It may thoroughly surprise most Nigerians that there are disturbing questions as to who has ever seen and read the contents of whatever document the “Nigerian Declaration of Independence” (NDI) is inserted. This would be the document that contains the actual terms and conditions of the independence of Nigeria from Britain, the handover conditions not some bill. If Nigeria does have a duly signed and legitimate NDI how comes no one seems to have ever seen it even 56 years after Independence. Or is it best kept as a secret?
I have had the privilege to ask many notable Nigerians who you most would expect to have seen or know something concrete about the existence and contents of the NDI. In 1999, I had the opportunity to ask Anthony Enahoro who moved the motion in the House while Nigeria under colonial rule for Independence if he had seen it. His answer was, No. I also had the opportunity to ask Debo Akande while I met him in London in summer 2003. His answer was, No. I also asked Gani Fawehimin twice, once in Lagos and again in Abuja. His answer was not only, No, on both occasions, he was indignant that I bothered to ask him a second as if it would change his first answer. He was right, I should not have asked a second time at a later date. I also tried to reach Itse Sagay a few years back in the UK to ask the same question but a hospitalisation failed me when the opportunity came.
If a key independence politician and very major Nigerian lawyers have not seen the NDI, we should seriously wonder who has. The NDI is not contained in any library I have requested the information from. The best I have gotten in my search is a transcript of Tafawa Balewa’s speech declaring Nigeria independent. Independence is not a binding divorce without a certificate; independence has proper terms and conditions written clearly into it.
There are numerous studies and copies (hard and electronic) available of the four colonial Constitutions (Clifford 1922; Richards 1946, Macpherson 1951, Lyttleton 1954) for Nigeria. There are also studies and copies available of Nigeria’s post-Independence Constitutions (Independence 1960; First Republic 1963; Second Republic 1979; Third republic 1993; Fourth Republic 1999). The Independence Constitution of 1960 is no substitute for the NDI. However, no studies or copies of the NDI appear to be available for research or to the public. One has to wonder what the reason(s) for such an important document to be kept from the public view is. Did Nigeria’s “Independence Fathers” (Azikiwe, Awolowo, Bello and others) agree to terms of Independence that are too embarrassing to make public? Was it a non-transparent Declaration on the part of Britain?
It is interesting to know that are a sizeable number of Nigerians who know the Unite States “Declaration of Independence”, the United States “Constitution”, the British “Magna Carta” intimately well, some by heart. It is not uncommon to find some Nigerians who have never lived outside the country when cornered in a tight spot during and arguments quip, “I plead the Fifth” [Amendment of the US Constitution]. These same guys have not got the slightest clue about the existence or contents of the NDI. It reminds me about the differential in the knowledge of Nigerians concerning Nigerian as against European soccer teams. However, the Nigerian teams have never been hidden.
Some might ask why it matters for Nigerians to see the NDI. Whatever the case may be, what is done is done. We cannot turn back history. Nigerians and other nationals should have the right to freely view the NDI. It might give Nigerians a better understanding of the initial conditions Nigeria started life with as an independent nation. There is a lot in that, very much.
P.S. There is a “Nigeria Independence Bill” (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1960/jul/15/nigeria-independence-bill) signed on behalf of Her Majesty by Iain MacLeod, Secretary of State for Colonies, and passed at Westminster to “give” Nigeria Independence in 1960. It is a bill of peaceful and benevolent disengagement but it does not tell us much about the powers Britain would retain directly, or indirectly over Nigeria. MacLeod even states that the brevity of the Bill that excludes any serious political or economic matters or considerations for governance should be taken in good faith by Nigerians. But it is evident that there were numerous political and economic conditions that were placed on Nigeria by Britain well beyond Independence.