PART 3: THE NORTH NEVER WANTED NIGERIA TO BE CREATED
After the expiration of the Richards constitution, Bernard Bourdillon, who was Governor General of Nigeria between 1935 and 1943, brought some modifications into the Clifford constitution which later became the foundation of the 1946 constitution. His aim was to unite the North and South in a unitary legislative council in Lagos; however, the Northern leaders rejected such move. Since they were British subjects, they had later or no choice in determining their affairs.
On 1st April, 1953, Anthony Enahoro, a member of the Action Group from the Western Region, moved a motion that the House of Representatives accept “as a primary political objective the attainment of self-government for Nigeria in 1956.” Members from the Northern region objected to the motion, as such, there was division in the assembly.
Ahmadu Bello suggested to the House that the motion be modified and read to the house and accepted as “as a primary political objective the attainment of self-government for Nigeria ‘AS SOON AS PRACTICABLE.’ Another Northern member of the House afterwards moved a motion for adjournment, a move which did not go down well with the AG members. On sighting that, the members of the Action Group in the council protested and resigned. They were: bode Thomas, S. L Akintola, Arthur Prest and Adesoji Aderemi. Since there was no replacement for the Action Group members that resigned, Ahmadu Bello’s suggested amendment was passed. The Northern members were confronted by angry mobs in Lagos who lambasted them and called them all sorts of names. These embittered the Northerners greatly.
On May 16, 1953, when S. L. Akintola led a delegation to the Northern region to campaign for self-succession, a riot broke-out between the Northerners and the Southerners who were mainly Yorubas and Ibos. The riot which lasted for 4 days claimed many lives of Southerners in the North and over 250 people were injured. This was the beginning of the manifestation of a bloody union and deadly years of coercion ahead. This should have served as a lesson to us and the colonialists but they still insisted on the forceful coercion of this union. We never learn and we still refuse to.
Seeing this, the Northern leaders realized that the Nigerian union was irreconcilable and fatal; they Northerners on May 1953 in a meeting held in Kaduna sought for secession and the adoption of an 8 point program:
– THAT EACH REGION SHOULD HAVE ITS OWN LEGISLATIVE AND EXECUTIVE AUTONOMY IN ALL MATTERS EXCEPT DEFENSE, EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, CUSTOMS AND CERTAIN RESEARCH INSTITUTES.
– THAT THERE SHOULD BE NO CENTRAL LEGISLATURE OR CENTRAL EXECUTIVE FOR THE ENTIRE NIGERIA
– THAT A NON-POLITICAL BODY SHOULD CONSTITUTE A CENTRAL AGENCY FOR THE COUNTRY TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR MATTERS NOT ALLOCATED TO THE REGIONS
– THAT THE CENTRAL AGENCY SHOULD OPERATE FROM A NEUTRAL TERRITORY, PREFERABLY LAGOS.
– THAT THE COMPOSITION OF THE CENTRAL AGENCY BE DEFINED BY THE LAW ESTABLISHING IT
– THAT RAILWAYS, AIR SERVICES, PORTS, ELECTRICITY, POSTS AND TELEGRAPHS AND COAL MINING BE REORGANIZED AND BE ADMINISTERED BY PUBLIC CORPORATIONS
– THAT ALL REVENUE EXCEPT CUSTOM DUTIES BE LEVIED AND COLLECTED BU THE REGIONS, AND THAT THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE CUSTOMS BE ORGANIZED IN SUCH A WAY AS TO ENSURE THAT GOODS FOR EACH REGION WERE SEPARATELY CLEARED AND CHARGED TO DUTY
– THAT EACH REGION SHOULD HAVE ITS OWN SEPARATE PUBLIC SERVICE.
In July 1953, the Secretary of State for Colonies, Oliver Lyttleton presided over a conference in London where the Nigerian political leaders from all regions were invited. The Northerners declined from attending the conference but after constant pressure from the Colonialist they gave in. It should be noted that the Northerners had no choice but to give in to the pressure of their colonial masters who at the time were dictators. If it were to be in normal circumstances of free will, the Northerners at that time would have completely opted from the conference and the Nigerian union. Even Lyttleton himself after watching the drama that unfold at the conference, remarked that “IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THESE PEOPLE TO COEXIST AS ONE ENTITY”.
At the London conference, the Northerners were forced to abandon their eight point agenda and secession which would have turned Nigeria to a confederation state or simply a custom union. Another opportunity that we would have made things right was simply thrown away into the garbage can and today, we are paying the price.
The conference which began in London continued in Lagos in 1954. Under the dictates of Oliver Lyttleton, a constitution was adopted which is called “THE LYTTLETON CONSTITUTION”, and in that constitution, the Action Group requested that the right of regions to secede should not be recognized. True to their bidding, the Lyttleton constitution granted their request.
PART 4: THE COST OF A COERCED UNION: THE CRISIS, CHAOS, BLOODBATH AND BLOODSHED