Nigeria appears near a breakup – Nytimes

— LAGOS, Nigeria, Dec. 29 (1964) —The Federal Republic of Nigeria moved to the brink of dissolution tonight, the eve of the first national elections since the country became independent of Britain four years ago.

The Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, emerged from a three‐hour emergency meeting with President Nnamdi Azikiwe and Opposition southern leaders and announced that the elections would go ahead tomorrow as planned.

The United Progressive Grand Alliance, which dominates the southern half of the nation, reaffirmed its threat to boycott the polls.

The election is now virtually conceded here to the National Nigerian Alliance, the party of the conservative Moslem Hausas of the vast Northern Region and of a faction of Yoruba tribesmen in the Western Region.

Leaders of the southern Opposition appealed at today’s meeting for an election postponement after alleging that scores of the organization’s candidates had been denied the right to contest seats in the north.

The boycott decision by the southerners and the North’s seemingly certain victory heightened fears here that the prosperous Eastern Region, rich in newly found oil, might secede from the Federation.

The Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello. openly accused the Ibo tribesmen of the Eastern Region of plotting a separate state.

He charged that this was the real topic of discussion at today’s emergency meeting and said he did not attend for this reason. The meeting was also boycotted by the pro‐Government Premier of the Western Region.

Sir Ahmadu charged that the Ibos falsely pictured themselves “as the oppressed peoples of Nigeria” to gain sympathy for their intended secession.

But the real reason, he contended, was that the East’s new oil revenues made a breakaway economically possible.

Sir Ahmadu urged that if the East insisted on seceding, “then other Nigerians ought to concede such a right in peace.”

The Northern Region leader, echoing a speech by President Azikiwe three weeks ago, declared that if Nigeria was about to dissolve, a conference should be called.”to divide our assets.”

The month ‐ long election campaign has been marked by widespread violence. Clashes between political rivals have occurred almost daily and several politicians have been killed.

Tribalism is at the root of the crisis. The Yorubas of the West have long feared domination by the more aggressive Ibos of the East. And both these southern tribes have a traditional fear of being overwhelmed by the more numerous Hausas to the north.

The Northern Region won a slim majority in the 1959 elections that led to independence but agreed to form a coalition with the East as a gesture toward national unity.

During the first few years after independence the coalition functioned behind an outward veil of harmony. But the elections have unleashed once again all the deep‐rooted tribal antagonisms that lie just beneath the Federation’s surface.

In the election tomorrow, most of the voters will mark their ballots opposite brightly colored symbols because they, cannot read English, the official language.

Most Hausas in the Northern Region, where only the men are permitted to vote, will make their marks opposite a green hoe—symbol of the Northern People’s Congress.

The Ibos of the Eastern Region have always been loyal to the red rooster of the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens. The rooster is also likely to reign supreme in the MidWest Region whose autonomy the National Convention championed last year.

The Yoruba West is one of the few areas where a contest is anticipated. Most Yorubas favor the palm tree of the Action Group, whose former leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, is in jail under a sentence for treason.

But the National People’s Congress is hopeful that its ally in the west—the National Nigerian Democratic Party-will cut deeply into. the Action Group’s traditional strength.

The Federal Election Commission has erected hundreds of aluminum‐sheeted polling booths in areas where there are ~no churches, mosques or schools for polling centers.

But scores of these temporary shelters have been torn down by partisans of the Action Group and the National Convention, which have urged their backers to boycott the elections because of alleged fraud in the North.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/1964/12/30/archives/nigeria-appears-near-a-breakup-secession-of-east-is-feared-in-wake.html

Submitted by Barrister Aloy Ejimakor.