October 1 is going to mark 62 years since Nigeria gained independence. Wow! Our country is already becoming an old woman, never mind that we’re still swimming in the kiddie pool when it comes to a lot of things. Every year, for the past sixty-two years, this date has been set aside to celebrate Nigeria’s independence from her colonial masters, the British. The day is usually celebrated with fanfare, as well as with a lot of contemplation of how the year has been and more importantly, a hope for a better year.
Most of the time, however, there is a misunderstanding of what the day actually signifies, and this is primarily because not a lot is known about how this independence came to be and what it was supposed to mean for the country? Or, perhaps, what it meant to our forebearers? Because I’m reasonably sure that the British didn’t willingly relinquish their control over us. I mean, we all watched Spartacus, and we saw how hard the Romans chased after the escaped slaves. So what really went down sixty-two years ago?
Without further ado, let’s get into our homemade time machine and go back to take a little peek under history’s skirts.
Facts About Nigeria’s Independence
Why Did Nigeria Want Independence?
Nigeria desired independence for much the same reason why kids start becoming wayward at a certain age, disrespect their parents, and want to run away from home, or at least spend as much time away from it as possible. Freedom. From the turn of the 20th century, the area known as Nigeria had been a British colony after the British expanded trade with the Nigerian interior following the Napoleonic Wars. But what was so special about Nigeria that these people crossed the Atlantic for?
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A Little Back Story
Well, as it turns out, Nigeria has always possessed rich resources, and the Europeans were quick to identify that (I mean, decades later and we still refuse to shut up about our crude oil, to the detriment of everything else). And it wasn’t Nigeria alone; Africa, as a whole, is blessed with deposits of natural resources, and as the Europeans tried to woo the regions they wanted, conflict soon broke out. In the end, a conference was held in Berlin and 13 countries were chosen to formally regulate the colonial efforts and override the Africans’ self-governance and autonomy. What a fancy word for slavery.
This Berlin Conference led to the setting up of regulations for the division and claiming of territories, which led to increased aggression in colonization. As expected, the people living in these African territories refused to take this lying down, and this led to war, which the Europeans won due to advanced weapons.
In 1885, the claims of the British Kingdom to a sphere of influence in West Africa were made formal, and come the following year, the Royal Niger Company was chartered under Sir George Taubman Goldie. The entire territory soon fell into the hands of the British Empire, and on the 1st of January, 1900, the British greeted us happy new year and welcome to the new century by creating the Northern and Southern Nigerian Protectorate.
In 1914, the British formally united the Niger area as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, although administratively, the region remained divided into the Northern and Southern Protectorates and Lagos Colony. The first administration was led by the Governor-General, Lord Lugard. Modern economy development and western education proceeded more rapidly in the southern protectorate than in the north, the consequences of which we’re still facing to date.
The Nationalist Movement
Early Nigerian nationalists comprised of educated Africans who had the privilege of schooling outside the country or were liberated slaves, and for them, they had no problem with accepting British rule and being citizens. What they refused to take were some administrative acts like Nigerians being treated as second-class citizens, less pay than their European colleagues, taxation, and water rates.
And unlike their French counterparts who operated through direct rule, the British used the illiterate traditional rulers who had become tools of exploitation to rule indirectly. Most of them had been installed by the British after dethroning their predecessors and were little more than puppets, and it was for this and other similar reasons that the nationalists decided that the British needed to either include the elites in the government or, better still, hand over Nigeria’s administration completely.
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This movement soon gained considerable success and support, with the Aba Women’s Riot of 1929, which was a struggle against tax imposition. There was also Herbert Macaulay’s struggle against land acquisition. The World Wars also played significant roles in rousing the consciousness of Nigerians towards this movement; a lot of Nigerian counterparts saw their white counterparts as equally scared as they were during World War I. This broke the myth of superiority and led them to start wondering why they could be sent to the battlefield but were not allowed to rule. Also, World War II saw a lot of soldiers acquiring informal education and becoming more literate.
In the wake of World War II, the British government, in response to the development of Nigerian nationalism and increasing demands for independence, legislated successive constitutions that moved the region of Nigeria towards self-government and autonomy on a representative and increasingly federal basis. By the middle of the 20th century, a great wave of independence was sweeping across the African continent as territories sought to break free from the yokes of their masters, and the colony of Nigeria joined the movement to become the autonomous Federation of Nigeria on October 1, 1954.
On 27 October 1958, the British government agreed that Nigeria would become an independent state on 1 October 1960.
Nigeria gained its independence on October 1, 1960, and a new constitution established a federal system that consisted of an elected Prime Minister and a ceremonial head of state. The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), which was headed by Nnamdi Azikiwe, formed a coalition with Tafawa Balewa’s Northern People’s Congress (NPC) after both parties canceled each other out n the 1959 elections. Azikiwe took on the largely ceremonial position of Senate President, while Balewa continued to serve in his capacity as Prime Minister, a position he had held since 1957.
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Following a referendum supervised by the UN, the northern part of the Trust Territory of the Cameroons joined Nigeria’s Northern region in June 1961, while the Southern Cameroons united with Cameroun in October to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. On October 1, 1963, Nigeria became a republic and Azikiwe became president, although Balewa was still more powerful as prime minister.
Importance of Nigeria’s Independence
Ideally, the attainment of independence by any geopolitical entity is supposed to be a platform for its political leaders to harness available human and natural resources for the welfare of the commonwealth without interference or dictations from another country, since sovereignty now rests with the people themselves.
Nigeria’s independence is largely important because it marked the country’s reward for its years of trying to shirk colonialism and British rule. For years, its citizens had been treated as second-class in their own land, foreigners had more rights, and were treated as superior in all aspects. Indeed, citizens in pre-independent Nigeria were little more than servants.
The event in 1960 eventually led to the formation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, bringing to an end the journey to independence that had started with constitutional developments that saw the country attaining self-rule in some quarters in 1957 and eventually, total independence in 1960. Much like a kid who learns to progress from riding a bike with his father holding it steady to eventually riding on his own, Nigeria’s independence gave her the opportunity to venture forth on her own and chart her own course.
And much like the said kid, it was up to her to choose whether she wanted to ride gently or forge heedlessly straight into traffic, and the events of the years following independence, even up until now, have shown the option she chose.
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