Prior to 1985 Nigerians were amongst the most literate, intellectually-inclined, respected, well-informed, well-read and well-educated people in the world and this had been so since the mid-1800’s. Our education system was once the envy of the British Commonwealth and in terms of academics Nigerians scored firsts wherever they went. However as from 1985 everything changed in our country including our attitude to life, our economic situation, our sense of values, our perception of ourselves and what we stood for and our education system. From that time everything appears to have gone to the dogs and from that point it was just one period of degradation and degenaration to another up until today.
Nothing was more affected by this unfortunate state of affairs than our education system. Post-1985 the whole education system in our country simply broke down. The result of this was predictable, swift and startling as an attitude of disdain and derision for anything that lay in the realm of education and particularly in the realm of the arts, like literature and history, were treated with disdain and contempt by our people. Simply put no-one was interested. As far as most Nigerians were concerned it paid better to be a tomatoe puree importer and dealer or a sugar trader than it did to be a scholar or a professional. The result of this shameful attitude was devastating on our pysche as a people and on our culture. We just degenerated in every conceivable way and post-1985 we became a nation of traders and ceased to be a nation of scholars.
The result of all this was as follows. I would conceede that there are some exceptions to the rule but one of the weaknesses of the average Nigerian today is that, generally speaking, he does not read widely, he does not do much research, he knows little about literature and the arts and he knows nothing about his own history or the history of his country. Worse still because he does not have the discipline to do his reserach and to read widely he is prepared to accept oral folk-lore and self-serving revisionist folk tales as historical fact and to literally swear by them. No group of people that I am aware of in the world today suffer more from this strange affliction and this willful attempt to ignore or to distort their own history as much Nigerians. To make matters worse the average Nigerian honsetly believes that history does not matter and that the fact that history is not taught in Nigerian schools is no big deal. Is it any wonder that we are in a mess?
They say that those that do not know or do not learn from their own history are bound to repeat its mistakes. And nowhere has this truism found more relevance and veracity as it has in modern-day Nigeria. Some of the consequence of this unfortunate mindset is the fact that the manifestation of crass ignorance and the expression of pure falsehood has taken pride of place and has become commonplace in our country when we talk about our past. Few Nigerians know who they are, where they are coming from, how their nation came about and who our heroes of the past, our great nationalists and our founding fathers actually were. Great names like Sapara Williams, Herbert Macauly, Adeyemo Alakija, Ajayi Crowther, Akinwale Akinsanya, Ernest Ikoli, Charles Onyeama, Bode Thomas, H.O. Davis, Adegoke Adelabu, Eyo Ita, Inua Wada, Mohammadu Ribadu, Joseph Tarka, Aminu Kano, Ayo Rosiji, Isa Williams, Louis Ojukwu, Alfred Rewane, Festus Okotie Eboh, S.O.Gbadamosi, S.G. Ikokwu and so many others have little relevance or meaning to most young Nigerians today. They just don’t know who these great men were or what they did for our country. What a tragedy.
Yet nowhere has the confusion of our people been made more manifest when it comes to our history than on the vexed question of who successfully moved Nigeria’s motion for independence. There has been so much misunderstanding and disinformation about who actually moved that motion and I believe that it is time to to set the record straight and bring this matter to closure. In order to do so successfully we must be guided by facts and historical records and not by emotion, sentiment or political considerations. The moment we allow our recollection of events or our 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 revered nationalists and founding fathers. Though nothing can be taken away from 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 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. 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 aquiessed to by the British in 1958.
That successful 1958 motion was moved by none other than my late father of blessed memory, Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode, 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 2nd 1958 , was actually the landmark and most significant motion of all when it comes to the issue of our independence.
Let us look at the history, the records and the facts. 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 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 2nd 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 2nd to Oct. 1st 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 1st 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-researched history books that has ever been written when it comes to the politics of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s in Nigeria titled “Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation” by the respected American historian, Professor Richard L. Sklar. Sklar actually lived in Nigeria throughout much of that period. On page 269 of his book he wrote the following “in July 1958, Barrister Remi Fani-Kayode had the distinction of moving the resolution for independence on April 2nd 1960, 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 titled “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 a regional Minister and one of the main political players at the time. On pg.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 2nd 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 2nd 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 egbon Chief Ladi Akintola (the distinguished son of the late Chief S.L. Akintola) who, in an article titled, “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 acquiessed 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 acquiesed 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 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 respectively) 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 the move the various motions but also to every single member of Parliament that sat on the relevant days and that voted for the various motions to be passed.