The Impact of Second World War on Nationalism in Nigeria
Nigerian nationalism asserts that Nigerians are a nation and promotes the cultural unity of Nigerians. Nigerian nationalism is a territorial nationalism, emphasizing a cultural connection of the people to the land in particular the Niger and Benue rivers. It first emerged in the 1920s under the influence of Herbert Macaulay who is considered the founder of Nigerian nationalism.
It was founded because of the belief in the necessity for the people living in the British colony of Nigeria of multiple backgrounds to unite as one people in order to be able to resist colonialism. The people of Nigeria came together as they recognized the discrepancies of British policy. “The problem of ethnic nationalism in Nigeria came with the advent of colonialism. This happened when disparate, autonomous, heterogeneous and sub- national groups were merged to form a nation
THE CONCEPT OF SECOND WORLD WAR IN NIGERIA
Nigeria participated in World War II as a British colony in September 1939, following the government’s acceptance of the United Kingdom’s declaration of war on Nazi Germany. As a British colony, Nigeria entered the war on the side of the Allies. Nigeria was a key country in the African theatre of war, with Nigeria serving as a critical part of the Allied African strategy. In addition to Nigeria’s importance as a staging point in Africa, several infantry regiments were raised to serve the British armies around Africa and Asia. Throughout the war, 45,000 Nigerian soldiers served in the British Army in Africa and Southeast Asia
THE IMPACT OF SECOND WORLD WAR ON NATIONALISM IN NIGERIA
Nigerian nationalism radicalized and grew in popularity and power in the post-World War II period when Nigeria faced undesirable political and economic conditions under British rule. The most prominent agitators for nationalism were Nigerian ex-soldiers who were veterans of World War II who had fought alongside British forces in the Middle East, Morocco, and Burma; another important movement that aided nationalism were trade union leaders. In 1945 a national general strike was organized by Michael Imoudu who along with order trade union figures became prominent nationalists.
The need to mobilize support for the war effort led colonial governments in West Africa, particularly in Nigeria and the Gold Coast, to pay more attention to African public opinion than they had done before the war. Thus, the war stimulated a new phase of dialogue between West Africans leaders seeking political concessions and colonial governments seeking African input in the production and dissemination of war propaganda.
Propaganda was central to sustaining European colonialism in Africa. Notions of the ‘civilizing mission’ and ‘the white man burden’ which underscored nineteenth-century European colonialism in Africa were effective tools for influencing and manipulating public opinion both at home and in the colonies. Even as colonial regimes uprooted African political and social orders and suppressed resistance, the argument of extending European civilization and liberal traditions to Africans remained a powerful rationale for empire However, pro-imperial arguments did not only come from colonial governments. Africans were also part of the propaganda making process from the beginning. From as early as 1880s, a vigorous and articulate class of educated West Africans had established local newspaper presses that provided them with outlets of self expression.
These elites wielded considerable influence over public opinion in the colonies particularly in the growing urban and commercial centres such as Lagos, Calabar, Accra, Freetown and Banjul.15 by the 1930s, this group of educated Africans, mostly teachers and civil servants had their ranks swelled by traders, skilled artisans and other products of the missionary schools that proliferated across West Africa. Although these elites used local newspapers mainly as platforms for expressing dissent, the newspapers also sometimes served as instruments for promoting imperial agendas in ways that complemented colonial propaganda.
The Impact of Second World War on Nationalism in Nigeria
The Atlantic Charter was idle talk among Western powers that held no promise of self determination for Africans and other colonized people. In line with this thinking, the prominent Nigerian nationalist and editor of the West African Pilot, Nnamdi Azikiwe, urged Africans to prepare their own charters of rights and freedoms rather than rely on those who were too busy preparing their own. 67 Like other West African nationalists, Azikiwe, who later became the President of Nigeria, effectively used the Atlantic Charter and the hypocrisy of its selective interpretation by Churchill to advance their demands for independence.
In 1943, a group of West African leaders (including Azikiwe) submitted a memorandum to the Secretary of State for Colonies entitled, ‘The Atlantic Charter and British West Africa.’ The document made several proposals based on the Atlantic Charter that included demands for the ‘immediate abrogation of the crown colony system of government; immediate Africanisation and full responsible government.’68 Similarly, in its representation to the Fifth Pan African Congress held in Manchester in 1945, the Gold Coast Aborigines Rights Protection Society invoked the Atlantic Charter to demand ‘immediate political emancipation’ for Africa.69 The Charter thus became the focal point of struggles for political reforms and eventual self-government. Apart from their ability to adapt and deploy war propaganda for their own anti-colonial struggles, West African elites also drew on the organizational model of colonial war propaganda for their own nationalist campaigns.
In conclusion, the second world war pave way for the mass mobilization and information dissemination strengthened the ability of the nationalist groups to mobilize mass action.70 Political parties such as Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party in the Gold Coast and Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group Party in Nigeria owed much of their success in rallying public support to the use of sophisticated mobilization techniques drawn from colonial war propaganda machinery.
Stewart, Andrew (2016). The First Victory: The Second World War and the East Africa Campaign. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300208559.
Jackson, Ashley (2006). The British Empire and the Second World War. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 214. ISBN 978-1-85285-417-1.