Weathering The Challenges Of The Golden Age [I] Colonial Days – Obasanjo Era

THE present–day Nigeria had, before its colonial days, existed as separate indigenous communities with lots of homogeneity and contiguity in terms of culture, traditions, relic and general living conditions. In other words, the culture, traditions and general characteristics of the people across communities were typical of any African communities; though some aspects of these attributes…”
October 5, 2011 10:17 am

NIGERIA MAP OF 36 STATESTHE present–day Nigeria had, before its colonial days, existed as separate indigenous communities with lots of homogeneity and contiguity in terms of culture, traditions, relic and general living conditions. In other words, the culture, traditions and general characteristics of the people across communities were typical of any African communities; though some aspects of these attributes were culture-specific, being unique and peculiar to one particular culture or the other.  Today, the country Nigeria exists as a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic nation, with its ethnic groups put at more than two-hundred and fifty. Though there are three major ethnic groups that easily adorn the tongue as far as Nigeria is concerned, there are countless others, known as minorities which are found in places across the country. The three major ethnic groups in Nigeria are Hausa in the North, Ibo in the East and Yoruba in the West. However, in the North, other ethnicities include Fulani, Kanuri, Gwari, Birom and so on. In the East (South East), other ethnic groups include Efik, Ibobio, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Isoko, Edo and others. The Yoruba Nation of Western Nigeria speaks one Yoruba dialect with diverse sub-dialects or sub-ethnic groups, thus we have Oyos, Ekitis, Ondos, Ijesas, Ifes, Ibolos etcetera.

These ethnic and sub-ethnic groups are legacies from our illustrious past of pre-colonial years, when our traditional societies were under the rulership of traditional institutions. These ethnic communities had clearly defined culture, traditions and systems of government with definite and well-defined systems of judicature. Traditional religions subsisted, under which tenets cleanliness, holiness, purity, sanctity and honesty were ideals which people held in high esteem. Also, value systems bordering on hardwork, honesty, respect for human dignity and fear of God (represented by many deities) were vehemently upheld. Punitive measures were severe and vivid for beaches of conduct and norms. Educationally, our traditional systems were well-endowed. Central to African traditional education was Development of Character. A man was considered poor, wretched and despicable if he lacked good character; no matter the volume of material wealth (money, land etc) that he may have. Other cardinals of our traditional education were physical training, intellectual training, respect for elders and peers, vocational training, and the rest.

Peace was the hallmark of our traditional setting. This is not to absolve our traditional systems from presence of violence, wrangling and collision. There were inter-tribal and internecine wars. Empires subsisted and these grew in prominence based on the vast expanse of land the emperors could annex (mostly by force of sword, war, conquests, etc) and slaves acquired in the process.

With the background traced above in mind, the entity called Nigeria is often considered as a “marriage of inconvenience” in some quarters. The argument for or against this claim is not within the purview of this anniversary discourse of OSUN DEFENDER Magazine. Our task in this independence anniversary edition is to trace the evolution, growth and development of Nigeria, as we know it today, constitutionally and politically. One single edition would certainly be too short to do adequate justice to the task enumerated above. However, OSUN DEFENDER Magazine would conduct a broad analysis or overview assessment of the journey so far.

This task becomes necessary for two main reasons. First is the need to celebrate Nigeria on the occasion of her fifty-first independence anniversary. Secondly, many of our people, youths in particular, are not too familiar with our history. History is a continuum, a record of past, present and future events. It is likely therefore that disconnect between the past and the present could misguide the future. These serial editions therefore seek to forestall this disequilibrium by providing what could be elusive to many.


THE colonization of West Africa started in the 15th century. In the contact of Europe with West Africa, Portugal blazed the trail. In Nigeria in particular, Portugal’s Christianizing mission was prominently noticed in Benin and Warri in the sixteenth century. Legacies of Portugal remain in the culture of Edos and Itsekiris today, especially in the areas of dresses and dressing.

The motives of the Portuguese invaders were dual. As the missionaries carried out their Christianizing activities, zealously trying to proselytize Africans in Benin and Warri; their counterparts, who were merchant adventurers, were busy, in the Gold Coast, collecting slaves and gold dust which they carried home to Lisbon.

The scramble for Africa took place concurrently. The exercise, which engendered the continent’s partition as we know it today spanned several centuries. As mentioned earlier, European invaders had motives that were more than one, in their scramble for the soul of Africa. Britain (England), France, Portugal, and others – all appeared to have Christianization and introduction of Western education as motives. That was on the surface. It was as time advanced that it became glaring that motives that are bent more towards commerce and government were more propelling to them than evangelism.

In their colonization efforts, various European countries contended for various parts of Africa, beating one another to it through various means. The abolition of slavery and slave trade contributed to the ease with which a particular European country could gain access to colonize a specific area. The trading in slaves, which began around 1553 continued as a legal traffic till 31 March 1808, when the British Act of Parliament abolishing it, and forbidding every British citizen from engaging in it, came into force. But illicit traffic in slaves continued till much later. The reason for this was that though the slave-trade was abolished in 1808, slavery remained legal in British overseas possessions until 1833, when this too was abolished.

Apart from political instability in Portugal, which dislodged Portugal in its possessive bid in Africa; two evens occurred, one of which put an end to Portugal’s monopoly, and both of which brought the English people into the slave-trade, and made England the leading country in the traffic. They were the Reformation and the Treaty of Utrecht.

It was this last-mentioned Treaty of Utrecht which-gave advantage to Brit in slaves was done by her. And so, during the second half of the sixteenth century, and as a result of a concatenation of historical landmarks of catholic and eternal significance – namely, the Renaissance, the Reformation and the discovery of the New World – England established a contact with Nigeria which, through various metamorphosis, subsists to this day and shows sign of unending continuance. From that first contact to the middle of the nineteenth century, enterprising British citizens bartered arms, spirits, and other merchandise to our people, in exchange for slaves, ivory, pepper, and palm oil.

All these occupied the intervening period of about three-hundred years i.e. between sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the British missionaries appeared to dominate our land. OSUN DEFENDER Magazine now begins to trace the history of modern Nigeria since that era of missionary dominance till the present. In other words, we have three phases of our history – the Pre–Colonial Era; part of which we have already traced; the Colonial Era; and the Post-Independence Era.


THE first set of British Christian missionaries arrived on our shores in the year 1842. First
to come were the Church Missionary Society (CMS) which entered through Badagry and settled down at Abeokuta, where they established the first church and school. After 1842, several other missionaries entered. Prominent among these were the Wesleyan Methodist, the Roman Catholic Mission (RCM) and the American Baptist. Also, the Church of Scotland came in through Calabar.

The period between 1842 and 1862 marked on era of exclusive missionary participation in education. In other words, apart from evangelism, missionaries established schools where western education, with emphasis on the “3 Rs” i.e. Reading, (w)Riting and (a)Rithmetic, was imparted to children of natives. In 1861, Lagos was ceded to Her Britannic Majesty, and in 1862, H.S. Freeman was appointed the first British Governor of Lagos. Thus Lagos became the first part of Nigeria to come under British rule, and Mr. Freeman the first British official to preside over a colonial regime on Nigerian soil. The Anglo-Nigerian link was now becoming stronger. Before the last decade of that century, all parts of Nigeria had come under British influence.

By January 1, 1900, the colonization of Nigeria had been almost fully accomplished. The country was, at that date, administered by Britain, either directly or indirectly, in three separate units:


(i) The Colony and Protectorate of Lagos, which consisted of the areas of authority of the present Western Nigeria and Lagos State Governments, excluding Egba Division.

(ii) The Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, which comprised roughly the areas of authority of the present Eastern states, including those states later regarded as Midwestern states and South-South states.

(iii) The protectorate of Northern Nigeria which was more or less the same as the present Northern states.
There was also an indigenous sovereign state which constituted a tiny enclave in this huge dependency. It was known as the Egba United Government. It came into existence in 1893, and its area of authority was coterminous with what was later known as the Egba Division of Abeokuta Province.

On January 1 1900 Sir Frederick (later Lord) Lugard became High Commissioner of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria. In 1912, he became Governor of the Southern and Northern Protectorates of Nigeria; including the Colony of Lagos. His successful adoption of “indirect rule” in the administration of the Northern Protectorate earned him much progress. The system worked wonders, even in the hands of Sir E.P.C. Girouard and Sir H.H. Bell who succeeded him in the period between 1906 and 1912, when he was away as Governor of Hong Kong. In 1914, January precisely, the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria were amalgamated into Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria under Lugard as Governor-General. He would have preferred to introduce a thorough-going direct rule to the south, instead of the hotchpotch of British-cum-indigenous administration which was in vogue. At any rate, the First World War of 1914 to 1918 forced his hand, and left him with only one choice (indirect rule) for the whole country. On September 16 1914, the Egba United Government under the Alake of Abeokuta was made to dissolve into the Government of the Protectorate of Nigeria. Hence, Nigeria came to be known as a single entity as we know it today with effect from January 1, 1914 when the colonization of the whole of Nigeria by Britain was consummated.


BETWEEN 1914 and 1960 when the nation got her independence, several significant events took place in forms of political and constitutional development. It has been pointed out above how Lugard adopted his indirect rule system which had worked wonders for the North for the whole Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. Like the North, the South was divided into provinces and divisions. On amalgamation, the two protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria retained their identities as Northern and Southern Provinces of Nigeria, with headquarters at Kaduna and Enugu. Lagos was detached from the former Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria and placed under a Commissioner. Each of the two groups of provinces was headed by a Lieutenant-Governor. These three heads were directly responsible to the Governor-General. The Residents were now immediately responsible to the Lieutenant –Governors, while the District Officers continued to be answerable to the Residents. The title of Governor-General was personal to Lugard; and until 1954, his successors in office bore the title of Governor.

From Lugard through Clifford (1922) to Richards (1946), there were various variations, consisting Executive Councils, Legislative Councils, Nigerian Councils, etcetera. One major point that deserves to be stressed is that it was Sir Hugh Clifford who on becoming the Governor in 1921 introduced for the first time, elective principle into Nigerian politics. On becoming Governor in 1946, Sir Arthur Richards repealed the Nigerian (Legislative Council) Orders-in-Council of 1922 and replaced them. The new Order-in-Council made provisions for a Legislative Council with powers to make laws for the whole of Nigeria, subject to the usual reserved powers of the Governor. In addition, there were a House of Chiefs and a House of Assembly for the Northern Provinces, and a House of Assembly each for the Western and Eastern Provinces. The Houses of Chiefs and Assembly only had deliberative and advisory jurisdiction vis-à-vis the Nigerian Legislative Council.

Prior to the foregoing, precisely on April 1, 1939, there had been reorganization, under which the Southern Provinces were divided into Western and Eastern Provinces with headquarters in Ibadan and Enugu. The title of the head of each of these resulting groups of Provinces was changed to Chief Commissioner.

In 1946, Sir Arthur Richards (later Lord Milverton) handed a constitution to the people of Nigeria. This constitution, known as Richards Constitution, was riddled with criticisms by “agitators” as he did not hold consultations with the people in drafting the document. The next constitution, which abrogated and took the place of the Richards Constitution, was introduced n 1951 during the Governorship of Sir John Macpherson. This was christened the Macpherson Constitution. It was, in every respect, radically different from the Richards Constitution, especially, in that it held consultation with the people at four levels, namely, The Native Authority Meeting; the Provincial Conference; the Regional Conference; and the General Conference.

The resulting constitution adopted the existing administrative division of the country, with three important differences. Firstly, each group of Provinces was renamed Region with its own legislature. Secondly, the Colony of Lagos became part of the Western Region. Thirdly, the title of the Chief Commissioner was changed to Lieutenant Governor. The Northern and Western Regions had each a bi-cameral legislature; a House of Chiefs and a House of Assembly. The two houses had equal powers on all Bills or measures save that “A Bill shall not be introduced in the House of Chiefs if the Lieutenant Governor, acting in his discretion, certifies in writing that it is a money Bill.” The Eastern Region had a unicameral legislature – only a House of Assembly.

With grounds prepared for the next elections, the author of Macpherson Constitution had hoped that it would last for many years. The generality of Nigerians themselves had expected that it should serve Nigeria for at least five years. Though the introduction of the Machpherson Constitution made Nigeria to take the first conscious and definite step on the road to federalism; the undue tightness of the constitution, together with some other circumstances, including the issue of self-government for Nigeria in 1956, brought about the breakdown of the constitution on March 31, 1953. This premature demise of the Macpherson Constitution snowballed in the commencement of constitutional conference in 1953/54 and ended in 1957/58.

The ensuing Independence Constitution introduced many radical constitution changes to Nigeria. Essentially, the 1953/54 Constitutional Review was followed in 1957 by a comprehensive review, and was concluded in 1958. It was at the close of this conference that the famous declaration was made that “if a resolution is passed by the new Federal Parliament early in 1960 asking for independence, Her Majesty’s Government would agree to that request and would introduce a Bill in Parliament to enable Nigeria to become a fully independent country on the 1st October, 1960.

On Saturday, October 1 1960, Nigeria became an independent nation. The dawn of that bright Saturday witnessed the lowering of the Union Jack and its replacement with the Green-White-Green new flag for the new country. Also, the “God Save the Queen” anthem got replaced with “Nigeria We Hail Thee”. Prior to that epoch-making occasion, elections had been held nation-wide in 1959, with various controversies trailing the results and resultant manoeuvre, out manoeuvers and manipulations. These shall not form the purview of this OSUN DEFENDER Magazine edition.

However, on October 1, 1960, Nigeria became an independent nation. Alhaji (Sir) Abubakar Tafawa Balewa became the Prime Minister under the banners of the Northern People’s Congress. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) became the President under a coalition agreement. Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Action Group (AG) became the Opposition Leader. From this configuration of positions, it becomes clear that Nigeria approached independence with the parliamentary system of government.

On the third anniversary of Nigerian independence, precisely on October 1, 1963, Nigeria assumed a republication status i.e. it became totally self-governing. With the status quo maintained in her national leadership, ground was being prepared for another round of general elections in 1964. Unfortunately, the build-up to that election had been turbulent indeed. The following excerpts from the available archives are clear portrayal of the entire situation:
“For several years after the 1959 elections, the problems facing the country were many and disturbing.
“The politicians were very powerful, foreign investors and capital leaders exercised their influence on the country through them. Useful Development Plans which failed to serve the interest of politicians were distorted.

“It must be obvious that no Nigerian can be contented so long as any major sector of the economy is controlled by foreigners.

“By far, the most important problem was the unfriendly relations among the regions of Nigeria. A constant source i.e. constant source of political fiction was the imbalance in the size of the regions. Population figures arrived at after the bitterly controversial censuses showed the large Northern Region to have 29 million people. This was more than half the country’s population and ensured virtual built-in control of the federal legislature and institutions.

“The courtly in 1960 was ruled by a coalition Government of Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC). Action Group (AG) was the leading opposition party.

“Prior to 1962, each of the three major parties was the strongest party in one of the three regions. The NPC had dominated the Northern politics. Because more than half of Nigerian population was estimated to live in the north, the NPC also dominated the Federal Executive and the Legislative bodies. Its position was so secured that the NPC made no effort to be a national party.

“The NCNC was nationally organised. It was popular in parts of the West and was particularly powerful in the East. Though the main base of Action Group was the West, yet it formed alliances with some small parties outside the West.

“The West at the federal level was not influential. This was because the Action Group was in the opposition. Many Yorubas did not like the situation. They felt that the exclusion of Action Group from the coalition was the exclusion of the West from participating in the Federal Power.

“This dissatisfaction was dangerous and should have been corrected because each of three largest ethnic groups in the country – Hausa/ Fulani, Yoruba and Ibo – had large population enough to form a country and therefore each was so powerful that it could throw the country into crisis if it felt excluded from power or discriminated against.

“In 1962, Chief S.L. Akintola and his group defied the leadership of Chief Awolowo. There was a split. There were manoeuvres resulting in the declaration of a state of emergency in the West. With support from the Northern dominated Federal Government, Chief S.L. Akintola, the Western Premier was able to wrest control of the region from his more popular rival, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Chief Akintola’s group joined the Western branch of NCNC and formed the Government of the Western Region; Chief Awolowo and some members of his group were tried on the charges of treasonable felony and conspiracy. He was eventually detained and convicted in 1963. This action was regarded by many Westerners as the result of their exclusion from power and they did not like it.

“The jailing in 1963 of the Action Group leader and the census controversy instilled fear into the regional politicians. The Northern Peoples Congress dominated the Federal Government; it was not national in character and there was no sign that it would be. The ability of the Federal Government to determine the political fortunes of the regions had been demonstrated in the West. Each region felt politically; and regional politicians of East and West in particular; insecure. Although NCNC was at one time in alliance with the ruling NPC, the East felt it was being frozen out of the nation’s affairs. This feeling reached a climax in December 1964 when the first federal elections since independence wee held.

“Chief Akintola outmaneuvered the Western NCNC. He succeeded in getting some members of the Western NCNC to form another party, the National Democratic Party (NDP) headed by Chief Akintola himself and he allied the party with the NPC to form the Nigeria National Alliance (NNA).

“The NCNC and the Action Group allied themselves and became the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA). The NNA managed to win the election of 1964 but charges of unfair practice were rife. The UPGA candidates and voters boycotted the elections. The future of the country was threatened. The President for several days in January 1965 did not call on any leader to form a government. Finally, a coalition Federal Government was agreed and formed. The problem was still there because NNA had micro stronger representation than the UPGA. The country was therefore divided roughly into two political alliances.

“The split in the Action Group, the emergency in the West and crisis over the elections of 1964 greatly weakened the bonds of trust among peoples. The next opportunity of the UPGA to challenge the power of the NNA was an electron in the West in October 1965.

“Discontent reached to high point when Chief Akintola’s group with NPC’s support had retained power in the West. Charges of rigging were made and were widely believed. The elections were, however, declared legal. The result were announced; but was followed by widespread disturbances in the West, many people were killed and properties destroyed”.


IN the early hours of Saturday January 15,1966; a section of the Nigerian Army revolted in Lagos, Enugu, Ibadan and Kaduna. Many leading politicians including the Prime Minister, Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa; the Premier of the Northern Region, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, and the Premier of the Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola were killed.

The coup de tat, led by a young revolutionary soldier, Major Chikwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu raged on till the next day. On the morning of Sunday January 16 1966, the President of the Senate, who doubled as the Acting Prime Minister, Dr Nwafor Orizu in a nation-wide broadcast made an offer to hand over the administration of the Federal  Republic to the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He then called on the General Officer Commanding, Nigerian Army, Major-General Johnson Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi to make his acceptance speech.

General Ironsi thus became Nigeria’s first military Head of State. He made decrees and outlawed many political parties and cultural ethnic associations. Under Ironsi, Nigeria had four regions, with the inclusion of the Mid-Western Region created in 1952. The Regional Governors were Major-General Hassan Katsina (Northern) Region); Lt. Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (Eatern Region); Major David Ejoor (Mid-Western Region); and Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi (Western Region).

Discontents followed the January 1966 coup, especially in the Northern part of the country. Instead of the expected calm, the new military administration continued to witnessed chaos, unrest and pandemonium of increasing magnitude. The storm was already gathering for a Nigerian Revolution, as some parts of the country had begun to clamour for secession. The North in particular was clamouring for araba (secession). It appeared that the Military Government under Aguiyi–Ironsi was far too weak to nib the spate of chaos and insecurity in the bud.

On Friday July 29, 1966, Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon of the Nigerian Army officially announced via a nation-wide broadcast his assuming power with effect from August 1. While the coup began, Ironsi was being hosted on official visit in Ibadan by the Governor of the Western Region, Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi. The duo was missing for several months until they were declared dead on Saturday January 14, 1967.

The nine-year regime of General Yakubu Gowon was marked by three most significant events. First was the creation of states. For the first time ever, the nation shed off its four-region structure for a twelve-state outlook, thus Gowon created the following states on May 27, 1967:


North – East –   Maiduguri

Mid-West    – Benin City

Kano  –    Kano

Lagos  –   Ikeja

South East  – Calabar

Kwara  –  Ilorin

East Central       –     Enugu

North Central   –    Kaduna

Benue – Plateau   –   Jos

North – West   –     Sokoto

Rivers  –   Port- Harcourt

West   –   Ibadan


Secondly, Nigeria fought a civil war for about thirty-six months, between January 1967 and January 1970. The war was kick-started by an attempt by the Governor of the Eastern Region, Lieutenant. Col. C.O. Ojukwu to break the region loose form the Nigerian nation in secession bid. Hence, Ojukwu declared in late 1966 a Sovereign Republic of Biafra. The war was painful and devastating for the young nation.

Thirdly, it was during the Gowon administration that oil boom witnessed in Nigeria set in. Though deposits of crude oil had been discovered in the Niger Delta area of Oloibiri and adjoining towns in the late 1950s, full exploration and mining did not commence until early 1970s. Under Gowon, therefore, Nigeria was getting his footing and correct bearing on the path to prosperity.

In between the military regimes of Major-General Johnson Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi (January 16 1966 – July 29, 1966); General Yakubu Gowon (July 29, 1966 – July 29, 1975); General Murtala Ramat Mohammed (July 29 1975 – February 13, 1976); and General Olusegun Obasanjo ( (February 13  1976 – October 1, 1979); the nation had myriads of problems to grapple with, which nearly consumed it.

In addition, the barrage of coups which brought about successive changes in government numbering up to four in thirteen years charted the course for the eventual hand-over of baton of power to a democratically-elected government on October 1, 1979

To be continued.

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