The Omaha guide. (Omaha, Neb.) 1927-19??, November 03, 1945, Page 3, Image 3

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Nigerian Natives Win Over British Imperialism By Uniting... Omaha, Nebraska, Saturday, November 3.1945 pUge 3
“Class Struggles Bn Nigeria”.... By Robert L. Birchman
Admist wild rejoicing half a million African
workers celebrated their own V-Day the first week
in September. The general strike of more than
150,000 Nigerian workrs on the government-owned
railroads, harbor, communications systems and
public works had achieved a sweeping and complete
victory. For ten weeks the striker's had withstood
all forms of official pressure, intimidation and ter
orism. Thanks to the unbreakable unity of their
ranks, the British Colonial Office was compelled
finally to grant their demands.
. On instructions from George Ilali, the new Labor
Party colonial secretary, Governor Richards of Ni
geria broadcast a statement agreeing to comply
with the strikers’ demand for a minimum wage of
2 shillings, sixpence a day and promising to pay
them full wages for the ten weeks. He also agreed
to release all the arrested strike leaders; to reem
ploy all government civil servants; to lift the ban on
the suppressed newspapers, the Daily Comet and
African Pilot, assuring the editor, Nnamdi Azikiwe
security of life and property.
To mark the historic occasion of this victory of
j colored labor over white imperialism, the Nigerian
trade union and nationalist leaders issued a special
manifesto congratulating the workers on their loy
alty and appealing for still greater unity in the
struggles ahead. The declaration concluded in the
spirit of The Communist Manifesto: “We can send
workers no better message than this which Karl
Marx, the Jesus Christ of the working class, would
have undoubtedly sent them if he were in this coun
try today: namely, workers of Nigeria, unite!”
The general strike, which began on June 21, had
been preceded by a month of negotiations with the
government which is the largest employer of labor
in Nigeria. On May 21 the African Civil Servants
Technical Workers Union sent a letter to the Gov
ernor ointing out that, according to their computa
tions, the cost of living had risen 200 percent since
1939, and that the government had partially recogn
ized this by giving increases to its European em
ployees and supplementary allowances to their
In view of these facts, the Nigerian Trade Union
Congress asked for a minimum wage of 2 shillings
sixpence a day, retroactive to April 1, 1944 and a
50 percent increase in cost of living allowance for
all workers earning less than 48 pounds (about
$200) per year, and a sliding scale above that. The
Congress also gave a one-month strike notice in
support of these demands, declaring that “the work
ers of Nigeria shall proceed to seek their own rem
edy, with due regard for law and order on the one
hand and starvation on the other.”
The letter of the African Civil Servants Techni
cal Workers? Union to the Governor described their
intolerable living conditions. Prior to the war
three or four workers and their families lived in
rooms measuring as little as 10 by 10 feet. Today
their osition has been considerably worsened. Rents
have increased abnormally, prices of food and im
ported goods have soared, supplies are scarce. As
a result the health of the people has become severe
ly impaired and tuberculosis victims are multiply
ing. ‘‘Have we fought this war in order to be ex
terminated bv starvation?” the letter asked.
The Governor of Nigeria is the Sir Arthur Rich
ards who attained notoriety for suppression of
strikes and demonstrations while he was Governor
of Jamaica. This colonial despot replied that lie
would not meet with representatives of the workers
since no purpose could lie served by discussion. An
incraese in wages, he said, would not offset the in
creased cost of living but would simply cause infla
tion! A second appeal made on June 11 was again
inrneu uown.
In preparation for the coming struggle the gov
ernment reenacted its recently repealed Defense
Regulations under which a number of Nigerian
trade union leaders had been imprisoned for four
years during the war. The regulations on press
censorship empower the Governor to suppress any
newspaper that publishes uncensored news or crit
icizes the Governor or his officials. The penalty
for violation is a 500 pound fine or two* years in pris
on, or both.
Meanwhile many other trade unions, unaffiliated
and affiliated with the Trade Union Congress, came
out in support of the African Civil Servants Techn
ical Workers Union and put forward wage demands
of their own. On June 16, for example, the Print
ers’ Technical Union at Lagos passed a resolution
stating that “we shall not hesitate to fall in line of
action with the mexcept our humble demands are
favorably considered.
The time for action arrived on June 21 when the
strike ultimatum of the Trade Union Congress ex
pired. At one minute past midnight over 150,000
workers went out on strike.
The entire transport, power and communieationc
systems throughout Nigeria were immediately
aralysed. Unions participating in the strike in
cluded the African Civid Service Technical Work
ers and its constituent unions, the African Railway
and Eingineering Workshops Workers, African
Land and Survey Technical Workers, African Post
and Telegraph Workers, Nigeria Electrical Work
ers, Nigeria Marine African Workers, Public
Works Union, Lagos Town Council Workers, Afri
can Locomotive Drivers, Government Sawmill
Workers. Nigeria Union of Nurses, African In
spectors Union, African Railway Topographical
Worekrs, African Railway Station Masters, Gov
ernment Press Technical Workers Union and Med
ical Department Workers Union. Workers on the
privately-owned Elder Lines joined the strike at
its beginning. The Elder Lines are a subsidiary of
Elder Dempster and Co., Ltd., which has a virtual
monopoly on all shipping to and from the West
African colonies.
Two days after the strike began the Daily Comet
reorted that “armed soldiers with rifles were yes
terday reorted to be guarding the railway locomo
tive yard at Ebute Metta. But all was quiet and
there were no disturbances, as no workers appeared!
on the scene.” On June 26 the Comet reorted that
the miners in the government-owned coal mines at
Enugu had joined the strike and a government com
munique admitted that the general strike was
spreading thorugliout the provinces. As a matter
of fact, military personnel were forced to dig grav
es’ in the cemeteries as even the grave diggers were
on strike.
Workers employed by numerous private enter
prises later joined in sympathy strikes and in other
cases gave support by refusing to serve as strike
breakers. Over 200,000 worekrs were on strike be
fore it ended.
First, the Government threatened to withhold
the wages of all strikers for the month of June and
to cancel all their pensions, gratuities and contract
ual rights. When this intimidation failed, four
railroad union leaders were arrested on trumped
up charges of participating in an illegal strike.
They were later released. Next, to lure the strik
ers back to work, the Government issued a promise
that there would be no victimization of workers if
they returned immediately. But the workers held
The Governor then publicly accused the strikers
of sabotaging the transport and communications
systems, derailing a train at Oshodi, and cutting
telephone lines connecting Lagos with the interior
of the country. Ten strike leaders were arrested
on these frame-up charges.
The reply to these provocations was given at a
huge mass arlly in Lagos where thousands of work
ers swore on their tribal oath “by our mother Afri
ca and the departed spirits of our ancestors” not to
return to work until their demands were granted.
Their five demands were: pay the strikers for the
period during which they have been on strike;
guarantee their pensions and other rights; no vic
timization of strikers; immediate release of the ar
rested strike leaders; grant the original demande for
a 2/6 minimum wage.
The militancy of the workers was further demon
strated when Bankole, president of the NTUC., ad
vised the strikers to return to work. This false
leader was immediately repudiated and expelled
from office. He was replaced bv A. O. Imoude,
former president of the Railway Workers Union,
who had been released from four years detention
and exile on June 2. Imoude had been imprisoned
on grounds that his labor activities interfered with
the progress of the war. On his release he return
ed to Lagos riding on a white horse where he was
received like a conquering hero and publicly ac
claimed by thousands of workers.
The anti-imperialist movement pressed the bat
tle on still another front. In protest against the
reenactment of the rigid press censorship and sup
pression of free opinion, the African Pilot and the
Daily Comet, the two leading Nigerian daily papers
appeared with their editorial pages blank. These
two papers were later suppressed because they
criticized those union leaders who advocated that
the strikers return to work. The European comm
unity threatened to lynch the editor, Azikiwe.
Azikiwe cabled to labor, Negro and progressive
organizations in the United States and Great Brit
am for aid on his behalf. In response to his ap
peal cablegrams of rotest were sent to the British
Colonial Office and the Governor of Nigeria by
James R. Cannon, national secretary of the Social
ist Workers Party, Walter White for the NAACP,
and R. J. Thomas president of the CIO. United
Automobile Workers.
In defense of the actions of Governor Richards,
the Colonial Office in London issued a statement
that the Secretary of State for Colonies “is satis
fied that the measures taken by the Nigerian gov
ernment to combat the rise in the cost of living are
the best possible under the circumstances. Any
increase in the cost of living allowance would not
only be operated to the detriment of the wage
earners themselves, but would result in the deter
ioration of the general economic situation.”
While the British Government was trying to
break the strike, significant demonstrations of sol
idarity were held in England. In London over
2,000 Africans and other colonial seamen, war plant
workers and students held a mass rally in suppor'
of Nigerian labor and collected about $2,000 to aid
in feeding the wives and children of the strikers.
Sixty telegrams were sent to world trade union or
ganizations and unions in America, India and the
West Indies by the Pan-African Federation seek
ing support for the Nigerian workers. A similar
mass meeting held in Manchester collected over
$500 for the strike relief fund. e
The Nigerian Trade Union Congress which led
this tremendous strike struggle to victory is only
two years old. It was organized in August 1940
when 200 delegates fro m56 unions, representing
over 100,000 workers, met in Lagos, the capital of
Nigeria. The Congress issued a manifesto declar
ing that the workers of Nigeria were entitled to the
full rights of democratic government, including
free speech, collective bargaining adequate wages,
equality of opportunity and protection against
ignorance, want, disease and exploitation. The
Congress adopted a program calling for the nation
alization of mining, timber and other important in
dustries, labor representation on the Legislative
Council and the Municipal Councils, social insur
ance, education and housing for workers and pro
tection of workers’ health.
there were delegates from 64 unions and the mem
bership had increased to over 400,000. The Niger
ian Trade Union Congress now has 86 affiliated
unions with a membership of over 500,000.
The vigorous proletariat of Nigeria is new and
young. The number of wage and salaried workers
in Nigeria in 1939 was only 183,000. 37.5 percent
were employed by the government. 37.5 percent in
mining and 25 percent by commercial firms, agri
culture and other private interests. Today it is
estimated that there are about one million wage
and salaried workers, more than half of them organ
ized in unions.
The war led directly to this rapid growth of the
working class. By the beginning of 1942 the har
bors of West Africa became busy ports of call for
convoys bound for the Middle and Far Eastern
theaters of war. Simultaneously a great chain of
airpotrs grew up near the main towns for handling
the stream of aircraft carrying men and supplies
to North Africa and the Far East. A huge con
struction program arnged from the building of mud
huts in military camps to the building of up-to
date airdromes, new roads, railroads and habor fac
ilities. These activities were accompanied by the
intensified exploitation of vital raw materials, such
as oras, foodstuffs, lumber and rubber.
To supply the necessary manpower thousands of
natives were literally hurled from their primitive
agrarian and tribual mode of living into the modern
world of machinery and capitalism. These devel
opments produced far-reaching dislocations in the
social structure of Nigeria. Processes that in peace
time would have taken generations are today being
completed in weeks or months.
Simultaneously with the rapid rise of the trade
union movement there has developed a large and
powerful Nigerian nationalist movement in which
the trade unions play a leading part. This politic
al movement has cut across tribal traditions, relig
ious ties, Mohammedan, Christian, Pagan, and the
barrier of diverse native languages, Nigeria with
its numerous native states and tribes, has hitherto
been bound together only by geographical proxim
ity and the bureaucratic apparatus of the British
imperialist overlords. Now its people are develop
ing a national consciousness.
The nationalist movement took on defnnite shape
in August 1943 when a delegation of editors of West
African newspapers in Great Britain issued a mem
orandum on “The Atlantic Charter and West Afri
ca.”' Basing their claim on Clause 3 of the Atlan
tic Charter which affirms “the right of all people
to choose the form of government under which they
may live,” they asked for the immediate abrogation
of the Crown Colony system of government and the
substitution of representative government. The
authors of the memorandum declared “that factors
of capitalis mand imperialism have stifled the nor
mal growth of these territories.” The memoran
dum set forth a series of proposals for reforms in
education, health, social welfare, agriculture, min
ing, finance, trade and commerce.
upon tne return ot the press delegation to Africa,
a campaign to popularize these demands was start
ed under the leadership of Nnamdi Azikiwe, editor
o fthe West African Pilot, largest Nigerian daily
newspaper, and secretary of the delegation. On
January 20 of this year a constitutional convention
was held in Lagos, capital of Nigeria, which form
ulated and adopted a draft constitution and a pro
gra mof economic and social reforms. The conven
tion set up the National Council of Nigeria and the
Cameroons for the purpose of uniting in federation
all progressive organizations in the country.
The Jun 26 Daily Comet reports that 126 organiz
ations have affiliated with the Council. Among
them are sixty tribal unions, the two leading polit
ical parties—the Nigerian National Democratic
Party and the Union of Young Democrats—eleven
social clubs, eight professional associations. The
most significant are the two leading trade union
organizations—the West African LTnion of Seamen
and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria with its
86 affiliated unions and membership of over 500,000
An editorial in the May 17 West African Pilot says
that the Council has a following of over 6 million
Alarmed by these developments the British Gov
ernment set about to counter the popular insistence
on a new constitution. Shortly after this conven
tion a White Paper containing proposals for the re
form of the Constitution of Nigeria was issued with
the approval of the British Colonial Secretary, in
the name of Sir Richards, Governor of Nigeria. Bv
this proposed constitutional revision the British
imperialists sought to prevent the emanation of a
draft constitution from the people themselves
through the Constitutional Convention.
Calling a special meeting of the l egislative Coun
cil in March, Richards presented a constitutional
draft demanding immediate acceptance before the
people had an opportunity U studv it. The Council
made up of a majority of white officials and a min
ority of hand-picked chiefs, voted acceptance.
At the same session of the Legislative Council
Richards secured approval for two bills. One
granted the British Government the right to con
fiscate <dl African lands wherever minerals were
discovered. The other gave the Governor power to
dispose of any chief who supported the Nationalist
movement against the British.
Taking up the challenge of the Governor, Azikiwe
called upon the natives to rally around the National
Council, and fight to defend their ancestral lands.
\\ ithout these the Nigerians will surely sink into
further economic enslavement like the natives of
South Africa and Kenya. Mass meetings through
out Nigeria passed resolutions denouncing the
“Uncle Toms” who voted support for Richards and:
demanded that the Colonial Office rescind the un
democratic constitution and take its hands off the
African lands. In the face of this nation-wide in
surgency the Government flew to London to consult
with the Colonial Office. Meanwhile the natives
collected over $50,000 for the expenses of a delega
tion to London. Head of the delegation was Her
bert Macauly, Nigeria’s “elder statesman,” who
successfully fought the British thirty years ago
when the Government attempted to confiscate tri
bal lands belonging to Chief Elako, active ruler of
Lagos. The delegation of twelve included repre
sentatives from the most important tribes, Christ
ian, Moslem and Pagan. Azikiwe was appointed
I he Nigerian trade Union Congress sent the fol
lowing cable to Oliver Stanley, British Colonial
Secretary: “Nigerian Trades Unions disfavor the
constitution in its present unsatisfactory form.
Approval by the Legislative Council is unauthoriz
ed. Workers’ claims have been flagrantly ignored.
Memorandu mfollows.” One of the main points in
the memorandum of the T. U. C. was that “the pro
posed constitution should provide for adult suffrage
irrespective of income.” At the huge May Day
1945 celebration of the T. U. C. in Lagos a resolution
demanded full adult suffrage for the people of Ni
There are no essential differences between the
new constitution and the old. The projected “re
forms” do not in any respect constitute progress
toward Nigeria’s independence. The real power
still rests in the hands of the Governor and his Ex
ecutive Council. The new “reforms” simply serve
to reinforce the alliance between the British and au
tocratic native rulers in opposition to the will and
desires of the people. The primary functions of the
chiefs under this system of indirect rule are to
maintain imperialist “law and order,” secure forc
ed labor, recruit troops in time of war, and, above
all else, collect the extortionate taxes imposed by
the British authorities.
Before the conquest of the country by the Europ
eans the authority of the chiefs derived from the
people and from elected councils of elders. They
were subject to the will of the people. If he be
came autocartic and tyrannical, the chief could be
removed by the people. Today under the system
of indirect rule, the chiefs are servants of the Brit
ish overlords.
The people are recognizing the true role of the
chiefs as agents of British rule and asserting them
selves in opposition. The Colonial authorities, a
ware of the dangers of this rising tide of popular
discontent, are attempting to arrest the growing
democratic aspirations of the people by tie'ing the
chiefs more closely to themselves under the new
The West African Pilot, re viewing these propos
als, said: “Any system of government which nour
ishes feudalism or advances a baronial class who
must thrive at the expense of the lower class is un
desirable-.The powerful indirect rulers of the
north enjoy good salaries (5,000 pounds per annum
and Oriental palaces, they have nothing to comulain
about. But the classes under them have no justice,
no education and their healfh is not enviable. The
building up of a ruling class, vested with power,
supplied with money and set up to live in pomp and
luxury side by side with a poor and underfed peas
ant class, will have exactly the same result as such
a system has had in other countries—namely, the
people seek the destruction of such institutions.”
the economic and political events of tiie past
five years in Nigeria culminating in the triumph
ant general strike of the organized workers against
the government confir manew the Trotskyist theo
ry of the permanent revolution applied to the strug
gles of the colonial peoples. In his report to the
Third Congress of the Communist International in
1921 Trotsky predicted: “The combination of the
military nationalistic oppression of foreign imper
ialism, of the capitalist exploitation by the foreign
and native bourgeoisie, anrl the survivals of feudal
disabilities are eerating the conditions in which tie
immature proletariat of the colonial countries r ust
develop rapidly and take the lead in the revolution
ary movement of the peasant masses.”
This is what is happening in Nigeria. There the
impact of imperialism is breaking up the ancient
conditions of life and labor. Agricultural produc
tion has been carried on by small indenendent
peasant producers working upon land which is mt
privately owned but held in trust from the tribe.
Hut these peasants have been unable to escape the
fare-raehing tenaeles of finance capital. They are
(Continued on page 4)