At five minutes before nine the warning bell clanged, and the chattering parliamentarians in the lobby began to file into the House to take their seats. Precisely on the hour, a voice raised the traditional cry "Mistah Speakah," and the legislators froze as a bemedaled attendant solemnly descended the nine red-carpeted steps into the well of the House and laid a golden mace on the table separating the government front benches from those of the opposition. After a prayer calling down God's protection on the nation and Queen Elizabeth II, the Speaker, in his English-accented English, called "Odah, odah," and the debate began. Scarcely had it got into full swing when a proud, ascetic figure strolled slowly toward the government bench and all eyes converged on the ebony face of Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, O.B.E., K.B.E., C.B.E., LL.D., Prime Minister of Nigeria.
Along with its echoes of Britain's Westminster, the legislature over which Sir Abubakar presided last week had some of the flavor of a Pan-African Congress. On its benches tall, haughty Hausas, splendidly robed in green and scarlet, sat amongst volatile Ibos draped in white and azure gowns. Across the aisle were Yoruba tribesmen wrapped in gold, yellow and orange with little porkpie beanies on their heads. Between them, they constituted one of the world's noisiest
Parliaments. Each speaker was greeted with cries of "Heah, heah" from his friends and derisory shouts of "Sit down, you wretched fool" from his foes; from the rostrum came the perennial plea for "Odah, odah!" But somehow, through the din, the nation's problems got discussed and decided.
In the hurly-burly of 1960's African avalanche of freedom, Nigeria's impressive demonstration of democracy's workability in Africa is too often overlooked. Next-to-newest of the 18 nations to win independence this year, Nigeria entered the world community without noisy birthpangs or ominous warnings of its determination to avenge ancient wrongs. Since moderation and common sense are not the stuff that headlines are made of, the world's eyes
slid past Nigeria to focus worriedly on the imperialistic elbowings of Ghana's Nkrumah, on the heedless plunge into Marxism taken by Guinea's Sékou Touré and above all, on the bloody chaos in the Congo.
In the long run, the most important and enduring face of Africa might well prove to be that presented by Nigeria. Where so many of its neighbors have shaken off colonialism only to sink into strongman rule. Nigeria not only preaches but practices the dignity of the individual. And where such other islands of order in Africa as Liberia. Togo and the former French Congo lack the size and power to overbalance thrusting Ghana and Guinea (combined population:
8,665,000), the Federation of Nigeria stands a giant among Lilliputians; last October, when Nigeria's 40 million people got their independence, the free population of Black Africa jumped 50%. Backed by such numbers, Nigeria's sober voice urging the steady, cautious way to prosperity and national greatness seems destined to exert ever-rising influence in emergent Africa.
The article goes on to discuss the backgrounds of some of the key players at the time – Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe etc. The rest of it can be found here. It is worth reading in full as it provides brilliant insight into the context of our independence and the attitudes and aspirations of the ‘60s.
Do we still have the potential to get to "prosperity and national greatness"? Or is it much too late now? What do we think?