Nigeria and the Crisis of Federation, 1960–70

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:20 AM
Maryland Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Brian McNeil, University of Texas at Austin
On October 1, 1960, Nigeria hoisted its green and white flag over Lagos for the first time. Although this event is often solely viewed as a cause of celebration for Nigerians, the raising of an African banner over a sea of feting Nigerians was in many ways a miraculous moment for Great Britain as well. Through federation, British officials worked in tandem with Nigerian nationalists to bring together a farrago of over two hundred ethnic groups toward a single goal of Nigerian national unity and independence. Indeed, Nigeria was to serve as a test case of orderly decolonization, Britain’s ability to prepare its former colonies for self-government, and, ultimately, federation in Africa. Yet the halcyon dream of Nigerian federation soon proved a chimera. By the end of the decade Nigeria remained a federation, but only after a lengthy civil war that claimed the lives of over a million of its citizens. This paper, based on research in the United States, Great Britain, and Nigeria, analyzes Nigerian political association and the debates and disagreements over federation in Nigeria through the civil war. Federation in Nigeria, it argues, demonstrated both the potential and the limits that federation offered Africa during the 1960s. By presenting Nigerian political history as part of a much larger regional and global ‘federal moment’ in which Africans worked within existing imperial boundaries and ideologies to gain self-government, this paper highlights the relationship between imperial legacies, decolonization, and the nation-state in Africa.