Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, K.B.E., M.P.,
Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
United Nations General Assembly,
New York, NY
7th October, 1960
Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa led the Nigerian delegation to the fifteenth Regular session of the United Nations General Assembly during which he made this, the country’s maiden speech to the World body on 7 October 1960, the day Nigeria was admitted as the 99th member of the Organization.
Last Saturday the country which I have the honor to represent, the Federation of Nigeria, became independent and assumed the rights and responsibilities of a sovereign State. Today Nigeria has been admitted to the United Nations and assumes still more responsibilities.
On behalf of my countrymen in Nigeria I thank you all most sincerely for accepting us as a fellow Member of this organization. We are properly grateful for this recognition and for the generous friendly gesture made by so many Members who sent very distinguished delegations to join us in celebrating our accession to independence. I am particularly pleased that so many important representatives could come to Nigeria on that occasion, because they will be able to inform their Governments of the genuine desire of Nigeria to have friendly relations with you all.
Before proceeding to deal in detail with the many questions which are of interest to my country, it is better to state briefly the principles which we have accepted as the basis of our policies in international relations. First, it is the desire of Nigeria-as I have said already to remain on friendly terms with all nations and to participate actively in the work of the United Nations Organizations. Secondly, Nigeria, a large and populous country of over 35 million, has absolutely no territorial or expansionist intentions. Thirdly, we shall not forget our old friends, and we are proud to have been accepted as a member of the British Commonwealth. But, nevertheless, we do intend to ally ourselves as a matter routine with any of the Power blocs. We are committed to uphold the principles upon which the United Nations is founded. Fourthly, Nigeria hopes to work with other African States for the progress of Africa and to assist in bringing all African Territories to a state of responsible independence.
It is perhaps natural that I should speak about Africa first. We in Nigeria have been fortunate in achieving our independence without bloodshed or bitterness, and I hope that this will lend weight to the proposals which I am about to set before you.
The recent tragic events in Republic of the Congo must be uppermost in all our minds, and it is about that country that I wish to speak to you first. I frankly admit that there are many features of this seemingly intractable problem which remain obscure to me. I am in some doubt as to the exact manner in which the Constitution granting independence to that country was drawn up by the colonial power which formerly administered the territory, and as to the degree of consultation there was with the Congolese peoples themselves, and at what level that consultation was carried out. I do not know how widely the provisions of the new Constitution were known in that country, or whether there is any pattern of administration going up from the village to the provincial and to the national level.
Many other questions present themselves which require answers if we are to find a solution to the present problems. For instance, what sort of government machinery is available to execute whatever policies may be decided upon the Congolese Government? Nevertheless, with the information which is available to us, we in Nigeria feel there are several important factors to be constantly borne in mind in dealing with the problem.
The first of these is that Africa must not be allowed to become a battleground in the ideology struggle. For this reason the Congo situation must be a matter to be dealt with primarily by African States at the political level. Secondly, we believe that in dealing with the problem of creating a real political life in the country itself, it will be necessary to start at the bottom, by seeing that local and provincial authorities are established, while maintaining the essential unity of the country.
We also believe that the Congolese people were right to appeal to the United Nations Organization for help and advice in rebuilding their country, rather than to turn to any individual power. Until achieving our own independence, we have hesitated to add our views to the general discussion about the Congo lest we should merely add to the confusion. But now I feel that it is my duty to put before you, and to ask for your sympathetic consideration, the possible solutions which are presented before us.
We warmly applauded the immediate response of the United Nations to the Congolese disaster. The speed with which troops were sent to maintain law and order was most commendable. But the mere sending of armed forces is not enough. I consider it essential that the United Nations should thoroughly investigate the root causes of the troubles which have arisen there, and I suggest the appointment of a fact-finding commission to look into the circumstances which caused the present crisis. Without a proper and thorough analysis it is idle to pretend that an effective remedy can be prescribed.
Here I would say that to my mind it is most important that none of the great powers should be represented on the fact-finding commission because, however honest their intentions, it would be inevitable that they should be regarded as having a particular interest in the problem.
The first essential is to find a Government capable of governing, and for this it will probably be necessary to hold new elections in the Republic of the Congo. When these have been held, there will be some properly authorized leaders with whom the United Nations Organization can cooperate. I think it is important that the United Nations should work only with those whom I have termed the authorized leaders. They may seem to some of us to be far from perfect, and to some even objectionable; but if they are duly chosen by a majority, then they must be supported. It would be the height of folly to attempt to impose a Government which was not founded on popular support, and the result would be even greater confusion. I have studied various suggestions which have been put forward, and I can tell you that some of those which appear at first sight attractive are really quite impossible.
For instance, there can be no question of the United Nations taking on the role of administering Power or of the Republic of the Congo being regarded as United Nations Trust Territory. That Republic has been declared independent, and if a practicable plan is to be worked out, we must accept the facts and arrange for assistance and advise, which the United Nations can give on an agency basis without infringing on the sovereignty of the Government.
It is true that elections cannot be held overnight. It is an arduous and lengthy task to arrange elections in such a large territory, and some immediate action is required in the meantime. So I think that the United Nations must take a much firmer line than hitherto and quite firmly support the Central Government in maintaining law and order and in keeping the machinery of day-to-day government moving. This will entail giving additional powers to the United Nations force and to its other agencies, but only for a limited period, until new elections have been held. Once the people have chosen their representatives, it will be possible to hold discussions to find out the form of government which will be generally acceptable.
Will the result be a confederacy or a federation? The root of the problem will lie in revenue allocation. And here the United Nations can be of the greatest assistance, by providing the necessary experts to inquire and advise. In all of its activities it is most essential that the United Nations make use of only the most able and experienced experts. I am not criticizing any of the United Nations Staff now serving in Congo, but I do want to emphasize that if this problem is to be solved, it is absolutely necessary to procure the services of men who are really knowledgeable and capable of working out practicable means of dealing with the various questions.
I have said already that much of the present situation in the Congo is obscure. But from what I have heard I believe that the situation is not so desperate as is sometimes thought. I am told that the lower branches of the civil service are efficient, that the public utilities continue to function and that there is a fair amount of executive capacity.
It seems to me important to ensure that the ordinary day-to-day government is kept working, because if that is allowed to collapse, the difficulties will be increased a thousand fold. In order to man the higher positions it will obviously be necessary to train the Congolese. To this end, I propose that those African States which hold the same views as Nigeria combine with us to find places in secondary and technical schools for some hundred of Congolese boys. I do not think the ignorance of the language of instruction would be much of a problem, and I am sure that the effect of a larger number of Congolese seeing how other African countries manage their own affairs would have a beneficial result and will help the Congolese to take a wider view and to realize fully the importance of not allowing a breakdown of the constitution to take place
Nigeria is prepared to make its experience available and to send technical experts to assist in planning and development for the future. We can also lend professors and teaching staff from the time to give short courses and lectures, and I assure you that many qualified Nigerians are eager to take part in such work during their school and college vacations. Those are but a few of the ways in which the Congo can be helped. I am sure that late though it already is, it is not too late. We African States should come together to assist the Congolese to solve their problems. I feel sure that we can do so, but it must be done collectively and not done merely as so many individual States. We must do it together and we must be entrusted with this responsibility by the United Nations and be given its full backing. Nor would I limit advice and assistance to African countries, but would welcome the participation of other States; though I repeat I think it would be advisable to exclude the greater powers.
Now to deal with the more general problems of Africa; problems which are bound to arise when the Powers which colonized Africa in the last century are now relinquishing their control and granting independence to their former colonies. The most serious problem in these cases seems to me to be that political independence is totally inadequate itself if it is not accompanied by stability and economic security, and if there is not genuine personal liberty, with freedom to express one’s views and to profess whatever faith one desires.
Economic weakness is evident in a new country open to every kind of pressure and results in other countries depriving its people of the freedom to choose a form of government which they feel suits them best. Spreading political propaganda or more insidious infiltration through technical assistance can virtually rob any under-developed country of its freedom. I, therefore feel that if the advanced nations of the other continents are really desirous of seeing the new African States stand on their own feet and make their own particular contribution to the peace of the world and to the happiness of mankind, they should make a real effort to desist from fomenting trouble in any of the African countries. The best way for them to assist us in reaching maturity is not by ideological propaganda, in whatever form it may be disguised, but by helping us genuinely, with really good will, to develop our resources and to educate our human material up to those standards which are necessary for proper development.
Many of the new African States are, indeed, potentially rich and should contribute to improving the world, but for the fact that they lack the technological knowledge and the financial capital necessary to develop their resources. It is especially in this field that I commend the many schemes which the United Nations has sponsored for assisting the underdeveloped countries. Indeed, I wish that there were many more of them. I would not necessarily limit technical assistance to the United Nations, but I do seriously suggest that it is in the best interests of world peace for assistance from elsewhere to be given only to those countries which, although still under-developed, are politically stable and have a properly constituted government which is capable of understanding the risks of accepting aid from another country. I certainly deprecate direct assistance being given by individual power to countries which are not yet able to stand on their own feet and are potentially unstable, because such aid would only give rise to suspicion and, in the end, the receiving country may find itself involved in the ideological war, a thing which, as I have already said, we in Africa must do everything in our power to prevent.
I wish to make our position plain beyond any measure of doubt with regard to the African Continent. We in Nigeria appreciate the advantages which the size of our country and its population give us, but we have absolutely no aggressive intentions. We shall never impose ourselves on any other country and shall treat every African Territory, big or small, as our equal because we honestly feel that it is only on that basis of equality that peace can be maintained in our continent.
The colonizing powers of the last century partitioned Africa in haphazard and artificial manner and drew boundaries which cut right across former groupings. Yet, however artificial those boundaries were at first the countries they have created have come to regard themselves as units independent of one another. We have seen them all seeking admission to this Organizations as separate states. It is, therefore, our policy to leave those boundaries as they are at present, and to discourage any adjustment whatsoever. I hope that this policy will bring about an atmosphere of trust, and that if each country is given proper recognition and respect as a sovereign State, it will be possible to have effective cooperation on all matters of common concern to us.
I hope that priority will be given in the various geographical groupings. I refer to the West and the North and to Central Africa and do recommend joint consultations about non political matters such as the coordination of the transport and communication systems, research in connection with natural resources, and above all, education. I should like to see students being freely admitted into the universities of other neighboring territories, and I am sure that by such steps, we shall entirely eliminate any desire or need to station armed forces on our frontiers. However, I must say that I do not rule out the possibility of eventual union. But for the present, it is unrealistic to expect countries to give up their sovereignty which they have so recently acquired, and I am quite sure that it is wrong to imagine that political union could of itself bring the countries together. On the contrary, it will follow as a natural consequence of cooperation in other fields. So I wish to state that I think that it will be the greatest threat to peace in Africa if any country sets out to undermine the authority of the properly chosen leaders of other states with a view of imposing political union. That way can only bring trouble. In the fullness of time, as political relations develop and there is more and more consultation between the States of regional groupings, then political union may well be a natural result, but it would be wrong either to impose it or seek to hasten the process unduly.
So far, I have concentrated on the problems of Africa. Please do not think that we are not interested in other regions, and we hope to be allowed to assist in finding solutions to them through this organization. But, being human, we are naturally concerned first with what effect our immediate neighborhood. We do indeed believe in the United Nations as providing perhaps the only machinery for inducing world peace. But while proudly and gratefully accepting membership in this supreme world body, may I frankly say that we who waited for admission have sometimes been concerned, lest our older and more powerful brethren are losing sight of the objective which, in founding this organization, they sought to serve. If I think correctly, the whole purpose of this organization is to enable the different countries to work together in a friendly atmosphere to procure the peace and progress of mankind, and this cooperation is meant to link all the member nations, no matter what sort of Government each individual country enjoys within its own boundaries. It was also, I believe, the intention of the original promoters to see that countries which are now backward should be assisted in every possible way to develop so that they become world assets and not liabilities. I do not think that it was ever the intention of any of those countries which were responsible for the creation of this Organization to turn it into an arena where party politics could be played on the highest level, and where ideological differences would obscure the main objective of securing peace among the nations and stability in the world at large.
Nigeria is a populous country. There are about 35 million of us and our territory is relatively large. We are willing to learn before we rush into the field of international politics, but we are totally unwilling to be diverted from the ideals which we think to be true. That is the reason we in Nigeria will not be found to align ourselves as a matter of routine, with any particular bloc. Indeed, I hate the very ideas of blocs existing at all in the United Nations.
The General Assembly is the supreme conference in the world, and if the ideas on which it is based are really accepted, then one would expect every representative, no matter from where he comes, to feel absolutely free to express the mind of the country he represents, to feel that he is in no way restricted either by the lobbying of other representatives, or in the case of under-developed countries, by being put under an obligation through technical and financial aid. Each representative should be strong enough to resist all efforts to deflect him from the path of truth as he sees it.
We in Nigeria honestly believe in the principle of the United Nations, and we believe that with a change of heart among the members and especially among the more powerful nations, there is no reason why there should not be peace and happiness. I think that all will agree that the present tension in the world is due to mutual suspicion and the efforts made by groups of countries to impose ideological notions of one kind or another on their neighbors. I am speaking frankly to you, Mr. President, because this is the first occasion on which my country has been able to speak out in the councils of the world. One great advantage which we new nations have is that the accession to independent makes a clear break with our past and presents us with the opportunity to enter into the field of international relations untrammeled by prior commitments. It is probably the one occasion in the life of a nation when it is possible to choose the policies with the inherent qualities of goodness. And so, as we gratefully take the place to which you have invited us, we feel an immense responsibility to the world which you represent. We see nation wrangling with nation, and we wonder how we can help.
Just one week ago the clocks were midnight and Nigeria was on the threshold of independence. There was a brief ceremony at which the leaders of three different faiths, each said a brief prayer. We then realized, all of us, that however much we might imagine ourselves to be responsible for the happy accession to independence, we realize that, above all, there is a divine providence, and I do honestly believe that this is the one primary essential for international friendship.
Cooperation is for each man to be true to his religious belief and to reaffirm the basic principles of his particular creed. It may be that, when we hear the world crying out for peace, we may receive the inspiration to deal with these intractable problems and be able to really devote all our resources to the advancement of mankind by applying those eternal truths which will inevitably persist long after we ourselves are utterly forgotten.