Nigeria’s Path to Independence from British Rule

Nigerian Struggle for Independence

Nigeria’s journey to independence from British colonial rule, culminating in 1960, was marked by nationalist movements, political negotiations, and evolving governance structures, reflecting the nation’s diverse ethnic and cultural tapestry.

Below, WHE provides a brief look at how the West African nation gained independence from the British.

Colonial Background

Lord Lugard – the first Governor-General of Nigeria (1914–1919)

The history of British influence in Nigeria dates back to the late 19th century. By the early 20th century, the entirety of Nigeria was a British colony, formed by amalgamating the Northern and Southern Nigeria Protectorates in 1914. This move was primarily administrative and economic, aiming to streamline governance and the exportation of resources.

Colonial Flag of Nigeria

READ MORE: Scramble for Africa: History and Facts

Emergence of Nationalism

Post World War II, the winds of nationalism blew across Africa, and Nigeria was no exception. The experience of the war, coupled with the influence of decolonization movements in India and other parts of Africa, inspired Nigerians to aspire for self-governance.

Political Movements

  • The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), led by Nnamdi Azikiwe, was one of the first political parties that emerged to challenge British rule.
  • The Northern People’s Congress (NPC) was established to represent the predominantly Muslim north.
  • The Action Group (AG), led by Obafemi Awolowo, represented the Yoruba-speaking western region.

Education & Media

The rise in educated Nigerians, who were familiar with the principles of democracy and self-governance, played a significant role. Newspapers and radio stations also facilitated the spread of nationalist sentiments.

Labor Movements

Strikes and protests, particularly by workers and students, were regular occurrences, further pressuring the British to initiate reforms.

Constitutional Reforms

Between 1946 and 1954, a series of constitutions were introduced:

  • The Richards Constitution (1946): It proposed regional assemblies, but many Nigerians felt it didn’t go far enough in granting self-governance.
  • The Macpherson Constitution (1951): This saw greater participation of Nigerians in the legislative process. It acknowledged Nigeria’s ethnic diversity and created a central government with regional assemblies.
  • The Lyttleton Constitution (1954): This constitution established federalism in Nigeria, giving regions more power.

Jaja Wachuku, First Nigerian Speaker of the House, 1959–60

Towards Self-governance

By 1954, the western and eastern regions became internally self-governing. The north achieved this status in 1959.

In 1959, general elections were held. Though no single party emerged as a winner, the NPC had the most seats. They formed a coalition government with NCNC, paving the way for independence.


Nnamdi Azikiwe – Nigeria’s first president

Amidst growing national and international pressure, the British finally set a date for Nigerian independence. On October 1, 1960, Nigeria was officially declared an independent nation, with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a member of the NPC, as its first Prime Minister.

Nigeria became a republic in 1963, severing all ties with the British monarchy. Nnamdi Azikiwe was elected president of the new republic; he served from 1963 to 1966, when he was removed from power in the 1966 Military Coup, which resulted in Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi coming into power as head of state. Although the ensuing political turmoil claimed the lives of several top Nigerian officials, including Prime Minister Tafawa Belewa, Azikiwe luckily escaped.

Post-independence Challenges

The joy of independence was soon overshadowed by regional tensions, ethnic rivalries, and power struggles, culminating in a civil war from 1967 to 1970. Despite these challenges, Nigeria’s journey to independence set a precedent for other African nations and marked a significant victory against colonialism.

Facts about Independence Day in Nigeria

Independence Day in Nigeria is a significant national holiday that commemorates the day Nigeria gained independence from British colonial rule. The day is not just one of celebration in Nigeria; it’s also a time for reflection on the country’s history, achievements, challenges, and hopes for a brighter future.

Here are some key facts about this important event:

  • Date of Independence: Nigeria became independent from Britain on October 1, 1960.
  • First Prime Minister and President: Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa became Nigeria’s first Prime Minister at the time of independence. Nigeria became a republic on October 1, 1963, with Nnamdi Azikiwe as its first President.
  • Significance: Independence Day is a national holiday in Nigeria and is celebrated with various events and activities, including parades, fireworks, music, and dance. It is a day to reflect on Nigeria’s journey and its aspirations for the future.

Flag of the Republic of Nigeria

  • Location of Formal Handover: The formal independence ceremony took place in Lagos, which was the country’s capital at the time.
  • Flag: The Nigerian flag, designed by Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi, was first hoisted on October 1, 1960. It has three equal vertical bands of green, white, and green. The green represents Nigeria’s lush vegetation and its agricultural industry, while the white stripe represents peace.
  • Current Celebrations: Today, Independence Day is marked by presidential addresses, cultural displays, and school events. It serves as an occasion to promote patriotism and national unity.

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