HL Deb 20 May 1953 vol 182 cc653-5

My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands on the Order Paper in the name of my noble friend Lord Ogmore.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement on the constitutional issue which has arisen in Nigeria, involving, among other things, the resignation of certain Nigerian Ministers.]


My Lords, at the last Meeting of the House of Representatives in March, a Private Member's Motion was tabled urging that the House should accept self-government in 1956 as a primary political objective. Before the debate on this Motion, the Council of Ministers had decided by a majority that members of the Government should abstain from speaking or voting upon it. One Central Minister from the Western Region resigned before the Motion came before the House. During the debate a representative of the Northern Region moved that the discussion be adjourned. This was accepted, whereupon the remaining three Central Ministers from the Western Region resigned from the Council of Ministers and left the House, together with most of the Members from the Western and Eastern Regions. The Ministers who have resigned have not yet been replaced, but action is being taken as provided in the Constitution in an attempt to fill the vacancies.

The Governor of Nigeria has recently visited London to report on the situation and my right honourable friend the Minister of State was able, during his recent visit to the Territory, to hear at first hand, the views of representatives of all three Regions. As noble Lords will observe, the situation is both complicated and delicate, but my right honourable friend—or, indeed, my right honourable friend the Minister of State—hopes to be able to make a statement in another place to-morrow.


I am grateful to the noble Earl for his full reply. May I ask whether he can make any statement about the riots which have taken place in Kano, arising out of the political differences which the noble Earl has mentioned in reply to the Question put to him by my noble friend?


Yes: I can make a statement about the rioting which occurred recently in Nigeria and which, as the noble Earl will appreciate, is a separate and distinct problem from the original Question. Serious rioting, the exact origins of which have not yet been clearly established, broke out at Kano on May 16, after the Native Authority had cancelled all permits for political meetings, in view of prevailing tension. The rioting was largely confined to the strangers' quarter outside the city walls and did not spread to other parts of the Region. Originally, the main participants in the riots appear to have been lawless hooligans, but the fighting soon took on an inter-tribal character, with Northerners fighting Southerners. Some of the rioters were equipped with firearms.

Following a curfew on May 16 the fighting died down, but broke out anew on the following day. Substantial reinforcements of police and troops were flown to Kano that day, and a state of emergency was proclaimed throughout the whole Region the following day, May 18. My latest information is that the situation is now well in hand, and the opposing factions have been separated by a barbed wire barrier. Casualties among the rioters, according to latest reports, total 43 killed and 204 injured. In addition, three Native Authority police have been injured. No troops have been used in action so far. Information is not available at present to show whether there has been significant damage to property. I feel sure the House will join with me in deploring this savage outbreak and in enjoining restraint on all political parties and groups in Nigeria, in order that an opportunity may be given to repair the damage done to Nigerian unity by this useless violence.


My Lords, I am sure that we all agree with the sentiments which the noble Earl has uttered. I think this is a case in which we might consider whether a debate would not be desirable—indeed, I imagine that Her Majesty's Government may be glad of an opportunity of making quite plain where they stand on this matter. Perhaps it can be discussed through the usual channels and, if it is thought desirable, we might have a debate on this topic.


My Lords, I shall be very happy to arrange that. Presumably the debate would have to take place after the Whitsuntide Recess.