The territory known as Nigeria was a British creation. Its coastal areas have for some three to four hundred years been involved in trade, particularly slave trade with Britain. With the abolition of slave trade and the setting up of industries, the Britain’s were in need of raw materials and market for their product. This led to another form of trade relationship between the Nigerians and Britain. Apart from Britain, there were other European countries like France, Germany, Portugal that were also interested in trade with Nigeria. This lead to conflict and competition among these European States, in an attempt to resolve this conflict, a conference was called for in Berlin and in that conference, Nigeria became the lot of Britain.
The Berlin Conference, gave Britain the control over Nigeria, when the Britain tries to implement the treaty of the Berlin in Nigeria, she met with a lot of resistance from the Nigerian people who were not part of the conference nor their consent sort for. Only to wake up one morning and was informed that they are now the property of Britain. This resulted to conflict and war, but the British were victorious due to their superior weapons. By 1914, all the territories of Nigeria were under the control of British, and colonial administration was set up to govern the whole of the country headed by a Governor General Lord Lugard.
Origin of the Nationalist Movement
The conquest and colonization of the Nigerian territory stirring up nationalist sentiments among the few educated elements mostly foreign educated Africans and liberated slaves, and later African students in Britain.
The early Nigerian nationalist did not seek independence. They accepted the British rule and were glad and proud of their status as British citizens. But they fought against specific acts of the British administration. First they fought the imposition of taxation and water rates, to this end, a political association called the People’s Union, was formed by Obasa and Dr. Randle.1 The People Union petition against the water rate. The imposition of taxes lead to the Aba Women Riot of 1929. There was also a struggle against hand acquisition by the colonial government for that purpose, the Lagos Ancilliary of the Aborigines Right Protection Society (LAARPS) was formed. The Ancilliary led a delegation to London to protest against the Land policy of the colonial government.2
Another factor that led to nationalism was racial discrimination. Africans were not considered eligible for top service positions called European appointments. They were also excluded from the well-kept quarters of towns called European reservations. They were treated as second rated citizens in their own countries. Even well qualified Nigerians were denied access to good jobs, and even if they were appointed, they do not have equal status and salary with their European colleagues. Churches were not free from prejudice. It was common for white missionaries to discriminate against blacks. Many of them refused to serve under black priests. Unlike their French counterpart that operates the principles of assimilation and direct rule. The British, operates the principle of isolation, they have few contact with the people. They administer the people through indirect rule. They rule through the traditional rulers who were illiterate, they became a tool in their hands to exploit the people. Since most of the traditional rulers were installed by the British after defeating the former ones, they were to support the British administration and any act or otherwise is viewed as treason. The traditional rulers became the middle men, between the British and the people, the educated Nigerians were left out of the administration. This lead to resentment and grievances. The educated elite reasoned that if Britain was to hand over the administration of the country to it’s citizens in a later day, the educated elite and not the traditional rulers that administer the country, not inclusion of the educated elite in the administration of the country was a sign that the British was not preparing the nation for independence. The educated elite began to context for Nigerian representative in the administration of the country.
The growth of nationalism in Nigeria got the impetus both from the domestic and international front. A brief look at the role played by international personality in stirring up nationalist spirit in Nigeria. One of the prominent international personality is Marcus J. Garvey and Wilmont Blyden. Marcus Garvey had the view that the Blackman should not just fold his hands but must revolt against the idea that Africans were destined to take the back seat forever, and that he should work tirelessly to reject the alleged inferiority of the Africans.
The First World War also played a significant role in boosting nationalist consciousness. The First World War was the first exposure to international scene by Nigerians as a soldier. Many Nigerians who were recruited in the army fought side by side with their European counterpart. They saw that the Whites were also afraid. This broke the myth surrounding the superiority of the European race. When the soldiers returned to Nigeria, they asked themselves if the white man think we are good enough to fight and die in a white man’s war, why do they deny that we are good enough to rule our own country.
It was under these conditions of racial prejudice that the Lagos branch of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association was formed in 1920 by Rev. W.B. Euba and Rev. S.M. Abiodun.
Achievement of Nationalist Movement
The nationalist movement achieved a considerable success in their struggle against the colonial rule. The struggle yielded success, for example, the Aba Women Riot which was a nationalist struggle against imposition of taxation was revolted. The struggle against land acquisition by the colonial administration also yielded a positive result. This course was championed by Herbert Macaulay. In 1912, Macaulay led a delegation to protest against the colonial government’s decision to place lands in the Northern Province of Nigeria, under the control of the Governor who shall hold and administer them the use and common benefits of the natives and to do the same in the southern province. Macaulay decided to go to London to lobby the colonial office. Unfortunately, this plan was foiled by his arrest for an alleged misappropriation of public fund.3
Not deterred by his imprisonment, on arrival from prison, Herbert Macaulay confronted the colonial government on the celebrated case of Chief Amodu Oluwa, whose land in Lagos was acquired by the colonial government for a meagre amount as compensation. Macaulay accompanied Chief Amodu to London in 1920 where he lodged an appeal before the Privy Council who ruled in favour of Chief Amodu. Consequently, the Lagos colonial authority was ordered to pay Chief Amodu the sum of twenty thousand five hundred pounds against the five hundred pounds he was earlier paid.4
Another aspect of the success of the nationalist struggle was the granting of elective representative by Clifford Administration. The National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA) after its inauguration in 1920, sent a delegation to London to present a petition demanding for elective representative. It was treated in an off hand manner by the colonial secretary and returned without success. One of the reasons why the delegation was shabbily treated, the colonial secretary was the opposition of all West African Governors to the demands of the NCBWA. Sir Hugh Clifford was most virulent in his denunciation of the NCBWA and its delegation. He describe their demands as loose and gaseous talk emanating from a group of self appointed, self selected educated gentlemen who collectively styled themselves the congress of British West Africa.5
It is however surprising that Sir Hugh Clifford who had vehemently opposed the demands of the congress recommended the granting of elective representation when setting up the new legislative council.6 This attitude was influenced by the demand of the NCBWA. Clifford was a man that has great value for public opinion. He looked upon public opinion as a check upon arbitrary acts on the parts of government officials. Thus, Nigeria led the way in the achievement of elective principle in Tropical Africa.
It was the activity of the nationalist that lead to different constitutional development. The grievances of the people against the constitutional lead to changes.
Though there were some problems militating against the achievement of the Nationalist Movement, some of the problems that bedevil the movements were the lack of mass appeal. Many of the movements represented a Nigerian elite and their grievances against colonial rule were not always the same as those of the Nigerian masses. There were those benefiting from the colonial administration like the traditional rulers whose position were now more powerful than before, the traditional rulers were answerable to the people, but now to the colonial master. Another explanation is found in the failure of the leaders to unite to fight the cause for which they were founded. Mutual suspicion and petty jealousy lead to quarrels and it’s leaders made all sort of wicked allegation against each other. But perhaps the strongest opposition came from the colonial administration. The governor were particularly hostile to all the nationalist aspirations. Because the controlled forces of law and order, the police and the judiciary. Inspite of its appeal to the educated elite, the Nigerian Youth Movement failed to attract participation from the North. It therefore remained a south based party, and this was a big weakness for any nationalist movement which claimed to speak for an entire country. Besides all these opposition, we can say that the nationalist movement were able to achieve a considerable success.
Impact of World War II
The outbreak of the Second World War made a great impression on the minds of Nigerian nationalists. For the British government called on all the people to help in the war against oppression, dictatorship and slavery by the Germans. The language of freedom, liberty and justice had been introduced into the vocabulary of the colonial government. These words were later to be used by the Nigerian nationalists in the struggle for independence.
Another way the Second World War made an impact on Nigerians, was through the acquisition of informal education by Nigerian soldiers who had left the country to fight for the Empire. At the battle field, the Nigerians discovered that they were by no means inferior to the white soldiers, they also discovered that the white soldiers shared the same hopes and fears as the black soldiers. Furthermore, at the battle fields, the military administration had introduced literacy courses to the soldiers.
The return of the soldiers to Nigeria made an impact, many of them began to speak the language of the nationalists.
The Second World War altered the international system. At the end of the world war, two super powers emerge, the USA and the Old USSR, both were anti-colonial states. The USA been under a colonial rule fought to gain independence condemn any policy of colonialism. The USSR, been an advocate of communism sees colonialism as an evil bestow on earth by capitalism. Also at the end of the war, a new international organization was formed, the UN, and one of it’s charter contains the principle of international accountability.
The Second World War influenced Britain colonial policy. Britain emerged from the war so weak militarily, economically and financially that there seemed to be lacking in the country not only the will, but also the physical and financial power to resist nationalists demands for self government in her colonies abroad. With the victory of the labour in July 1945, general elections in Britain Labour Party took over the government of Britain and was strongly opposed to the acquisition of colonies abroad.
Finally, during the war in 1941, American president Roosevelt and Britain Prime Minister Churchill made the declaration that was greatly to impress the young nationalists called the Atlantic Charter, the statement called on every one to respect the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live. The nationalists who heard this statement gave it the interpretation that all men are free to determine the form and nature of the administration under which they wanted to live.
The first constitutional conference was organized by Governor Macpherson following the criticism of the Lugard Constitution that it was an imposition on the people, that the people were not consulted. The new governor, Sir John Macpherson, decided to avoid such a mistake. In March 1949, a selected committee of the legislative council was set up to examine the problems of introducing a new constitution. The committee agreed that there should be a wide measure of consultation with the people starting from the village level. This was to be followed by a general conference made up of all unofficial members of the legislative council and representatives of each regional council. Recommendations were made. The Regional Conferences met at Ibadan, Enugu and Kaduna respectively. The recommendations of the Regional Conferences were submitted to a constitutional drafting committee headed by the Chief Secretary, Sir Hugh Foot.7
An all – Nigeria Constitutional Conference was then summoned. They met in Ibadan in January 1950 under the chairmanship of the Attorney General, Sir Gerald Howe. The conference drew up a series of recommendations. Mainly that a federal system consisting of the three existing regions should be set up and Lagos be created an independence municipality.
In many ways the 1951 constitution failed to satisfy the political leaders even though it, was home made. This was because it was compromised, and compromises hardly satisfy. The constitution came under attack from nationalists leaders in the south. Dr. Azikiwe criticized various aspects of it. Chief was equally critical of the new constitution, particularly the imbalance that would be created by having three unequal regions knit together by a strong central legislature. He therefore asserted that the constitution failed to satisfy the three criteria by which a federal constitution should be judged and concluded that the constitution was therefore a wretched compromise between federalism and Unitarianism.8
Event that took place between 1951 and 1953 led to another constitutional conference which was summoned in July 1953 to work out a new constitution for the country. The conference met from July to August 1953. The new constitution established a federal system of government. One of the issues addressed in this conference was the question of independence in 1956. The secretary of state informed the conference that the British Government could not commit itself to a definite date for self government for the country as a whole, particularly since the NPC delegation representing over half the country’s population was opposed to it. And promised to grant any region that so desired it full self government.
On January 1954, the constitutional conference re-assembled, this time in Lagos to settle issues not fully settled at previous constitutional conferences. The conference was also withheld because of the crisis between Azikiwe and Eyo.9 A commission was set up which found Azikiwe guilty of misconduct. The report of the commission was followed by the dissolution of the Eastern Regional House of Assembly on January 1957,10 at the request of the government. In the elections that followed, Zik was re-elected.
The crises haven been disposed of the secretary of state – the colonies announced that the conference which had been postponed could now be held. The conference was therefore assembled in May 23, 1957. In this conference, the Eastern and Western region delegations requested for the fulfilment of promises made in 1953 by the British Government to grant regional self government to any region who desire to be fulfilled. The Northern Region also declared it’s willingness to achieve internal self government by 1959 and this was readily greed to by the British Government.
As regards the unanimous demand for the Nigerian delegations that independence be granted in 1959 since the Northern Region had agreed on that date for the territory self government, the secretary of state declared that it was impossible, that there is need to watch events in Nigeria for some time before they could be able to recommend a date to the British Government. He promised however, that after 1959 elections, Nigeria and United Kingdom leaders could confer together to work out a process by which Nigeria could attain self government within common wealth. The Nigerian leaders now shifted the date from 1959 to 1960 and made it clear to the secretary of state that a resolution setting a precise date for independence would be adopted early in 1960 by the new House of Representatives and demanded a more specific guarantee from the British Government. The secretary of state assured them that if such a resolution was received, the imperial government would try as much as possible to meet the resolution in a reasonable and practicable manner.
Following the 1959 general elections, the NPC and NCNC/NEPU formed a coalition government Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa became the Prime Minister and Sir James Robertson continued as governor general. Constitutional conferences were held in May 1960 in London and July 1960 in Lagos to produce an independence constitution. By July 1960, the Nigerian Independence Act was promulgated by the parliament of Great Britain and on October 1, 1960, Nigeria became independent. The constitution was largely the amendments and addition to 1957 constitution through the constitutional conferences of 1957 and 1958.
In conclusion, Nigeria obtained her independence from Britain without violence or war but through negotiations.