A national day like this in Nigeria demands a highlight of the roles of some unsung nationalists who quickened the process for Nigeria’s attainment of Independence through the instrumentality of the Parliament. They may not have been as larger than life as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Herbert Macauley, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, yet they audaciously and explicitly demanded that it was time the Union Jack was replaced with the Nigerian Flag.
Foremost among this crop of heroes is Chief Anthony Enahoro, who was barely 30 years of age when he moved a motion for Nigeria’s Independence at the House of Representatives on March 31, 1953 with these words; “Mr. President, Sir, I rise to move the motion standing in my name, that this House accepts as primary political objective the attainment of self-government for Nigeria in 1956…
“I do not propose, Sir, to go into the arguments for self government because I am satisfied that it is generally accepted on all sides of the House that self-government for this country at some future date is desirability. Therefore I propose to deal with this motion in two main parts and very briefly namely, of what significance is such a declaration of objective, and secondly, why should the objective be 1956? Sir, I believe that a declaration of objective by this House has become a matter of supreme importance in our march towards self-government.”
This, brave proclamation of Enahoro, would in seven odd years, free Nigeria from the shackles of colonialism. Unfortunately, it was at the time rejected by Parliament and the proposal therefore failed. The call also resulted in a walk out by the northern NPC parliamentarians who were of the view that Nigeria was not yet ready for independence at the proposed time.
However, in 1957, Chief S.L. Akintola moved a second motion for independence in Parliament and requested that Nigeria should gain its independence from the British in 1959. This motion was passed by the Federal House but the British authorities refused to acquiesce to it and consequently it failed.
Enter Chief Remi Fani-Kayode, the father of the FFK you know, who in 1958, moved the third motion for Nigeria’s independence in the Federal Parliament, demanding that Nigeria should be given her independence on April 2nd 1960. This motion was not only passed by Parliament but it was also acquiesced to by the British and was therefore successful.
Also not to be forgotten is the role by Prime Minister Tafawa-Balewa who moved a motion for a slight amendment to be made to the original 1958 motion that had been passed and approved to the effect that the date of independence should be shifted from April 2, 1960 to October 1st, 1960.
Tafawa-Balewa’s motion for amendment was seconded by Chief Raymond Njoku, the Minister of Transport, and it was agreed to by the British. And that was how today (October 1st) became Nigeria’s Independence Day for the past 59 years.
But the foregoing personalities only rode on the back of the intensive groundwork that was carried out way earlier by Herbert Macaulay, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello. In fact, Enahoro was a Zikist who became the editor of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s newspaper, the Southern Nigerian Defender, Ibadan, in 1944 at the age of 21. The profile of these forebears for the struggle for Nigeria’s independence are presented next:
Born in 1864, Herbert Macaulay was the grandson of Bishop Ajayi Crowther and he was trained as an engineer. He is considered the founder of Nigerian nationalism as the movement was under his influence in the 1920s. He started the nationalist movement because of the belief that the people of different backgrounds living in the British colony of Nigeria needed to come together as one. He returned to Nigeria in 1893 after completing his studies in London as the first Nigerian to be sponsored by the colonial government for a professional course abroad. He joined the colonial civil service and this exposed him to the ills and irregularities of the colonial government which led him to get involved with politics to fight for the rights of Nigerians. He founded the Lagos Daily News to promote the nationalist movement. He was the first Nigerian to establish a political party in 1922, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). He became the first national president of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), party he co-founded with Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1944. Macaulay’s political activities were limited to Lagos affairs until the very end of his life and he was on a nationwide campaign in 1946 when he took ill and died on May 7, 1946 in Kano.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe:
Born on the 16th of November, 1904 in Niger state, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe was at the fore-front in the fight for Nigeria’s Independence. He was fondly referred to as “Zik” and became the first president of Nigeria after Nigeria got her independence from the United Kingdom. While working as the editor for the African Morning Post, a daily newspaper in Ghana, Nnamdi Azikiwe promoted pro-African nationalist agenda. Upon his return to Nigeria in 1937, he founded the West African Pilot which was a tool used to promote the cause of Nigerian nationalism. Alongside Herbert Macaulay, he founded the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in 1944 and he was made the secretary-general of the National Council in 1946. He was later elected to Legislative Council of Nigeria the following year. He was the first Nigerian to be named to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom and he also became the Governor General on the same day. With Nigeria becoming a republic in 1962, he became her first president. He died on May 11, 1996 in Enugu following a protracted illness.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo:
Chief Obafemi Awolowo was born on March 6, 1909 in Ogun state. He was also one of the pioneer leaders that fought for Nigeria’s independence and he introduced free education in the western region in 1955. After completing his education abroad, he returned to Nigeria in 1947 and took up practice as a barrister. However while he had been in London, he wrote his first book “Path to Nigerian Freedom” in which he criticized the British administration and advocated for self governance. He also helped to found the Egbe Omo Oduduwa (Society of the Descendants of Oduduwa, the mythical ancestor of the Yoruba-speaking peoples), an organization devoted to the study and preservation of Yoruba culture. He was also the founder of the political party Action Group in 1950, a party that called for the termination of British rule in Nigeria. In 1954, he became the first premier of the Western Region. During his lifetime he wrote several books such as “Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution”, “The People’s Republic,” “The Strategy and Tactics of the People”s Republic of Nigeria.” He resigned his position as commissioner of finance and vice chairman of the Federal Executive Council in 1971 to protest the government’s continuation of military rule. He died on May 9, 1987 and was buried on June 6, 1987.
Sir Ahmadu Bello:
Born on June 12, 1910, Sir Ahmadu Bello was the 1st President of the Northern Peoples Party (NPP) in 1951 and he was also the former premier of Northern region. He alongside Abubakar Tafawa Balewa took active roles in the struggle for an independent Nigeria. Upon his return from England, he got a nomination to represent Sokoto in the regional House of Assembly. He used his position there to promote the development of the northern emirates such as Kano, Bornu and Sokoto. He became the first Premier of Northern Nigeria in 1954 and in 1959 independence elections, his party NPC won a plurality of the parliamentary seats. His party later formed an alliance with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s NCNC to form Nigeria’s first indigenous federal government which led to independence from the British colonial masters. He was also responsible for the modernization and unification of the diverse people of the North. He was assassinated in a coup on January 15, 1966 while still serving as premier of Northern Nigeria.