In all parts of the world are countries which were once part of the British Empire. Nowadays much of this Empire has become a Commonwealth of independent nations. One after another, the dependent countries reached the goal of self-government.
The story of Nigeria is an outstanding example of an ordered progress towards independence.
Nigeria is part of West Africa. It covers an area of 339,000 square miles – nearly as big as France and Italy put together. Its population of more than 35 millions comprise half the people of all the United Kingdom Dependencies. It is a land of many tribes and many languages, a land of differing views and differing people. The country ranges from desert on the edge of the Sahara through the cattle-grazing pastures, to the mineral hills of the central plateau down to the coast and the swamps of the river delta.
It is a land of history and pageantry.
But it also a land of modern thought and modern progress.
In 1900 Britain officially assumed responsibility for the administration of the whole of what we now know as Nigeria from the Niger Company, as this ceremony recalls.
There had been contact with this coast since the latter part of the 16th century. Lagos became a colony in 1861 and then, gradually over the years, British Protectorates were established throughout the territory. In 1914 the Protectorates were amalgamated into one Nigeria.
Throughout these formative years, men of the colonial service were at work patiently guiding the Nigerians towards eventual independence, introducing the elements of local government in the villages, encouraging local industry, developing overseas trade, building a stable administration, preparing the ground for the giant strides to come.
But development in Nigeria was most rapid after the Second World War. The British Government has allocated £39 million over the past 15 years for development work. Political progress too was rapid. The Nigerians learnt to play an ever-increasing part in government.
In 1951 the country was made into a Federation in which the North, the East and West Regions had their own governments, each with its own legislature and its own Governor.
In Lagos, the Federation’s affairs were guided by a federal legislature under a Governor General.
Fundamental to the stability of a new nation is a sound educational system. Primary education is available to the majority of children and places in secondary and technical schools are becoming more and more numerous.
In Abaden, in the Western Region, the Federal Government, helped by the British Government, has established a fine university. Two more are being built: one at Kano in the North and one at Nsukka in the Eastern Region.
The health of the country is vital too. Nigeria is a tropical country and suffers more than its share of disease. Malaria, leprosy, sleeping sickness and yaws are all still far too common, but the fight begun by the early pioneer doctors is being carried on today by the Nigerians themselves. Teams of doctors wage a constant campaign in the villages, examining, inoculating and curing these terrible diseases.
New industries have sprung up, but the wealth of the country is in the land, and it remains primarily agricultural. Most of the farming is done by peasant farmers tending smallholdings on commonly-owned land.
With the help and advice of the Agricultural Research Department and its research stations, the quality of the produce has been raised.
Small farmers have joined together into co-operatives and Regional Marketing Boards have been set up to ensure fair prices. Exports have risen fast. By far the most valuable of them are palm oil products – the raw materials for soap, margarine and cooking-fat. £30 million a year flows into Nigeria from the palm trees.
Modern processing equipment backs the extra efforts of the farmers.
At Kano in the North pyramids of groundnuts await transport overseas. The Northern Region is the world’s leading exporter in groundnuts which are used in margarine, cattle food and synthetic fibres as well as many other things.
Cocoa is probably the best-known product and Nigeria supplies 1/7 of the world’s demand.
Cotton is also exported. Government research into better crops has produced a higher-quality product, acceptable in world markets. Regional Development Boards are encouraging industry from overseas to set up factories to manufacture from the home-produced raw materials.
In Kaduna a well-known United Kingdom firm set up a large mill and Nigerians soon learnt to handle the new and intricate machinery. In every industry the process of training Nigerians to do work previously done by Europeans has proceeded apace.
Rubber, another of Nigeria’s exports, is processed and turned into manufactured articles for the home market.
Tin is found in the mountainous district near Jos in the Northern Region. The mining industry is well-established and produces a valuable export commodity.
Modern industry and modern methods demand modern transport. The rivers, the Niger and its tributary the Benowe serve Nigeria well. Many years ago they made possible the opening up of the country.
Now a big scheme has been inaugurated to make them capable of present-day requirements. A large scale model demonstrated the way in which the work would be carried out.
The railways came to Nigeria in 1901. A big modernisation programme has cut out the congestion which existed before the war and diesel locomotives are now used in the busiest sections of the 2000 miles of line.
The first post-war 10 year plan provided for a £6 million road-building programme and many new highways were built.
At Kano the old camel caravan staging point, a great new staging point of the air was built, one of two international airports in the Federation through which passed the aircraft of most of the world’s airlines.
Nigeria Airways planes are now familiar visitors to Europe’s airports.
With every development, Nigeria drew nearer to her goal: independence within the Commonwealth of Nations.
At the Constitutional Conference of 1957 it was decided that the 3 regions should have internal self-government.
At a further meeting the following year, it was agreed that a date in 1960 should be the target for independence. Accordingly, the Eastern and Western Regions became autonomous. The North, exercising the right of self-determination decided to wait until March 1959 before making the change to regional self-government.
In August 1957, Nigeria’s first Federal Prime Minister was appointed – Al Haji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa now Sir Abubakar, a Northern statesman of great foresight.
In December 1959, members were elected to an enlarged House of Representatives. Sir Abubakar was confirmed in office and one of the first acts of the new government was formally to petition the United Kingdom for independence in October 1960, in accordance with the promise made in London two years earlier. The change from dependent status had been deliberate but orderly. Nigeria was now ready to stand with the other Commonwealth countries and determined to play her full part as a Member Nation.
Throughout the last 60 years, Nigeria has often demonstrated her loyalty to the throne. Nigerian soldiers fought gallantly in two world wars. Nobody will forget the great royal tours, particularly the Queen’s visit in 1956, and it came as no surprise when the decision was taken to maintain the Commonwealth link.
60 years of British influence have left their traces on every hand. The legislature and local councils are run on British lines. There is freedom of speech and thought and the rule of law. The judiciary upholds the traditions and rituals of British justice.
Now the last elements of British administration have been withdrawn and a great new nation emerges – a nation of 35 million people who have put their faith in the democratic life and whose voice will command respect throughout Africa, the Commonwealth and the world.