The lies they told about British influence on elections in Nigeria

I would advise people never to believe that rubbish from that former British colonial official, Harold Smith, that British rigged the 1959 general elections for the North to control Nigeria. It is a bunch of lies and disjointed attempt to ravish our country and her history. That man was a hired agent recruited to do that dirty job to entertain whoever was responsible for hiring him to do his bidding. I read this story long time before and dismissed it and never bothered to react to it in the belief that no sensible person who is familiar with Nigeria will ever believe the rubbish he spewed. I thought Nigerians will follow the footsteps of Dr. (now Professor) Alkasum Abba of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria who studied Nigerian political history for over 30 years, when he dismissed the stuff outright. But unfortunately, the story is still doing the rounds. Our younger generation, particularly some of the elites, is not following the footsteps of Professor Abba on this matter. I refer to his article in responding to Smith with a title: “The Rigging of Nigerian History,” published in 2007, ZAHIR, Journal of History Research, ABU, Zaria, volume 2 number 1. But for the benefit of our younger generation and anyone who do not know the reality of the issue at stake on that matter, I would like to make some remarks on the issue just for now.

Mr. Smith was born in 1927, two years after my birth, was recruited and sent to work in Nigeria in 1955, two years after the conclusion of the 1953 Nigerian London Constitutional Conference in Lagos. The issue of Nigerian independence was discussed though not concluded during that conference. The 1953 constitutional crises brought about by Chief Anthony Enahoro’s motion for independence in 1956 forced the British colonial authorities to convene the conference. The refusal of members of parliament from the North to attend further meeting of the House of Representatives in Lagos in protest against the attack by some hooligans against them after the vote in the House against Enahoro’s motion for independence led to the convening of the conference in London by the colonial authorities in 1953.

In preparation for the conference, British authorities in Nigeria hurriedly made arrangement for provincial conferences in all the provinces of Northern Nigeria where a document called 9-point Agenda for Northern Nigeria, purportedly as a mandate from the people of the North for Northern delegates attending the conference was tabled and adopted.

We in the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) believed the document was a handiwork of the British colonial officials spearheaded by a British colonial information officer in Northern Nigeria called Captain Moloney. Bogus provincial meetings were held and that paper was presented and adopted as the position of Northern Nigeria to the 1953 Constitutional conference. Few members from opposition parties were invited to the provincial conferences just to give a semblance of public participation in the discussion at the ruse organised by the British officials and called Provincial Conferences.

I was the leader of the NEPU Youths Association and Assistant Publicity Secretary of the party at that time. Few opposition members were allowed to attend the provincial meetings. Some of our members who were invited to the meetings vehemently opposed the nine-point agenda at those meetings just to register our disapproval of the document presented. They were mostly over ruled by the senior native authority officials who not only populated those meetings but also presided over them.

In order to register our protest at the autocratic way those meetings were handled, NEPU directed thousands of its supporters all over Kano Province to go to Kano International Airport and register disapproval of the masses to the so-called nine-point  Northern Agenda being taken to the London Conference in the name of the masses of Northern Nigeria. Our supporters converged at Kano airport in their thousands during the departure of the delegates to London to show their rejection of the so-called nine-point Northern Agenda. The party decided that we the leaders must personally lead the protest at the airport. The then President-General of the NEPU, Mallam Abba Maikwaru, and others led other party leaders to stage the protest at the airport. We went there in large number. As a result, big contingents of native authority and the Nigeria Police personals were drafted to the airport to make way for the Northern delegates who were going to London Conference through Kano Airport to be able to gain access to the tarmac. It was a Herculean task for all the delegates to pass through and enter the plane on that day.

Eventually, the police managed to assist the delegates, including Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Mallam Aminu Kano, Abubakar Zukogi and the rest to join the plane. Later that night, police mounted a swoop on the houses of leading NEPU members resulting in the arrests of 19 of us who were arraigned before the emir’s court the following day and prosecuted on trumped up charges of unlawful assembly.

All these took place in 1953, two years before Mr. Smith was employed to work in Nigeria. It was at that London Conference that the modalities for Nigeria’s independence were first discussed.

I took the trouble to give this background information to show that that Mr. Smith had no idea what it took to influence the outcome of negotiations for Nigerian independence, let alone being asked by a whole Governor-General, Sir James Robertson, who was in charge of the entire British colonial officials working in Nigeria, to ask him or any single individual for that matter to rig the 1959 general elections in favour of the North. It should be borne in mind that there were series of elections in Nigeria between 1951 and 1959, a period of nine years; these were the 1951 regional/ federal elections, the 1954 federal elections, the 1956 regional elections and the 1959 federal elections. All these elections, except that of 1959, were conducted when Mr. Smith was in the United Kingdom.

Therefore, in giving consideration to the claim by Mr. Smith, it is pertinent to remember that throughout that period nationalist activism was at its highest level. And nationalist leaders such as Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Malam Aminu Kano, Chief J. S. Tarkaa and a host of their lieutenants were very much around. It is impossible with an array of such leaders and multitude of their militant lieutenants that one individual can manipulate the outcome of the elections that will pave the way for the emergence of leaders who would be given the reign of power in Nigeria’s march for independence. I invite any one reading this presentation to have a good look at the results of series of elections that took place between 1951 and 1959 and compare the outcome and see if there was any substantial difference the so-called manipulation by Mr. Smith made to change the outcome in favor of any one. I hope people will ponder into the results of the elections, particularly those concerning elections to the House of Representatives in 1954 and 1959 and see where manipulations we’re employed to determine the outcome of those elections. We are mainly talking of elections to the House of Representatives, which were held only at three different occasions, 1951, 1954 and 1959.

In the 1951 elections, members of the House of Representatives were chosen from among members of regional houses of assembly acting as Electoral College. We should compare the number of seats won by the three major political parties, NCNC, Action Group and NPC as well as their allies in term of North-South results. There is no big difference in relation to North/South dichotomy in terms of number of members from the two areas north and south in the House of Representatives. For the purpose of that comparison we should consider the number of members of the three political groups in the National Assembly after the 1951 general elections and the 1959 election in terms of the strength of the three political groupings of NCNC, AG and NPC along with their allied. It will be noticed that the difference in terms of members of Parliament the situation gave no room for the British colonial authorities or anyone else to influence the outcome of the elections in 1959. Below is the state of parties in both the 1954 and 1959 elections to the House of Representatives for verification as follows:

The 1954 Constitution increased the membership of the House of Representatives to 184 on 50:50 formula between the North (as a bloc) and the South (Eastern/Western Regions and Lagos combined). Thus, the North and South had equal number of 92 seats each.

In 1959 with the total number of 312 seats nationally, NPC won 134 seats (exclusively won in the Northern Region), NCNC/NEPU won 89 seats (8 in the Northern Region, 58 in the Eastern Region, and 21 in the Western Region & Mid-Western Regions, and 2 seats in Lagos). AG won 73 seats (33 in the Western & Mid-Western Region, 25 in the Northern Region, 14 in the Eastern Region, and finally, 1 in Lagos). Finally, others parties won 16 seats.

Thus, in 1959, total number of Northern seats were 167 (134 for NPC, 8 for NEPU, 25 for AG), while the southern seats stood at 145 (81 for NCNC, 48 for AG, and 16 seats for other parties). It should be noted that the difference in number of seats in the House of Representatives between 1954 and 1959 was made possible by the decision to conduct 1959 elections on the basis of single member constituencies on population basis which was not the case in 1954.

Given these incontestable facts, I am puzzled as to why some people, including journalists and non journalists alike, keep on listening to someone like Harold Smith, who was just a 3 third rate Labour officer of the colonial government in Nigeria, whose duties and responsibilities were not associated with the process of the disengagement of the British from Nigeria to make false claims about the 1954 and the 1959 elections. If the British rigged the 1959 elections just in order to handover Nigeria to the North, who did the rigging for them in subsequent elections of 1964/xthan Southern Nigeria put together. Check the census figures from 1921, 1931 and 1952 conducted by the British and the subsequent ones conducted by Nigerian Governments since 1963. The North has more than 50 per cent of Nigeria’s population since 1911 census which was conducted during the lifetime of the two original protectorates, Northern and Southern protectorates that existed up to 1914 when the two protectorates were merged into the present day Nigeria, meaning that they have more population and therefore more voters, and politics is an exercise of numbers.

If such world renowned American academics as Professor James Coleman and Professor Emeritus Richard Scalar, who both closely studied and wrote extensively on Nigeria’s struggle for self- determination from colonial rule and nationalism would all not see and reflect this aspect of rigging elections in their great scholarly works, then surely it exists only in the warped minds of those who want it to exist. A 3 third rate colonial Labour Official with questionable integrity and who failed to graduate in university cannot change Nigeria’s national historic truth.

  • Yakasai, OFR, is an elder statesman in Nigeria



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