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Amalgamation: When Will Lord Lugard Rest in Peace?

Amalgamation was a contingency of history. Nigeria was, and still is, a contraption of the incompatibles. Frederick Lugard was the lord of the confusion. The likes of Prof. Richard Olaniyan and Dr. Kayode Fayemi who are theorizing on amalgamation and the national question, are constructionists engineering a change that may appear complex. Aside from his major crime-converging or amalgamating ‘the strange assorted’ into the Nigerian state, Lord Lugard’s other offence was to commit a historical sin, the kind of sin that will be difficult to forgive and forget. Nay, his sin was to fall into the trap of history and historians whose major preoccupation is the persecution and over-reporting of historical offenders. Men of evil and errors like Hitler and Lugard can hardly rest in peace because historians like Profs Olaniyan and Akin Alao will keep reminding them in their graves, of their past evil and blunders. What blunder did Lord Lugard commit? Let’s hear Olaniyan and Alao in their re-packaged book: The Amalgamation and Its Enemies: “As the first governor of Northern protectorate of Nigeria, Sir Frederick Lugard failed in the development of the economic potentials of the North. He became too excited, fascinated and obsessed with the means (indirect rule and power) at the expense of the end (an economically viable Northern Nigeria). When he therefore proposed the amalgamation of the two protectorates, he probably wanted to conceal his failure and inadequacies…” Olaniyan and Alao’s imperial judgement must have been influenced by what Antrobus wrote about Lugard: “Sir F. Lugard has many good qualities. He has plenty of goals, he is full of ideas and he is not afraid of taking responsibility. But he is not a prudent or farseeing administrator, his schemes are not well thought out and he has more than once involved us in heavier expenditure than contemplated”. I know that the historian’s main responsibility is to commence his investigation from reasons for an action and causes of an event, I submit humbly that Olaniyan’s generalist approach to the Lugardian blunder was conceptually inappropriate. Accusing a man, a dead man for that matter, of covering up his “failure and inadequacies” with an idea he thought was in the best interest of his colonial office, and the people of Nigeria, without taking into cognizance some “vast impersonal forces” that might have compelled his action, was incorrect. This is why I am inclined to agree with Prof. Segun Gbadegesin’s argument when he wrote that “there are three possible approaches to the evaluation of the act of amalgamation.” He submits: “First, it is not self-contradictory for one person to hold both verdicts. One may renounce the act of colonization and amalgamation as a morally reprehensible deed because it violates the principle of justice. On the other hand, one may look at the outcome of the amalgamation in terms of the overall good it supposedly produces, from a utilitarian perspective, and consider it an act of GOD”. Second, one may see amalgamation as well as its outcome as an act of GOD. From a fatalistic point of view (what will be will be), if GOD did not want it, Lugard and his British constabulary would not overpower the forces of resistance in the north and south. Whatever GOD allows to happen is good, no matter our human understanding. Therefore, the amalgamation was not only an act of GOD, it was also good. This is the spirit of theodicy. But it may also be argued that the outcome of the amalgamation was good for the peoples of the north and south. And since GOD is the author of whatever is good, it was an act of GOD. This is his third approach. One may see first, the amalgamation in itself as a morally heinous deed for the reason stated above, and second, its consequences for the people of the north and the south as terribly bad. In this case, the motivation for and the outcome of amalgamation is morally obnoxious, whatever small mercies proceed therefrom. I maintain that the issue of amalgamation transcends what history alone can explain except it is willing to extend the frontiers of its search and discourse to the philosophical realm. Agreed Lugard was the actor of the amalgamation and should be made to carry the responsibility of its “unworkability”, what role do we assign the “vast impersonal forces” that possibly influenced Lugard’s action? It must be understood that important as the role of the great man is in the historical process, this role is just one of the several factors facilitating historical process. And any attempt to interprete the historical process exclusively on the basis of the declared motives or intentions of the principal historical actors or on the basis of options made by these actors, or from the actors, deriving from these actions, is doomed to futility. Again, Lugard is morally permitted to justify or defend his action by blaming it on “determinism” which imposes limitations on man and his actions. If we assume, rightly or wrongly, that actors’ choices and therefore, actions, are pre-determined and therefore such actors are exonerated from their actions, why do we still haunt Lugard in his grave for a mistake that was “pre-determined”? Trying to look at determinism and other possibilities that compelled Lugard’s action is not to automatically exclude him, as a historical actor, from the consequences of his action, but to explain that, with determinism, events that happened as they have happened could not have happened differently unless something in the cause or causes have also been different. This is why some writers believe that amalgamation was a contingency of history that has placed a moral and patriotic burden on us all in ensuring that we do not negate it. The challenge we have as a nation and as a people, is to accept our present predicament as a condition deserving of a clinical resolution. The discourse on national question which is one of the burdens imposed on us by amalgamation is one way of creating the energy and mental capacity for an enduring resolution. The beautiful thing about Olaniyan’s book is that it attempts a comprehensive recording of the debate on national question, capturing both the sensible and the ridiculous, with a view to reflecting the totality of the arguments from north to south. This forms the concluding chapter of this must-have book which contains a heavy dose of intellectual capsules. If Olaniyan’s narratives and investigation of amalgamation are tangentially theoretical, Kayode Fayemi’s treatment of the National Question in his book, Regaining the Legacy, is understandably technical. Exhibiting his expertise in theoretical constructs, Fayemi called for a collective reflection on the future of the nation and how we can evolve the institutional mechanisms to manage our diversity and difference. He posits: “Since the dawn of independence, Nigeria has been driven by numerous dissensions and crises that have exacerbated the fault-lines of our plural, multi-ethnic society where diverse groups were yoked together by our erstwhile colonial warlords, the British, for their own administrative and pecuniary interests”. This is the big difference between the historian and the political scientist. While Olaniyan was talking about “Lugard’s failure and inadequacies” and how the mistake was made, Fayemi was talking about “reflecting on the future”. But Fayemi’s reflection on the future was made easy because the historian, Olaniyan, was able to provide him the “historical cause(s)” for our diversity and difference. To reinforce this, Fayemi explains: “…the status of the National Question and which troubles the national consciousness is traceable to the structural deficits and imbalances evolving from the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria to from a unified colony by colonial Governor-general, Lord Lugard in 1914”. Another historian Prof. Siyan Oyeweso, the ubiquitous intellectual of histo-politico vocation, is contemplating using his birthday to do a “reflection” on the illusions and the realities of the amalgamation. The intervention, which is his own contribution to nation-building, is to generate additional materials for the literature on amalgamation and raise the bar of national discourse especially on the national question. Oyeweso’s intervention captivates me for certain reasons. First, it will be stimulating to know the interpretive context in which “illusions” and “realities” will be enclosured. Is the discourse going to adopt a traditional approach to interpreting illusion as “a historical mishap or a failed vision”, in which case, Lord Lugard will be persecuted as usual? Or is it going to look at “illusion” as a philosophical concept which becomes paralysed after a head-on collision with geographical and political realities? Then what are these realities? Fayemi attempts a political description: “These imbalances have deepened and become entrenched to the point of enabling certain groups within the emergent state to persistently thrive and hoard benefits to the exclusion of others from what ought to be a national communion. This has transpired, even when the privileged groups did not necessarily possess the material base or the merit to justify the privileged advantage”. I have deliberately labeled Fayemi’s description “political” because his articulation of “realities” seems at variance with another reality; which is that the phrase “certain groups” contains some ambiguities. Is he talking about the political class and its subsidiaries or is he talking about ethnic nationalities and their militias or is he talking about the social stratification whereby the decadent discontents feel excluded from the nation’s Commonwealth by the privileged groups? Whatever it is, the reality of our political situation is that every group, every ethnic nationality and every social group can justify abandonment, exclusion, marginalization and neglect. The way our political system is structured provides justification for perpetual complaint, acrimony and agitation. This position is also supported by Fayemi when he attributes the reasons for the national question to the “faulty political architecture of the country passed down from colonial rule and deepened by a self-serving and rapacious postcolonial elite, which not only privatized the state for personal gains, perpetrated bad governance and played up divisions to sustain its base, but promoted an authoritarian ethos that enabled poverty, violence and crime”. I am not too sure if this paper was written before or after Fayemi had regained the ‘Ekiti’ legacy, but I want to believe that now that he too has joined the league of “postcolonial elite” or “postcolonial ruling class”, he may have a rethink on this statement which looks more like an indictment of the elite and the ruling class which he belongs. Though Prof. Olaniyan has never held any political office nor has he ever been the governor of any State like Fayemi, this does not exclude him from sharing in the blame for the failure of the elite to rectify “the mistake of 1914”. I agree that he is playing his role in nation-building by his active participation in the development of the human mind as a university teacher and judging by the quality of books he churns out. But he may reduce the level of his frustration about the nonchalance of the political class to nation-building if he considers active political involvement especially in the backroom where he can operationalise what he has been theorizing. The political space no longer condones intellectual enterprise that lacks palpable practicality. My final appeal to our egg-heads is that in the course of showing ourselves as thorough professionals, we must refrain from judgements that tend to excoriate the dead, for the simple reason that they are handicapped by eternal silence which prevents them from justifying their actions or explaining their inaction. The advantage the living have over the dead should not be abused to the point of “flogging a dead man” who has no right of reply. Nothing could be more wicked than this. As a historian myself, I know history deals with the past actions of historical actors but must we lose our sense of decency and morality because we want to report the past? We can avoid judgements in reporting the past especially when there is no evidence to vilify the dead. Unlike Hitler whose actions led to the deaths of millions of people, Lugard was a man whose “mistake” led to the birth of a great nation with potential for global prominence. The elite, or the political class, should be held responsible for failing to rectify this “mistake” because it was, and still is, convenient for them to keep exploiting it to achieve both political and economic expediency. Nigerians should allow Lugard to rest in peace. The mistake he made was rectifiable and correctable. If our leaders lack the political will to correct “the mistake of 1914” we the people can force them to come up with “the correction of 2014” if we are not comfortable co-existing together as a nation and as a people. This can be the national answer to the national question. Why keep blaming the dead for what the living can correct?

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