• Short Summary

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

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

    Those years saw the failure of the first experiment at Federation, two military coups, abortive attempts to create a unitary state, communal and tribal rioting costing thousand of lives, and the Biafran War.

    Besides the battlefield casualties in this war of secession, one and a half million Biafrans died of starvation in its 30 months, despite international efforts of provide relief.

    Among the African states which gained independence after World War 2, none has had more problems then Nigeria in realising its potential. The potential is great, for this is a country destined to be rich and powerful not only by African but by world standards.

    Nigeria was first administered as a unit, arbitrarily carved out of the West African land-mass, by the British regime of Lord Lugard in 1914. Its unity had no ethnic or geographical justification. Here was the text-book example of colonial state-making, with the seeds of later disunity obvious from the start.

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

    It was in the relationship between the regions, North, East and West, and the Federal state that the main colonial problems existed, with tribal rivalries complicating matters. Independence, and the adding of the tiny Mid-West region, did not eliminate these problems.

    The North, home of the mostly Moslem Hausas, had more than half of the estimated 56 million population in the Federation, and this ensured built-in control of the Federal legislature and institutions. The North was always a conservative influence, with many aspects of feudal tradition surviving in the region. The Moslems have long refused to give women the vote.

    From Independence too the southern tribes, Ibo in the East and Yoruba in the West, both of them industrious, progressive peoples, resented the built-in advantages of the Northerners.

    The enterprising Ibo in particular, congested in their Eastern homeland, spread throughout Nigeria as businessmen and professionals of every kind, but in the course of the decade under review, they were forced to return home.

    The Tafawa Balewa legislature was the scene of shifting alliances, but Northern control of the centre was a constant factor. The first political crisis after independence came however in 1962, from the cocoa-producing Western region, home of the Yoruba tribe. Chief S.L. Akintola, the Western Premier, was able to wrest control of the region from the popular Chief Abafemi Awolowo, with support from the northern-dominated Federal Government. Chief Awolowo had built up the Action Party as a counter-weight to the northern-led Nigerian National Alliance Party. Chief Awolowo was later jailed for treasonable felony, and only released in 1966 by military Government pardon. Another Action Party leader to be jailed in 1963 was Chief Anthony Enahoro.

    The 1964 elections were boycotted by the Eastern-dominated political alliance, the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA), after repeated allegations of election-rigging and intimidation but at this stage the East was forced to back down from its major threat to secede.

    In 1965 Chief Akintola blatantly rigged his regional elections with northern support, to retain power in the Yoruba West - ushering in a period of violent and lawless protest, and setting the scene for the end of civilian rule.

    Tribal and inter-regional strife only worsened with the military coup of January 1966, which overthrew the Federal Government headed by Sir Abubakar. Two regional Premiers were killed in the coup, Sir Ahmadu Bello of the Northern region and Chief Akintola of the Western, together with Federal Premier Sir Abubakar and Finance Minister Chief Okotieh-Eboh.

    The military Government set up under the Ibo army Commander General G.T.U. Ironsi committed itself to a more unitary form of state, trying 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 Colonel Yakubu Gowon, a Northerner but not a Moslem, to power in place of General Isonsi. The new Government restored the Federal system reinstated the regions, and set about plans for a new Federal Constitution.

    General Gown's constitutional talks proceeded slowly,, then halted completely after more rioting in the north, where Northern soldiers were reported to have aided gangs of Hausa tribesmen in killing more than a thousand Ibos, raiding homes, wrecking cars, and looking and burning shops.

    In fear of their lives vast numbers of Ibos living in the Northern region fled to the East. The Region had vast problem to tackle taking in the estimated three-hundred thousand Ibos forced to return to their homelands.

    The Region's military Governor, Ibo Colonel Odemegwu Ojukwu, would not go to Lagos in October for a meeting of the Supreme Military Council, without guarantees for his personal safety. But he did attend a meeting in January 1967 at Aburi, Ghana, between Colonel Gowon and four military Governors. Colonel Gowon tried to prevent the threatening secession of the Eastern Region, unsuccessfully.

    In May 1967 Colonel Ojukwu proclaimed the Independent Republic of Biafra, the final breach coming at a time when the Federal and regional Governments were at loggerheads over who should receive the oil royalties from foreign petroleum companies. General Gowon had also proposed to create 12 states instead of the existing four regions.

    The area that Colonel Ojukwu was to call Biafra produced 65 per cent of Nigeria's oil, and the oil drilled elsewhere had to be pumped through pipe-lines to the tankers in the Eastern coastal town of Port Harcourt. Soon afterwards the war started, the Federal Government imposed an oil blockade on the territory, which ended almost all its oil production -- tenth largest in the world at the time.

    The war went badly for the out-numbered Biafrans. In a few months they were driven by Federal troops from the Mid-Western state, which they had previously occupied, and from many areas in the former Eastern region, including Calabar, and Enugu the capital.

    Colonel Ojukwu's beleaguered regime gained political support in Africa from Tanzania, Gabon, the Ivory Coast and Zambia in 1967, and General Gowon broke off diplomatic relations with those countries.

    But the advance of Federal forces was inexorable, and by March 1968, Nigeria's oil city Port Harcourt, and the Niger River city of Onitsha had been taken by General Gowon's troops.

    In September 1969 and Addis Ababa summit of the OAU failed to find any new formula for peace. An attempt later in the year by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie also failed.

    It was not until January 1970, when Biafra had shrunk to a small enclave, that a dramatic surrender broadcast was made by a spokesman for the secessionist regime.

    Today what was Biafra is part of Nigeria's East Central State, with a population of some eight to nine million people.

    Its authorities are grappling with immense problems of staving off hunger, disease, malnutrition, and the more long-term problem of unemployment.

    Nigeria's Eastern states have reaped a bitter harvest from the war of heavy taxation, slashed wages and lost jobs, and thousands of Ibos are repeating old patterns by looking for work outside their homeland.

    In September 1970, General Gowon attended the Addis Ababa summit of the OAU, and reached a reconciliation with Tanzania, Zambia, Ivory Coast and Gabon -- the four African countries that recognised the Biafran regime.

    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. All these problems can be solved and investment from outside is undoubtedly flowing in again. Even in 1969, before the end of the war, Shell BP decided that an investment of more than GBP50 million was worth-while.

    But Nigeria's old problem remains of using the wealth of the country for the 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 investment will bring. Whether Nigerians can do this is the big question for the future.

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