October 1, 1960 – Independence Celebrations
Northern Nigeria Prepares for Independence
Southern Nigeria Prepares for Independence
A Nation was Born 100 Years Ago
NIGERIA’S JOURNEY TO NATIONHOOD (VIDEO SERIES)
South Sudan has become the world’s newest country, with its capital at Juba and oil wealth. Let’s hope this is a new beginning and an end to conflict. UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon was among the dignitaries that travelled to Juba to herald the newly independent country of South Sudan.
Southern Sudan will have a referendum on independence in 2011.
African Studies Centre, Coventry University, in association with Chatham House are hosting one of the most important academic conferences on Nigeria this year.
Nigeria: the biggest and the best? 50 years of independence
Wednesday 10 November 2010
St Mary’s Guild Hall, Coventry, 10am – 5.30pm
Just 60 minutes from Euston to Coventry station. For Travel directions see:
The aim of this one-day international conference is to bring together leading social and political commentators to review the past 50 years of independence and to examine some of the challenges for the future for Africa’s most populous nation.
It will provide a platform for academics, policy makers, activists and students to debate the most important contemporary issues facing the
Prof. Jean Herskovits, State University of New York
Dr. Abdul Raufu Mustapha, University of Oxford
Dr. Eric Silla, US Department of State
Dr Moses Oketch, University of London
Dr. Lola Banjoko, Exec Director, AfricaRecruit
Refreshments & Lunch will be provided.
Registration & Attendance is £10 (payable at the conference) and free
for students. To register e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nice message from the US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton to Nigerians:
Great video above (called “Africa – States of Independence – Nigeria”) from Al-Jazeera about Nigeria at 50. Wonderful rudimentary run through of Nigeria since 1960. It also features great feature length interviews with people like Wole Soyinka and Ibrahim Babangida, and video footage of Nigeria’s past leaders like Ironsi, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, General Yakubu Gowon, Phillip Effiong, Olusegin Obasanjo, and footage from the 1966 pogroms and civil war.
Warning – there are some harrowing scenes of dying/suffering during Biafra.
As Nigeria’s 50th independence anniversary (October 1, 2010) is only around the corner, I thought some of you nostalgic folks would like some of these vintage images and video clips from Nigeria’s past. Read, view and enjoy….
If you want to know why Nigeria’s first Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was called the “The Golden Voice of Africa”, watch this interview with him. The man had impeccable erudition:
Interview with Seun Kuti.
Interview with Ibrahim Babangida:
The end of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war:
The 1983 coup that deposed President Shagari and brought Buhari to power:
Football Fever, 1996
End of military rule: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11405107
Religious violence: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11405106
2007 presidential election: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11399154
Niger Delta insurgency: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11399155
Continuing power of traditional rulers: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11418542
Statistics about Nigeria: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11388707
The Scramble for Africa:
As Nigeria’s foremost nationalist and first post independence Head of State, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was (and still should be) to Nigeria, what George Washington is to America, Nkrumah is to Ghana, Nasser is to Arabs, and Mandela is to South Africa. The fact that he is not so remembered is a sad testament to Nigeria’s legacy keeping and failure to honour its founding fathers. Azikiwe transcended national politics to become an icon. He is the father of post independence Nigeria.
Birth and Weaning
Unlike many prominent figures in Nigeria (such as Yar’Adua, Ukpabio, Fani-Kayode, Sanusi) who came from political dynasties, Azikiwe was from humble origins. He was a local boy made good. Although Dame Margery Perham described him as a “strange, brilliant, protean character from the Ibo forests”, he was much more bohemian. Perhaps the mis-description can be forgiven when placed in the ignorant colonial context from which it emerged.
Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe was born on November 16, 1904, in Zungeru in northern Nigeria. His father was an Igbo from Onitsha who worked as a clerk in the Nigeria Regiment. Azikiwe’s national outlook was perhaps a result of his cosmopolitan upbringing. Although he was Igbo by birth, he was born in the Northern Region, and attended schools in the west (Lagos), and east (Onitsha and Calabar).
Zik the Polyglot
As a child the young Azikiwe grew up in the Northern Region and spoke fluent Hausa. He admitted that he was “just an Hausa boy then”. Concerned that his son would never learn about his Igbo roots, Azikiwe’s father sent him to his native hometown of Onitsha at the age of eight. It was in this sojourn to his homeland that the boy Azikiwe first learned to speak Igbo.
After attending primary school in Onitsha, he later attended the Wesleyan Boys’ High School in Lagos. In Lagos, he became a fluent Yoruba speaker and completed his command of Nigeria’s three most widely spoken indigenous languages: Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. He of course later became famous for his exceptional command of English and “special gift for oratory, characterised by lavish use of ‘long technical, unusual and foreign-sounding words, calculated to dazzle the wholly unsophisticated audiences.” (Schwarz) He continued his studies at the Hope Waddall Training Institute in Calabar and became interested at a young age, in the black consciousness leaders such as Marcus Garvey. He later revealed that his cross-cultural upbringing influenced his broad-minded view of his country:
“One important feature of my early boyhood days which has had a decisive influence on my latter attitude towards human beings, was the cosmopolitan nature of my neighbourhood and school atmosphere…the contacts made me to be more cosmopolitan and fraternal in human relations.”
Years of Challenge – Azikiwe Attempts Suicide
After working for a short period of time as a civil service clerk at the Treasury Office in Lagos, he departed for the U.S. in 1925 with 300 pounds that his father had managed to save and borrow on his behalf. When he arrived in the U.S. he lived in poverty, at one time having so little money that he survived on lemonade and bread. To make ends meet he did manual jobs, working as a coal miner, casual labourer, boxer and dish-washer. While working in a coal mine he was racially abused, being called “nigger” and “coon”, by the time-keeper. Azikiwe later lamented, “It gave me food for thought that an uncultured, tobacco chewing and vociferous Yankee foreman could speak to me, a university undergraduate, in such vein.”
His early years in America were so difficult and at one point he attempted suicide by lying across train tracks and waiting for an oncoming train to crush him. A good Samaritan saved his life by pulling him off the track with the train only a few yards from him.
Nonetheless he was deeply impressed by the U.S. presidential elections of 1928 which exposed him to the rigours and complexities of democratic practice.
“Zik” is Born
He attended Storer College in West Virginia, and later Howard University in Washington DC. He lectured in political science at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania (where he also obtained an MA in Political Science), and while there he obtained postgraduate qualifications from Columbia University (Certificate in Journalism of the Teachers’ College) and the University of Pennsylvania (MSc in Anthropology). While he was at Storer College his fellow students nicknamed him “Zik”. The nickname stuck for the rest of his life.
The Return of Zik of Africa – “Nnamdi is Born”
Now a graduate in multiple disciplines, Azikiwe returned from the U.S. in 1934, and the following year moved to Ghana where he became editor of the Accra based African Morning Post. He was convicted of sedition for an article printed in the paper (the conviction was quashed on appeal). He also wrote a book called Liberia in World Affairs.
Zik was also a college athlete of some repute with an athletic background from his university days in the U.S. In 1934 Zik applied to compete for Nigeria in the British Empire Games. However he was barred from competing after the South African team objected to his participation on account of his race. Shocked and aggrieved by this blatant racism, he decided to give up his English name “Benjamin”, and started answering the Igbo traditional name “Nnamdi”. Zik used his athletic prowess as a metaphor for challenges he faced in life. In an article in a 1938 edition of the West African Pilot, Zik claimed he “always looked at most of my life’s problems as problems which confront a miler in a mile race.”
Assassination Plot and the Zikist Movement
In 1938 he returned to Nigeria from Ghana and founded the West African Pilot newspaper, which championed nationalist causes and published under the motto “Show the light and the people will find the way”. The paper supported a 1945 strike by workers demanding higher wages. The colonial authorities banned the paper as a result, following which Azikiwe wrote his “last testament”, fled back to Onitsha and went into hiding, alleging a government plot to assassinate him. Although the authorities denied the assassination plot, it was widely believed by his supporters and reinforced his popularity. It also led to the formation of a young radical group called the “Zikist Movement”, which was dedicated to defending Zik from his opponents. The colonial authorities outlawed the group, accusing it of sedition, violence and unlawful behaviour. Such measures merely reinforced Azikiwe’s popularity and made him seen like a local hero standing up to bullying colonial authorities. He became a messianic symbol of Nigerian nationhood and nationalism.
As a fluent and intelligent orator with an athletic 6 feet plus physique and telegenic good looks, he was in many ways born for politics. Schwarz referred to Zik’s “exceptional charm, handsome face and special gift for oratory, characterised by lavish use of ‘long technical, unusual and foreign-sounding words, calculated to dazzle the wholly unsophisticated audiences.” (Schwarz) Yet he was more than just a slick talking showman. He was a shrewd political operator too.
Nigeria’s 50th Independence anniversary is fast approaching. What do we remember of October 1st 1960? Do we remember the man who received the instruments of independence on behalf of Nigeria? Other countries keep libraries full of books and archives about their first leaders. All Americans know chapter and verse about George Washington. Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah is an icon. What of Nigeria’s case? Are we accurately recording our history for our children and descendants?
The only book on Nigeria’s first Prime Minister Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was written by a foreigner. Little is known about Balewa. In the first of a new series of articles on “Nigeria’s forgotten heroes”, I chronicle and attempt to release a little more information about Nigeria’s first Prime Minister.
Birth and Origins
In contrast with the largely aristocratic ruling elite in the north, many of whose ancestry derives from royal lineage, Balewa had very humble origins. His father was a slave who rose in service of the Madaki of Bauchi and became a district head.
According to family oral history, Balewa’s paternal grandfather Isa was murdered in front of his family by his rival’s agents. Isa’s widow then took her infant son to Bauchi, where the Madaki of Bauchi took her in. Abubakar was born in December 1912 in the village of Tafawa Balewa, in modern day Bauchi state. He was his father’s only child. The name of his birthplace was appended to Abubakar’s name (Abubakar Tafawa Balewa). Tafawa Balewa village takes its name from two corrupted Fulani words: “Tafari” (rock) and Baleri (black). This may have contributed to the “Black Rock” nickname he acquired in later life. Although it is widely (incorrectly) presumed that he was Hausa, Balewa’s father Yakubu Dan Zala was in fact of Bageri ethnicity, and his mother Fatima Inna was Fulani.
He attended Quaranic school and learnt the first chapter of the Qur’an by heart. For his Western education he attended Bauchi Provincial School. According to his teacher and classmates he was a shy, quiet and not outstanding student. Although reserved by nature, he did commit a disciplinary infraction when he was caught outside school without permission, and smoking with his friends to boot. He was whipped as punishment. One of his juniors at school was Nuhu Bamalli (later Foreign Minister). He later attended Katsina Teacher Training College (1928-1933) and graduated with a third class certificate. His best subject was unsurprisingly, English. He became a teacher and irritated by a friend’s remark that no Northerner had ever passed the exam for a Senior Teacher’s Certificate, Balewa duly sat the exam, and obtained the Certificate. He became headmaster of the Bauchi Middle School. He reported that the first white woman he ever set eyes on was Dame Margery Perham (a renowned academic on African affairs) when she visited Nigeria on an investigation of native administration.
In 1945 he and other northerners (including Aminu Kano) obtained a scholarship to study at the University of London’s Institute of Education (1945-1946), where he received a teacher’s certificate in history. When he returned to Nigeria he said he now saw the world with “new eyes”. Balewa said he:
“returned to Nigeria with new eyes, because I had seen people who lived without fear, who obeyed the law as part of their nature, who knew individual liberty”
He returned to Nigeria as a Native Authority Education Officer.
Balewa was no firebrand political radical. He may have remained a teacher for the rest of his life had southern politicians such as the flamboyant intellectual Nnamdi Azikiwe not pushed for Nigerian independence. Although not overtly political he founded an organisation named the “Bauchi Discussion Circle” in 1943, and was elected vice president of the Northern Teacher’s Association (the first trade union in Northern Nigeria) in 1948. Anxious not to be politically upstaged by the southerners, Northern leaders sought educated Northerners to serve in political posts. Balewa helped found the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), which was originally intended as a cultural organisation but by 1951 morphed into a political party due to the need to present a Northern response to the rapid and sophisticated political groupings emerging in the south. Balewa was called into political service as the Bauchi Native Authority’s representative to the Northern House of Assembly. The House of Assembly also selected him to become a member of the Nigerian Legislative Council.
Despite political involvement, Balewa remained suspicious of Nigerian unification and feared that the Northern Region would be dominated by the better educated and dynamic south. He said that “the southern tribes who are now pouring into the north in ever increasing numbers…do not mix with the northern people in social matters and we…look upon them as invaders. Since 1914 the British government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs, and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite. So what it comes to is that Nigerian unity is only a British intention in the country.”
He later became the federal Minister of Works and in 1954 Minister of Transport and the senior minister and leader of the NPC in the House of Representatives. His conversion from regional to federal outlook came after he visited America in 1955 on a fact finding mission. He reminisced that “In less than 200 years, this great country [America] was welded together by people of so many different backgrounds. They built a mighty nation and had forgotten where they came from and who their ancestors were. They had pride in only one thing —their American citizenship… I am a changed man from today. Until now I never really believed Nigeria could be one united country. But if the Americans could do it, so can we.”
Position Without Power?
Even though Balewa was only the deputy leader of the NPC, the NPC leader the Sardauna of Sokoto sent Balewa to Lagos to become the federal Prime Minister in 1957. The Sardauna had no interest in living in the south. When Nigeria became independent in 1960, he became the newly independent country’s first Prime Minister and received the instruments of independence from Princess Alexandria (cousin of Queen Elizabeth II). Although the country’s Prime Minister, he was not the leader of his own party (the NPC) and thus remained in the paradoxical position of being a head of government that had to defer to, and take instructions from his boss (the Sardauna).
A “Perfect Victorian Gentleman”
In 1963 he gave a spellbinding eloquent speech at the Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) inaugural conference of the Organisation of African Unity. As Prime Minister he maintained a thoroughly dignified comportment. A British acquaintance called him “perhaps the perfect Victorian gentleman”. He gained several awards from the British: OBE in 1952, CBE in 1955, Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in January 1960 and was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Sheffield in May 1960.
Balewa proposed an amendment to Nigeria’s constitution to give due recognition to the nation building role played by then Governor-General Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Balewa proposed that “Nnamdi Azikiwe shall be deemed to have been elected President and Commander in-Chief of the Armed Forces” because “Nigeria can never adequately reward Dr. Azikiwe” for the nationalist role he played in building Nigeria and achieving independence. Azikiwe is referred to by name in Nigeria’s 1963 constitution, and to my knowledge Azikiwe was the only living individual constitutionally enshrined by name in his democratic country’s constitution.
Death and Beyond
On January 15, 1966 he was kidnapped from his official residence by armed soldiers who were executing Nigeria’s first military coup. He was missing for several days and a search for him was ordered by the new military regime headed by Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi. His family and friends continued to believe he was alive. Rumours claimed the rebel soldiers were holding him alive and that he would be released as part of a prisoner swap involving the imprisoned Chief Awolowo. However these hopes were dashed when his decomposing corpse was found a few days later, dumped in a roadside bush. His corpse was taken to Ikeja airport in the company of Police Commissioner Hamman Maiduguri, Inspector-General of Police Kam Selem, Maitama Sule and his wives Laraba and Jummai who accompanied it as it was flown to Bauchi where he was buried. His body now lies inside a tomb declared a national monument. The tomb includes a library and a mosque. The famous race course square in Lagos was renamed “Tafawa Balewa Square” in his memory. His image appears on the 5 Naira note.
His mother Hajiya Inna died less than a year after him. He was survived by his four wives Jummai, Umma, Zainab and Laraba, and 19 children. He married Jummai (from Sokoto) when she was 13 years old. He also had a posthumous daughter (Zainab) who was born by Jummai two weeks after his death. Although all of Balewa’s widows remarried after his death, their subsequent marriages collapsed and they returned to the Prime Minister’s house in Bauchi to live together. Balewa’s third wife Hajiya Zainab (aka “Hajiya Umma”) died earlier this year at the age of 73.
His two sons in England were comforted and looked after by their headmaster Trafford Allen with the support of their guardian J.E.B. Hall, with their school fees at Epsom College being paid by the military government of General Gowon. His son at Keffi Government College did not know of his father’s death until the school caterer broke the news to him. His children include Mukhtar, Sadiq, Hajia Uwani, Umar, Ahmed, Haruna, Aminu (a journalist who has since died), Hafsat, Amina, Zainab, Yalwa, Saude, Hajia Binta, Yalwa (widowed early and became an organiser of women’s education), Rabi (resisted early marriage in favour of study), Ali (died aged 9), and Hajia Talle Aishatu (now deceased).
This is an extremely controversial topic. We often hear southern Nigerians complain of “northern domination” and that the British colonial authorities were biased in favour of the north. How true are these claims? In this controversial audio documentary the BBC investigates claims that the British colonial authorities deliberately rigged Nigeria’s independence elections to ensure that the election was won by a northerner. The BBC’s blurb on the programme states:
“The allegations centre on the cold war days of 1960 when fears were growing that communism was gaining ground in Nigeria, a country where oil had only recently been discovered. Two top secret files from the time are being kept closed for one hundred years.
Documents calls for them to be released on the FOI Act. Could it be that Britain taught Nigeria all it knows today about fixing the polls?”