The Nigerian First Republic was a in the Nigerian history that marked the beginning of Nigerian full self-rule and lasted from 1960 to 1966. Therefore, in short, the First Republic was a period when the first fully Nigerians took the responsibility of governing their country without the external influence which automatically made Nigeria a sovereign nation.
Nigeria became independent nation on 1st October, 1960, after 60 years long British Colonial rule. While on the other hand the attainment of the independence marked the beginning of the Nigerian First Republic.
However, after only about 2 years of attaining independence, the Nigerian First Republic started showing some signs of collapse when the National Census was conducted in 1962/1963, and the results of the Census became a controversial that set aflame political and ethnic crises that led to the collapse of the Nigerian First Republic in 1966.
The foundation of the Nigerian First Republic can be traced back to 1959 when the General Election was held and resulted in giving rise to the Northern People’s Congress as the party with majority of seats and the NCNC Party as the second party. Therefore, in order to form the government that would took over from the Britain and steered the Nigerian First Republic after independence, the NPC and NCNC opted for a coalition between them. The NPC-NCNC coalition enabled the two Parties in forming the government in Nigeria in 1959, and eventually the First Independent Government that took over the Nigerian rule in 1960.
The head of the Nigerian Government after Independence that steered the Nigerian First Republic was the Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as the head of from the Hausa dominated NPC Party. While, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe from the Igbo dominated Party of NCNC became the Nigerian Governor-General in 1960 and later the President in 1963. On the other hand, the Yoruba dominated Party of AG became the main Opposition Party with its leader Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the national opposition leader.
The years between the inception of the Nigerian First Republic in 1960 to 1962 were the years considered by some Nigerian historians as the stable years in the politics of the Nigerian First Republic. Because during the years, Nigerian leaders and politicians engaged in patriotic commitments aimed at consolidating the infant Republic to stand on her own feet.
During these two years, the Nigerian First Republic Government under the Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa became committed in carrying out its responsibilities, especially in creating diplomatic ties with other nations based on the idea of Nigerian Foreign Policy that maintained Nigeria as Neutral country that wished to cooperate with any nation. Also, African continent was considered as the centerpiece of the Nigerian Foreign Policy.
On 7 October, 1960, Nigeria joined the United Nations, becoming the 99th member of the Organization. During the day, Nigerian delegations led by the Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa expressed Nigerian intention and commitment towards cooperating with other world’s nations for peaceful coexistence in the world.
As part of Nigeria’s belief and commitment towards defending the image and well being of Africa, in January 1961 the Government of Nigeria broke a diplomatic relations with France for carrying out an atomic test in the Sahara.
In May 1961, the Nigerian Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa represented Nigeria at a Monrovia Conference, where African states with moderate outlook convened and emphasized their belief in applying moderate policies, in opposed to the Casablanca Group of African countries who believe in radical policies.
In July 1961, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa made a diplomatic visit to the United States where he was welcomed by the then United States President John Kennedy in the White House. From the White House, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa went ahead to the United States Congress where he presented an interesting speech about the importance of US-Nigerian diplomatic relation.
In April 1961, a motion for the creation of the Mid-West Region from Western Region was raised and passed in Federal Parliament. Prior to the motion, the people of Benin and Delta areas led by Anthony Enahoro have been agitating for the creation of their own separate Region since 1951. But, the people of the Western Region specifically the Yorubas have opposed the movement as they considered a move to weakened the Region.
In March 1962, in an effort to create and consilidated the Nigerian economy into a vibrant one, the Federal Parliament passed and approved the implementation of the Six-Year National Development Plan (1962-1968). The National Plan which projected to consume $225 million was intended at reshaping the Nigerian economy which was more of Colonial outlook into a mixed economy that would discourage import to a lesser extent and created domestic industries such metal, iron, cement, and other industries as well as boosting agricultural output. Also, under the Plan, Dams were designed to be constructed of which the Ka’inji Dam was the most important.
The Crises Set in the Nigerian First Republic
The Nigerian First Republic was believed by many historians to have been stable for only 2 to 3 years. The first issue that showed the possibility of having a crises was the National Census conducted in May 1962 whose result was rejected by some Nigerians especially in the Southern.
Prior to the National Census controversy, since the Nigerian attainment of independence, the politics of the country seems to be going along tribal lines than commitment to the whole nation. Southerners more especially Igbo of Eastern Region accused the Northerners of trying to dominated the whole of the Nigerian political scene. For, the Southerners agitated and pointed out that under the First National Development Plan, more Government’s projects and military establishments were allocated to the Northern Region. Therefore, this and other reasons started building South-North political enmity that endangered the young Nigerian First Republic.
1962/63 NATIONAL CENSUS CONTROVERSY
In 1962, the First National Population Census in the Independent Nigeria was conducted all over the country. Before the 1962 Census, Nigerians especially Southerners have been waiting for the Census which they considered as a means through which they could get more Parliamentary seats and revenue allocation, since the allocations of seats to Parliament and revenue was based on population.
In May 1962, the Census was conducted with all the three Regions contesting with the intention of getting more population that would allowed them to influence the Nigerian First Republic. In the process of conducting the Census, different illegalities aimed at manipulating the population figures were recorded. However, despite all these illegalities, the outcome of the Census showed again the Northern Region as the most populated among the 3 Regions. In response to the outcome, the Southern leaders from the West and East rejected the result and called for another fresh Census.
In November 1963, a fresh nationwide Census was held as demanded by some Nigerian espeacially Southerners. However, the results was retained and refused to be announced officially till an appropriate time in an effort to avoid another controversy.
WESTERN REGION POLITICAL CRISES AND AWOLOWO’S IMPRISONMENT
The Western Region political crises that split the ruling Party of AG and the imprisonment of Chief Obafemi Awolowo were among the factors that increase political tensions during the Nigerian First Republic.
Prior, to the eruption of the political crises in the Action Group Party, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was solely regarded as the leader in the Western Region. Awolowo served as the Western Region Premier from 1954 to 1959. In 1959, he step down as the Premier in order to contest in the 1959 Parliamentary Election in which he hoped to get a majority that would allowed him to form a national government. Therefore, in order to fill the vacant seat of the Premier, Awolowo chose his Deputy Chief Samuel Akintola.
However, as the Nigerian First Republic began, Chief Samuel Akintola tried to change the AG from the opposition Party into a coalition with the ruling Party of NPC. But, on his part, Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the national leader of the Party refused granted a permission for the coalition with the NPC. Unfortunately, Chief Samuel Akintola who should agreed with his boss decision, rather refused and goes ahead with his plan. Eventually, this disagreement split not only the AG Party but also the Western Region into the Supporters of Awolowo and Akintola to the extent that political violence broke out in the Region which necessitated the declaring of state of emergency in the Region on 29 May, 1962.
In September 1962, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and some politicians like Chief Anthony Enahoro, Joseph Tarka, and some others were arrested and charged with a plan of conspiracy to overthrew the Nigerian Federal Government. Later, after about one year of trial in the court, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was convicted for treasonable felony and therefore sentenced to 10 years in prison while others received different terms of improvement. But, this action was condemned by many politicians in Nigeria who considered it only as an intention to stop opposition by the Federal Government through whatever means.
In the Western Region, before the Awolowo’s conviction, the Federal Government lifted the state of emergency in the Region on 1 January, 1963. Chief Samuel Akintola formed a new Party the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), where he made a coalition with the Western NCNC and formed a new Government of the Western Region.
Though, a new Government was formed in the Western Region, Awolowo’s supporters and those who sympathize with him continued to opposed the Akintola’s government.
1964 General Elections and the Collapse of the Nigerian First Republic
As Nigeria continued to be rule on the ground of political crises and tribal enmity between the Southern and Northern part of Nigeria, the country also approached the First Independent General Election with two political alliances. The first alliance was the Nigerian National Alliance which comprised NPC and NNDP. While the second alliance was the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) that comprised AG and NCNC Parties.
RELEASE OF 1963 CENSUS RESULT
Again as the Election was approaching, the result of the official National Population Census was released and published as follows :
- Northern Region : 29, 758, 875
- Eastern Region : 12, 394, 426
- Western Region : 10, 265, 846
- Mid-West Region : 2, 35, 839
- Lagos : 665, 246
TOTAL = 55, 620, 268
Even though, the 1963 Census was considered to be more clean than the previous 1962 Census, again the Southerners rejected the results and went to court. The, Court in its Judgement confirmed the results as fair and therefore it was valid. But, the Southerners unwelcomed the court’s ruling and declared the results as means to manipulate the forthcoming election. Therefore went ahead with agitations condemning the Federal Government.
1964 GENERAL ELECTIONS
In 1964, General Elections was held in Nigeria where by the results showed the Nigerian National Alliance of NPC and NNDP as the Alliance with majority of seats in the National Parliament which enabled them to form the National Government.
In the Regions, the NPC retained the majority, in the East the NCNC retained its own majority, and in the Western Region the NNDP also won the majority of seats.
Unfortunately, the results of the 1964 General Elections became disputed and left the country in controversy that threatened the stance of the Nigerian First Republic.
In 1965, another fresh political violence erupted in the Western Region between the supporters of NNDP and the AG. The violence continued to which made some naming the Western Region as a “Theater of War”. On the other hand, the Federal Government considered by some to be backing the NNDP on the ground, refused to declare the state of emergency in the Region.
JANUARY 1966 COUP
Up to January 1966, Nigeria especially the Western Region was in a political chaos that made the collapse of the Nigerian First Republic inevitable.
Suddenly, on 15 January, 1966, the Nigerian soldiers mostly Igbos led by Majors Chukwuma Nzeogwu and Emmanuel Ifeajuna conducted Military Coups in Lagos, Ibadan, and Kaduna in which top Nigerian leaders and politicians together with some senior army officers mostly from the Northern Region were assassinated. In Lagos, the Nigerian Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Finance Minister Chief Festus Okotie Eboh were assassinated. In Ibadan, the soldiers killed the Western Region Premier Chief Samuel Akintola. While, in the Kaduna, the leader of the Coup plotters Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu assassinated the Northern Region Premier Sir Ahmadu Bello.
In short, the January 1966 Coup, brought an end to the Nigerian First Republic and the taking over of Nigerian rule by the Military for the first time with Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi as the new Military ruler of Nigeria.