At 58, Nigerians still remember the euphoria that greeted independence on October 1st, 1960. LEADERSHIP Weekend crew take a look at the factors that still bind the nation together from the pre and post independent eras, even as some relics of that struggle for freedom are in ruins to this present day. NNAMDI MBAWIKE (Enugu), SAM EGWU (Lokoja), Abu Nmodu (Minna), ANKELI EMMANUEL (Sokoto), ABDULGAFAR OLADIMEJI, Kano, GEORGE OKOJIE (Lagos) and BEATRICE GONDYI (Bauchi) report
At 85, Alhaji Danlami Abubakar, a retired civil servant can still reflect on the pageantry that greeted the lowering of the Union Jack on 1st October, 1960 in Lagos in the presence of young Nigerian founding fathers and their former British Colonial masters.
“After that spectacle of October 1, Nigerians couldn’t just stop watching the video which was of course in black white and the pictures adorned the pages of newspapers, magazines and whatever means of communication in the country then,” Abubakar recalled. “Nigeria was free at last from the long occupation of its political and economic space.
“As young Nigerians then, we looked up to a great Nigeria, a country where freedom, democracy and development will be entrenched in all sectors. I must confess, Nigeria did well after independence, the air of freedom was enough to uplift our spirit and so was it all over the nation before the unfortunate coups and civil war that nearly brought us to our knees.
“I can tell you that, in spite of the challenges that confronts us today, we have more that binds us together than what divides us. Please, don’t be carried away by what today’s politicians, religious leaders will tell you about each of us. We had the same number of religion, ethnic groupings, dialects, we have today in the 1960s and we lived in peace and harmony without the type of rancour witnessed today.”
He said Nigeria is a great nation which others envy. “And they still do till this very moment, we should be proud of anything that binds us as a nation even if it is from the colonial and post-independence eras,” Abubakar said.
Fifty eight after that spectacular lowering of the Union Jack and the hoisting of the Green White Green symbolising end of colonialism in Nigeria, some factors that continue to remind future generations of the struggle for the freedom they enjoy in the country have been left in ruins.
Even the National Flag in some instances, have suffered terribly in the hands of citizens as the nation moves deeper into history.
Enugu “No Victor, No Vanquished” Pronouncement
Although Enugu never at any time served as the headquarters of Nigeria, the history of Nigeria’s Journey to Independence can never be complete without Enugu being mentioned. Apart from serving as the headquarters of the defunct Biafra Republic during that Nigeria civil war that started in 1967 and ended in 1970 with the slogan” No Victor, No Vanquished”, Enugu was the headquarters of defunct Eastern Region that contributed immensely to the actualisation of Nigeria’s Independence through many protests including the famous Aba Women Riot of 1929 and Shooting of Coal Miners in 1949 at Iva Valley Enugu.
As part of their efforts to kick against colonialism, thousands of Igbo women organised a massive protest against the policies imposed by British colonial administrators in south eastern Nigeria.
Besides signalling most serious challenge to British rule in the history of the colony, it took the government months to suppress the historic protest.
Another historic event that took place in the defunct Eastern Region precisely in Enugu, was the massacre of Coal Miners popularly known as “Iva Valley Massacre” by the British policemen for daring to go on strike in 1949.
The colonial authorities described the strike as a political strike planned to put pressure on them to leave the country.
The British government opened the Iva Valley Coal Mine after the Udi Mine but were not happy when the workers embarked on protest. In a show of force, the British colonial policemen opened fire on defenceless coal miners in the Iva Valley mine in Enugu, killing and injuring many of the workers.
Many believe that the massacre contributed a lot to the struggle for independence as it was believed that it evoked a manifestation of national consciousness.
Before Independence, Enugu was a safe haven to great nationalists including the late Nnamdi Azikiwe and top functionaries of the British government who saw the weather of the city as a replica of European weather.
But, following years of misrule after independence, some of founding fathers of Nigeria appear not to be happy with the state of the nation.
When asked to comment on the state of the nation, one of the few surviving nationalists who was imprisoned for daring to seek independence, Chief Mbazuruike Amaechi said in the last 20 years every first of October has been a sorrow for him.
A First Republic Aviation minister and one of the remaining members of the Zikist Movement, Amaechi, who will be 90 years old by next year, further lamented that the military rule did not help matters as it only destroyed most of the good things that the nationalists built.
Lokoja, Nigeria’s former capital with the first primary school in northern Nigeria
The Independence Day celebration, has been a thing of pride particularly in Lokoja, the capital of Kogi State because of its significance in the history of Nigeria.
Lokoja was where the Royal Niger Company flag was lowered in 1900 on mount Patti Road.
The iron of liberty which was used in those years to commemorate the liberation of slaves who were freed after slavery was out-lawed can be found in Lokoja besides the portrait of Bishop Ajayi Crowther at Kpata area of ancient city of Lokoja.
In Lokoja, the first primary school in Northern Nigeria is located, the first prison is found and the cemetery where fallen heroes both Europeans and Nigerians are also located.
Before independence, the Royal Niger Company which handled the administration of Nigeria was involved in trading expedition when products were brought from the hinterlands to Lokoja for onward mission oversea.
Zungeru: Nigeria’s former seat of power, binding city
Zungeru, is seen as the cradle of Nigeria’s unity with some of its historic relics going into extinction except for the abandoned Zik centre along the high way of Minna –Zungeru higway.
There were however some relics to show that colonial masters once used Zungeru as their seat of power with some shibboleth to show that the amalgamation of Southern and Northern protectorates to become Nigeria took place there.
Historical narrations has always credited Zungeru to be the town where the amalgamation of Nigeria by Lord Frederick Lugard, first Nigeria governor general took place. It was then the administrative headquarters of the Northern Protectorate and later Nigeria’s capital in 1914 when the Northern and Southern Protectorates were amalgamated.
Lord Lugard, based on historical accounts, stayed in most cities for administrative conveniences but the amalgamation of Nigeria took place at Zungeru which is why the town can be said to be the place where what bind Nigeria together started.
Ironically, of all the cities that claimed to be administrative seat of the colonial masters at one time or the other, Zungeru is the only city that is neither a state capital nor a local government headquarters, a clear indication that the area had not been accorded any importance.
The presence of different ethnic groups who can call the area their home without prejudice or any primordial considerations to their ancestral home, lay credence to the fact that it was really a seat of power.
If one is coming from Minna, the Niger State capital, the colonial relics including the remains of the office lord Frederick Lugard used could be sighted before the site where the proposed abandoned Zik centre is located.
The relics used to be the main office, mess and site of the swimming pool which was said to be the first officially known swimming pool in Nigeria.
The relics in Zungeru were not only restricted to the Lugard’s official residence, office , mess, swimming pool and other official paraphernalia alone but also a tomb of colonial officials including that of White West Africa Frontier Force Official quarters.
The ruins of the White West Africa Frontier Force Officers Mess could still be seen around at the other side of the Private Residence of the Governor General of Nigeria then and the remains of the fence in the rare view of the area
The sign of the path separating the white West Africa Frontier Force and the Black Frontier Force base then were also visible, the ruins of the Black West Africa Frontier Force Mess and the Kitchen showed the difference between the two force then.
In what seems like a scintillating coincidence also, is the historical narration that the first black governor general of Nigeria and a foremost nationalist Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was born in Zungeru
The place where the late Nigerian foremost nationalist, Nnamdi Azikiwe and late Odimegwu Ojuckwu’s parents were staying could be pointed but there are no visible evidence to show, hence the Zik Centre was conceived by private individuals but that has been abandoned for over three decades.
Key Monuments in Lagos begs attention
In Lagos, there are key monuments that bind the nation together, being the former capital of the country. But such monuments are now national embarrassment due to decades of neglect.
The National Stadium:
The Lagos National Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium in Surulere, Lagos State. It comprises an Olympic-size swimming arena and a multipurpose arena used for basketball, volleyball, table tennis, wrestling and boxing matches. It was used mostly for football matches until 2001.
It hosted several international competitions including the 1980 African Cup of Nations final, the 2000 African Cup of Nations final, and FIFA World Cup qualifying matches. It also served as the main stadium for the 1973 All-Africa Games. It was closed and abandoned in the year 2004.
It is on record that when the stadium was built in 1972, it had a capacity of 55,000. The capacity was then reduced to 45,000 in 1999. The record attendance was 85,000 and occurred in the final match of the African Cup of Nations in 1980 between Nigeria and Algeria.
For unknown reasons, the National Stadium has been left to dilapidate since 2002. It last hosted a national team game in 2004. It is now occasionally used for religious gatherings. Suffice to state here that it has also been taken over by area boys and squatters.
Tafawa Balewa Square:
The Tafawa Balewa Square, (TBS) is a 14.5-hectare (35.8-acre) ceremonial ground (originally called “Race Course”) in Lagos Island, Lagos.
The TBS was constructed in 1972 over the site of a defunct rack for horse racing. It is bounded by Awolowo road, Cable Street, Force road, Catholic Mission Street and the 26-storey independence building.
The entrance to the square has gigantic sculptures of four white horses hovering above the gate and seven red eagles, which are symbols from the national emblem signifying Strength and Dignity respectively.
Other monuments in the square include the Remembrance Arcade 1 (with memorials of World War I, World War II and Nigerian civil war victims) and the 26-storey Independence House, built in 1963 which was for a long time, the tallest building in Nigeria.
The square has a capacity for 50,000 people. Facilities at the square include a shopping center, Airline’s Travel Agencies, restaurants and car parking and a bus terminal.
Major national events that had taken place at TBS include Nigeria’s independence celebration which took place on October 1 1960 with the Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, delivering his speech. Democracy Day, as well as other multifarious events such as musical jamborees and religious gatherings.
The National Theatre:
This was built in 1976 as a focal point for the celebration of Nigerian art and culture. It is notable as The National (Arts) Theatre is the core location for performing arts in Nigeria. It was completed in 1976, just in time for the FESTAC event of 1977. The building houses the collection of the National Gallery of Modern Nigerian Art.
The National Arts Theatre was built during the military regime of Olusegun Obasanjo. Its exterior is shaped like a military hat. It has a 5,000-seater Main Hall with a collapsible stage, and two capacity cinema halls.
Independence House is a 26 storey office building west of Tafawa Balewa Square, Onikan Lagos.
It is on record that the project was inaugurated by the British government as a testimonial to Nigeria’s independence in 1960.
The building is built of reinforced concrete, it once housed the Defence headquarters under the Babangida administration and was known as Defence House. In 1993, portions of it caught fire and since the incident, the building has not been managed properly.
The Federal Secretariat, Ikoyi, Lagos:
This was a project of General Yakubu Gowon led government, which was started in 1975 and parades two buildings consisting of two towers.
It was envisioned by the Federal Government to cater for the administrative needs of the country when Lagos was still the Federal Capital Territory.
To fund the execution of the project and make it a reality the government reportedly sunk a whooping N7.2 billion at a time the nation’s currency was still strong into the project and yet the Secretariat building was never completed.
However, the building was abandoned when the federal capital was moved to Abuja.
Available facts reveal that the property had been left in the limbo since 2006 when the then minister of Works and Housing under President Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, privatised it to a private company, Resort International Limited (RIL).
Overtime, the abandoned Federal Secretariat, once a status symbol of civil servants in the country have been converted to criminal hideout, where ammunitions are kept and illicit drugs sold.
Bauchi-home to remains of Nigeria’s first Prime Minister
Nigeria’s independence celebration will be incomplete if the name sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa is not mentioned. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the first and will possibly be the only Prime Minster Nigeria will ever produce.
He was murdered 52 years ago and his remains lie in a tomb centrally located in the busy metropolis of Bauchi. The edifice is modest but elegant portraying the life and times of the late head of Nigerian government.
The tomb, well situated in the heart of Bauchi, is well kept and host to a vast spectrum of visitors ranging from primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions to diplomats, politicians and distinguished personalities. The magic of the tomb is that you are in a thoughtful mood once you step out of the place.
The late Prime Minister comes alive when one visit the mausoleum as his photographs and other personal effects invoke so many bittersweet memories of his life and death.
Walking through the museum, within the complex, within a few minutes one would be transformed and feel what happened to this great man as it showcased his history and everything about him from his childhood, to his education, his work life, political ambition, colonial period, his leadership and more.
His personal belongings, tell a lot about his personality. His bed, wristwatches, hunting gun, T.V set, radio, and boots reveal his passion for selfless leadership. With his level of leadership in Nigeria, one would expect so many luxurious belongings, however that was not the case for him.
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was not only Nigeria’s First prime minister; he was a British Knight, respected by the greatest nations in the international community. He was known as the man with the golden voice, an exceptional orator, with a charming personality, he was at the helm of affairs of the nation when Nigeria was the hope of Africa and Africans in the Diaspora.
He was clearly not only the most powerful man in Africa from 1st October 1960 to January 15th 1966; he was also very humble, simple and unassuming. Nigeria’s economy under him was strong and vibrant. His portrait adorns the five Naira Denomination, which is the least of Nigeria’s currency notes
His death came as a shock to many and one of the ways to immortalize him was to build the mausoleum where his contribution in the actualization of this nation will not go unnoticed.
Immediately one enters the compound of the mausoleum in Kofar Ran Bauchi, one could feel the presence of greatness and the simplicity of the man that lay beneath the walls.
Born in 1912, the simple yet great and courageous leader, who left a cherished legacy of patriotism, was calm, intelligent, and selfless, full of integrity public speaking skills has not been surpassed.
The idea to immortalize him by constructing the tomb was initiated by the military administration under General Yakubu Gowon in 1975. Four years later another military regime under the leadership of General Olusegun Obasanjo officially constructed the tomb which was and declared open to the public by the military administrator of Bauchi State Brigadier Garba Duba (Rtd).
The tour guide Abubakar who took LEADERSHIP Weekend round the mausoleum disclosed that the whole complex is a symbolic representation and narration of his life, and the struggle the founding fathers went to attain independence.
He said the entrance of the tomb which is a bright passage symbolises the Prime Minister’s childhood and educational background while the dark passage signifies the commitment, dedication and hardship encountered by the PM and his contemporaries in their resolve to free Nigeria from the clutches of the Colonial administration.
Abubakar added that the darkness represents the suffering of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Nigerians generally during the colonial period.
Further up the darkness is window with rays of light indicating rays of hope, which signified the struggle against colonialism, and the hope of attaining independence.
The mausoleum is full of intriguing representations as immediately after the ray of light, is another dark passage signaling the untold grief felt by visitors for the dead. And after that is the full brightness depicting the attainment of independence and late Abubakar Tafawa Balewa elected as the first Prime Minister.
Immediately after the passage are two staircases, which indicate the joys of freedom from colonialism and the stairs, lead to where his grave is.
Also the walls are painted in different colours representing different ethnic groups and religious background and the unity he tried to bring to the nation.
The place where the grave is situated is an open arena, and the top of the building has no covering signifying his open mindedness and his simplicity. The slabs leading to his grave are gapped portraying the crises and civil disorder that engulfed the nation after his assassination.
The state director of Culture, Mr Zaman Waseni, had complained about the problem of decaying infrastructure in the Tomb and the House of the Prime Minister and called for urgent government intervention to control the situation.
The officer in charge of the tomb Irimiya Mwari has appealed to the state government to add more staff to the complex as maintaining the edifice is difficult for the few staff that are there.
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