The People’s Republic: Paradoxical heritage

CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK

AT the 1957 Conference, the British had refused to name a date for Nigeria’s independence, because they were not satisfied that the country was ready for self-rule. At the resumed meetings of the Conference in 1958, they sought to discredit one of the Nigerian delegations which strongly advocated the creation of more States before independence. They asked the delegation to make a choice between the immediate creation of more States on the one hand, and the indefinite postponement of a target date for independence on the other. The delegation in question urged that more States could be created without prejudice to the fixing of a date for independence in 1960; but conceded that if the United Kingdom delegation insisted, as it did, that the choice was limited to one or the other of the two alternatives, then it would unhesitatingly opt for independence. And it did.

In addition to its electoral advantage over its rivals, the party in

71

power in the North left.no stone unturned in employing all the machinery of the Regional and Local Governments to make it difficult and sometimes impossible for its opponents to reach the voters. This unorthodox and unfair use of Government machinery was condoned and rationalized by the British officials in the country.

Polling booths for the 1959 federal elections were constructed so as to make voting not quite as secret as it should be. Emirs and District Heads, who themselves had a direct stake in the success of the party in power in the North, and whose children and relatives together with some of the District Heads themselves constituted more than 60% of the candidates at the election, were appointed, under the direction of British officials, to maintain law and order at polling stations. In their discharge of this function, they had power to enter the voting compartments whenever they deemed it necessary.

The climax to all these manoeuvres came when a Northern leader was invited to form a new administration for the Federation, on the basis ofthe election results. There were altogether 312 seats in the House of Representatives. Three main parties had contested the election. The following of one of the parties was confined to the North, whilst the other two enjoyed countrywide support. The results of the election began to trickle in after midnight on 12 December, 1959. On 14 December, 1959, when the other two parties discovered that neither of them was going to have an overall majority in the Federal Parliament, they immediately commenced negotiation for a coalition between them. This became known to the public; and on 15 December, 1959, whilst the coalition negotiation was still in progress, and when the score of the Northern party was only 116 as against 15D for the other two parties, a Northern leader was invited to form a new administration.

Because of transport difficulties in the North, the final results were. not known until 19 December, 1959, when the scores were, for the Northern party 142 seats, for the other two parties 162, and for independents 8. By 17 December, 1959, however, one of the other two parties had concluded a coalition agreement with the Northern party which, by the grace of the British, was already irrevocably installed on the throne of power on 15 December, 1959.

72

The swift action of the British in calling upon the Northern party to form a new administration, thereby forestalling a coalition agreement between the other political parties, each of which was led by a Southern politician of the ‘agitator’ type, was explicable only on the ground that they (the British) were determined to hand over power in 1960 to a Northern political leader. The British were in power in Nigeria for about 61 years. For 47

out of the 61 years, they divided the N0l1h from the South so thoroughly and effectively that the two were divergently and almost irreconcilably orientated: the one looking intently to the Middle East and its illustrious past, and the other to the West and a glorious future. All the efforts at common orientation and concerted nationalism were made by Southern Nigerian nationalists in the face of manifold discouraging odds. The efforts succeeded to the extent that today, there is a forceful crop of nationalists in the North (comparatively small in number) who share identical political views with the progressive elements in the South.

It is incontestable that the British not only made Nigeria, but also handed it to us whole and united on their surrender of power. But the united Nigeria, which they handed to us, had in it the forces – British-made forces they were – of its own disintegration.

It is up to contemporary Nigerian leaders to neutralize these forces, preserve the Nigerian inheritance, and make all our people free, forward-looking, and prosperous. It will be our endeavour in the succeeding chapters of this book to demonstrate that this can be done, and indicate how it can be done.

CONTINUES NEXT WEEK

 

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