Nigeria News

Nigerian history and the morbid obsession with national unity (1)

File: CENTENARY—From right: Former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon; former President Shehu Shagari; former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar and President Goodluck Jonathan at the Nigeria Centenary flag-off ceremony in Abuja, Monday. Photo: Abayomi Adeshida. Sometime ago, the federal government announced that it would celebrate the centenary of Nigeria. When I read that in the newspapers, my mind went to work.
The first thing that occurred to me is to objectively consider whether the amalgamation process that produced Nigeria is worth celebrating, judging by the country’s chequered history and the billions that would be spent (or wasted) to mark the occasion. Again, I felt that it is better that those in power right now, from the President down to local government councillors, should opt for a very low key celebration and use the opportunity to reflect deeply on the myriad of challenges confronting our country rather than waste taxpayer’s money on frivolities in the name of centenary celebration.
Interestingly, just as there are reasonable grounds for modest celebration, one can easily give good reasons why the federal government should shelve its plans on this issue. Yet, whether it is worthwhile to celebrate or not depends on honest answers to two questions. One, to what extent has Nigerian leaders actualised the conviction of our pioneer nationalists who firmly believed that Nigeria would in no distant future become the pride of black people?
The second question arises if the answer given to the first question is negative, namely, should the current geopolitical architectonic of Nigeria be retained or radically restructured along confederalist lines? All the heads of state that have ruled the country, from Yakubu Gowon to Goodluck E. Jonathan, believe strongly that the present geopolitical structure is good and should be retained.
That is why in their speeches they proclaim, with haughty confidence and braggadocio unwarranted by the centrifugal forces tending to tear the country apart, that “the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable.”
The assertion that the geopolitical structure we have now is sacrosanct and must not be recalibrated means that no matter the level of resentment, opprobrium, injustice, oppression and anomalies in the federal republic of Nigeria, government will use every means necessary, including violence and force, to defend the country’s territorial integrity. I think that time has come for Nigerians to begin questioning the presumption that we must continue to accept Nigeria the way it is presently configured no matter the situation. In this connection, the best way to ascertain whether it is wise or unwise to insist that Nigeria as presently constituted must continue inspite of all odds is to examine the merits and demerits of the present arrangement.
In otherwords, we must reappraise some of the defining moments in the country’s evolution towards nationhood and consider whether a different political arrangement such as confederacy would have allowed different ethnic nationalities or culture-areas to make more progress than they have made under the current quasi-federal system. The best place to begin our inquiry is the very point when Nigeria began, that is in 1914.
Of course, the amalgamation did not occur in a geopolitical and economic vacuum. For a deep appreciation of the dialectical forces at play in the process, it is necessary to situate the amalgamation and dynamics of British imperialism within the broad canvas of the scramble and partition of Africa by European powers worked out in the Berlin conference of 1884-85. The imperialist design for balkanising and dominating Africa was set in motion when the European powers shared the continent among themselves without consulting the autochthonous peoples or respecting the boundaries that demarcated different kingdoms and culture-areas which had existed for many centuries before colonisation.
Powerful European countries notably Britain, France, and Germany used manipulation, coercion and violence to implement decisions reached at the conference. In the early years of the twentieth century, British colonialists decided to unite and control centrally the administrative units they created in the areas that later became Nigeria.
Of course, indigenous communities resisted tooth and nail the British: it took almost half a century of military bombardment by British expeditionary forces to subdue and bring them under colonial control. Anyone with even a casual knowledge of Nigerian history knows that Nigeria was created in 1914 by the arch British imperialist, Lord Fredrick Lugard, when he amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates. As usual, Lugard neither consulted the indigenous peoples he brought together before implementing the programme nor considered their interests and developmental aspirations in the process. The amalgamation was motivated by two major reasons.
One, it facilitated and consolidated efficient exploitation of both the human and natural resources of the areas conquered between 1861 when the colony of Lagos was annexed and 1918 when Igbo heartland was completely subdued. Two, it allowed Northern Nigeria, which was economically and educationally backward relative to the South, to benefit from the latter. According to one competent historian, “the protectorate of Northern Nigeria was so impoverished that it had to be run with a subsidy by the government of the colony and protectorate of Southern Nigeria.”
Therefore, the amalgamation benefited both British imperialism and the protectorate of Northern Nigeria. The interest of Southern Nigeria did not figure in the colonial calculus of Lugard and his cohorts. What followed the amalgamation were half-hearted attempts by colonial administrators to create a modern nation-state out of the pluralistic colonial amalgam under the tutelage of Britain. Thus, although the 1914 arrangement provided the Northern and Southern protectorates a common political platform in the form of Indirect Rule, the system did not operate uniformly throughout the country.
In April 1, 1939, the governor, Bernard Bourdillon, bifurcated Southern Nigeria into Eastern and Western provinces, on the ground that the lower Niger provided a natural administrative line demarcating the peoples of Southern Nigeria. Indirect Rule reflects the strategic thinking of British colonial administrators eager to minimise administrative costs by tapping into entrenched traditional hierarchies of authority. Hence, they tried hard to adapt the model to native administrations in the North, East and West.
Indirect Rule was very successful in Northern Nigeria, which had already evolved a highly centralised emirate system as a long-term consequence of the jihadist exploits of Usman Dan Fodio and his successors in the nineteenth century. In Western Nigeria, the system was partially successful. Lugard erroneously believed that Yoruba kingdoms headed by Obas who traditionally owed some allegiance to the Alafin of Oyo were of comparative status as the Northern emirates under the Sultan of Sokoto.
In reality, the Alafin did not wield as much power as the Sultan. Moreover, efforts to extend Indirect Rule to Egbaland failed because the British government had already signed a treaty in 1893 granting a quasi-independent status to Abeokuta where an influential class of western-educated elite had emerged which was suspicious of British intentions. The resentment that followed imposition of the system there led to Egba riots in 1918. Indirect Rule was unsuccessful in Eastern Nigeria, because it was an inappropriate system of governance for a people that are used to complex systems of acephalous republicanism in micro political units.
To be continued.

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