• Short Summary

    On October 1, 1970, the Federal Republic of Nigeria celebrates ten troubled years of independence from Britain.

  • Description

    On October 1, 1970, the Federal Republic of Nigeria celebrates ten troubled years of independence from Britain.

    These years saw the failure of the first experiment at Federation, two military coups, abortive attempts to create a unitary state, and the Biafran war, which caused one and a half million deaths from starvation in its 30 months, on top of its battlefield casualties.

    Independence in 1960 provided for 4 regions, with local autonomy, a local Parliament in Lagos, and Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

    The North, home of the mostly Moslem people, had more than half of the estimated 56 million population in the Federation, and this assured built-in control of the Federal Legislature and Institutions. The southern tribes, Ibo in the East and Yoruba in the West, resented the built-in advantages of the Notherners.

    In the decade from Independence and earlier, the Ibo in particular had left their congested Eastern region to take work in other regions as businessmen and professionals of every kind. But in the stresses and strains of the early years of independence, they were to be forced to return for safety to the Eastern region.

    The Tafawa Balewa Legislature was the scene of shifting alliances, but Northern control of the centre was a constant factor. From 1962 to 1964 there was political unrest in regional and general elections. The 1964 general elections were boy-cotted by the Eastern-dominated political grouping The United Progressive Grand Alliance, (UPGA) after repeated allegations of election - rigging and intimidation. As this stage the East was forced to back down from a major threat to secede.

    Tribal and inter-regional strife only worsened with the military coup of January 1966, which overthrew the Federal Government led by Sir Abubakar. The Military Government set up under the Ibo army leader General Aguiyi-Ironsi committed itself to a more unitary form of state, raying to get away from regionalism and tribal consciousness.

    There were immediate protests in the North when General Ironsi began to implement his ideas, and by July there was a second military coup, bringing General Yakubu Gowon, a Northerner but a non-Moslem, to power. The new Government restored the Federal system, reinstated the regions, and set about plans for a new Federal Constitution.

    General Gowon's Constitutional talks proceeded slowly however There was further unrest in the North, and in fear of their lives thousands of Ibos began to flee to their tribal homelands in the Eastern region.

    The Eastern military Governor General Ojukwu finally proclaimed the independent state of Biafra in the East in 1967, at a time when General Gowon was proposing to create 12 states in Nigeria instead of the existing four regions, and the Eastern region was at loggerheads with the Federal state over the division of the oil royalties from foreign petroleum companies.

    The war over secessionist Biafra went badly for the out-numbered Biafrans. In a few months they were driven from the mid-western state, which they had occupied, and from many areas in the Eastern region, including Calabar, and Enugu the capital.

    By March 1968 Nigeria's Eastern region oil city of Port Harcourt and the Niger River city of Onitsha had been taken by General Gowon's troops.

    Yet despite the great loss of life from starvation inside Biafra, it was not until January 1970 that the rebels surrendered.

    The East reaped a bitter harvest from the war, of heavy taxation, slashed wages, and lost jobs. Thousands of Ibos have had to repeat old patterns by looking for work outside their homelands.

    The war proved a drain on Nigeria's foreign exchange resources, meant a cut-back in development, and greatly increased the burden of social problems.

    The main one is that of using the great wealth of the country for benefit of all the inhabitants. This means the oil-rich states being ready to give up for re-distribution some of the wealth that renewed oil investment will bring. Whether Nigerians can do this is the big question for the future.

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    Reuters - Source to be Verified
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    Available on request
    Black & White
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