Some children may ask what is Independence Day and why do Nigerians celebrate it? Well, Independence Day is a day to celebrate Nigeria’s freedom from its colonial master — Britain. It can also be referred to as a National Day. It reminds Nigerians of the struggles and sacrifices of its nationalists to make Nigeria a self-governing nation.
Some of these nationalists are Herbert Macaulay, Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Dennis Osadebay, Anthony Enahoro and many others who are dead and buried like heroes.
These great Nigerians struggled with the British government to set the country free from colonial rule. However, after different constitutional conferences, Nigeria on October 1, 1954, became an autonomous Federation.
The Federation of Nigeria on October 1, 1960, was granted full independence and a substantial measure of self-government for the three regions of Northern, Western and Eastern under a constitution that provided for a parliamentary system of government. With this, the Union Jack, the British’s flag, was lowered to hoist the new Nigeria flag designed by Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi. The ceremony took place at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos, then known as the Race Course.
Jaja Wachuku, the first Speaker of the House of Parliament, also called the House of Representatives, received the Instrument of Independence, also known as the Freedom Charter from Princess Alexandra of Kent, the Queen’s representative at this special ceremony.
Despite independence, Nigeria had no power to choose its leaders and make certain decisions until October 1, 1963, when it became a republic and then addressed as: The Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Nigeria became the Federal Republic with former Governor-General Nnamdi Azikiwe as the first President.
On January 15, 1966, the military overtook the government and rule till 1979. But from 1969 to 1970, Nigeria fought a civil war to stop the Republic of Biafra led by Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, then the military governor of the Eastern Region of Nigeria, from breaking away from the federation.
In 1979, Nigeria adopted the United States of America Executive Presidential System with Alhaji Shehu Shagari as the first Executive President. Shagari was overthrown on December 31, 1983, and the military-ruled again till May 1999, the civil rule was returned to the country. This ended the 16 years of military rule and till date, Nigeria has not experienced any coup.
In pursuit of lasting peace and united nation, different leaders have introduced different insignias and even changed the nation’s National Anthem.
Prominent among them is Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who in 1978 replaced the previous national anthem, Nigeria, We Hail Thee, written by foreigners to the current one, written by a group of Nigerians with the words put into music by the Nigerian Police Band under the directorship of Benedict E. Odiase. He also introduced the recitation of the National Pledge written by a Nigerian, Professor Felicia Adebola Adedoyin to schools and at national events.
Other national emblem is the Coat of Arm, which was introduced in 1960. The Coat of Arms carries Nigeria’s motto of Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress and summarises the attributes of the nation while telling who we are as a nation.
• Compile by Omiko Awa