(Watch Video of 1960 Celebrations below)
Nigeria was granted independence from the British Empire on October 1, 1960.
As expected there were lots of celebrations around the country especially in the then capital, Lagos.
The celebrations were topped by a grand ceremony hosted by the prime minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
The Federation of Nigeria was granted full independence under a constitution that provided for a parliamentary government and a substantial measure of self-government for the country’s three regions.
This was the year Nigeria assumed both political and military control of its territory. As at that time, Nigeria was still following the British system of government in which there is a prime minister and a ceremonial president.
The ceremonial president of Nigeria then was Nnamdi Azikiwe, while the Prime Minister was Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The two of them assumed reigns of leadership due to the partnership that was foisted between the National Congress of Nigeria and Cameroun and the Northern People’s Congress in 1959 during the general election that was held then to choose the president, prime minister and members of the house of assembly.
However, Nigeria had not broken all ties with the British as at the time of independence. There were still some elements of British dominance until 1963 when Nigeria became a full republic. This was the year Nigeria broke all ties from the British government.
For one, Nigeria changed from the British system of government to the American system of government. Instead of having a ceremonial president and a prime minister, like it happens in Britain, Nigeria decided to elect a president who would oversee the affairs of the country. This was how Nnamdi Azikiwe became the First Executive president of Nigeria.
The first republic held between 1963 and 1966 and Nigeria was governed by the constitution that was developed shortly before independence. Nnamdi Azikiwe was president during the first republic. He occupied the office from October 1st 1963 till January 16, 1966. He won the election under the umbrella of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun.
Other political parties that were active in Nigeria at that time were the Action Group with its dominance in the south western part of Nigeria, the Borno Youth Movement with its headquarters in Borno State, Democratic Party of Nigeria and Cameroun, the Dynamic party, Igala Union and the Igbira Tribal Union.
Others were the Midwest Democratic Front with popularity among the people of the defunt Midwestern region, the National Independence Party, the Niger Delta Congress with popularity among the people of the Niger Delta region in Nigeria, the Nigerian National Democratic Party, the Northern Elements Progressive Union, the Northern People’s Congress, the Northern Progressive Front , the Republican Party, the United Middle Belt Congress, the United National Independence Party and the Zamfara Commoners Party.
Nigeria was divided then into three regions geopolitically, and these were the northern region, the western region and the eastern region. Each of the political parties in those regions was carrying out their activates in line with the tribal ideologies of each of the region. The Hausa/Fulani people were the ones with the highest population in the Northern People’s Party.
The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons that won the 1960 elections had more presence in the eastern part of Nigeria where the Igbos had dominance. The old eastern region however had two political parties, which were the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun and the National Independence Party; the second political party was formed by Professor Eyo Ita.
Ahmadu Bello was the one that was expected to become Prime Minister initially. However, he decided to support Tafawa Balewa, who was his deputy, to become the Prime Minister, while he opted for the post of premier of the Northern Region. The northern region gained more seats at the parliament because of their number.
After Obafemi Awolowo was sent to prison over flimsy excuse of plotting to overthrow the Central Government, Samuel Akintola took over as the Premier of the Old western region. Ahmadu Bello was considered as the undisputed strong man of Nigeria in those days.
While Azikiwe was the president, Tafawa Balewa remains the Prime minister till January 16th 1966. He was however forced out of office via military coup spearheaded by Kaduna Nzeogwu and Emanuel Ifeajuna in January 1966. The coup brought in Aguiyi Ironsi as the commander-in-chief. The coup was bloody and it led to the takeover of all institutions of government. Many people died as a result, including Tafawa Balewa, Ahamdu Bello, Samuel Akintola, Festus Okotie-Eboh, who was the finance minister. The president, Nnamdi Azikiwe was out of the country when the coup was taking place.
There was a countercoup in July of 1966 and it was planned by military men, mainly from the northern part of Nigeria. The coup was a revenge coup against their brothers that were killed during the January coup. The coup was equally bloody and it led to the death of major-General Aguiyi Ironsi and Adekunle Fajuyi.
This incidence led Nigeria to a civil war since officers of eastern region could not take the idea of their kinsmen being killed up north lightly. The civil war was fought from 1967 to 1970. Military rule however continued in Nigeria 9 more years after the civil war.
Another election was eventually held in 1979 and this opened the door to the second republic. Shehu Shagari was president and Alex Ekweme was the Vice President. However, the government was accused of corruption and military took over again in 1983.
The military government was headed by Muhammadu Buhari. He however did not last long as he was ousted out of office via another Military coup. Badamasi Babangida however took over this time around and he was military president till 1993 when he “stepped aside” after nullifying the fairest and freest election in Nigeria’s history.
Earnest Shonekan occupied the office for few months until he was forced out of office by Sanni Abacha. Sanni Abacha was military president till he died in 1998. He was replaced by another military man, Abdulsalam Abubakar, who handed over power to a civilian president, Olusegun Obasanjo. Olusegun Obasanjo remained president for 8 years and he left office in 2007 after handing over to Late Umaru Musa Yar’adua. Yar’adua only lasted for about a year in office and his former Vice, Goodluck Jonathan took over office as President. He was in office till 2015 when he was voted out of office by Muhammadu Buhari of the APC.
Nigeria as a nation would have moved beyond where we are today, but corruption of the leaders have prevented that forward movement of the country. It is hoped that Nigerian leaders would turn a new leaf and start placing interest of the nation above selfish interest.
57 years after, as we celebrate another independence day, the country has however enjoyed smooth 17 years of uninterrupted Democratic governance, but very little progress in many areas of her predicted economic and social greatness as a nation.