Nigeria's March To Independence - OOU Campus Mirror

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Sunday 12 November 2023

Nigeria's March To Independence

 By Nuga Olasubomi. 

By the late 1950s, the British were rapidly accepting the inevitable of independence coming to one of their major colonies, Nigeria. British officers began to retire and return home to England, vacating their long-held position in Nigeria's colonial government. They left in droves, quietly, amiably often at night, mainly on ships, but also, particularly the wealthier ones, on planes. The British had a well-thought-out exit strategy, with handover plans in place long before Nigerians noticed.

It is very clear to the colonizers that they were engaged in a losing battle. By the end of World War II, Great Britain was financially and politically exhausted. This weakness was exploited by Mohandas Gandhi and his cohorts in India during their struggle against British rule. Nigerian veterans from different theaters of the war had acquired certain skills- important military expertise in organization, movement, strategy, and combat-during their service to the king. Another proficiency that came naturally to this group was the skill of protest, which was quickly absorbed by the Nigerian nationalists.

The general feeling in the air as independence approached was extraordinary, like the building of the relief of torrential rains after a season of scorching hot Harmattan winds and bushfires. Nigerians were all looking forward to feeling the joy that India (the great jewel of the British empire) must have felt in 1948, that Ghana must have felt years later, in 1957. 

Literally all government ministries, public and privately held firms, corporations, organizations, and schools saw the majority of their expatriate staff leave. Not everyone left, however; some, particularly in the commercial sector and the oil businesses, stayed. The civilized behavior of their brethren made this an acceptable development.

While this quiet transition was happening, several internal jobs, especially senior management positions, began to open up for Nigerians, particularly for those with a university education. It was in these positions vacated by the British that several educated Nigeria daunting, exhilarating inheritance that was not without its anxieties. Nigerians felt well prepared because they had received an outstanding education. 

The "bequest" was much greater than just stepping into jobs left behind by the British. Educated Nigerians also moved into homes in the former British quarters previously occupied by members of the European senior civil service. These homes often came with servants, chauffeurs, maids, cooks, gardeners, and stewards- whom the British had organized meticulously to "ease their colonial sojourn." Now following the departure of the Europeans, many domestic staff stayed in the same positions and were only too grateful to continue their designated salary roles in post-independence Nigeria. Their masters were no longer European but their brothers and sisters. This bequest continued in the form of new club memberships and access to previously all-white areas of town, restaurants, and theaters.

When Britain decided to hand over power to Nigeria, they also decided to change the governor-general. They brought a new governor-general from Sudan, Sir James Robertson, to take the reins in Nigeria. Now that Independence Day was approaching, several onlookers were wondering why there was a new posting from Britain and no provisions made for a Nigerian successor. It became clear that Sir James was going to be there on Independence Day and, as it turned out, wanted to stay as governor-general for a whole year into the period of freedom. One wondered how he was going to leave. Would it be in disgrace? Would he be hiding, or something of the sort?

It is now widely known that Sir James Robertson played an important role in overseeing the elections (or lack thereof) at independence, throwing his weight behind Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who had been tapped to freely become Nigeria's first prime minister.

Originally, the British resisted any agitations for independence.  They knew the value of their colonies, and the natural resources they possessed -in Nigeria's case oil, coal, gold, tin, columbite, cocoa, palm oil, groundnuts, and rubber, as well as the immense human resources and intellectual capital. Surely Great Britain had no plans to hand all these riches over without a fight. In a sense, Nigerian independence came with a British governor general in command, and, one might say, popular faith in genuine democracy was compromised from its birth.

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