Nigeria in the 1950s
In the 1950s, Nigeria was still under British rule. The British had controlled the country since the late nineteenth century, and it was the most important of British possessions in Africa during the height of the British Empire. The British brought with them Christian missionaries, and in Ogidi, Achebe’s home village, Achebe’s great-uncle had welcomed them. The British organized the Igbo territories in southeastern Nigeria into zones ruled by district commissioners. The commissioners would select willing Igbos to act as their local administrators. The hierarchical structure of government that resulted was at odds with the more democratic practices traditionally favored by the Igbos, who did not have chiefs or kings. Each village had a group of elders responsible for legal decisions and a variety of other groups that decided issues that were relevant to them. Many Igbos resisted British rule, British responded with harsh measures designed to intimidate the local population. In 1914, the system of district commissioners was discontinued, and in 1930, the British attempted to reorganize the administration of eastern Nigeria to more closely reflect traditional Igbo practices.
After World War II ended in 1945, a new era gradually dawned in Africa. The European colonial powers accepted that the African territories they ruled must eventually be given their independence. In Nigeria, a nationalist movement grew up, demanding the extension of the franchise (the right to vote) and self-government. The British government accepted that Nigerian independence was inevitable and in the 1950s developed a series of constitutions designed to give the country greater autonomy. Nigeria was organized on a federal system, based on three regions, eastern, western, and northern, each with considerable autonomy. The reason given for this division was the need to minimize regional religious and tribal differences. The Igbos dominated in the east, the Yorubas in the west, and the Hausa and Fulani in the north. In 1954, a new constitution established two more regions, the Southern Cameroons and the federal territory of Lagos. In the late 1950s, the pace toward independence increased. A Constitutional Conference was held in London, England, in 1957, and then again in 1958. In 1959, a Nigerian Central Bank was created, and Nigerian currency was issued. Nigeria became independent on October 1, 1960. It was one of a number of African nations to gain independence from Britain during this period. Other such nations included Sudan (1956), Ghana (1957), Zambia (1960), Sierra Leone (1961), Uganda (1962), Kenya (1963), and Tanzania (1964). Several more African countries received their independence from other European colonial powers. Guinea (1958), Togo (1960), and Mali (1960) gained their independence from France and Congo from Belgium (1960).
The period leading up to and immediately after independence also produced a new literature in Nigeria, led by Achebe, whose influential novel Things Fall Apart was published in 1958. His work was soon followed by that of other Igbo writers, such as Nkem Nwanko, John Munonye, Chukwuemeka Ike, and Flora Nwapa, who took up Achebe’s themes of the clash between the old and the new. One of Nigeria’s great writers, the playwright Wole Soyinka, also began his work during this period.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Chinua Achebe, Published by Gale Group, 2010