Revisiting history from the perspective of British 1948 ‘Challenges in Nigeria’ documentary [VIDEO]

As a direct response to a historic documentary video titled “Challenge In Nigeria”, we provide facts to address some of the projections and concerns raised in the video.

The 20-minute documentary video in question was uploaded to YouTube in June 2010 by Travel Film Archive. However, the original video was released in June 1948 as a part of the British “The Modern Age” series report about reforms in the then-British Colony of Nigeria.

You can watch the full clip here:


We looked at the projections made and concerns raised in the video and contrasted them with how someone in 2020 might answer. These concerns and projections are discussed under the following headings:

  1. Growth into an independent Nation
  2. The gap between the educated minority and traditional rulers
  3. The Issue of Education
  4. Poverty in Nigeria
  5. Traditional Beliefs vs Missionaries
  6. Exportation before and after oil
  7. Self-governance in Nigeria

Growth into an independent nation

The first projection the video made was that the British colonial masters wanted Nigeria to become a solely independent nation. At the time, there were already pointers that this was going to happen.

There was a mention of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and his questioning the British intent as early as the early 1940s. However, it was not until 1 October 1960 that Nigeria was granted full independence.

This was done under a constitution that provided for a parliamentary system of government. Nigeria had a measure of self-governance for its then-three regions: the North, South East and South West. Jaja Wachuku was the first Nigerian Speaker of the Parliament, which was also called the House of Representatives from 1959 to 1960.

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Wachuku received Nigeria’s Instrument of Independence or Freedom Charter on 1 October 1960. On gaining independence from Britain, Nigeria’s Federal government got exclusive power in defence, foreign relations, and commercial and fiscal policy.

Nigeria held an election in 1959 in preparation for its independence the following year. The Nigerian People’s Congress (NPC) captured the most seats in parliament after it won 134 seats of the 312 seats. The NPC was largely made up of Hausa and Fulani Muslims.

In second place was the Igbo and Christian dominated party of the Eastern Region of Nigeria, the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC). The NCNC secured 89 seats while the Action Group (AG) grabbed 73 seats. Yoruba people of the Western region dominated the AG.

To form the first post-independence national government, the NCNC and NPC came together. Even at that early time in Nigeria’s history, the northerners had the numbers in government. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa became Nigeria’s first Prime Minister after the coalition selected him.

Here is a video of Balewa giving a public address concerning Nigeria’s future shortly after independence:


Thus, after the referenced video raised the question in 1948 about “when will Nigeria become independent?”, the country became an independent nation 12 years after.

However, the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, was still head of state. It was not until 1 October 1963 that Nigeria became a republic and cut off all ties with the British monarchy to become a republic within the Commonwealth. Also, on the same day, the office of the governor-general was replaced with the office of the president.

Nnamdi Azikiwe, who had been serving as the governor-general since November 1960 was sworn in to continue as the President of Nigeria on 1 October 1963. It is worth noting that at that time, the President’s office was mainly ceremonial.

The Parliament that had been formed in 1959 was still in charge of running the country.

The gap between the educated minority and traditional rulers

Another important issue that the documentary video raised was the gap between the educated minority and the traditional rulers. At the period, there existed more uneducated people than educated ones.

While the challenge of education still exists today, it was far worse back then. According to the video, in 1948, for every one person that could read, there were 30 more who couldn’t.

Furthermore, the people in positions of traditional powers were mostly uneducated. It posed a challenge because leaving power in the hands of the educated could raise unrest among the majority who were largely uneducated. Also, in contrast, many uneducated traditional rulers at the time were probably ill-prepared to handle a new nation, draft constitutions and establish needed communication channels with the outside world.

It is not clear how the British planned to handle this, but history shows how it turned out. As we have mentioned, Jaja Wachuku was the first Nigerian Speaker of Parliament. Wachuku was among the generation of educated Nigerians and he studied abroad with many foreign recognitions.

Meanwhile, Tafawa Balewa, who became Nigeria’s first Prime Minister was also an educated man. Like Wachuku, Balewa studied abroad and was widely recognised for his oratory prowess as well.

Likewise, Nigeria’s first President, Nnamdi Azikiwe, was also a very educated man. Other prominent Nigerians who were in power in those early days were Obafemi Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola in the West. Awolowo and Akintola were both internationally trained lawyers.

What this proves is that despite the wide separation between the educated and the uneducated at the dawn of Nigeria’s history, the educated minority led the way.

However, it is important to note that each of these above-mentioned leaders mostly had the backing of the uneducated traditional rulers. This suggests that none on either side of the divide was neglected.

The issue of education

Still, on the problem of education in Nigeria, the video pointed out that it has always been an issue, going as far back as 1948. Also, while it was suggested that the problem was as a result of the fact that there were not enough educators and schools at the time, it was also pointed out that there were “traditional mistrust of Western ideas”.

While a greater percentage of Nigeria now received mandatory education, the problem still persists to a certain degree, varying among the different regions of the country. So, while the federal and respective state governments have provided free schooling schemes for every child in the country. Yet, there are still children out of school even today.

According to a UNICEF report on Nigeria’s children out of school, about 10.5 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are not in school.

The video also pointed out that the problem was very acute among the Northern people of Nigeria because while they made up nearly half of the country’s population, they were largely ignorant and poor.

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Meanwhile, many sources agree that education progressed more rapidly in the south than in the north.

To confirm this, the report referenced above also says:

“States in the north-east and north-west have female primary net attendance rates of 47.7 per cent and 47.3 per cent, respectively, meaning that more than half of the girls are not in school.”

The education issue is even direr when one considers that the government has made it compulsory for every child to go to school.

Therefore, 72 years on from 1948, the problem of poor education in Nigeria still exists even if it is to a lesser degree than previously.

Poverty in Nigeria

A documentary on the state of poverty in Nigeria back in 1948 sadly still remains relevant more than 7 decades later. According to researchers, there were about 60% of the country’s population living in poverty in 2018. In simple terms, this means than more than half the population of Nigeria were surviving on less than $2 (or NGN739 at the time) per day.

There are some causes of poverty that the video highlighted back then. However, in this present age, most of the problems surrounding poverty in Nigeria are:

  1. Income inequality
  2. Unrest and ethnic conflict
  3. Insurgency and banditry
  4. Political instability
  5. Economic evolution (more is said on this in the export section)

Traditional beliefs vs missionaries

The video shed light on the fact that strongly entrenched traditional beliefs had posed an early challenge to acquiring European knowledge at first. However, while the narrator also mentioned the existence of secret societies, juju and mystics, he acknowledged that Nigerians in 1948 had started embracing foreign ways of doing things.

Missionaries who came to abolish some barbaric acts won some people over with their Christian teachings. According to a Wikipedia article titled Religion in Nigeria, about 49% of people in the country are Muslims while the percentage of Christians is also 49%.

In addition, with 0.9% claiming to adhere to local or traditional beliefs, it is clear that many of the country’s population had abandoned beliefs they once held to strongly.

This shift in religious beliefs likely induced more people to embrace Western education. It has also allowed more people to seek medical assistance from orthodox doctors than from native traditional healers.

Exportation before and after oil

Before the famous oil boom of the 1970s, the Nigeria economy was more focused on agricultural produce exports. The country supplied cocoa, palm oil, cotton, groundnut, and animal hides and skin in large quantities.

At the time, agriculture contributed about 70% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and accounted for about 90% of foreign earnings and the Federal Government revenue. The country was the world’s second-largest producer of cocoa and the largest exporter and producer of palm products.

However, as mentioned earlier, the discovery of oil changed it all. Just between 1970 and 1974 agricultural exports declined to 7% of the total export.

The video under consideration had not foreseen this drastic change in the country’s fortune. While it highlighted major challenges that the agricultural business faced such as bad road connections, unskilled labour, crude farming; what killed Nigeria’s agricultural export was the oil boom of the 1970s.

Not long after, by the early 1980s, Nigeria started to import foodstuffs that it could have easily produced from goods it formerly exported.

Self-governance in Nigeria

Another challenge that the video mentions that seemed similar to the problem of independence was self-governance. Self-governance is the same thing as self-rule and it means that a group or an individual has the ability to exercise all necessary functions of regulation. This, it has to carry out without the intervention of an external authority.

Simply, what the question asked was: Can Nigerians govern Nigeria in all important matters without external authorities (like its colonial master, Britain) tampering with its actions?

The easy answer to this question is, yes. During the period leading to Nigeria’s independence and eventual Republican status, plans were set in place for complete self-governance.

From Chief Anthony Enahoro’s 1953 motion for Nigeria’s independence and until it was accepted after Sir Tafawa Balewa proposed it again in 1959, the members of parliament were already making arrangements.

Self-governance agitation began in 1953, exactly 15 years after the documentary video we are addressing was published. As we have touched on at the beginning of this article under the “Growth into an independent Nation” section, the Nigerian people formed a parliamentary government to govern its then-three regions.

The Nigerian Parliament is what is now known as the National Assembly, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Also, while the British monarch was still the head of state in Nigeria, the members of the parliament had exclusive legislative powers.

Nigeria Challenge Parliament self-governance
Nigeria National Assembly in 2017.


The country’s Prime Minister held the executive power while the Federal Supreme Court wielded judicial authority.

Still, in line with self-governance, the country broke ties with Britain and became a Republic in 1963. It is important to mention this at this time because it was only after 1st October 1963 that the British Monarch officially took hands off Nigeria’s governance.

While Nnamdi Azikiwe was named president after serving as the country’s governor-general since 1960, his office was ceremonial. He didn’t wield as much power as Nigerian presidents today wields. At that time of Nigeria’s history, the members of the parliament were running the country.

However, Nigeria’s independence further exposed the internal tribal divide that had always existed in the country since its regions were joined together. These problems were escalated by the self-governance issue and eventually led to the Nigerian Civil War.

How Nigeria’s self-governance led to the 1967 – 1970 Civil War

Inevitably, power struggle will always be a part of democratic rule. Nigeria’s case was no different in the beginning. But, while healthy power tussles were usually engaged in by individuals driven by the same ideas, Nigeria’s early political parties were formed according to regions and tribes.

As we have mentioned, these early parties — the NPC, NCNC, and AG — were formed to represent the three regions and major tribes, namely Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba respectively.

Thus, party disagreements were likely to degenerate into tribal conflicts. But, it was not political conflicts that led to the civil war.

Instead, it was the result of the military tampering with the ruling powers. A coup and a countercoup in 1966 led to the Hausa and Fulani people calling for the first coup plotters (mostly Igbo Majors), to be tried for murder.

General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi who had led the countercoup was also overthrown by a coup led by Major General Yakubu Gowon in July 1966.

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The video we are considering failed to foresee this kind of crisis just six years after the country gained independence.

It also could not predict that a civil war will erupt after the Igbos, under the leadership of Lt. Col. Emeka Ojukwu, the then military governor of the eastern region, had declared themselves a sovereign state. The decision had been made after the eastern region dwellers alleged that they could no longer stay as one country with the other regions.

The Igbos cite the 1966 anti-Igbo pogrom as their reason for the secessionist move. Nigeria declared war to seize back the region that the Igbos had named the Republic of Biafra.

A Wikipedia article on the Nigerian Civil War mentions that the following reasons caused the conflict:

  • Ethno-religious riots in Northern Nigeria
  • A military coup and a counter-coup
  • Persecution of Igbos living in Northern Nigeria
  • Control over the lucrative oil production in the Niger Delta

Despite these derailments, one can convincingly say that Nigeria is now sufficiently self-governed.


Looking back at all the major fears that the video pointed at in Nigeria’s future, most of them appeared to have been validated by history. The issue of the tribal divide, education, and poverty is still very much a part of the country in 2020.

In contrast, some of the hopes the narrator had mentioned have been stamped out. For example, the video had projected that good road networks would improve the exportation of agricultural produce. Now, the country’s main export is petroleum with improving agriculture now a political campaign mantra. At the same time, the country’s infrastructural facilities are widely inadequate.

Also, after all the years leading to the present day, democracy has won. Of course, there were several coups after coups and lapses into military dictatorships, but Nigeria has since May 1999, been run by a democratic system of government. This is a conscious choice toward stable self-governance.

Photo of author

About The Author


Obinna is a fiction writer from Lagos, Nigeria, and grew up loving comic book characters and superheroes. He watches lots of action films and writes entertainment and technology articles. He is also interested in science and how things work.

10 thoughts on “Revisiting history from the perspective of British 1948 ‘Challenges in Nigeria’ documentary [VIDEO]”

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  8. We’re still a young nation and have a long way to go. We’ve certainly evolved from the time the British left but there are still a lot psychological chains holding us back. We’ll get there one day.


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