• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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God, we need you now! (Continuation)

The henchmen’s henchmen

The British Government handed over £80,000,000 (eighty million pounds) the surplus accumulated by Nigerian Marketing Board to be shared by the respective regions – Western Nigeria £35,000,000 (thirty-five million pounds) for cocoa; £18,000,000 (eighteen million pounds) to Eastern Region for palm oil; and £27,000,000 (twenty-seven million pounds) to the Northern Region for groundnuts.

In addition, choice London properties were handed over to each region as offices and residences to accommodate the Agent-General of each of the regions.

Locations were as follows:

The first set of Nigerian diplomats in Britain who were tagged “Agent-General” Western Region had Justice (Chief) Toye Coker. The residence was at 15A Kensington Palace Gardens while the office was at Great Portland Place, London.

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The Eastern Region was represented by Mr. Ekukinam Bassey while the Northern Region was represented by Alhaji Abudul Malik (from Okene) in what is now known as Kogi State, when he became our High Commissioner in 1959. He was succeeded by Alhaji Ahmadu Suka.

The Nigerian High Commission was (and remains at 9, Northumberland Avenue and the residence was at Chapel Street, Belgravia.

When Nigeria became Independent on 1st October 1960, the celebration was held at Royal Festival Hall, on Chelsea Embankment. Incidentally, Fela Kuti was then studying music at the Royal College of Music. He lived at Queensborough Terrace, Bayswater. He would neither drink nor smoke. He was entirely devoted to (and focused on) his music. No rebellion; no twenty-seven wives; no smoking of marijuana (Indian Hemp) and certainly, no drugs.

I believe the Western Region was the luckiest. The Agent-General (Chief Toye Coker) bagged 15A Kensington Palace Gardens in one of the most exclusive areas of London. Princess Margaret (the only sister of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II) lived only a few doors away and she would occasionally be a guest at parties held at the residence of the Agent-General.

It was when the military took over in 1966 that 15A Kensington Palace Gardens became the official residence of the High Commissioner of Nigeria.

What ensued at Independence was Nigeria at its best as each region embarked on a frenzy of infrastructural development as well as social welfare without incurring debts! Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the most daring and his legacies are enduring. As far back as 1955, he had launched Free Education in the Western Region – a very bold initiative which earned him the love and affection of generations till today.

Here is a snapshot of the achievements of the leaders of the various regions:

(i) Chief Obafemi Awolowo:

Awolowo founded the Yoruba nationalist group: Egbe Omo Oduduwa, and was the first Leader of Government Business and Minister of Local Government and Finance, and first Premier of the Western Region under Nigeria’s parliamentary system, from 1952 to 1959.

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(ii) Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe (Eastern Region):

He established the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1960, and Queen Elizabeth II appointed him to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. He was made Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), Nigeria’s highest national honour, in 1980.

(iii) Sir Ahmadu Bello (Northern Region):

Bello’s greatest legacy was the modernisation and unification of the diverse people of Northern Nigeria. His personal residence in Kaduna, now called Arewa House (Gidan Arewa), was transformed to a museum and centre for research and historical documentations managed by the Ahmadu Bello University.

Nigeria was on the fast track to becoming a force to be reckoned with. Each region had its own constitution and development plan. At the Federal level, under the Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa the appetite for economic development was contagious with generous technical support from the World Bank. Indeed, double-digit growth of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was the order of the day. On the average, GDP growth rate was 11 per cent which placed us in the same category as Singapore, Hong Kong and the emerging Asian Tigers.

Into the bargain was a relatively stable political landscape even though there was agitation for the creation of the Middle Belt State; COR (Calabar, Ogoja, Rivers) State; and Mid-Western Region.

Right up to 1962 when Togo was the victim of its first coup d’etat which claimed the life of President Sylvanus Olympio and installed President Etienne Eyadema, later became the President, there was no hint that trouble was brewing in Nigeria.

In the Sixth Form at King’s College, we were required to write an essay on:

“Could a coup d’etat happen in Nigeria?” by our History (Oxford University graduate) teacher.

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The verdict was a firm “NO”!!!

Thereafter in rapid succession, Nigeria had to contend with various headwinds – rioting over the census; controversial election results which resulted in victory for the NPC (Northern Peoples Congress); the breakdown of law and order in the Western Region; the Tiv Riots; the Coker Inquiry (Western Region); Forster Sutton Enquiry (Eastern Region); the attempted removal of Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola as Premier of the Western and his replacement with Chief S.O. Adegbenro.

Matters climaxed with the jailing of Chief Obafemi Awolowo for treasonable felony in 1963.

In between these tumultuous events was the forceful takeover of the Radio Station in Ibadan by audacious Professor Wole Soyinka leader of the Pirates to protest against false election results.