November 16, 1960

On this day, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Dr. Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe as the first indigenous Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria’s Armed Forces. It was a day of triple honours: his 56th birthday anniversary (born on November 1904), his inauguration as Governor-General and his appointment as a Privy to the Queen’s Council. He took over from James Robertson.

Held at Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos, the inauguration event witnessed very important dignitaries like the Prime-Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Chief Akintola, the Chief Justice of the Federation, Adetokunbo Ademola and a host of others. After he had taken his Oath of Office administered by Justice Adetokunbo Ademola, the new Governor General mounted the podium to deliver his inaugural speech which he titled ‘Respect for Human Dignity’.

He started the inaugural speech by welcoming and appreciating the dignitaries and the large crowd who came to witness the historic occasion, the he delved into other areas. He said:

“It is with humility mingled with joy that I thank this grand concourse of patriots and friends of Nigeria for congregating here, today, on the occasion of my inauguration as the first African Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of the Federation of Nigeria.

I was appointed to this post of high honour by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, on the advice of the Prime Minister of Nigeria, to succeed my predecessor in office, that accomplished colonial administrator, Sir James Robertson, G.C.M.G, G.C.V.O.

This mighty audience comprises of eminent men and women drawn from all the Regions of Nigeria and different parts of Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. We have in this august assemblage representatives of heads of states and governments, paramount rulers and chieftains, statesmen and politicians, nationalists, and freedom fighters, university administrators and professors, trade union leaders and ex-servicemen, local government heads and civil servants, moulders of public opinion in addition to professional men and women in different walks of life, including a select group of invitees who represent various organizations which are interested in Africa and in the orderly progress of our country towards national autonomy.

I’m indeed happy that I count on such an array of well-wishers at home and abroad because the attainment of political independence by our country involved complications which are both national and international, and these require sympathetic and experienced friends to guide us in our honest effort to build a united nation which would be worthy of the respect and collaboration of the comity of nations.

Perhaps it would not be irrelevant for me to call your attention to the fact that in the political history of contemporary Africa, this is the second time that a person of African descent has been inducted into the office of Governor-General. The first occasion was in November, 1940, when General de Gaulle appointed Felix Eboue, a native Cayenne, French Guiana, in the Carribean, to be Governor-General of Former French Equitorial Africa, which has now evolved into the Republics of Chad, Gabon, Brazzaville Congo and the Central African Republic.”

In the chequered history of our nation, this is the second time that a person of African descent had the distinction to assume a gubernatorial post. On 8th July, 1960, Sir Adesoji Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife, was sworn in as the Governor of the Western Region……..”

The Governor-General speech also included some political history of the transition to representative democracy before focusing on the themes of human rights and dignity. In addition, he called on other Africans across the continent to join in liberating efforts. Referring to several white settler regimes “as minorities with great political power” in various parts of Africa, Azikiwe warned that “it is only a matter of time, when the independent African States will come into their own and plan to rescue their kith and kin from this social degradation. He also discussed the changed role of the governor-general as a result of independence and the importance of the rule of law in the movement from colonialism to independence. According to Azikiwe, “What remained for us to do as a country is to dedicate our lives anew to the fascinating task of nation-building. The past is gone with all its bitterness and rancour and recriminations. The future is before us and great events await the leadership of the wise and brave.”

In this expansive mood, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe took the occasion of his inauguration as Governor-General to appeal to his former rivals to join with him to ‘bind the nation’s wound and heal the breaches of the past’.

On the same day, he also became the first Nigerian named to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. The inauguration was of historic interest because it would be the first time in our national history when a person of African descent would be assuming the high office of Head of State in Nigeria, as representative of Her Majesty the Queen, Head of the Commonwealth.

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