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The Emergence of Political Organisations in Nigeria

The 19th century did not witness the emergence of any political party which could serve as a vehicle for airing grievances and expressing the aspiration of Nigerians continuously. By 20th century the fact of the British presence had been brought home so forcibly to the people by various military expedition sent out to conquer groups resisting the imposition of British rule and by the introduction of a number of measures-water rate, land appropriation and capitation tax to mention but a few-what it was felt that the old political method practiced in Lagos of public meeting and sending petitions to governors became inadequate and the political organisations began to make their appearance. The first of such organisations was the peoples union formed by Dr. Obasa and Randle specifically to agitate against the water rate but generally to champion the interests of the people of Lagos. This body became popular almost immediately and attracted members from all sections of the community-educated Africans, Chiefs and Muslim leaders. Its failure, however to prevent the imposition of water rate in 1916 considerably reduced its popularity. The organization was also handicapped by constant disagreement and bickerings among its leaders. With the emergence of the National Council of British West Africa (NCBWA) in 1920 and the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) in 1923, the organization lost the majority of its supporters and by 1926 it has completely ceased to exist.

Two years after the formation of the people’s union another organization – The Lagos Ancillary of the Aborigines Right Profession Society (LAAPRS) made its appearance. Though this, a humanitarian body it is nevertheless relevant to our discussion because in a colony it is difficult to draw a clear line of demarcation between political issues and humanitarian questions. The organization ostensibly came into existence to champion the interest of Nigerians generally, but its attention was taken up by the agitation over the land question. In 1912 fear was greatly entertained that the land system in Northern Nigeria whereby all land was taken over by the administration and held in trust for the people would be introduced into the south. Educated Africans were convinced that this would be the first step toward depriving Nigerians for their land. They believed that if they succeed in preventing the system from being extended to the south, the battle for its destruction in the North could then be succeeded waged. The movement like the peoples union attracted important personalities in Lagos amongst its members were Bishop James Johnson, Mojola Agbebi, C.A. Sapara-Williams, J. Da-Rocha Cardoso, A. Alakija and J.P. Jakson, the editor of the Lagos Weekly. Record it organized a deputation to London to present its views on land question to the British Government. The delegation was discredited by the quarrels which broke out among its member over the delegation fund. There were accusations of embezzlement against some of the members of the delegation. The organization did not survive for long.

It can be seen that the two organisations established before 1914 were not very effective. Moreover, they came into existence to champion specific causes. They did not possess effective organization or/an ideology. They therefore depended for their existence not on programmes but on personalities. This, in fact was the major reason for their ineffectiveness. However, with the outbreak of war and the political awareness generated by it, a number of organization which were more dynamic came into existence. They were: The Lagos Branch of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the NCBWA and the NNDP.

Universal Negro Improvement Association

In 1920, a branch of Garvey’s Universal Negro improvement association was formed in Lagos as a result of the initiative with anxiety by the Colonial office because of the belief that Garvey’s movement was a subversive one. Garvey had attracted the attention of British government during the World Negro Convention in New York in 1920 he sent a message of support to the Irish Leader, De Valera. Moreover, his journal, the Negro World was considered to subversive that it was banned not only in Nigeria but throughout West Africa by both the British and the French Governments. The Lagos branch did not survive long owing to the hostility of fellow Nigerian members of the NCBWA and the colonial administration. But during its short span of life it served as an inspiration to men like Ernest Sessi Ikoli, its first secretary, and Nnamdi Azikiwe who was to play leading roles in the Nationalist movement from the thirties. Azikiwe writing about the influence of the Negro world on him stated that the motto of Garveyism “One God, One Aim, One Destiny” appealed to him.

Nationalism: The Early Years:

British rule was disliked by many Nigerians. We shall see this in this research that many ordinary people disliked the changes brought about by the colonial government. The more educated people wanted to play a bigger part in the government of the country. There were many examples, therefore of both the educated people and the masses protesting against colonial rule. In time, these groups were to combine to form what was called the nationalist movement which eventually resulted in the independence of Nigeria in 1960.

Peasant Revolt

In the early years of colonial rule there were many local uprisings throughout Nigeria. In those, people protested against taxation, forced labour on roads and railways, and the destruction of their traditional way of life.

Nationalism Among the Elite

It was seen that the educated people in Lagos resented the fact that they were not allowed to play a part in the government. At first they did not try to get rid of colonialism as a whole. They concentrated on particular grievances. It should also be remembered that both they and the traditional rules were very loyal to British during the first and second world wars and they contributed money to Britain’s war efforts.

The National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA)

The body was founded by a lawyer from Gold Coast (Ghana) in 1920. Its members came from the four British colonies in West Africa namely; Nigeria, The Gold Coast, Sierra-Leone and the Gambia. They all wanted more power. The congress argued for the following points:

-They wanted half the members of the legislative councils to be elected Africans. (There was a legislative council in each of the colonies, these council issued laws but were dominated by British Councils)

– The elected members of the councils legislative council should control financial affairs.

– There should be a West African University. There should be no discrimination against Africans in the civil service.

In 1920, the congress sent delegation to Britain to argue their cases with British government.

Herbert Macaulay

Herbert Macaulay was a member of Lagos elite. He was particularly concerned with the politics of Lagos.

In 1922, probably partly as a result of the work done by the National Congress of British West Africa, the British introduced a new constitution in Nigeria. Four of the forty-six members of the legislative were to be elected, three from Lagos and one from Calabar. Macaulay could not be elected himself because he had been imprisoned. But he formed a political party called the Nigerian Nationalist Democratic Party. This won all the Lagos seats in elections held in 1923, 1928 and 1933. It was very much a Lagos party. This affected the attitude of its members, they wanted self-government for cities and they wanted to change the system of indirect rule, whereby the educated were kept out of local government and out of most of the country’s law courts.

The Nigerian Youth Movement

This was started in 1934 to protest against the faults of the Yaba Higher College. At first it was called the Lagos Youth Movement but was renamed in 1936. It was founded by a Yoruba Doctor, J.C. Vaughan. After his death, the leader was Samuel Akinsaya and then Ernerst Ikoli.

Unlike the Nigerian National Democratic Party, the N.Y.M tried to be a national movement. It wanted a united and independent Nigeria, and compulsory and free education for all. It also wanted every adult to be able to vote in election and equal opportunities for Nigerians in the civil service.

The N.Y.M defeated Macaulay’s party in 1938 but it achieved little and came to an end in 1941 mainly because of internal divisions.


Nnamdi Azikiwe

Azikiwe was an Onitsha Igbo who had managed to go to the U.S.A, for a higher education. Despite great financial hardship he obtained two Masters Degree and many credit for a doctorate and taught in an American University. When he came back to Nigeria he found that the colonial government could not offer him any suitable employment.

He spent three years as a journalist in Gold Coast (Ghana) and then returned to Nigeria in 1937. He started the Newspaper called The West African Pilot. Through the Newspaper, he could criticize the government and he could speak to a large number of Nigerians. Azikiwe joined the NYM before he returned to Nigeria. In 1934, Nigerian Politics was a Lagos affair with frequent brickbats between Macaulay and contemporaries. Zik’s writing were lucid, pungent and poisonous and he knew in politics there were no permanent friends or enemies but only permanent interests. Zik knew the virtue of retreat and strategic seasonal romance and this made him to stay for about half a century at the epicenter of Nigerian politics. The impact of Zik to Nigeria is in two fold:

  1. He introduced activisim into Nigerian politics and took politics away from Lagos.
  2. He was the founder of Igbo Nationalism and through him his kinsmen got involved into politics and business which had been the preserve of the Lagos-elite, mostly Yoruba and Brasilians. His publication include: Liberia in World Politics, 1934; Renascent Africa, 1937; The African in Ancient and Mediaeval History, 1938; Land Tenure in Northern Nigeria in 1942; Political Blue Print in Nigeria 1943; Economic Reconstruction of Nigeria, 1943; Economic Rehabilitation of Eastern Nigeria 1955; Dialogue on a New Capital for Nigeria, 1974; Treasury of West African Poetry, etc”

Nationalism: The Later Years

In the period looked at the previous units, both the Britain and the educated Nigerians taught that colonial rule was going to last for many years. Infact, it was realized after the second world war and only the fifteen years from 1945 to 1960 saw rapid progress towards independence. The reason to this change in attitude can be found both within and outside Nigeria.


International Reasons

The second world war fought from 1939 to 1945 greatly weakened the colonial powers. France was invaded and conquered by the Germans and the French were divided into two bitterly hostile groups. Britain was also defeated by the Germans at one stage and although the British won in the end, the long years of war meant that their economy was badly weakened. This meant that the British found it more difficult to control their colonies.

Many Africans fought abroad, either for the British or for the French. They realized that the British were not the superior beings they had seemed to be. Nigerians fought alongside ordinary British dustmen, taxi drivers, farmed labourers and criminals.

Germany was attempting to dominate Europe. The fight against that country therefore was for freedom and for the right of all people to govern themselves. It was not surprising that the African colonies felt they have the same right.

In 1947, India which for a long time had been part of the British Empire obtained its independence. There was no reason why Nigerians should not be independent as well.

Internal Reasons

Nigerian nationalism developed into much more radical movement which now sought independence.


The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons was formed in 1944. Its president was Herbert Macaulay until he died in 1946, but the party was dominated by Azikiwe. The party included many groups of people, various societies, ethnic unions and trade unions. Azikiwe became a popular hero in the 1940s, particularly among the Igbos. All those Nigerians who could read his newspapers, whether Clerks, Urban workers, traders or teachers, were delighted by his attack on the colonial government.



Obafemi Awolowo

Awolowo was an Ijebu Yoruba who was born in 1909. He had been active in NYM. Like Azikiwe had managed to study abroad, despite great difficulties. He studied law in London, and there he founded a Yoruba cultural organization in 1945 called the Egbe Omo Oduduwa. He opposed Azikiwe resolutely.

The years of Conflict

In 1947, new constitution was put into effect in Nigeria by Sir Arthur Richards, the governor. The constitution was intended to satisfy the demands of the nationalists. The Richards Constitution was opposed because of the following reasons:

  • The nationalists has not been consulted
  • Out of forty-four seats on the legislative council only four were directly elected;
  • Traditional rulers who were unlikely to oppose the colonial government were given powerful place in the legislative council.

One further aspect of the constitution was that it divided Nigeria into three regions; North, East and West.

In 1945, there was general strike which railways, postal and government technical workers took part. They were protesting that the government had not raised their wages despite raising price. Azikiwe supported them in his newspapers.

The NCNC sent a delegation to England to protest about the Richard’s constitution but it achieved little. Its members became involved in squabbles about use of funds and the party became inactive for a while.

A new and more radical movement started. This was called Zikism. At first this was the youth wing of the NCNC but in 1948 when the NCNC was inactive, the Zikists attacked the government strongly. In 1949 the coal miners of Enugu went on strike. A British officer ordered the police to fire them. Twenty miners died, and twenty nine were wounded. This made all Nigerian workers, and more educated people very angry. The Zikists organized riots and called on Nigerians to reject colonial rule. The colonial government imprisoned the Zikist leaders and the movement became weakened and less important.

Finally, the research was based on work of Dr. M.I. Ijomah of Abia State University (Nigeria), I am deeply indebted to him.

Baba Ali Mustapha is with the department of Planning, Research and Statistic, Ministry of Environment, Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.


The Book “Nigeria-An Anatomy of Development and Retrogression by Dr. M.I. Ijomah, published by Smartlink Publishers, 27th Ochi Street, Achara Layout, Enugu, Enugu State, Nigeria.


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