HC Deb 20 May 1953 vol 515 cc2082-5

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

80. Mrs. WHITE

To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies what information he has about the recent disturbances at Kano; and if he is satisfied that proper arrangements are made for the holding of meetings by persons who do not necessarily share the views of the ruling authorities.

The Minister of State for Colonial Affairs (Mr. Henry Hopkinson)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and the permission of the House, I will now answer Question No. 80.

Serious rioting, the exact origins of which are not yet clearly established, broke out at Kano on 16th May, 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 16th May 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 Region the following day, the 18th. 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 whether there has been significant damage to property. I am sure that 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.

As regards the second part of the Question, I would refer the hon. Lady to the answer given by my right hon. Friend on 18th March to the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies). But I should add that the Emergency Regulations made on 18th May apply inter alia to meetings and processions.

Mrs. White

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether any special police precautions were taken before Sunday? Since notice of this meeting had been given and the meeting was cancelled and Kano is a well-known centre of communal dispute, I should like to know whether any special police precautions were taken in a situation which was likely to be troublesome. Secondly, as allegations are being made by the Action Group, who sent me a very long cable within the last half hour, that workers within the native administration were armed and took part in these riots, will the right hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary to see that an independent inquiry is made into the circumstances?

Mr. Hopkinson

I have no information about special police precautions, but I have no doubt that the Lieutenant-Governor, who is extremely competent and who knows the situation there very well, will take all the necessary measures. With regard to the second part of that supplementary question, I have no information at the present time and I think that I had better await a further report before promising anything definite in the way of an inquiry.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Whilst agreeing at once with the Minister that we all deplore these riots and hope that there will be no repetition of them, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman that there should be a full inquiry into the immediate circumstances, particularly into the arrangements which are made before a meeting? Would the right hon. Gentleman find out whether it would be possible for the Governor to make an appeal, with which we would all like to be associated, to all leaders of parties in Nigeria at a time of political controversy to join together in appealing to their supporters to allow meetings to proceed peacefully without regrettable incidents of this kind? Do Her Majesty's Government propose at an early date to make a statement on the constitutional position and the arguments about it?

Mr. Hopkinson

I will certainly make inquiries about police arrangements and inform the House as soon as I can. As to the constitutional issue, of course there is no doubt whatever that these events had their origin in political troubles and dissensions which we so much regret and which came to a head in March. I am hoping that as a result of my own visits there and the subsequent meetings of the two Southern Houses—the meeting of the Northern House is to take place today— and of the inquiries which have been going on, we shall be able to make a full statement of the intentions of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the constitutional issue in Nigeria before we rise for the Whitsun Recess.

Mr. Griffiths

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to see that an appeal is made to all political leaders to ensure that when they hold meetings the rival supporters do not come together?

Mr. Hopkinson


Mr. Tilney

Even though the recent riots tend to accelerate the centrifugal feelings of the three regions, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the immense importance economically of keeping the three regions together and not letting them Balkanise themselves?

Mr. Hopkinson

I am fully aware of all these matters and hope to cover them in my statement.

Mr. Hobson

Is the Minister satisfied that there is police protection for the Moslem majority in the North?

Mr. Hopkinson

There are 17 million people in the North of whom 13 million are Moslems.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

Will the right hon. Gentleman make not merely a Departmental inquiry but a very thorough, penetrating inquiry in view of the loss of life and certain very disturbing circumstances such as that the Lieutenant-Governor was warned five days before these riots and that members of the national administrative staff there had been given special leave so that they might attack a meeting which was being held?

Mr. Hopkinson

As soon as we have further information on these matters I have undertaken to inform the House, and I shall certainly do so. I am not aware of the fact that members of the administration were given special leave.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

I have had very definite information.

Mr. Alport

In view of the fact that Her Majesty's Government maintain strict impartiality in these matters, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the ex parte statements that have been made in various quarters of this House are not given more weight than they deserve?

Sir H. Williams

On a point of order. We have now exceeded Question Time by 35 minutes. Can we have the Ballot?

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his assistance.

Mr. Dugdale

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman one simple question? Can he tell us how many police there are actually available now in Kano and district and whether he is satisfied that the number is adequate?

Mr. Hopkinson

I cannot say exactly how many police are there, but there are also troops who have been flown in and we are satisfied that the number is at present sufficient.