Willink Commission

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The Willink Commission named after Harry Willink, former Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University and head of a panel commissioned in September, 1957 to look into fears expressed by minority ethnic groups that the colonial imposed political structure would lead to the domination of the minority groups by the majority ethnic groups in the three regions of the federation. The commission was also charged with means of allaying those fears. A major contribution of the commission was the inclusion of much of the clauses of the European Human Rights Convention making Nigeria the first African country to have a broad human right clause enshrined in its constitution.

Background

Minority fears about unequal treatment in the three powerful regions of Nigerian were expressed at the 1953 constitutional conference. In 1957, during another conference, the British colonial secretary appointed an old chum, Harry Willink, and assisted by Phil Mason, a director of Race Relations Institute, Chatam, Gordon Hadow, deputy governor of the Gold Coast and Mr J.B. Shearer to look into the fears of the minority groups. The following terms of references guided the commission

  • To Ascertain the facts of the fears of minorities in Nigeria and proposing means to allay those fears whether well or ill founded
  • To advise what safeguards should be included for this purpose in the constitution
  • If, but only if no solution no solution seems to the commission to solve the case, then as a last resort to make case for the creation of states.
  • To report its findings to the secretary of State for the Colonies.

Report

The commission reported on the imbalance in the three regions and also the situations creating the yearning for separate states by different groups, both points supporting the interest of minorities. However, the commission was guided from the get go against making recommendations for state creation and in its report, it stated that states creation would infact not be a solution to the fears of minorities, as additional states may not guarantee against the creation of another minority group in the new states. Also, the idea that the politics prevalent towards the nation's independence fostered ethnic animosity, but deep into self government, there could be a reasons or situations facilitating the abatement of hostilities, and the commission was against enshrining ethnic separatism into Nigerian politics. (1) The practical and financial viability of any new state was weighed to ascertain the prospect of new states.

The commission recommended areas of distinguishable cultures and concerns to have their cultures and areas preserved with the creation of an advisory council, special areas for the Ijaws and designation of Edo and Calabar as minority areas. Also it recommended a unified police, a central prison system, and the promotion of minorities to position of power to balance any inequity in power.

Demands for states

The commission stated that about 9-15 demands for state creation were expressed, these included from the Western Region, a Yoruba Central state, Ondo Central and MidWest State, from the Eastern Region were demands for the creation of the Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers States and from the North the creation of a Middle Belt State.

Politically, in the North, the powerful party, Northern Peoples Congress went against state creation while its counterpart in the East, the NCNC, called for the creation of 17 states. In the West, the Action Group supported the creation of the Calabar Ogoja and Rivers States and the Middle Belt State with further avenue for state creation included in the constitution.

Criticism

A few scholars who over the years have analysed the recommendations of the report view it as offering little practical support to the agitations expressed by the minority groups, (2) also it is viewed as solidifying the administrative boundaries of the colonial government which were created with little attention given to centuries old ethnic boundaries.


References

  • (1)Ronald Hyam. Britain's Declining Empire1918-1968: The Road to Decolonisation, Cambridge University Press, 2007. p 274-275
  • (2)R. T. Akinyele. 'States Creation in Nigeria: The Willink Report in Retrospect', African Studies Review, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Sep., 1996), pp. 71-94