(1957) Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, “First Speech as Prime Minister”

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By 1957 Nigeria was clearly on the path toward independence.  In preparation the British Government named Abubakar Tafawa Balewa the first Prime Minister of the soon to be independent nation in a power sharing agreement among the colony’s three major political parties.  In the following radio address broadcasted to the Nigeria in September 1957,  Balewa accepts his new appointment and outlines the political future of the soon-to-be independent nation.

This has been a great day for Nigeria, and, as the first Prime Minister of the Federation of Nigeria, I am proud to speak to my fellow-countrymen tonight. I am proud, and I am humble, too, when I think of the enormous responsibility which has been placed upon me, and my colleagues.

Today, we have set out on the last stage of our journey to Independence, and the next three years will see the culmination of a process which has been gathering momentum year by year, and will see us reaping the harvest of what we have sown. The success of the harvest will depend upon us, and that is why I am glad to speak to you tonight. Everyone of us has his part to play in the work of preparing Nigeria for Independence on the 2nd of April, 1960. I want everyone in Nigeria to realise that this is no easy task, and it cannot be performed by the Federal and Regional Ministers and legislators alone. It is a task for everyone of you because it is only by the personal effort of each individual that Independence for the Federation can become a reality in 1960.

We have declared our intention of attaining Independence for the Federation on the 2nd of April, 1960, and if we wish to take our place among the responsible nations of the world, we must make every effort to see that this aim is achieved, and achieved with an international reputation for good internal government.

Nigeria has now reached a critical stage in her history. We must seize the opportunity which has been offered to us to show that we are able to manage our own affairs properly. Every Nigerian, whatever his status, and whatever his religion, has his or her share to contribute to this crucial task. I appeal to all my countrymen and women to cooperate with me and my colleagues to create a better understanding among our peoples, to establish mutual respect, and trust, among all our tribal groups, and to unite in working together for the common cause, the cause for which no sacrifice will be too great.

I am convinced, and I want you also to be convinced, that the future of this vast country must depend, in the main, on the efforts of ourselves to help ourselves. This we cannot do if we do not work together in unity. Indeed, unity today is our greatest concern, and it is the duty off everyone of us to work so that we may strengthen it. This morning I said in the House of Representatives that bitterness due to political differences would carry Nigeria nowhere, and I appealed to the political leaders throughout the country to control their party extremists. To you who are listening tonight I repeat that appeal—Let us put away bitterness and go forward in friendship to Independence.

To further this overriding need for unity, my colleagues in the Council of Ministers and I have decided to give the country a lead by inviting the leaders of the Action Group to form with us a truly National Government composed of members of the main parties in the Country, and here I must pay tribute to Dr Azikiwe, to Chief Awolowo, Dr Endeley and to the leader of my own party, the Sardauna of Sokoto, for supporting me in this decision. I and my Colleagues of the N.C.N.C. and N.P.C. bold out our hands in welcome to the Action Group members of the Council and I promise you that we shall do our utmost to ensure that the deliberations of the Council are held in an atmosphere devoid of strife and narrow party prejudice.

And now I would like to say a word to the civil service. We are grateful to all the civil servants, through whose work the country has reached the present stage of political development. I know that every constitutional advance puts a great strain on the civil service. Not only is there additional work to be done, but some officers find it hard to accept the new changes, but I must emphasize that Nigeria has today taken another important step forward, and if we are to succeed we must have the loyalty of all Nigerian and expatriate officers in this vital period before self-government is achieved. I should like to reassure all our expatriate staff of our continued Sincerity in the pledges given over the last few years and to promise them that they need have no fears about their future. Their aim and our aim remains what it has always been—the welfare and prosperity of Nigeria. Our political advance will be of no value if it is not supported by economic progress. It is therefore most important that the development plans throughout the country should be carried out with vigour in order that we may have a proper financial standing when, in three years’ time, we ask the world to regard us as an independent self-governing nation.

I would like to remind you of what a great American once said. It was this, ‘United we stand, divided we fall’. This statement is as true for Nigeria today as it has been for any other country. The peoples of Nigeria must be united to enable this country to play a full part in shaping the destiny of mankind. On no account should we allow the selfish ambitions of individuals to jeopardise the peace of the thirty-three million law-abiding people of Nigeria. It is the duty of all of us to work for unity and encourage members of all our communities to live together in peace and harmony. The way to do this is to create understanding, mutual respect and trust. It is important that we should first show respect to each other before asking the world to respect us.

Well—it is time for me to wish you good night, but first I would Once more tell you how absolutely vital it is for your future and the future Nigeria which your children will inherit that, during this interim period before Independence we should be united. Let us be honest with ourselves, and let us be sincere—we know what we want, and we are sure that we can get it, and get it at the right time, provided we are not delayed by selfish quarrels. At a time like this, we must all turn our minds to Almighty God and seek His guidance and assistance—by His grace, we shall succeed.

Source:

Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Mr. Prime Minister: A Selection of Speeches Made by Alhaji the Right Honourable Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, K.B.E., M.P., Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Apapa: Nigerian National Press, Ltd., 1964).