UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The growth of political awareness in Nigeria Webster, James Bertin


Prior, to I945, neither the majority of British nor Africans were convinced that Western parliamentary forms of government could be transferred successfully to Nigeria. Generally it was considered that the Nigerian society would evolve from traditional forms of organization to something typically African which would prepare Africans for their eventual full participation in the world society. After 1945 under the stimulation of nationalism this concept of evolvement was completely abandoned in favour of complete adoption of Western institutions. It is to be expected that after independence the conservative forces of African traditionalism will revive and that a painful process of modification of Western institutions will begin. It would seem however, that modifications are not likely to be too fundamental if one can judge by the success with which Nigerians have handled these institutions and by the material advantages which political leaders have been able to bring to the people through them. The thesis is divided into three chapters. Chapter one is a condensation of much research. It is intended to provide the background to the main body of the work. It describes the tribal, religious and economic differences in Nigeria which have been forces in Nigerian politics since 1920. It discusses the African reaction to the British penetration of the interior after I885. It briefly outlines the British sponsored economic development which resulted in greater urbanization and the growth of an educated middle class which was the author and supporter of the movement to turn from traditional African forms to Western institutions. With little detail the chapter points out the mixing of various tribes in this new class and the complications which resulted. The Ibo tribe has been used as an example. It shows how this educated class maintained its contact and influence with the people of the villages by means of tribal associations which ultimately became the most significant carriers and popularizers of Western political thought. The chapter ends showing the various ideas which this class were absorbing and the effect which the doctrine of trusteeship, the Commonwealth, the British Labour Government, the United Nations and Indian independence had on them. Chapter two traces the demand for parliamentary institutions and attempts to show how the British constructively began to abdicate their power. Some of the early expressions of this demand are indicated for the period from 1885 to 1920. In the year 1920, the first political movement was organized. It was a West African Movement embracing all four British West African colonies; Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and the Gambia. By 1922 this movement had collapsed but successors to it grew in each colony. In Nigeria, from 1922 to 1938 political activity was confined to Lagos. From 1938 to 1945 Lagos politicians were spreading their organizations and ideas throughout the hinterland. At the close of the Second World War an almost country wide agitation began to unite the people to press the British to set up government institutions modelled after those of the United Kingdom. By 1951 this had been done and the elective principle had been widely applied. Thus the first stage of the struggle was over. By 1951 Nigerians were convinced that the British were determined to leave the country as soon as a workable constitution was in force. Chapter two ends at this point where African energies are turned from concentrating on persuading the British to leave and chapter three begins where these energies are being devoted to working out the problems of adjustment in the government machinery to suit the Nigerian situation. Chapter three deals with the divisive forces within the country, which began to show once the unified opposition to the British was no longer necessary. The National Congress of Nigeria and the Cameroons which had led the national front against the British began to decline and break up. Regional parties based largely on local loyalties began to emerge. The elections of 1951 indicated how far this trend towards regionalisation had actually gone. Federalism appeared to hold the answer to Nigerian unity, but while it may have been the only expedient open to the Nigerians, many saw in regionalisation the sure breakup of the country. The conflict between the regionalists and closer unionists came to a climax in the Kano Disturbances of 1953. Following this, in 1954 a constitution was drawn up in which the federal principle was fully acknowledged by all parties. By 1954 the broad outlines of the constitutional pattern had emerged. Nigeria was to be a federal state. However, the final form had not by any means been settled. The constitution of I954 was based on the assumption that Nigeria was a land of three dominant tribes; the Ibos, the Yorubas, and the Hausas. Even before 1954 and increasingly after, the minor ethnic groups began to press for separate states to free them from the partly imaginary fear of major tribe domination. Nigeria is quite certain to emerge as a major African power because of its population, area and natural resources. It is likely to be an influential power because of its semi-Moslem and semi-Christian character. It straddles that line in Africa which divides the Moslem North from the Christian-influenced South. Such a position and character will give it influence, north as well as south of the Sahara. Nigeria's constitutional development is unique in that it is the first federal state to emerge in Africa. Because Nigeria is possibly the most polygot tribal nation in Africa its solution to the tribal problem will make a profound impression upon other African leaders. Actually, little has been written on the topic of Africa's evolution towards modern nation-states. This thesis attempts to contribute to that neglected area of study. It is also an attempt to see this process of evolution from an unbiased Nigerian point of view. This point of view will be indicated by the large amount of source material which is strictly Nigerian in its origin. African sources have as far as possible been relied upon. Much of the source material has as far as can be ascertained, never before been used.

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