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February 20, 2024

Single party structure won’t work (2), By Eric Teniola

Who else but Professor Benjamin Nwabueze (2), by Eric Teniola

From last week continues the narrative of the conflict which followed the motion for political autonomy in 1956. The motion was moved by Chief Anthony Enahoro and seconded by Chief Festus Awosika. It led to clashes between Northerners who were opposed to Nigeria’s independence and Southerners who supported it.

IN his book titled MY LIFE, the NPC leader then, Sir Ahmadu Bello (12 June 1910- 15 January 1966), who later became the Premier of Northern Nigeria recounted what happened on page 118 of the book, on March 31st, 1953. He declared: “His seconder, Awosika, contributed nothing at all to the question. He seemed obsessed by the ‘slavery angle’ and addressed us on the desirability of self-government in general, a matter on which we were all at least in warm agreement and which we required no exhortation.

The question was proposed by the President, and at that point, I am afraid, I rather put the cat among the pigeons by moving an amendment to substitute ‘as soon as practicable’ for the date ‘1956’. This is what I said: we from the Northern Region never intended, nor do we intend, to retard the progress of any Region. Nor do we say that those who demand self-government, if it is for their own Region alone, are wrong. Far from it.

For, after all, every community is the best judge of its own situation. In this regard, Mr. President, the people of the North are the best judges of their own situation and we feel that in our present situation we cannot commit ourselves to fixing a date for the attainment of self-government. We are fully aware of all the implications involved and we want to make it abundantly clear that the destiny of the North is in the hands of the people of the North.

We of the North wish our form of self-government, once granted, to be such that its attainment should give us no cause for eventual regret. It would be very unwise, Sir, if, before we fix a date for the attainment of self-government for Nigeria, we do not think of the condition of things obtaining in this country today. It is true that we politicians always delight in talking loosely about the unity of Nigeria. Sixty years ago, there was no country called Nigeria.

What is now Nigeria consisted of a number of large and small communities all of which were different in their outlooks and beliefs. The advents of the British and of the Western education has not materially altered the situation and these many and various communities have not knit themselves into a composite unit. Sir, whatever Nigerians may say, the British people have done them a great service by bringing all the different communities of Nigeria together.

The great day came with the introduction of the Richards’s Constitution in 1947 when, for the first time in our history, indigenous citizens of the North sat side by side with the South to legislate for one Nigeria and share in the discussion of Nigeria affairs. That was in 1947. Meanwhile, Sir, our comrades in the South had been taking part in the discussion of their own affairs in the Legislature as far back as 1922.

Sir, the 1947 Constitution was to last nine years, very probably in order to give the North sufficient time to learn. That Constitution, Sir, was revised after the North had gained only two years’ experience and now we have a Constitution which has been barely a year in existence. I must say here, Mr. President, motions like the one which I am now trying to amend, are deliberately designed to destroy the happy inter-Regional relationship which the present Constitution is rapidly building up.

Though I realize that motions of this nature are merely an expression of opinion, yet I feel that they can serve no purpose other than doing harm and causing ill-feeling. I have my reasons for so saying. For many years the outside world has been led to regard Northern Nigeria as a backward country, where all the people are conservative to the extreme and unreceptive of modern ideas. One has only to read the local papers and to remember utterances made by some Southern Nigerians in the past for a confirmation of my statement.

Before we commit ourselves and the people we represent in such matters, we must, I repeat, we must seek the mandate of the country. As representatives of the people, we from the North feel that in all major issues such as this one, we are duty-bound to consult those we represent, so that when we speak we know we are voicing the views of the nation. If the Honourable Members from the West and East speak to this motion unamended, for their people, I must say here and now, Sir, that we from the North have been given no such mandate by our people.

No Honourable Member can therefore criticize the Northern Legislators for refusing to associate themselves with such an arbitrary motion fixing, as it does, a definite date for the attainment of national self-government. We in the North are working very hard towards selfgovernment although we are late in assimilating Western education. It is our resolute intention to build our development on sound and lasting foundations so that thy will be lasting. With things in their present state in Nigeria, the Northern Region does not intend to accept the invitation to commit suicide.

Unless we Nigerians can prove to ourselves and to the world outside what we want, I cannot see how people can be expected to regard our demand seriously. It is not uncommon for people in this country, for a group of people to sit together and demand self-government. Some are even demanding it now, immediately. Any country which accepts self-government must do so with its eyes wide open and the problem, therefore, of one section of the country imposing its will on the others does not arise. I move this amendment, which, in my humble opinion, is much more appropriate if the question of self-government for Nigeria is at all to be discussed at this stage. I do so, Sir, without any fear or misgivings that if the original motion were to be carried, it would automatically be binding on all Regions.

To be concluded