(1959) Nnamdi Azikiwe Speaks on the Role of Nigeria and other African States in World Politics

Image Ownership: Public Domain

On July 31, 1959, Nigeria was slightly more than a year away from full independence from Great Britain.  On that day Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Premier of Eastern Nigeria and National President of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), gave a speech to the London branch of his political party in which he outlined Nigeria’s   future association with other African states and what he anticipated would be the role of his nation in world affairs.  That speech appears below.

In connection with the relationship between Nigeria and the other African States, the need for economic, social and political integration has been mentioned. Since many views have been propounded on how the free African States can be linked the situation is rather confusing. Perhaps it may be pertinent for me to pursue this matter further in order not to leave any room for doubt or confusion.

Nigeria should co-operate closely with the other independent African States with the aim of establishing unity of outlook and purpose in foreign policy. The pursuing of this objective should make for better understanding among the African States and a realization of identity of interest among them.  Moreover, it would advertise the importance of Africa in world affairs and help to heal the wounds that have been inflicted on this continent and which can be a basis of a revanchist movement.

There are many schools of thought on how the African States should be aligned. One school favours a political union of African States now. Another school favours an association of African States on the basis of community of interests. Still another school favours an alignment of a rigid or loose character on a regional basis. Other schools develop this splendid idea further and there can be no doubt that more will be heard from other quarters.

My personal opinion is that there is great need for close cooperation between Nigeria and the other African States. The nature of such close co-operation need not delay sincere efforts to attain such a desirable goal, but we must be realistic in pursuing this matter lest we plunge the continent of Africa in a maelstrom of conflicting personal ambitions and interests.

I would suggest that Nigeria, in the first instance, should explore with its nearest neighbours the possibility of a customs union. This would lead to the abolition of tariffs between tile two or more countries and would encourage ‘free trade’ in areas which might ultimately turn into a common market. With a free flow and interchange of goods, Nigeria and its neighbours would come closer in their economic relationship which is very fundamental in human relations.

I would also suggest a gradual abolition of boundaries which demarcate the geographical territory of Nigeria and its neighbours. The experience of Canada and the United States has been encouraging and should be explored. Once travelling is freely permitted, other things being equal, people will forget about physical frontiers and begin to concentrate on essential problems of living together.

I would suggest further that Nigeria should interest its neighbours in a joint endeavour to build international road systems which should link West African countries with East African territories, on the one hand, and North African countries with Central African territories, on the other. By encouraging the construction of autobahn systems across strategic areas of Africa, and by providing travelling facilities, in the shape of hotels, motels, petrol-filling stations, we should be able to knit the continent of Africa into a tapestry of free-trading, free-travelling, and free-living peoples.

I would finally suggest cultural exchanges on a wider scale than is practised at present. Students, dancers, artistes, traders and holiday-makers should be able to cross the frontiers of Nigeria and its neighbours with full freedom. They are usually the ambassadors of goodwill and they can help to produce the sense of one-ness which is so lacking in most of Africa at present. Given official support these ordinary folk would become the harbingers of a new era in Africa, because once a sense of one-ness has permeated the social fabric it facilitates the crystallization of common nationality, as the experience of Nigerian history vindicates.

I believe that economic and social integration will enable Nigeria and its neighbours to bring to pass the United States of Africa, which is the dream of African nationalists. It would be capital folly to assume that hard-bargaining politicians who passed through the ordeal of victimization and the crucible of persecution to win their political independence will easily surrender their newly-won political power in the interest of a political leviathan which is populated by people who are alien to one another in their social and economic relations. It has not been possible in Europe or America, and unless Africa can show herself different from other continents, the verdict of history on this score will remain unchallenged and unaltered.

Lest there should be any mistaken notion of my stand on the alignment of interests of African States, may I reiterate that I firmly believe in the attainment of an association or union of African States either on a regional or continental basis in the future. I would regard such a future as not within the life-time of the heroes and heroines who have spearheaded the struggle for freedom in Africa, these four decades. But I honestly believe that social and economic integration would so mix the masses of the various African territories into an amalgam of understanding that the objective might be realizable earlier than we expected.

In other words, the prerequisites of political integration in Africa are the economic and social integration of African peoples. Otherwise, we shall be precipitating a crisis which will find African leaders jockeying among themselves for leadership of peoples who are not only alien to each other but are unprepared for such a social revolution. This would be disastrous to the ideals of Pan-Africanism which all of us, as sincere nationalists, have been propagating all these years. It means going the way of Europe, which gave top priority to political integration before social and economic integration, only to disintegrate into unimportant nation-states after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

The role of Nigeria in world polities can inspire respect if, in addition to creating a healthy relationship, she either spearheads or associates herself actively in the movement to revive the stature of man in Africa. This implies the downright denunciation of the spurious theory of racial inferiority which has no scientific basis. Nigeria should not hesitate to consider it as an unfriendly act for any State in Africa to proclaim or to practise this dangerous doctrine of racialism.

We can revive the stature of man in Africa by associating Nigeria actively with all progressive movements which are busily engaged not only in demolishing racial bigotry but also in spreading knowledge of the fundamental equality of the races of man- kind. Nigeria should use its good offices to persuade African States which practise racial snobbery to mend their ways, and Nigeria should dissociate itself from organizations which condone the practice of race prejudice by their members.

The existence of colonies in Africa can no longer be justified in the light of science and history. It should be the manifest destiny of Nigeria to join hands with other progressive forces in the world in order to emancipate not only the people of Africa but also other peoples of African descent from the scourge of colonialism. Science has demonstrated that no race is superior to another. History has shown that no race is culturally naked. That being the case, Nigeria should be in the vanguard of the struggle to liberate Africans from the yoke of colonial rule.

May I at this stage refer to the reported plan of France to use the Sahara Desert as a site for testing its atomic bombs? I am not concerned in this lecture about the desirability or otherwise of using the atomic bomb as an instrument of war, but I am deeply concerned that a European State, which rules millions of Africans as colonial people, should calculatedly endanger the lives of millions of African people in a mad attempt to ape the Atom Powers.

The leaders and people of Nigeria are already reacting and I do not hesitate to warn France, with respect and humility, as I did in November 1958, when I first called the attention of the world to this attempt by France to perpetrate an atrocity against the peoples of Africa, that we will regard this Sahara test not only as an unfriendly act, but as a crime against humanity, in view of the dangers of radio-active fall-out and in view of the effect of the Sahara Desert on the climate of Nigeria.