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NIGERIA: 52 years of what? (1)

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By Awa Kalu, SAN

Within the next week or so, Nigeria as a country will probably have a low key celebration to mark the 52nd anniversary of its political independence from our colonial masters.  Perhaps, the anniversary will be celebrated without fanfare or pomp and pageantry in acknowledgment of the global and widespread economic crisis that is top on the agenda of most developed, developing and least developed nations.

It is also possible that the avoidance of any form of gloating in our celebrations is a clear acceptance of the argument of the majority that we are yet to arrive at our destination fifty two years after the journey began.

Does any nation ever arrive at its destination or is the life of a nation a continuous journey punctuated by events whether remarkable or not? Yet again, one may ask, when did the life of this country begin?  Some would say it began in 1914 when the amalgamation of the Northern Protectorate with its counterpart, the Southern Protectorate was achieved.

At this juncture, it may simply be noted that what is presently known as the Federal Republic of Nigeria was not a country, at least prior to the amalgamation of 1914. The indigenous and heterogeneous groups often derogatorily referred to as ‘tribes’, which make up his country, existed independent of each other with different cultural and political systems.

President Goodluck Jonathan

However, the Colonial masters, largely for economic and administrative reasons, felt that there was a need to merge the Northern and Southern Protectorates into a single colony. The fusion was achieved by Lord Fredrick Luggard, the then Governor General.

It has often been wondered in several quarters whether the amalgamation was a political master stroke or an unmitigated error. The Jury is still out. As has been acknowledged, every journey has a beginning and it will be left to the discerning reader to determine whether our journey as a country truly began in 1914.

Snippets from our colonial history show that Lord Luggard made way for Sir. Hugh Clifford in 1919 or thereabout. It was indeed Sir Clifford that laid the foundations of democracy in the colony in that the first Nigerian Constitution of 1922 was appropriately called the Clifford Constitution. That Constitution introduced a Legislative Council and for the first time, enlightened Nigerians were afforded the opportunity of a say in the political affairs of their country.

No matter how tenuous their emergence in government was, what cannot be contradicted is that the 1922 Constitution was the first of many in the annals of this country. Historians equally acknowledge that it was that Constitution that sowed the seeds of nationalist movements at that time. The early Nationalists were the principal actors in the struggle against colonialism. Late Herbert Macaulay for instance, is often referred to as the father of Nigerian nationalism.

He was later joined in the struggle by the likes of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late Sardauna of Sokoto and so on. It is believed that even women were not left out of the agitations that eventually led to the ouster of the Colonialists. What is popularly known as ‘the Aba women riots of 1929’ was a revolt against the involvement of women in the payment of tax.

Of course, the effort of women in the achievement of political independence cannot be ignored and this has been touted as one of the reasons for presenting the Amazons of yester-years on the face of the proposed 5,000 Naira currency. Even though suspended, it cannot be doubted that in the nearest future, an opportunity for acknowledging the efforts of women in nation building will present itself.

What needs to be repeated is that the combined pressure from men and women culminated in democratic self rule, first, for the Western and Eastern Regions and later for the Northern Region as a prelude for the independence of the nation from Great Britain.

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