The Second World War "projected Nigeria out of a colonial backwater into a modern world. Nigeria became suddenly important as a strategic link in the Allied Defence, the staging post for troops and supplies and the main producer of primary products that were essential for the conduct of war.
Moreover, Nigeria's size and population transformed her into a provider of indispensable troops for the campaign in the Indian sub-continent." But the war created great economic strains, manifested particularly in the decline in real wages and the drop in living standards. Rapid urbanisation that occurred in its wake led to the growth in the number of wage and salary earners and to its corollary, the spread of unionisation.
Political consciousness was aroused among Nigerians because of widespread mass demonstrations, marches, walk-outs, et cetera. Workers' demand for Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) led to the promulgation, in 1942, of the Order General Defence Regulation which declared strikes and lockouts as illegal. A new nationalist era dawned - an era of fusion between the labour movement and the political organisations such as the NCNC, and of cooperation between unions and populist-inclined politicians. It was also an era characterised by the fusion of economic grievances with galvanised political issues and actions, all of which shook the foundations of British rule in Nigeria.
The fusion of radical political leadership, radical trade unionism, tribal associations and the activism of the Nigerian Union of Students was consummated in 1943, when rallies and meetings were held to which political leaders of various persuasions were invited. This series of meetings led to the formation of the National Council of Nigeria and the Camerouns in 1944, later renamed National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) with Herbert Macaulay as President and Nnamdi Azikiwe as its Secretary. Although loose in structure and diffuse in goals, the NCNC provided lead- ership for the national cause through the adoption of an aggressive strategy against the colonial power.
The Second World War accelerated the decolonisation process through the devolution of power to Nigerians. This devolution of power created a vacuum and triggered off the formation of polit- ical parties to fill this vacuum. The struggle by the major ethnic groups to fill the vacuum accentuated the North-South dichotomy and redirected Nigerian nationalism along ethnic and regional lines. Ethnic rivalries led to the situation in which energies were directed at promoting regional rather than national unity.
Nigerian demands for self-government and independence had two discernible periods: the period of troubles from 1944 to 1957 and the period of diarchy or cooperation 1951-59. The period of troubles was characterised by the rise of militant party politics - particularly those of the NCNC, the Zikist Movement, Zikist National Vanguard and the Action Group (A.G.). The post-war economic strains precipitated the General Strike of 1945, the Burutu Strike of 1947, and the Enugu Colliery Strike which was brutally suppressed by the colonial administration. Nigerian politicians exploited every opportuni- ty offered by these disturbances for effective propaganda against the colonial regime, attacking the colonial record on economic and social welfare.
This period also coincided with a new constitutional proposal designed to promote unity and to secure greater Nigerian participation in governance. This constitution was drawn by Sir Bernard Bourdillon but was published by Sir Arthur Richards in 1944. Although the Richards Constitution promoted unity by bringing the North and the South together, it however, also promoted regionalism as regional councils tended to divide more than unite Nigeria.
The NCNC was critical of the Richards Constitution because of the absence of consultation with the Nigerian public prior to its promulgation, for the non-extension of the elective principles outside Lagos and Calabar, failure to accord Nigerians greater participation in government and in administration, and the inclusion of chiefs who were puppets of the Colonial administration as unofficial members to represent the interest of the Nigerian peoples. Consequently, the NCNC sent a delegation to the colonial office in London to seek revision of this Constitution but failed to achieve this goal. It relapsed into inactivity in 1947 and the Zikist movement filled the vacuum by organising demonstrations, strikes, boycotts on Empire Day, by advocating the non-payment of taxes, and generally publishing of anti-colonial pamphlets and leaflets. The Movement was declared illegal and was proscribed in 1950.