Emergence of Political Organizations Continued
Universal Negro Improvement Association:
The Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League was founded in 1914 by Marcus Garvey. The initiatives of Rev. William Benjamin Euba and Rev. S.M. Abiodun led to the formation of a branch in Lagos in 1920. The Lagos branch did not survive long because of the hostility of fellow Nigerians, members of the NCBWA as well as the colonial administration (because of the belief that Garvey’s movement was a subversive one). Despite its short span, it was able to serve as an inspiration to men like Ernest Sessi Ikoli (its first secretary) as well as Nnamdi Azikiwe.
This is the National Congress of British West Africa. The idea of forming a regional political body such as this was initiated by Joseph Casely Hayford and Dr. Akinwade Savage. NCBWA differed in important respects from earlier nationalist movements in the area. The NCBWA envisaged a united British West Africa as a political objective to be attained, unlike the earlier nationalist movements. It was organised on a scale that embraced all four colonies (Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Gambia) of British West Africa simultaneously, and was led almost exclusively by the educated elite of the area which were mainly successful professional men: lawyers, doctors and clergy with a sprinkling of merchants, journalists and chiefs.
The idea of forming this political body seemed impossible because people believed that such a body embracing the whole of British West Africa would be difficult to organize because of political challenges posed by poor communication facilities, different levels of development of the territories that make up British West Africa, as well as the fact there was no tradition of close association in the politics of the four territories.
For the fact that Hayford owned The Gold Coast Nation newspaper, and it was edited by Akinwande Savage, this body gained wide publicity. Letters were sent to notable men in Lagos, Freetown and Bathurst soliciting their support for the new movement. A conference was summounded in 1920 in Accra after the outbreak of the First World War, and it was at this conference that the NCBWA was formed. It was at this conference that the decision to send delegates to the Colonial Office was decided. They had the following demands:
- That a legislative council be established for each of the west African colonies, with half its members elected and half nominated.
- That the appointment and deposition of chiefs be left in the hands of their peoples, not the colonial governors.
- The separation of the executive from the judiciary.
- The abolition of racial discrimination in the civil service and in social life.
- That an appeal court for British West Africa be established.
- That a University for West Africa be established.
- The development of municipal government.
- The repeal of certain “obnoxious” ordinances.
Alongside these requests, they wished the Colonial Office to consider whether the increasing number of Syrians were ‘undesirable and a menace to the good Government of the land’. A lengthy petition arising from conference resolutions was submitted to the king. Unfortunately, it obscured central issues and failed to distinguish specific grievances in the different colonies.
At a point it was thought that the delegation were seeking self-government. The mandarins at the Colonial Office pointed out inconsistencies and obscurities, while the NCBWA ignored the colonial governors by appealing to London. The delegation that presented the petition were in London from October 1920 to February 1921. They were able to establish contact with the League of Nations Union, the Bureau International pour LA Défense des Indigènes, the Welfare Committee for Africans in Europe, the African Progress Union, and West African students resident in London.
While in London, the delegation gained the support of some members of Parliament as well as that of prominent Afrophiles like Sir Sydney Oliver, J.H. Harris and Sir Harry Johnston. Governors Clifford of Nigeria and Guggisberg both denounced the Congress as an unrepresentative body and felt that the territories were not matured enough for elective representation. This was also the stand of the Colonial Office. In the Gold Coast legislative council Nana Ofori Atta, the paramount chief of Akyem Abuakwa in the Eastern Province, declared that the chiefs were the rightful spokesmen of the people, and not the congress.
The reports of the Governors of the British West Africa territories led to the rejection of the demands of the delegation by Secretary of State, Lord Milner. The delegation encountered some financial difficulties. These problems, alongside tension within the delegation as well as reputation of certain of its members by prominent Africans back home, brought about the death of this group. The Lagos branch of this congress did not accept defeat completely.
The fourth session of the congress was held in 1930 in Lagos. Its deliberations attracted considerable attention mainly because of the support of the Nigerian Democratic Party. A deputation from the Lagos section visited the Governor in 1931 with the aim of continuity. They stated that the aim of the congress was to maintain strictly and inviolate the connection of British West African Dependencies with the British Empire.
In 1933, J.C. Zizer who was the Secretary of the congress as well as the editor of its weekly organ, West African Nationhood departed and the congress became moribund. In 1947, there were attempts to revive this organization but it proved abortive. Despite the early demise, some of their demands were met some few years after the visit to London while some were not met until after two decades such as the establishment of a University for West Africa.
One of the successes of this organization was the inclusion of the elective principle in the new constitution worked out by Hugh Clifford in 1922. The grant to the elective representation led to the emergence of well structured political organizations in Nigeria. These organizations paved way for a more organized way for Nigerians express their aspirations and air their grievances likewise. The NNDP and the NYM owe their existence to the NCBWA.
Nigerian National Democratic Party:
The Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) was Nigeria’s first political party. Formed in 1923 by Herbert Macaulay to take advantage of the new Clifford Constitution, which succeeded the 1914 Nigerian Council. The NNDP successfully organized various Lagos interest groups into a single group that was able to compete politically. The (NNDP) ran many candidates for seats in the 1922 elections for the Lagos Legislative Council, winning three seats.The party won all the seats in the elections of 1923, 1928 and 1933.
Though, the party’s major function was to put candidates into the legislative council, it had a broader objective of promoting democracy in Nigeria, increasing higher Nigerian participation in the social, economic and educational development of Nigeria. The party continued to dominate politics in Lagos until 1938, when the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) overtook it in elections.
The party’s name was adopted in 1964 by Samuel Akintola for his party as part of a process of unseating the left-leaning Action Group led by Obafemi Awolowo from power in the Western Region. Party member Augustus Akinloye later became chairman of the National Party of Nigeria in 1978.