Nigerian Pre-Independence Politics have been an activities and struggle in which the Nigerians formed the basis of Nigerian nationalism in which political parties were formed as a platform under which the colonial rule was opposed and eliminated in Nigeria.
The period of Nigerian Pre-Independence Politics was characterized by the formation of the first set of political parties and political activities in the Nigeria. The trend have started around 1922 when the first Colonial Constitution the Clifford Constitution was granted in which formation of political parties and politics were allowed. Therefore, from 1922 to 1960, there were formation of different political parties and participation in politics among Nigerians which was part of the Nationalists struggle against colonialism.
To understand the Nigerian Pre-Independence Politics, one should started from 1922 when the Clifford Constitution as parts of its provisions allowed the political parties and associations. Prior to the Clifford Constitution, there were many agitations among the Nigerians more especially the emergent Nigerian Western educated elites mostly based in Lagos. Therefore, in order to utilize the provision of the Clifford Constitution, those Nigerian educated elites seized the opportunity by forming the first political party in the history of Nigeria called the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) in 1923.
The NNDP Party was formed by Herbert Macaulay who was considered by many as the ‘Father of the Nigerian nationalism’. Herbert Macaulay who studied in England used his capability by absorbing many Lagos based interest groups into the the Party for the purpose of competing in the new provision of election provided by the Clifford Constitution. Thus, in 1923, the Candidates of NNDP contested and won three seats into the Lagos Legislative Council.
Therefore, the NNDP Party pioneered the participation in the election as well as the political processes in the history of Nigeria. Also, the NNDP being the first of its kind, it set the basis from which the politics in the Pre-Independent Nigeria started.
Southern Nigerian Pre-Independence Politics
In the history of the Nigerian Pre-Independence Politics, the formation of political parties and the political activities started in the Southern Nigeria specifically Lagos due to the high level of Western education and and its acceptance among the Southerners. However, Lagos being the Capital Territory of the Colonial Nigeria, political activities have started there with the foundation of the first political party NNDP Party in 1923. And since then, the NNDP remain the only active political party in Nigeria until 1933.
In 1933, another group of educated elites formed another political organization called the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM). The NYM was more vibrant nationalist organization aimed at reawakening Nigerians for self-determination. The NYM founded by Eyo Ita have succeeded in becoming a multi-ethnic organization that carried out and spread politics and nationalist activities beyond the confinement of Lagos to the other parts of Nigeria specifically the Southern parts. Some active members of the NYM included vibrant educated Nigerian Youth nationalist elites then like Eyo Ita, Samuel Akinsanya, Ernest Ikoli, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, and others.
Again, in an effort to increase the participation of Nigerians Nigerians in the process of the formation of political parties and and politics, the NNDP Party was dissolved and different nationalists from different associations came together and formed a party called the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in 1944, with Herbert Macaulay as the Party President and Nnamdi Azikiwe as its Secretary. As the NCNC Party was established purposely for fostering the Nigerian nationalism and unity among the Nigerians, it tried as much as possible in embracing tribal and religious groups in the South.
In 1951, another political party called the Action Group (AG) was formed in Ibadan with the aims of uniting the Yoruba ethnic of the Western Region and also to enhance nationalist activities. The Action Group was founded by the Yoruba educated elite Chief Obafemi Awolowo who initially started with the Yoruba Cultural Association called in Yoruba language “Egbe Omo Oduduwa”.
In 1951, the MacPherson Constitution was granted, and as parts of its provision the principle of the election was widened and improved. Therefore, in 1951 an election was held with the NCNC and Action Group being the only active political parties in the South contested. The NCNC due to the emergence of Action Group in the Western Region, its victories were confined to the Eastern Region where she won the majority of the seats. While, the new vibrant Action Group won the majority in the Western Region.
The 1951 election was considered as a turning point when the political parties in Nigeria began to be more of Regional parties than the nationalist parties. Because, the election’s results showed that The NCNC became a party of the Igbo dominated Eastern Region, while the Action Group emerged as the party of the Yoruba dominated Western Region.
Northern Nigerian Pre-Independence Politics
Northern Nigeria was initially left behind in the Pre-Independence Politics in Nigeria. In this regard, the Northern Nigeria if compared with the Southern part was left behind. Many reasons have caused this backwardness of which the most obvious was the fact that Northern Nigeria was a conservative society.
However, in the 1940s, educated elites started to emerge and entered into the nationalist struggle during the Pre-Independence Politics in Nigeria. Initially, the northerners formed only interest groups. Later, political associations with nationalist outlook began to be emerge. The most significant association then was the association of “Jam’iyyar Mutanen Arewa” which was founded in order to unite the Northern people towards nationalist struggle and participation in the Nigerian politics.
In 1949, the Jam’iyyar Mutanen Arewa which was a Hausa-Fulani ethnic dominated Union turned into a political party with the new name of English language Northern People’s Congress (NPC). Though dominated by Hausa-Fulani, the NPC embraced and included all other Northerners irrespective of their ethnicity or Religion. The leader of the NPC was Sir Ahmadu Bello, and the other members included Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Aliyu Makaman Bidda, Maitama Sule, and the rest.
In August 1950, another political party with the name Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) was born in the Northern city of Kano. The NEPU Party had been a left-wing political party with more nationalist outlook than the NPC. The leader of the NEPU was the radical Aminu Kano who was famous for his opposition against autocracy and fighting for a common man.
Therefore, by 1951, NPC and NEPU emerged as the only 2 political parties in the whole of Northern Region. In 1951, an election into the Central Legislature and the Regional Assemblies were contested. In the election, the NPC which was more conservative and backed in some ways by the aristocrats won the majority of the seats from the North.
Two Pre-Independence General Elections
During the Nigerian Pre-Independence Politics , two different general elections were conducted. By 1954, there were at least one political party from each of the 3 Nigerian Regions with seats in both the Central and Regional Legislatures.
In 1954, a new Constitution called the Lyttleton Constitution came into effect. Under the provision of the Constitution, the Central Legislature would have 184 members, in which 92 of the seats were allocated to the Northern Region, 42 seats to the Eastern Region, 42 seats to the Western region, 6 to the Southern Cameroon, and 2 seats to the Lagos.
1954 GENERAL ELECTIONS
In order to fill the allocated seats, a General elections were held between October to December of 1954. In the elections, Northern People’s Congress won the majority with 84 seats and this victory enabled the Party in becoming the largest party in Nigeria before independence.
1959 GENERAL ELECTIONS
In 1959, another General elections and the last during the Pre-Independent Nigeria were held in December 1959. The Election was hotly contested as it was an election to provides the transitional Government that would took over from the Colonial Government if the independence was granted. Again, the Northern People’s Congress emerged as the dominant party winning 134 out of the 312 seats in the House of Representatives. Later, the NPC and NCNC agreed on the coalition, which allowed them to formed the Government which took over the self-rule from the Britain on the 1st October, 1960.