. It was JajaWachuku that received Nigeria’s Instrument of Independence, also known as Freedom Charter, on Independence Day. He received it from Princess Alexandra of Kent, the Queen’s representative at the Nigerian independence ceremonies.

The Federal government was given exclusive powers in defense, foreign relations, and commercial and fiscal policy. However, the monarch of Nigeria was still the head of state but legislative power was vested in a bicameral parliament, executive power in a prime minister and cabinet and judicial authority in a Federal Supreme Court.

Here’s an excerpt of the speech the then Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa gave on that day, “When this day in October 1960 was chosen for our Independence, it seemed that we were destined to move with quiet dignity to our place on the world stage. Recent events have changed the scene beyond recognition, so that we find ourselves today being tested to the utmost. We are called upon immediately to show that our claims to responsible government are well-founded, and having been accepted as an independent state, we must at once play an active part in maintaining the peace of the world and in preserving civilisation. I promise you, we shall not fall for want of determination. And we come to this task better-equipped than many.’’

However, despite striving towards becoming an independent nation, the political parties in the country still remain quite fragmented. For instance, the Nigerian People’s Congress (NPC) represented conservative, Muslim, largely Hausa and Fulani interests that dominated the Northern Region. The northern region of the country comprised three-quarters of the land area and more than half the population of Nigeria. Thus the North dominated the federation government from the beginning of independence. In the 1959 elections held in preparation for independence, the NPC captured 134 seats in the 312-seat parliament.

Capturing 89 seats in the federal parliament was the second largest party in the newly independent country the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC). The NCNC represented the interests of the Igbo- and Christian-dominated people of the Eastern Region of Nigeria and the Action Group (AG) was a left-leaning party that represented the interests of the Yoruba people in the West. In the 1959 elections, the AG obtained 73 seats.

As a result, when the first post-independence national government, it was formed by a conservative alliance of the NCNC and the NPC.

Upon independence, it was widely expected that Ahmadu Bello the Sardauna of Sokoto, the undisputed strong man in Nigeria who controlled the North, would become Prime Minister of the new Federation Government. However, Bello chose to remain as premier of the North and as party boss of the NPC, selected Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a Hausa, to become Nigeria’s first Prime Minister.

The Yoruba-dominated AG became the opposition under its charismatic leader Chief Obafemi Awolowo. However, in 1962, a faction arose within the AG under the leadership of Ladoke Akintola who had been selected as premier of the West. The Akintola faction argued that the Yoruba peoples were losing their pre-eminent position in business in Nigeria to people of the Igbo tribe because the Igbo-dominated NCNC was part of the governing coalition and the AG was not. The federal government Prime Minister, Balewa agreed with the Akintola faction and sought to have the AG join the government. The party leadership under Awolowo disagreed and replaced Akintola as premier of the West with one of their own supporters. However, when Western Region parliament met to approve this change, Akintola supporters in the parliament started a riot in the chambers of the parliament. Fighting between the members broke out. Chairs were thrown and one member grabbed the parliamentary Mace and wielded it like a weapon to attack the Speaker and other members. Eventually, the police with tear gas were required to quell the riot. In subsequent attempts to reconvene the Western parliament, similar disturbances broke out. Unrest continued in the West and contributed to the Western Region’s reputation for, violence, anarchy and rigged elections. Federal Government Prime Minister Balewa declared martial law in the Western Region and arrested Awolowo and other members of his faction charged them with treason. Akintola was appointed to head a coalition government in the Western Region. Thus, the AG was reduced to an opposition role in their own stronghold.

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