Nationalist Movement and Independence of Nigeria


Nigerian nationalist movement was mostly felt after the establishment of effective British rule in the country. The aim of the movement was to achieve both political and economic emancipation for the disparate groups who had come together courtesy of the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates in 1914, from the British colonialists. Its origin or early phase dates back to the nineteenth century where resistance struggles were mounted against the British penetration and activities in different territories that make up the present day Nigeria. This paper, therefore, examines the impacts of this movement on the actualization of Nigerian independence. Some of these impacts, as divulged in the paper, have continued to bedevil the political environment of the country in her post-independence era.



The political entity of Nigeria was not born until 1914 when the northern and southern protectorates were amalgamated. Prior to the visits of the Europeans, the present day Nigeria was made of different kingdoms and states. However, following the provisions of the Berlin Conference of 1884/1885- a conference summoned by Otto Von Bismarck (1815-1898) “…to discuss in a peaceful manner European claims of African territories and to agree on modalities for the partitioning of African continent” (Eluwa, Ukagwu, Nwachukwu, and Nwaubani, 1996:179). Nigerian territories were allocated to Britain.

The British penetration into the different territories that make up the present day Nigeria after the Berlin Conference was resisted by the native occupants of these territories. Scholars consider this incidence as the early phase of nationalist struggle in the country. By the twentieth century, however, especially after the amalgamation of 1914, the phase of Nigerian nationalism changed as nationalist struggle began cutting across ethnic affinities. Nationalists during this period were now struggling for the actualization of the Nigeria of their dream. This study, therefore, examines the impacts of nationalist struggle on the actualization of Nigeria’s independence. Furthermore, the study underscored some salient issues on nationalism in Nigeria from 1914 to 1960 revealing the various impacts of the movement on the Nigerian Society. These impacts have remained in the political terrain of the country in her post-independence era.



In the Nigeria’s context, however, nationalism connotes the devotion of some elite groups (the nationalists) in advocating for the political emancipation of Nigerians from colonial yoke. It created in Nigerians a national feeling or consciousness which disposes them to think as a distinct group and fight a common cause. There are different types of nationalism. Some of them include Civic Nationalism, Ethnic Nationalism, Left-wing Nationalism (occasionally known as socialist nationalism), Proto-nationalism, Ultra-nationalism, Diaspora Nationalism, and Anti-colonial Nationalism amongst others.


Nationalist movement in Nigeria, after the 1914 amalgamation, brought about the emergence of political organizations whose various activities contributed tremendously to the actualization of Nigerian independence. The emergence of these political organizations validates the views of Hodgkin (1961), which holds that African political parties arose from colonial situation- the subservient group trying to modify its relationship with the dominant group. They continuously served as vehicles that aired the grievances, expressions, and the aspirations of Nigerians. They contributed in creating political consciousness among Nigerians. Some of them had newspapers, which served them. These newspapers played significant roles in sensitizing the general public on the situation of the country. They also made public the views of the members of their organizations. An example of these organizations was a branch of the National Congress for British West Africa (NCBWA) created in Nigeria following the formation of the organization in 1920.

The organization contributed to nationalists’ movement by sending a petition to the secretary of State for colonies making the following demands: the establishment of a legislative council in each of the British West African Territories with half of its members being elected Africans; African veto over taxation; that appointment and deposition of chiefs be left in the hands of the people; separation of the judiciary from the legislative branch of the government; abolition of racial discrimination in civil service; development of municipal government; repeal of certain obnoxious ordinances; regulation of the immigration of Syrians and other non-Africans; and the establishment of a University in West Africa (Crowder, 1966). The result of this petition was the incorporation of the elective principle in the new constitution that was developed for Nigerians in 1922. This gave Nigerians the opportunity to be elected into the legislative council.

Another political organization that emerged during this period was the Nigerian National Democratic Party whose formation on 24 June 1923 by Herbert Macaulay- a noble Nigerian elite who as a result of his nationalist activities, was addressed in 1932 by the Royal House of Buguma as “the Moses of our age” (Letter from the Royal House of Buguma, 1932)- was induced by the introduction of the elective principle. The organization had been formed to contest in the elections of that year. It was served by its newspaper known as Lagos Daily News. The Nigerian Youth Movement- an organization described by Coleman (1986:218) as “the nucleus of Nigeria’s first genuine nationalist organization”, is another political organization that equally emerged during this period.

Turned into a national organization in 1938, the Nigerian Youth Movement was formerly the Lagos Youth Movement which was an organization formed in 1934 to organize opposition against the Yaba High College. Its aim was to develop a united nation out of the diverse elements, which were found in the country. Served by its own newspaper- Lagos Daily Service, the Nigerian Youths Movement contributed to the nationalists struggles by advocating for “…free education, the separation of the judiciary from the executive, universal adult suffrage, protection of Nigerians against unequal economic competition, better conditions of service, and …higher executive appointments for Africans in the administrative branch of the civil service…” (Olusanya, 1980:558-559). It condemned all unpopular policies throughout the country; agitated against the ban on the exportation of palm kernels from the western province; and demanded for the representation of all provinces in the legislative council. The organization, as noted by Nwabuaku (2013), also fought against the cocoa pool act of 1938 which was a strategy adopted by the foreign firms with the principal aim of keeping down the prices of Cocoa. It also encouraged the formation of trade unions.

Apart from political organizations and newspapers, there equally emerged professional unions during this period. Some of them therefore include the Railway Workers Union formed in 1932, the Post and Telegram Workers Union, the Marine Workers Union, the Public Works Department Workers Union, the Fishermen’s Association formed in Lagos in 1937, the Taxi Drivers Union formed in 1938, the Wholesalers Builders Union formed in 1939, the Women Sellers Union formed in 1940, the Nigerian Students Union formed in 1939, the Night Soil Removers Union formed in 1942, and the Canoe Transport Union formed in 1938 (Falola, et al, 1991). These unions in one way or the other contributed to the nationalist movement in Nigeria. The Railway Workers Union, for instance, provided the nationalist movement with moral, financial, and physical support. Its workers constituted the bulk of the literate population and it was through them that the illiterate masses got the ideas about freedom.

There also emerged during this period, a radical and militant association- the Zikist movement that equally impacted on the actualization of the Nigeria’s independence. This association constituted a part of the NCNC. It consists of young admirers of Nnamdi Azikiwe who “…sought not only to defend him against his critics but also to deify him as a leader and immortalize him for posterity” (Coleman, 1986:297). The constitutional reforms began with the revision of the Richards constitution. The revision had been enabled by the unpleasant experiences acquired from the radical activities in connection with the constitution. Consequently, proposals were put forward by the new governor Sir John McPherson before the legislative council where he had promised the council that in the revision process, the past errors would be averted and that the opinion of the public would be completely sought for. The promise was fulfilled and resulted in the 1951 McPherson Constitution.

The constitution was a milestone in the struggle for Nigeria’s independence. It recognized the rights of the people to actively participate in what concerns them. Nigerians participated in drafting the constitution, and this was for the first time since colonial administration was instituted. The constitution also introduced some measures of responsible government. At the centre, there was a new council of ministers (made up of ministers nominated from each of the three regional assemblies who took active part in making policies for the country’s administration) that replaced the old executive council. The constitution equally encouraged the enlargement of franchise. Similarly, in a motion passed by the Federal House of Representatives, in January 1960, an appeal was made to the British crown to grant independence to Nigeria from October 1, 1960.

Consequently, an independence act was subsequently passed by the United Kingdom’s parliament, which received Royal Assent. In September 1960, the constitution of Nigeria (otherwise known as the Nigerian Order in Council), which set up the Independent Federation of Nigeria consisting of the three existing regions (eastern, western, and the northern regions), was approved. The constitution also recognized Lagos as the Federal Capital Territory of the Independent Federation of Nigeria. However, on October 1, 1960, Nigeria became a sovereign nation within the Commonwealth. The last British Governor-General of the country, Sir James Robertson, was later succeeded by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Consequently, Azikiwe, also known as “Zik of Africa”, became the first and only indigenous Governor-General of the federation of Nigeria.



This paper has attempted to examine the impacts of the nationalism on actualizing Nigerian independence. These impacts were revealed from the contributions of the Nigerian nationalists in their struggle to liberate their country from the nefarious claws of colonialism. Nationalism in Nigeria brought about the emergence of newspapers which laid the foundation for journalism in the country; the emergence of higher education institutions which provided Nigerians with the opportunity to acquire higher education; the emergence of political organizations and associations which provided Nigerians with the opportunity to participate in the political affairs of their country; the emergence of professional unions; the establishment of a federal structure of government; and constitutional reforms which laid the foundation for the subsequent constitutional reforms experienced after independence.

Additionally, nationalist movement introduced ethnic politics and regional disunity in Nigeria’s political environment. This development has continued to adversely affect the political development of the country after independence.



Coleman, J.S. (1986), Nigeria: Background to Nationalism, Benin City: Broburg and Wistrom.

Crowder, M. (1966), The Story of Nigeria, London: Faber and Faber.

Eluwa, G.I.C, Ukagwu, M.O., Nwachukwu, J.U.N., & Nwaubani, A.C.N. (1988), A History of Nigeria for Schools and Colleges, Onitsha: Africana-First Publishers Limited.

Eluwa, G.I.C., Ukagwu, M.O., Nwachukwu, J.U.N., & Nwaubani, A.C.N. (1996), Africa and the Wider World since 1800 A.D, Onitsha: Africana-First Publishers Limited.

Falola, T., Uhomoibhi, M., Mahadi, A., & Anyanwu, U. (1991), History of Nigeria 3: Nigeria in the Twentieth Century, Ikeja: Longman Nigeria plc.

Letter from the Royal House of Buguma, New Calabar, to Herbert Macaulay, on 25/10/1932, Macaulay Papers, University of Ibadan.

Nash, K. (2001), The Blackwell Companion to Political Sociology, New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

NCNC Secretariat (29 October, 1948), West African Pilot.

Nwabuaku, C. (2013), 93, Retired Principal, interviewed in Awo-Omamma, Imo State, Nigeria.

Olusanya, G.O. (1969), Notes on the Lagos Branch of Universal Negro Improvement Association, Journal of Business and Social Studies, 1, 2.

Olusanya, G.O. (1980), The Nationalist Movement in Nigeria, in Ikime, O. (Ed.), Groundwork of Nigerian History, (pp.545-569), Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books.

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