By Fazil O. Ope-Agbe
April 26, 2005
I have the privilege, the honour and the luck to have served as personal staff of Sir James Robertson, the last Briton to rule Nigeria in the name of Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain. My access to Sir James was from mid-1959 till mid-1960 when I served as his Press Officer (the equivalent of today’s Press Secretary). I feel equally privileged and honoured today to have direct, unfettered and unrestricted access to His Excellency, Chief Ernest Shonekan, who ruled Nigeria briefly as Head of Nigeria’s National Interim Government in 1993.
A gap of at least four decades separates the rule of Sir James from the era of Chief Shonekan, but the views of both rulers on the relationship of the generality of Nigerians vis-a-vis their leaders, coincide as if they both spoke on the same platform within hours of each other.
When I called on Chief Shonekan shortly after he left office as Head of State, he was very much on the defensive. He said to me: “Fazil, don’t believe all this cry about people resenting me as Head of State. I went on a tour of the whole country and everywhere I went, the common folk received and welcomed me with such enthusiasm and transparent affection, you would think 1 was an elected Head of State. Nigerians at home in their natural environment are very nice people and very patriotic. Present somebody to them as their Head of State and they would go to great lengths to express their love and loyalty and you cannot but wonder whether these people belong to the same country, the same nation, as all those noise-makers you see in the big towns and state capitals who derive pleasure from spitting venom and dousing one with vitriol”.
In March of 1953, Chief Anthony Enahoro moved from the floor of the House of Representatives in Lagos, a motion calling on the British Government to grant Nigeria independence in 1956. That motion caught everybody, except the Action Group by surprise. The N.C.N.C. (Zik’s National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons) did a double-take, quickly regained its balance and supported Chief Enahoro’s Action Group motion. The Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, speaking for the North took exception to such an idea being mooted on the floor of the House of Representatives.
He argued that a demand for independence was a matter affecting the whole country and all the political parties and Regions should have got together to discuss it and come to an agreement before it was placed before the British Government. He said that the people must be involved in the exercise. The meaning of independence and what it entails must be explained to the masses so they would prepare for it and be prepared for the roles that independence would assign to them. He requested that he and all representatives from the North be given time to consult their people and get their mandate so that when they join in the clamour for independence, they would be doing it with the knowledge and consent of the teeming masses whom they represent. Read more at …….