Leadership (Abuja)

Nigeria: The Truth About the Motion for Independence

opinion

There has been so much confusion, misunderstanding and misinformation about who actually moved the motion for Nigeria's independence. Given the fact that Nigeria will be 50 years old on October 1st and it marks our jubilee year as an independent nation, I believe that it is time to to set the record straight and bring this matter to closure.

And in order to do so successfully we must be guided by facts and historical records and not by sentiment or political considerations. The moment we allow our recollection or knowledge of history to be guided or beclouded by such perennial considerations we are finished as a people. The truth is that almost 90 per cent of Nigerians have been brought up to believe that the motion for Nigeria's independence was successfully moved by Chief Anthony Enahoro, a man that is undoubtedly one of our most reverred nationalists and founding fathers. Though nothing can be taken away from Chief Enahoro in terms of his monumental contributions in our quest for independence (I would argue that he kicked off the process for that struggle with his gallant efforts in 1953) the fact remains that he was not the man that successfully moved the motion for Nigeria's independence. Another group of Nigerians believe that Chief S.L. Akintola, another great nationalist and elder statesman and the former Premier of the old Western Region, was responsible for the successful movement of the motion for Nigeria's independence.

Again, though there is no doubt that Chief Akintola played a major and critical role in the whole process, he was not the one that successfully moved the motion for Nigeria's independence. There is yet another school of thought that says that it was Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the much-loved former Prime Minister of blessed memory that was the first to successfully move the motion for Nigeria's independence. Again this is not historically accurate. Sir Tafawa Balewa's 1959 motion was not the first successful motion for our independence and neither was it in actual fact a motion for independence at all . It was rather a motion to amend an already existing motion which had already been successfully moved and passed by Parliament and which had been accepted and acquiesced to by the British in 1958.

That successful 1958 motion was moved by none other than my late father of blessed memory, Chief Remilekun Adetokunboh Fani-Kayode Q.C., S.A.N, C.O.N, the former Deputy Premier of Nigeria's Western Region. Not only did he play a major role in the movement of the motion for Nigeria's independence but, as a matter of fact, his was the first successful motion for independence in Parliament that was acceepted by the British and it was actually the one that got us our independence. His motion, which was moved in Parliament on the platform of the Action Group on August 2, 1958, was actually the landmark and most significant motion of all when it comes to the issue of our independence. Let us look at history, the records and the facts.

You will recall that Chief Anthony Enahoro moved a motion for "self rule" in the Federal House in 1953 which proposed that we should have our independence in 1956. Unfortunately, it was rejected by Parliament and it therefore failed. It also resulted in a walk out by the Northern People's Congress (NPC) parliamentarians who were of the view that Nigeria was not yet ready for independence. The tensions and acrimony that came from all this and the terrible treatment that was meted out to the northern parliamentarians and leaders that were in the south as a result of the fact that they would not support Enahoro's motion resulted in the infamous Kano riots of 1953. In 1957 Chief S.L. Akintola moved a second motion for independence in Parliament and asked for us to gain our independence from the British in 1959. This motion was passed by the Federal House but the British authorities refused to acquiese to it and consequently it failed. In 1958, my father moved the third motion for Nigeria's independence in the Federal Parliament and he asked that Nigeria should be given her independence on April 2, 1960.

The motion was not only passed by Parliament but it was also acquiesed to by the British and was therefore successful. That was indeed a great day and a great achievement for Nigeria. However in 1959, at the instance of the British Colonial authorities who said that they needed a few more months to put everything in place before leaving our shores, Sir Tafawa Balewa moved a motion for a slight amendment to be made to the original 1958 motion that had been passed and approved to the effect that the date of independence should be shifted from April 2 to October 1 instead.

Sir Tafawa Balewa's motion for amendment was seconded by Chief Raymond Njoku, the Minister of Transport, and it was acquiesed to by the British. That is how we arrived at the date October 1, 1960 for our independence. The details of all this can be found in Hansard (which are the official record of proceedimgs of Parliament) and they can also be found in what, in my view, is one of the most detailed, authoritative and well-reseaerched history books that has ever been written when it comes to the politics of the 50's in Nigeria entitled "Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation" by the respected American historian, Professor Richard L. Sklar.

On page 269 of his book Sklar wrote the following: "In July 1958, Barrister Fani-Kayode had the distinction of moving the resolution for independence on April 2nd !960, which was supported by all the parties in the Federal House of Representatives". Another excellent book that covers this topic and era very well is entitled "Glimpses into Nigeria's History" and was written by Professor Sanya Onabamiro, a highly distinguished elder statesman and nationalist in his own right who was also one of the main political players at the time.

At page 140 of his book and in reference to Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of the Northern Region, Onabamiro wrote: "He was the bridge between the north and the south, between the old and the new, between the fast and the slow. Without such a bridge to swing the votes of the Northern members of the House of Representatives in support of the southern members, there was little hope that the crucial motion on "independence on April 2, 1960" moved by an Action Group member of the House of Representatives in July 1958, would receive the unanimous endorsement of all the parties in the House as it did".

Professor Onabamiro was writing about the Fani-Kayode motion of April 2, 1958 and the "Action Group member" that he was referring to was my father. This is contrary to the assumption of some, including my dear and late Chief Ladi Akintola (the distinguished son of the late Chief S.L. Akintola) who, in an article entitled, "Between Akintola and Enahoro" which was written in 2001, wrote that when Onabamiro wrote this he was writing in reference to the motion that his father had previously moved on the same issue in !957. Ladi Akintola was wrong. The 1957 motion which Akintola moved had asked for our independence in 1959 and though it was indeed passed by the Federal House, it was not accepted or acquiesced to by the British. Consequently, just like the Enahoro motion of 1953, it failed and this is why we did not get our independence in 1959.

From the foregoing, you can see that the successful movement of the motion for our independence in Parliament was as a result of the collective efforts of a number of prominent and notable people from different parts of the country, and from different political parties that worked closely together on this issue over a period of time in the Federal House, and that my father was one of those people. As a matter of fact, he played a key and critical role in the proceedings. His 1958 motion for independence was highly significant because it was the only successful one and it was the one that actually got us independence in 1960. As I said earlier Tafawa Balewa's motion was not a motion for independence but rather a motion to slightly amend the original one that had already been approved by the House and acquiesced to by the British.

The simple answer to the question as to who moved the motion to Nigeria's independence, in my view, is that Chiefs Anthony Enahoro, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Remi Fani-Kayode, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Raymond Njoku, together with their respective political parties (Action Group, NPC and NCNC) all played major and key roles in this exercise and the credit for the successful passing of that motion should go, not just to all those who at different times moved or attempted to move the various motions, but also to every single member of Parliament that sat on the relevant days and voted for the various motions to be passed.

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