Text of speech delivered by Professor Sagay (SAN), former Head of Law Department of University of Benin.
Having installed the North as ‘husband’ of the South and Master of Nigeria in 1914, the British Colonial Master did not let matters rest there. At every stage they ensured that the reins of power would remain in the hands of their beloved proteges.
Thus, in preparing the North for its future role as the Rulers of Nigeria, the British rigged the very first Nigerian-wide population Census conducted in 1931, in favour of the North. The Figures awarded by the British were as follows:
Northern Region -11,434,000; Western Region – 3,855,000; Eastern Region – 4,641,000; Total = 19,930,000. Plurality in favour of the North = 2,938,000.
Thus, from the very beginning, a permanent majority in population which was intended to translate into a permanent majority in the future Central Legislature and consequently a permanent control of power, was programmed for the Northern Ruling class.
It will be recalled that at the 1950 National Conference, the North demanded at least 50 per cent of the seats in the Central Legislature, as a condition for being part of Nigeria. That demand was based on the Census figures that had been rigged in their favour. The Colonial Masters quickly granted the Northern demand and distributed the seats in the 1951 Central Legislature as follows: Total Number of Elected Members =136; North – 68, East – 34, West – 34.
In the 1952 Census, the balance of 1931 in favour of the North was again meticulously maintained by the British. The increase of population in the 21 years between 1931 and 1952 was doctored so carefully that the birth rate in the three Regions was virtually the same and the difference between the population of the North and that of the South remained virtually the same. The figures this time:
Northern Region – 16,840,000; Western Region – 6,369,000; Eastern Region- 7,971,000. Total = 31,180,000. Plurality in favour of the North = 2,500,000.
Finally, in the last Federal elections before independence, which was organised by the British Masters, the Governor-General, Sir James Robertson, was so anxious for the Northern Peoples Congress to retain power, that he called on Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to form a new government whilst the votes were still being counted and results were being announced. When the final results were announced, the NPC did not have a simple majority in the House of Representatives, an it is clear that on the basis of the results, the NCNC (89 Seats) could have successfully established a coalition government with the Action Group (73 Seats) and put the NPC (134 Seats) in the opposition benches. Omoruyi explains the hasty action of Sir James Robertson in the following way:
“Sir James Robertson was the shrewd implementor of Northern rule earlier fashioned by Lords Harcourt and Lugard. Sir James was especially recruited by the British Government in 1955 because of his experience in the Sudan with an identical situation to Nigeria. He is on record as confessing that he did not handle this phase to the satisfaction of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Sir James confessed that he called Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to form the government in 1959 ‘by persuading some of the Southern members to support him and Sir Abubakar assured him he would get a Southern group to work with him. Sir James did this before the results were released in full. He confessed that he did this to appease the Sardauna of Sokoto, the Leader of NPC, to stop him from taking the North out of Nigeria’. The question is: Why was he more interested in the feelings of the Sardauna of Sokoto and not in the feelings of Dr. Azikiwe and Chief Awolowo? Was this not in furtherance of the design of the Colonial Government? We shall come to this again.
“The ‘Model’ of a free and fair election sold to the successor regime, the North, was another issue which we should recognise. The way the 1959 election was handled taught the successor regime that the result of any election must be tailored to suit the anticipated outcome. What General Babangida did in preparation for the June 12 election was vehemently opposed by the former Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, on behalf of the Northern leadership because the North was not able to determine its outcome in favour of the North. Alhaji Ibrahim tried to prevail on the President to cancel the presidential election as early as May 19, 1993 because the plan was seen as capable of reversing the British design. What could Britain have done in 1959? The three parties should have been allowed by Sir James to negotiate and if he wanted to help, that would have been an opportunity for Sir James to pressurise them to form a Government of National Unity that would have ushered in independence in an atmosphere of intergroup trust. But Sir James was too much in haste to formalise a succession and formally named a Northerner as the Prime Minister who was to be the successor to his executive power at independence.”
The British predilection for the North, particularly the Arewa North, can be summarised in the following views expressed by Sir James Robertson about the differences between Northerners and Southerners. In his assessment, he referred to “the differences in ordinary custom and behaviour between the dignified, polite and rather aloof Northerner and the uninhibited, vociferous Southerner, who noisily showed his disagreement in Council and Parliament without good manner and restraint.”
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