By Owei Lakemfa
AS we mark the fiftieth year of our flag independence, many Nigerians are despondent believing that our lingering problems are because we are cursed.
This is incorrect, rather, our problems are foundational as typified by our founding Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. He was a school teacher when the colonialists spotted his talent as a “House Nigger”. In January 1947 he was appointed into the Northern House of Assembly and two months later into the Legislative Council (National Assembly) Balewa was of low esteem; he felt inferior to the White man, was grateful to have been colonised, was an unapologetic agent of colonialism, was ready and willing to do the bidding of the British, and did not believe in the unity of Nigeria.
To the colonialists, this was the perfect person to invest in and promote to lead Nigeria. To mitigate any controversy, let me reproduce excerpts of his first speeches at the two legislative houses as published by his friend/master and official biographer, Trevor Clark in the book, A Right Honourable Gentleman: The Life and times of Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
At the Northern House of Assembly, Balewa submitted: “We are fortunate in having the British here as our guides and teachers. They are great colonial administrators and they have great experience in developing and administering many tropical dependencies. I want all our British officers to realise that now is the time when we, as their pupils, need all their patience and courage, and the use of their knowledge and experience. If ever the Northern provinces change, as I know they must, I want them to change into modern Northern Nigeria, but not into some sort of artificial civilization which is not either European or African. The Northern provinces are now facing a great danger.
Evil ideas are creeping into the North from outside sources. In all countries of the world you find men who thirst for power, who agitate the government and disrupt the happiness of the people for the satisfaction of their own personal ambitions. I understand we have such a class of people in Nigeria. I do not know what right those people have to claim to be the voice of the North. We must do something soon in the North to show Britain and the world that these self-styled leaders do not and cannot in any matter or in any way represent us. We have our own leaders whom we have chosen”.
At the inaugural meeting of the National Assembly, Balewa declared: “We are still far from one country, despite the railway train and the motorcar which have created the opportunity of understanding among ourselves.
This alone is not enough. We here are representatives of different communities, to discuss our common problems and to establish our future destinies. The success or failure of the Richards Constitution lies mainly with the unofficial members. We should not close our eyes to the fact that the Yorubas, the Igbos and the Hausas, who are the predominant tribes in the country, do not see eye(to eye).
“…Among the needs of the Northern provinces are mass literacy, and for the education of our boys and girls to go side by side. We have only one secondary school – we ask for five more, three for boys and two for girls. In the awards of scholarships, the Northern provinces should have more places, because the Western and Eastern provinces have been enjoying those opportunities for a long time. Now the time has come for the North, and we should like to make up for what we have lost. We are glad that it has come to the notice of government that the Northern provinces have not been receiving the use of their full share from the Nigerian government.
Well, we do not want to lose utterly, and we ask for the development of the North absorbing the greater portion of the funds allotted to Nigeria from the colonial development, so as to make up their losses from the revenue. We ask for improvement in villages which have remained in the same places as before the British occupation, and for better prices for the farm produce, which means raising the standard of living. Agriculture alone cannot save us, there must be industrialisation. …As to native authorities – we should like the position of our emirs and chiefs, as rulers of their own people, to be clearly defined. Most are men of experience. Their experience and knowledge of their own people and of the local conditions carry great weight.
“… The doctor’s care is still badly needed, but it should be remembered that the child is now fast reaching years of discretion, and he is now asking to be given an opportunity for a quicker growth. Our mistakes could be corrected easily because we should always have the advice and guidance of our British officers…
“There are some people in Nigeria who have taken upon themselves the responsibility of speaking for the whole country as one. A delegation of these people (made up of Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Michael Imoudu) toured parts of the Northern provinces. We did not then understand the real intention of that tour, and we naturally mistook it for one of friendship.
We had never dreamed that it could ever possibly happen that these people could have thought of becoming our mouthpiece. We should like the world to know that in the North we have got our own leaders, whom we have chosen ourselves, to be our rulers and our voice. We do not want our Southern neighbours to interfere in our development. We have never associated ourselves with the activities of these people. We do not know them, we do not recognise them, and we share no responsibility in their actions.
“We shall demand our rights when the time is ripe. If the British quitted Nigeria now at this stage, the Northern people would continue their uninterrupted conquest to the sea”.
Immediately after this speech, on the parliamentary floor, colonial governor, Sir Arthur Richards scribbled Balewa a congratulatory note!