Today Nigeria is a free country and for many Nigerians today October 1 marks the celebration of Nigeria’s independence from British rule. Chief Anthony Eromosele of Esan extraction, in the then Western Region and later Mid-West as a lone voice in the wilderness, started the struggle for Nigeria's freedom back in 1953 when he damned all consequences and moved the famous motion for self-government.
Firm in his determination to end foreign rule he fought doggedly and on July 22, 1953, moved the historic for Nigeria to be granted self-rule in 1956, but the motion suffered a setback in parliament as northern members of parliament staged a walkout as a consequence of the motion. It was said then that the north was not ready for self-rule. In consequence of this Anthony Enahoro was many times arrested and jailed by the British colonial government.
Fortunately or unfortunately it was this motion that set the ball rolling and built up the pressure on the colonial overlords to free Nigeria from the shackles of colonial rule which was granted on October 1, 1960.
Below is the famous motion read by the late sage Chief Anthony Enahoro on the floor of the parliament in 1953 that paved the way for Nigeria's freedom.
Mr. President, sir, I rise to move the motion standing in my name, “that this House accepts as a primary political objective the attainment of self-government for Nigeria in 1956”.
Sir, this motion is an invitation to the Honourable Members of this House to associate the highest legislature of our land with the expressed desire of the peoples of this country, whose views we all represent, for political autonomy in 1956. It seeks to provide representatives from all parts of the country with an opportunity to exchange views on the most burning question of our time. It is an invitation to this House to make a declaration of objective with regard to Nigerian freedom.
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 a 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. For the time being, this Legislature is the supreme voice of the people of this country, although not all majority decisions which have been taken in this House in the past could hope to survive the test of a referendum. It is essential, in my view, to assess why a formal motion of this nature the honest feelings of various sections of the House and to discover to what extent these feelings may truly reflect the aspirations of the politically conscious citizens of this country.
Self-government is after all, sir, a subject on which it is of the first importance that people should believe rightly, and I cannot overstress the great inspiration and succour which various political parties in this country would derive therefrom if the demand for self-government in 1956 were to enjoy the full force of the backing of the highest legislature of the country.
Some Honourable Members may feel that the issue of self-government is not one for these House to decide. It may be argued that it has very little to do with the present administration of this country, but speaking for this side of the House, sir, we have always felt that the House of Representatives should serve a dual purpose in our political progress. Firstly, that it is our duty to utilize the powers which we now enjoy in this House to further the expansion of our economy and of our social services and to remove obstacles on the road to freedom; but secondly, and perhaps even more important, we must use this House Representatives itself to continue the fundamental struggle for national freedom. One of the basic moves in the furtherance of that struggle –and even though we carry it on with less violent methods than the people of Kenya have found it necessary to employ, it is nevertheless a struggle –is a statement of our goal and that is why, in my view, it is necessary for this House to express an opinion on this subject.
A declaration of objective, sir, is important in other respects. We and our people can be likened to builders. We have set out to build a new state. From the multitude of tribes in this country we are striving to build a new and modern structure. Self-government is merely the foundation of that structure. This work of construction is a romantic idea to me, and I am sure that Honourable Members will agree with me that we are all proud and honoured to be the architects and that we should be grateful to Providence that this task has fallen upon our generation. But among the responsibilities which accompany this great honour and privilege is the important decision which none but ourselves can make, as to when we shall strike the first sod in this new edifice.
Many Honourable members, sir, have had houses built for them. Others like myself may only have seen them built. In the North I have seen peasants construct their own hamlets. For many years these poor peasants must have planned and dreamed of their own little homes. They did not just sit by and hope that Providence would create a new home for them. They did not say to themselves, “I shall lay the foundations of my new home as soon as practicable.” That is not planning. On the contrary, I am sure that they must have examined their own earnings and their business prospects over a period, then considered their commitments and found out where savings might be made here and there, and then they could say to themselves, “By the grace of Allah, I shall lay my foundation in three or five years’ time”
Now, the builders of a nation, as we are, are no different from these poor peasants. That is why in places like Russia, England, India and other countries, the Government sets out a declaration of objectives embodied in five-year plans, and all that this motion asks of this Legislature is to follow in the footsteps of these great and wiser nations and to establish a political objective towards the attainment of which we can bend the energies of our own people.
Many years ago, sir, when I was a young man and I entered public life, the popular slogan was “Self-government in our life-time”. But as the country advance, this slogan went out of vogue and the new catch-phrase was “Self-government as soon as practicable”. That is many years back. As I have said, I do not wish to deal with the arguments for self-government and how the desire for freedom grew, but anybody who has kept pace with political advancement or with the trends of political thought in this country in the last seven years will agree that the bare idea of self-government is no longer attractive, is no longer enough.
Whether it is expressed as “Self-government in our life-time” or “Self-government in the shortest possible time” or “Self-government as soon as practicable”, it has ceased to be a progressive view, because Nigerian nationalism has moved forward from that position. The question in the public mind since the end of the war has been, “Self-government, when? What time, what date?” That is the question which this motion now invites Honourable Members, who should be true representatives, representatives of that same public which is demanding an answer, to answer.
There is a third reason, sir, why a declaration of objective is important. We do not want to part with the British people with rancour. For may years have they ruled us. We are not an unreasonable people, and like a good house servant, it is only fair that we should give our masters notice of our intention to quit, so that they can effect arrangement either to employ new servants or to serve themselves. We do not wish to take them by surprise. On the contrary, we wish to invite them to co-operate with us in the attainment of our objectives.
Honourable Members may remember that the Indian cause alienated a lot of sympathy in the United Kingdom because of what was regarded as the indecent hast with which the British evacuated or withdrew from India. The British mind, essentially a conservative mind, does not like things thrust upon it all of a sudden. We all know that. This motion is designed therefore to acquaint the British public with what we are thinking, with what we are feeling, so that our agitation in 1956 for self government will not come to them as a surprise. This motion will also afford the British Government sufficient time within which to arrange gradual withdrawal and progressive transfer of power to Nigerians.
Sir, a declaration of objective, such as this, is essential for a fourth reason. It is now accepted by the highest international bodies that there should be a time limit for self-government for Colonial territories. I may mention here, without giving anything away, that one of the questions which the recent British Labour Party Delegation to West Africa asked my party was what the House of Representatives thought about self-government for Nigeria in 1956. The Trusteeship Council of the United Nations Organization has requested governments administering Trust Territories to fix target dates when such territories will attain self-government. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions has also declared its acceptance of the principle that a time limit should be set by occupying powers and Imperialist Governments for self-government for their dependencies.
Even in Britain itself, a large body of opinion is growing in support of this principle. I well recall, sir, that when I was in England last year, Mr. Fenner Brockway, the well-known Socialist M.P., said in the course of a Colonial affairs debate in the House of Commons: “I should like to urge upon the House and particularly upon the Secretary of State for the Colonies that if we are to secure the confidence, trust and co-operation of peoples in the Colonial Territories, the best way to do it would be in discussion, consultation and agreement with them to fix a target date when in each respective Colony the goal of self-government would be secured. And I believe that if it were possible to pursue such a policy, we would change the psychology of the Colonial peoples.”
I myself think that was a very correct assessment of our psychology. It is clear that such international organizations as I have mentioned and men like Mr. Brockway are thinking along the lines of this motion and I think it is up to this Legislature, representing the peoples of this country, to strengthen their hands.
That, sir, is very briefly the first part of my argument explaining the significance of a declaration of political objective.
Now, sir, if it is agreed that an objective should be declared, what should it be? It may be asked, “Why pick on 1956? Is not 1956 an arbitrary date?” What considerations have led to the decision on this date?
Mr. President, tow of the many factors which have influenced our selection of this date are the factor of convenience and the factor of previous commitment. 1956 is convenient, sir, because it is the year which will see the end of the present constitution. The Constitution Order-in-Council is dated 1951 and is supposed to expire in five years It is public knowledge that all true nationalist have made up their minds that this is the last constitution prescribing a dependent status which the people of this country can tolerate.
To recommend a date earlier than 1956 would be to put premature end to the life of this constitution, and although I myself can contemplate such a course with pleasure, we know too well how strenuously some sections of the country would resist it. In addition, most of the programmes and policies of the Regional Governments to educate and prepare our people for freedom are based on five-year plans, and I think it would be unwise, to say the least, to interrupt the process of maturity of these programmes with the upheaval that constitutional changes might occasion.
To settle on a later date would mean a further period in national slavery, a prospect which I do not think any Honourable Member would welcome. We might, if we settled on a later date, have to draw up yet another interim constitution and waste time and public funds to arrange new elections, still as a subject people, at a time when our sister colony on the Gold Coast and our kinsmen in the West Indies and places like Malaya will most assuredly be free independent nations. It seems to me, therefore, that we cannot afford to put the date forward and it will be inadvisable to set it back. Convenience therefore dictates 1956.
The arguments on the grounds of previous commitment are even stronger. There may be some doubt as to whether any particular political party is fully representative of the people, but there can be no doubt whatsoever that any unanimous view approved by the majority of political parties must represent the true feelings of the politically conscious citizens of any country, and 1956 from this point of view enjoys the advantage of unanimity. The Action Group, the N.C.N.C., the Northern Elements Progressive Union, the Askianist Movement, the Convention People’s Party, have all publicly declared for self-government in 1956, and I am confident that today –on this historic day in the political annals of this country- I am confident that the Northern People’s Congress will take the opportunity of this debate to associate themselves with the declared objective of all other true nationalists in this country.
Sir, the Action Group, the N.C.N.C., the Northern Elements Progressive Union, and indeed all true nationalist who interviewed the Labour Party delegation left them in no doubt that 1956 is their irrevocable choice. I myself, in the course of my tour of the United Kingdom last year, gave many interested organizations and our own students over there to understand that we are deeply committed to 1956. I am sure that Chief Bode Thomas, Chief Arthur Prest, Mr. Arikpo and Mr. Nwapa who represented us abroad last year in their ministerial capacities, could not have failed to make this claim. Chief Bode Thomas has even gone further to publicize our ambitions in Canada and New York to world personalities. All these great people and organizations are looking forward to the emergence in 1956 of the largest and greatest Negro nation in the world as a free independent country.
We have all at one time or another held out high hopes for 1956 to our own people at mass meetings, at public lectures, in the press and though other media. Our people are expectant. We have, all of us, whether it is the Action Group or the N.C.N.C. or other parties, promised at one time or another to lead them to the promised land in 1956. We cannot now go back on our plighted word. You will understand, therefore, Mr. President, that on these three grounds of previous commitments, 1956 is a position from which it is impossible to retreat, and that is why this motion recommends it to this House for adoption.
Mr. President, there are one or two minor points to answer on this subject, such as, “shall we in fact be able to rule ourselves in 1956? Shall we have enough knowledgeable men and women? Are there any grounds for the fear on the part of some Members from the North that they will be dominated by the South?” I shall leave these questions, sir, to be dealt with by my Honourable Friends who will speak after me. For the moment, I hope I have said enough to show why it is of paramount importance that this House should set target date for self-government and why that date should be 1956.
One final observation I would like to make is upon the attitude of the Special members of this House and of the Ex-officio Members to this motion. I believe, sir, that the subject of self-government is an issue between Nigerians and the British Government. It is nothing whatever to do with my good and honourable friends, the Special members and with my equally good and honourable friends, the Ex-officio Members. I hold the view that no non-Nigerian has the right to express an opinion in this House on this subject or seek to influence the course of this debate on the time that we may choose to strike for freedom. We are the elected representatives of our people –and that applies to all Nigerians here. We are all elected by some process. We, as the elected representatives of our people, do not require the assistance of any alien to help us to decide when we should be free. I would, therefore, appeal to the Special Members to refrain from speaking and from voting on this motion, whatever their private feelings may be.
The Ex-officio Members, sir, are in a similar position. Their functions in this House relate to the work of certain specified departments of government. Perhaps they have the interest of Nigeria at heart. Perhaps they have not. Their private feelings are entirely their own concern and are of no consequence in this debate. The subject of this motion is not covered by the portfolio of any Ex-officio Member. I would like, therefore, to appeal to them in all sincerity to stay out of this debate, sir, and to let us Nigerians argue our own demands and desires and differences among ourselves. We will go into the lobbies, sir, to decide the future of our own people and of our own children. None of the officials has a stake in this country, and I mean no offence at all when I describe them as mere birds of passage. They are here today, sir, but being of the Colonial service, they may well be elsewhere tomorrow, by transfer or by retirement. I beseech them, therefore, not to take any course which might lead to an estrangement between us and them.
Mr. President, the whole country –I might even say the whole world- is awaiting the verdict of this House on this motion. News of what we say there today will travel far and wide. I do not know how many honourable members read the English press. They may have noticed in the Daily Telegraph an account of the debate which took place here last week on nudity. I am sure that any Honourable member looking back now and reading an account of that debate will feel thoroughly ashamed of the decision of the House. I appeal, sir, to all sections of this House not to let us repeat the mistake of underestimating the extent of overseas interest in the proceedings of this House. Our minds are irrevocably made up on the issue of self-government in 1956.
Sir, I beg to move.