Speech given by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the House of Representatives, Lagos, on March 31, 1953
I am very much distressed to witness what is happening in this House this morning. The Group to which I belong is noted for its sense of team spirit and discipline. Consequently when we were preparing to come to this House to debate this momentous motion, we took care to see to it that those who speak to the motion do so with decency and decorum. I have no doubt, Sir, that after listening to the mover of the motion and the seconder, you will agree with me that no harsh words have been used and nothing has been said to antagonize any group of people or create any feeling of hostility between the three Regions in this country. But I must say, Sir, that when one of our friends from the North moved this dilatory motion so quickly after the amendment has been seconded, I feel bound, in honor bound, to say what I think about the whole matter, even though in doing so I may tread on some people’s toes.
There are some people who are gentle in manners, but terrible in action; and it will be a mistake for any group of people to regard our gentleness, our affableness, as weakness. It has been customary for our friends from the North to threaten the rest of Nigeria with secession, if this is done or if that is not done; and the seconder of the dilatory motion has rather tacitly issued a similar threat.
Before I make my last statement on this matter, Sir, I would like to say that it appears that a considerable body of people in this House misunderstand what is even self-government. Self-government is synonymous with political self-determination and political independence. Political independence is the inalienable right of man. It is therefore not something that is subject to negotiation or even debate. The mere fact, Mr. President, that we Nigerians stand up here today to debate this question is evidence at once of our national humiliation and degradation. We ought not to have done so. We were put into this ludicrous and humiliating position by the British people. We were free before the British came and we ruled ourselves. It might be said that we did not rule ourselves well enough. But foreign rule however benevolent is not as good as self-rule. In any event, even the British themselves have not given sufficient evidence that they are capable to rule themselves, with peace and tranquility to their people.
I am old enough to know the first and second world wars. Every time we talk about self-government for this country, the British people turn around and say if we depart from your country, there will be civil strife, there will be war, there will be all sorts of things. But even under their rule, how many of our sons who were taken to Burma, were decimated in a war, the beginning of which we do not know, the cause of which we do not know, and in the declaring of which we took no “art or part”. I challenge any Briton today to tell me whether the number of our people destroyed in their wars, in their heartless wars, in their causeless wars, are as many as those who had died in our so-called inter-tribal wars.
It is a matter of fact that the most ruthless tribal wars which were fought in this country, were fought under the brutal instigation of the British people and their colleagues the French. What do I mean by saying that? They came to buy slaves, and they supplied gun-powder, ammunitions, and other things to our people and said to them—“go into the interior and bring slaves”. They thereby stimulated inter-tribal wars which were designed toward taking people to the shores, selling them to the white traders, who took them to the West Indies, the Americas, and other places as slaves. (shame). Now today they are claiming that they brought peace to this country.
Our first contact with them was bad, the continuation of it has been bad. It is usual for them to say we have developed your country, we built roads and houses. It is a quid pro quo affair. They get their salaries for doing any work, and they get their profits for building the roads and houses. As a matter of fact, if a balance were to be struck, I have no doubt in my mind that the balance will be in favor of Nigeria as against Britain or any other country.
Therefore, my view is that self-government is an inalienable right of man and it is not to be subject to negotiation or debate. We are debating it today simply because we want to be realistic, in the sense that we have not got the guns, the airplanes, nor the atomic bomb, none of these weapons to force British sovereignty out of this country. I have always said that if the Germans were to conquer Britain today, and to try and rule that country, the Britons would consider it a humiliation if they were to go into the House of Commons to talk about it. They would go into the underground movement which was described in England as the Free French Movement, because they went underground and did everything possible to kill the Germans and drive them out of the country. It was our weakness and national impotence that put us in the position that we are in today; so that all we can do is to talk to you about self-government. If you do not listen to us, God will listen to us. Now, if this fact is borne in mind, that independence is the inalienable right of man, then everybody will understand that if it is given today so much the better.
A man should recover his property from a burglar wherever he can find it, and he does not need to consult anybody before recovering it. One of us can recover; two of us can recover it; so long as this inalienable property is recovered, we are all satisfied. Therefore, our Northern brothers should not bother themselves about the conference of the whole country, conference of the masses and so on and so forth. I declare, sir, that Britain is in illegal occupation of this country. When they came here, they used different devices to conquer us or to bring us under subjugation—force of arms, deceit, guile, undue influence and all sorts of crooked methods that any imperialist power has used to bring any nation under subjugation. They entered into treaties with our fathers, but these treaties are invalid because they were obtained under circumstances which would not warrant their validity.
It is true that if we go to an International court, it might be argued that under the law of nations, these treaties are valid.
But who are the makers of this law of nations? Are they not the same political spoliators? To go to other people’s country, and to seize their property forcibly, I say, sir, is wickedness.
Britain had no right to come here in the first instance, and has no right to remain as our overlords. I must make that clear. The traders, businessmen and missionaries are welcome. They come to do business and they do whatever they can for the country and we welcome them in subjection and in freedom. They are our friends. They need not have any fear at all that in a free Nigeria they will have no place to live in, and to do their business.
The British officials, as individuals, we have no quarrel with them. They are mere instruments of a machine which we detest very much, but as individuals, we like them. They come here to earn their money and when they go back, we will wish them all the luck. In a free Nigeria, we shall need more of them, more of the technicians, engineers, educationists etc etc.
Our quarrel is with British Sovereignty in this country whereby our political and economic affairs are determined without consultation with us. Our governor and Lieutenant Governors are appointed without consultation with us. It is elementary that when the head of a nation cannot be removed by the people of that country, the ruler-ship of that country degenerates very easily into tyranny; for power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
We in this country are fed up with the state of affairs in which one man will dictate the pace at which we must go and holds the key by which he could put the whole place into confusion if he likes. After-all, he is only one man, whoever he is and in the appointment of such a person we would like to be consulted. We want to vote for our own Governor-General and our Governors in the Regions. We want to be able to vote for our president and if he is not doing things in accordance with our wishes, to have the power to remove. This is what we seek to do. It has been suggested by my Northern friends, and I am very sorry that they have fallen victims to the evil propaganda of the British, that they are not fit to govern themselves.
It shows the extent to which this evil propaganda has gone in this country and we all ought to really weep, that people who are as advanced and are civilized as the Northern people can come here and say; “we are not fit for self-government”. The bones of the great and illustrious Uthman Dan Fodio would shake in their grave if it were possible for him to listen to one of his descendants…. Well, Mr. President Sir, I would like to wind up now.
This motion has come before this House to be debated.
We are all Nigerian and we are all in one accord about wanting self-government and wanting freedom from British rule. The only issue in dispute as I see it now, is one of the question of time, as between North and South. But that has always been the issue between Britain and everyone of her Colonial territories.
At division time, we know by the look of things that we will be beaten.
But we are not afraid. It will go on record that A,B,C and D once voted for freedom for their country and that E,F,G and H once voted against. That is all we are asking.
But what do we find now? We find that the Northern majority is not only being used in having their way, but is also being used in preventing the minority from having their say. That is a situation with which we find it absolutely impossible to accommodate ourselves.
I am speaking for the West now.
I should have thought, Mr. President, that you would have ruled this motion out of order and used your discretion in favor of allowing the original motion and amendment to be fully debated. But you have already decided in favor of allowing a dilatory motion to be debated and voted upon.
There is no doubt in my mind that when the division comes, the North will win the day, and this momentous motion would have been postponed indefinitely. With a situation like that, as I said before, we are not prepared to accommodate ourselves. We are prepared to be voted out at any time, in a spirit of sportsmanship.
But we are certainly not going to submit to a situation in which we are being muzzled into the bargain. I would like to say, Sir, on behalf of the Western Region that we will not stay here to continue this debate. We will allow the North alone to run the show by themselves.