Balewa Speaks on Birth of a Free Nation

54 YEARS AGO – A small crowd gathered at Race Course, in central Lagos, waiting for the minute and hour hands of the clock to reach the figure 12. There was quiet, then suspense. Soon, it was midnight, and the date changed from September 30 to October 1, 1960. Down came the Union Jack from a long pole; up went the Nigerian flag in green-white-green colour. A new independent nation was born!

Hours after the flag-changing event, the ceremonies continued at Race Course, later named Tafawa Balewa Square after the nation’s first prime minister. All the founding fathers of modern Nigeria were there: Zik, Awo, Bello and hundreds of other men and women.

Princess Alexandra, who represented the Queen of England, transferred the symbol of freedom and authority to Balewa.  A 15-year struggle for independence had ended.

Prime Minister Balewa, the “golden voice of Africa”, began his address thus: “Today is Independence Day. The 1st of October 1960 is a date to which, for two years, Nigeria has been eagerly looking forward. At last, our great day has arrived, and Nigeria is now an independent sovereign nation.”

The first indigenous governor-general, Azikiwe, was all smiles as he listened to Balewa speak of a nation that seemed “destined to move with quiet dignity to our place on the world stage”.

First led by Herbert Macaulay until his death in 1946, the struggle for independence was won “on a platter of gold” – the words of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Macaulay’s successor in the struggle and first governor-general of the new independent nation.

The last colonial governor-general, Sir James Robertson, had, hours earlier, expressed similar hope: he said he was optimistic that Nigeria would attain greatness in no distant time.

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