The Willink Minority Commission and minority rights in Nigeria
Ethnic and minority rights issues coloured early nationalist politics and thus shaped Nigeria’s decolonization. Ethnic criteria determined the evolution of political parties in the 1950s, thereby complicating the polarization of national and regional politics. Expediency compelled the regional parties to harmonize and jointly dialogue with the British colonial authorities over constitutional reforms that culminated in independence. In spite of this development, regional divergences persisted. From another perspective, leaders of minority ethnic groups agitated for their own different states with the imminence of independence. In the alternative, they demanded for constitutional safeguards as guarantees against their potential domination by majority ethnic groups in an independent Nigeria. In 1957, the colonial government convoked a commission to ascertain the facts, and thereupon, recommend measures of allaying the fears of minority ethnic groups in Nigeria. The popular idea among the minorities of creating separate states was rejected by the Willink Minority Commission in its report. In its place, it recommended that a “Bill of Rights” patterned along the European Convention on Human Rights be incorporated into the independence constitution as a way of guaranteeing minority rights through national integration. Consequently, copious provisions to protect some basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Nigerians were enshrined in the independence constitution. This article examines the debates about minority rights in the work of the Willink Commission and the circumstances leading to the enactment of human rights provisions in the Nigerian independence constitution.
Keywords: Willink Minority Commission, Minority rights, Nigeria, Human rights, National integration