Ancient document obtained by SaharaReporters has revealed the conversations amongst British governors on the importance of the Nigerian Youth Movement.
The document was compiled by Nasiru Aminu, a researcher based in Cardiff, UK.
The document, dating as far back as November/December 1938 and January 1939, contains letters and correspondence shared among British government officials only identified as Turnbull, Sidebotham, Dave, Moore, Tomlinson, Shuckburgh, Malcolm Macdonald, Parkinson, William among others.
The correspondence was initiated by the governor of Nigeria at the time, Bernard Henry Bourdillion.
The British officials noted that the members of the political party were sincere and honest beings, and were a force to reckon with; they, however, expressed fear that it might imbibe the “extreme bias” of the Wallace Johnson West African Youth League in Sierra Leone, a major political force against the colonial government in West Africa,
The NYM had come to the spotlight after its agitations against the Cocoa Buying Agreement.
Founded in 1934, the NYM, though based in Lagos, was the first Nigerian nationalist organisation to promote politics outside of the capital of the country.
Furthermore, the NYM was also the first organisation to stress national unity over racial divisions, notably between the Igbo and Yoruba ethnic groups.
The NYM outlined its now broader fundamental mission in its 1938 Nigerian Youth Charter.
According to its charter, the primary aim of the NYM was the development of a united nation out of the conglomeration of peoples who inhabited Nigeria, and the promotion of complete understanding along with a sense of common nationalism among different elements in the country.
Politically, the NYM sought to increase the native Nigerian participation in civil service and government with the ultimate goal of self-government.
Furthermore, the NYM established branches in urban areas throughout Nigeria in an attempt to promote inter-tribal cooperation.
All these were taken into cognisance by the Nigerian governor who said he was ready to accept the movement which may “prove a great influence for good”.
A letter from the governor read in part: “The Movement appears first to have come to the notice of the Government early in 1935, when it was known as the Lagos Youth Movement, the title being changed at the end of the same year. Its first President was Dr Vaughan, a local medical practitioner married to an Englishwoman. Until his death In December 1937, the movement, whose motto is ‘Service’, who have now adopted as their form of salutation a raised right hand with the forefinger extended was not very active.
“It addressed the Government from time to time on questions which were worrying African opinion but took no active part in politics. Dr Vaughan was succeeded by
Dr Abayomi, another local medical practitioner. His wife is a daughter of the late Sir Kitoyi A Saga, who carries great weight among the educated women of Lagos and has been of the greatest assistance to my wife in her dealings with them. I used to think that in this case, the grey mare was the better horse and that Dr. Abayomi was something of a nonentity, but have had occasion to revise my opinion.
“Dr. Abayomi’s conduct of the affairs of the movement has been exemplary, and he appears capable of maintaining discipline and exercising a restraining Influence over the more hot-headed members.
“The agitation against the Cocoa Buying Agreement brought the movement into prominence and early in this year, they announced their attention of entering the political arena. They produced, in May, a so-called ‘charter’, a copy of which is attached to this despatch.
“A draft of this document came into possession it was issued, and I sent for Dr. Abayomi to discuss it with him. I said that I had read the charter with interest, and while, as he would no doubt have expected, there was a good deal in it with which I must disagree, I felt that the movement was proceeding on the right lines and might if proper relations could be established between it and the government, prove a great influence for good.
“I asked if his committee would like to meet me and have a frank informal talk about those relations. He welcomed the idea wholeheartedly, and on the evening of May 5th, the Central Executive Committee, some eight or nine in number, came round to Government House. Comfortable chairs, drinks, and cigarettes soon produced a friendly and informal atmosphere and the hour and a half of free discussion that followed was, I believe, of considerable benefit to both sides.
“I told them that I proposed to criticise their draft charter very freely, not with the idea of inducing them to alter one single word of it, but because I wanted them to know my reasons for disagreeing with them on certain points. I said that it was inevitable, and indeed beneficial, that they and the government should occasionally hold divergent views.
“They would often (in my opinion) want to go too fast; I should often (in their opinion) be guilty of an excessive use of the brake.
“There would be times when I should look upon them as an infernal nuisance and they would regard me as a reactionary bureaucrat.
“All that mattered not at provided we did not mistrust each other’s intentions, but continued to believe as I thought we now believed, that both of us were really seeking the welfare of the people of Nigeria as our main object.
“I promised that frankness on their part would always meet with a ready response from me and begged them to always to verify their facts, if necessary; by reference to the Government, before going off the deep about grievance which might come to their notice.
“…During my absence, the movement entered the field of politics in earnest and, at the Town Council elections held in June last, secured three out of the four seats, the Democratic Party only getting in one member, Dr. Adeniji Jones, who topped the poll.
”The total votes polled were 972 by the Youth Movement candidates and 505 by the Democratic Party candidates.
“Elections for the three Lagos seats on the Legislative Council took place soon after my return from leave, and the Youth Movement captured all three seats.
“Eighty-seven per cent. of the electorate voted, and the total number of votes polled were 1506 for Youth Movement candidates and 689 for Democratic Party candidates.
”The poll was headed by Mr. H. S. A. Thomas, a retired accountant in the Medical Department, whose excellent record of services had led me to recommend him, but without success, for an honour. Next came Dr. Abayomi,
the President of the movement, and the third successful candidate was Mr. O. Alakija, a barrister and a brother of Mr. A. Alaklja, the Egba member.
“A prominent member of the deputations from the Movement which have attended me from time to time has been Mr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Editor of the West African Pilot… He was convicted with Wallace Johnson, for sedition but his conviction was quashed on appeal.
”The youth Movement is at present avowedly, and I believe genuinely, loyal to the British government. During the recent European crisis, they passed the following resolution: in view of the present unsettled international situation and in the event, which heaven forbid, of the British Commonwealth of Nations becoming involved in any conflict, we of the Nigerian Youth Movement, in General Meeting assembled here in Lagos, both for ourselves and our branches in every part of Nigeria hereby declare anew our allegiance to His Majesty, the King and do hereby pledge ourselves to give our support loyally and unreservedly to His Majesty’s Government in Nigeria in any emergency that may arise’.
“… So long as their reasonable representations are promptly attended to, so long as the issue raised by them are met frankly, and no attempt is made to burke them, so long, I believe, will the present very satisfactory relations continue…”
Although founded on the basis of equal racial participation, the demise of the NYM eventually came from a combination of ethnic tension and political infighting.