The Second Secretary of the Embassy in the United Kingdom (Tibbetts) to the Department of State1

No. 4146


  • Colonial Office Comments on Nigeria.

There are summarized below the comments of Mr. Robert Vile, Nigerian desk officer in the Colonial Office, on recent political developments in that colony.

Mr. Vile said that the new Nigerian Government2 had been launched more easily than had been expected and that to date affairs have been progressing smoothly. The Governor’s report during his recent visit to London had been very encouraging.

Current Colonial Office thinking was that it would be at least ten years, if then, before Nigerian politics began to develop along the same tendencies as those in the Gold Coast, with a strong Party system and a strong leader. The East and the West are mutually antagonistic and the North is different in sentiment and development from either. Under the circumstances, a political leader must first acquire real strength in his region before he can hope to make a showing in national politics, and, Mr. Vile believes, the next few years will see concentration on the development of regional political machines and policies. The North is in a position to check too rapid political advance; the danger will come when the other two regions consider the North too reactionary for further cooperation. Until that point is reached, Government at the center must be carried on through regional coalitions, and the Colonial Office expects this system to work.

… In fact, politicians in both the East and the West are making a strenuous effort to become “respectable” and show every sign of being delighted with their new salaries and responsibilities.

The problem of the North is to prevent its falling too far behind. Mr. Vile said that it would be shortsighted to look upon the North’s [Page 265] conservatism as a safety valve to keep the other regions in check. In fact, unless the North steps up its pace politically and intellectually it may be the danger spot in the constitution, for the other regions might not tolerate being frustrated by the North. Political developments in the North are not encouraging at the moment but may improve during the next few years.

Mr. Vile said that the purpose of the Secretary’s3 proposed visit to Nigeria in the spring was simply for him to look around. At the moment two M.P.s and Lord Clydesmuir are paying a brief visit on a good-will mission, but Mr. Vile was not optimistic about the prospects of increased Parliamentary interest in Nigeria as a result.

Margaret Joy Tibbetts
  1. This despatch was approved by the First Secretary of the Embassy in London, Benjamin M. Hulley.
  2. The new government was established on the basis of the Macpherson constitution, named after Governor Sir John Macpherson, which went into effect in January 1952. The British hoped thereby to promote the emergence of a unitary state without giving advantage to the more radical politicians of the south. To that end, the conservative, mainly Moslem, north was given representation in the central legislature equivalent to that of the two more Christian southern regions. Moreover, the regional assemblies elected the central ministers and legislature. Thus, most ambitious politicians concentrated on the regions and not the center. The mainly Ibo and Eastern Region party, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), led by Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik), was the most nationally oriented in comparison with the Yoruba-dominated Action Group of Chief Obafemi Awolowo which prevailed in the Western Region, and the Fulani-controlled Northern People’s Congress presided over by the Sardauna of Sokoto which prevailed in the Northern Region.
  3. Oliver Lyttelton.