“Tomorrow people, where is your past? How long will you last? If there is no love in your heart, there will never be hope for you!”
.-Bob Nesta Marley
I had the privilege of attending the Lecture organized by the “Save Nigeria Group” which was delivered by Prof. Niyi Osundare. I felt the need to attend the function as a bonafide citizen of Nigeria. I had earlier in the year attended all the rallies held during the protest against the removal of fuel subsidy at Gani Fawehinmi Park, Ojota, Lagos and I saw the opportunity to continue along that line in the interest of the nation. I attended as a concerned citizen, hoping to take one or two bullet points and move on to other issues. The nagging question I came out of the conference with was “what could interest Nigerians more than the present state of the nation?” It is true that there are a lot of Nigerians who have overcome their money problems; one thing they all have in common with the majority who still exist on or below the average standard defined as the level of poverty is the fear of security of their lives and their property. The experience turned out to be so profound that the decent thing to do after the lecture was to take up my history books one more time and as much as possible re-trace the faulty and weak steps of Nigeria as a nation. I embarked on the exercise with the hope that if we can identify where we got it wrong, we would be able to gradually re-direct our steps in the direction of a possible solution.
In addition, the recent protest over the name change of University of Lagos gave me reason to conclude that the a lot of young Nigerians do not know much of the history of Nigeria; students of the university did not know what the man MKO stood and fought for in Nigeria and Africa. For the benefit of Nigerian adults born after the 90s, I strongly recommend that they spare a little time and read up what they can find on Nigerian history.
PART ONE: THE COLOURFUL MIX OF THE NIGERIAN PEOPLE
A brief outline of the history of Nigeria before the discovery of Nigeria by the earliest explorers who came from the Great Britain, Nigeria was made up of kingdoms, states and empires with colourful culture and traditions, keen sense of trade and commerce, meaningful worship and a thorough sense of administration and leadership.
The wealth of resources and the flourishing trans Atlantic slave trade exposed the great potentials that Britain and other European countries saw in Nigeria.
Our rich history books show that the three major regions were made up of kingdoms, states and empires that were not strangers to one another. They were more like siblings within a household who were familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of each other. They knew who the strongest among them was and they knew the ones that they conceded power to.
The East was made up of the Igbo, the Ibibio and Efik, the Kalabaris, the Ndonis and the Akwetes.
Prominent among the people of the east was the Nri kingdom (i.e. Nri-Igbo). The administration of the kingdom was not military in nature but the kingdom existed as a sphere of religious and political influence and was administered by a priest called the Eze-Nri who managed trade and diplomacy on behalf of the people and possessed divine authority in religious matters. Nri’s culture had permanently influenced all of Igbo culture, especially through religion and taboos; it brought new advanced concepts of the creator and of the universe in general. British colonialism as well as the Atlantic slave trade contributed to the decline of the Nri kingdom. Administration was not by military force but by ritual oath where people converted to the Nri kingdom spread to Idah and Igala regions. The British invasion forced the reigning Nri to renounce the ritual power of the religious cult known as the “Ikenga.” The Nri’s did not trade slaves, and they were not battle inclined but preferred interaction and transactions by ritual oath. The Igbo were predominantly farmers who excelled with yam, palm produce, nuts, etc.
The North was made up of the Hausa, the Fulani, the Nupe, the Kwararafa, the Kanuri, the Benue stock of Tivi and Idoma, etc.
The Hausa Empire made up of traders and warriors who endured assaults and invasions from the desert and also by the Fulani jihadists who eventually conquered the Hausa Empire. The Fulanis absorbed the Hausa kingdom and turned it to Hausa-Fulani Caliphate. They connected and accepted each other until the British in 1906 restored the Hausa dynasty in Daura.
The Fulanis are nomadic by nature; the Fulanis and the Hausas had a common enemy in the Songhai Empire which ruled Gobir by tyranny and despotism. As a result of the oppression, the Fulanis were forced to scatter all over northern Nigeria and into other African countries.
The Kanem people evolved to become the people of Bornu; the Bornu Empire spanned land spaces that spread into Chad, Niger and Cameroon. They fought fierce and bitter battles from internal conflicts, rebellions and invasions from the Bulala. Intermarriages between the Bornu and Kannembu people brought about the Kanuri nation. Following the annihilation of the fierce Sayfawa warriors of Sudan that subdued Kanem-Bornu Empire, the British re-absorbed Bornu kingdom into Nigeria as a territory of the Bornu Emirate.
Borgu Empire had its origins traced to Kisra, a town in Arabia; it comprised Bussa (the spiritual centre), Illo (the commercial centre) and Nikki (the political centre). These regions of Borgu were part British and part French and they related well with each other having respect for each other’s area of competence.
The Bida Emirate is a traditional state in Nigeria; it is the successor of the Nupe kingdom which had its headquarters at Bida, Niger State. The Etsu Nupe was the head of the state and leader of the people. The military might of the Nupe kingdom was quite a formidable force until the British Niger Company troops finally took Bida and established a puppet ruler and making Bida the first British colonial regime.
The Kwararafa kingdom comprised of tribes along the Benue rive in what is today known as eastern Nigeria. It was located on the southwest of the Bornu Empire and south of the Hausa states and to a large extent the kingdom was attacked, conquered and absorbed into their powerful neighbouring territories. The Kwararafas recognized the superiority of the Bornu kingdom; they were attacked and further reduced by the Fulani jihad of the Sokoto Caliphate.
The West comprised of the Yoruba, the Egba, the Ijebu, the Ilaje, etc., the Lagos people, the Awori, etc., the Edo, Esan, Ora, Afemai people, the Itshekiri, Urhobo, Ijaw, etc.
The Great Benin kingdom is located midway between the east and the west. The Benin kingdom was one of the last kingdoms to fall to the British Army owing to its military might and skills. The system of rule practiced in the kingdom under the rulership of Ogiso was military and royal protection in exchange of use of resources and implementation of taxes paid to the royal administrative centre. Culture and tradition were heterogeneous and grouped according to smaller units within the kingdom under the supervision of a local “Enogie” (Duke) appointed by the Oba. According to history, almost all the kingdoms in the west of Nigeria have their origins traced to the Benin kingdom.
There are many other tribes within Nigeria that are too many to mention in this discourse however available history books chronicle in great detail the exploits and splendor of the colourful mixture of the people of Nigeria.
The common denominator is the influence of the British Empire to secure, administer and colonize and much larger united Nigeria. History has also shown that had it not been for the intervention of the British, many Nigerian communities had already been absorbed into other countries. The British had the military might to ensure that all communities within the Nigerian territory were safely secured within one entity.
The mix of the people of Nigeria shows a nation that is complex and made of little countries that were greatly diversified in every possible way. The British recognized that ruling the people would be an uphill task however for economic reasons, the British went ahead and amalgamated the Northern and the Southern Nigerian territories.
PART TWO: INFLUENCE OF THE BRITISH
According to history, the boundaries of Nigeria were drawn as a result of trade and overseas territorial ambitions of some Western European powers in the nineteenth century. The territory was assigned to Britain. The name, Nigeria, was suggested in 1898 by Flora Shaw who later became Lady Lugard to designate the British Protectorate on the River Niger.
Adventures of early explorers like Mungo Park and the Lander brothers exposed Nigeria to European traders who were mainly focused on slave expeditions. By early nineteenth century, the obnoxious trade in slaves which had flourished in the region was in the process of being abolished. Consequently, European traders began to turn their attention to trading in palm produce, pepper, ivory and other articles which provided raw materials for European industries. The Europeans restricted their trading activities to Lagos and Delta ports of old Calabar, Brass and Bonny while sending out scouts further into the communities in the hope of improving trade opportunities. The British were particularly keen on claiming Lagos and the Yoruba hinterland and as soon as the opportunity was served by way of internal conflicts in the ruling houses of Lagos, they offered their support to Oba Akitoye in exchange for the total annexing of Lagos in 1861.
The interest of the British in Nigeria is primarily economic and remains economic. In 1898, then Major Fredrick D. Lugard formed the West African Frontier Force initially with 2,000 soldiers of whom 90% were northerners and a few men from the middle belt area. It is on this foundation that the Nigerian military is structured with majority of military intakes coming from the north.
When the Royal Niger Company's Charter was withdrawn in January 1900, the whole of Nigeria came under direct Colonial administration. The territory was then divided into:
(i) The Lagos Colony (1861 - 1960)
(ii) The Protectorate of Southern Nigeria (1900 - 1914)
(ii) The Protectorate of Northern Nigeria (1900 - 1914)
History also has it that when the three regions were created, certain amounts of money was released to each of the regions for initial administrative and other expenditure. It is recorded that under the guidance of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the west focused mainly on education and invested greatly in educating as many as were willing and a lot of educational institutions were commissioned within a very short time.
The British needed the Railway from the North to the Coast in the interest of British business. Amalgamation of the South (not of the people) became of crucial importance to British business interest; the conquest of the Benin Kingdom in 1896 paved way for the creation of the Southern Nigerian Protectorate on January 1, 1900. Sokoto was not conquered until 1903 and after that, the Lord Lugard (British) created the northern Nigerian protectorate. What is critical and important are the reasons Lugard gave in his dispatches which include:
In addition, Lugard’s dispatches to London led to the Amalgamation of the north and south in 1914.
Amalgamation should have reconciled and enlightened the two divisions including the people and provided a firm basis for establishing closer cultural, social, religious, and linguistic ties vital for true unity among the people. The seeds of suspicion sown between the north and the south birthed division, hatred, unhealthy rivalry, and pronounced disparity in development. But what the British amalgamated was the Administration of the North and South and not the people of the North and the South, which is one of the root causes of the problems of Nigeria and the Nigerians. It was the basis on which Nigeria got independence in 1960.
Following the departure of the British, the first major uprising in the north took place leaving many Nigerians dead and destitute; following the execution of Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi in 1966 and more violence in the north, the late Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu called for all Igbo in the north to return home and the Biafra republic was declared. The civil war broke out on July 6, 1967. There have been several other violent uprisings emanating from the north. With every season, these uprisings become more lethal and more sophisticated. There is no telling that the present Boko Haram group will be the last of violent insurgence groups terrorizing Nigerians in the northern part of Nigeria.
The question of whether we can co-exist in harmony as one nation is answered by the fact that “united we stand, divided we fall.” We not only fall, but are captured and enslaved. History showed that as smaller units many Nigerian kingdoms were sacked by hostile, superior armies and absorbed them into their own kingdoms. It took the intervention of the British Army to restore many of such small kingdoms to the body of Nigeria. Many Nigerian historians view this as in the interest of the selfish motives of the British; a bigger, stronger Nigeria is by far better than smaller fragments that are scattered all over the African continent.
PART THREE: THE MONSTER WE HAVE BEFORE US ALL
The “fox” has been gone for so many years unless we deliberately refuse to believe that it has gone. Nigerians are still blaming the British for what they consider to be injustice done by amalgamating the north and the south. Like I mentioned above, a big, strong and economically vibrant single nation paid the colonial administrators better than two countries especially with the French and the other European nations threatening to encroach on the Nigerian territory. Nigeria is not as large as a country like Egypt and inspite of tribal or religious conflict, Egypt remains one country.
A deeper study of the history of Nigeria will reveal a clearer picture of the ideology and the foundation of such ideology being practiced and institutionalized in northern Nigeria towards other Nigerians. Research revealed that the north requested for additional three years to enable them prepare for independence while the south were in a great rush to be rid of the British supremacy. The north did not invest much in education; while the south invested all, scratched and scraped to send their children to school in Europe and America, the north simply continued administration and politics at the level they were accustomed to.
The suspicion of the British and the north was that the south being richer and having more educated people who had become learned in the ways of the international legal system would have taken advantage of the north. The south resisted the British for much longer than the north and even when the army of Major Lugard seemed to have subdued the south, there were still very strong suggestions of resistance from the south. History has it that Major Lugard greatly loathed the people of the south of Nigeria and preferred the north and gave all the support he could to the north. The earliest political groups which emanated from the north focused mainly on the interest of the north and the objective of the northern elite was to consolidate and further strengthen the position of the north in its claim to supremacy in the Nigerian political scene. The southern politicians on the other hand focused on a united Nigeria in the spirit of nationalism.
That seed of suspicion sown in the very foundation of the political structure of Nigeria has grown and continues to flourish in the minds of the people of Nigeria. This gives room for exploitation by Europe and many other international powers that have seen the vast wealth of Nigeria which they realize has the potential to put Nigeria on the same pedestal with economic heavy weights of the world. That seed of suspicion has ensured that the north and the south never agree on any issue even in the interest of Nigeria.
That Nigeria will take a giant leap in the world economic scene if the north and south come together as one and work in harmony for the economic advancement of Nigeria is not news; what will be news is that many economies will collapse if the north and south unite in harmony in the interest of Nigeria.
Strangely one or two leaders who have led Nigeria along the line of true unity and nationalism were quickly cut short by promoters of discord between the north and the south of Nigeria. It is a very pathetic picture to look at; even more depressing is the pride and arrogance that Nigerians display in fanning this evil passion to drive Nigeria into the ground.
From the rich history of Nigeria, we see that Nigerians are people who worship the supreme deity as they identify Him; the British saw this among the Nri-Igbo people and they realized that in order to control the people, they had to get the then Eze to denounce the supremacy of their deity the “Ikenga.” Most Nigerians believe in the efficacy of their local deities and they know that they will not get away with making mockery of their deity but will willingly and easily defraud another even in the place of western worship. I always like to use the example of a time when the Oba Market in Benin went up in huge flames and in the typical predatory way of man when confronted by danger, people rushed in and looted other people’s property. The Oba of Benin being a no-nonsense King sent for the Aiyelala worshippers to invoke the wrath of the deity against anyone who had collected anything that did not belong to him or her. As soon as the announcement went round the kingdom, people started to return everything they had taken away and nothing was spared.
Nigerians know very well that the western religions they pretend to practice allows room for their excesses and they are taking full advantage of the situation. It was a crime for a man to take his own life as he will be accused of having desecrated the land and his family would be held accountable by the King, the Gods and the laws of the land but not only does a man take his own life, he even takes the life of others willfully and without remorse.
PART FOUR: RETRACING OUR STEPS
The Nigerian case is particularly sad especially when we take into consideration the fact that Nigeria is not the African country with the largest land mass or the most complicated political challenges. A country like Egypt is by far bigger than Nigeria and Egyptians have succeeded in recognizing Egypt as their own country and not just that of the northerners or the southerners or the easterners.
North or South, Nigeria is made of human beings who may have been taken advantage of in the past but it is high time, we came out of the darkness so that we move forward. Whatever injustice we believe has been done was done over 50 years ago; even things that are cast on stone can be demolished and re-constructed. Rwanda returned after a very bitter genocide and the country is flourishing today. Ghana came out of the darkness and has experienced a turn around so there is nothing that says that Nigeria must remain the way it was originally designed by the British.
Sadly we delude ourselves that Nigeria is a democratic republic but the truth is that Nigeria is practicing civil rule simple. The head of government is fond of taking unilateral decisions that fail to carry the people along. Corruption is stifling the government to the point of choking the life out of it.
The original three regions that were carved out by the British were further divided until we now have 36 states in a country that has made very little progress since the departure of the British. It is further disturbing to hear Nigerians clamouring for the creation of more states. It simply goes to show that we have failed to understand that the modern world government is established on big, strong and growing national force. Nigeria can be fragmentized to the point of meaninglessness because Nigerians hardly ever agree on a common issue.
There have been calls for a sovereign national conference and in the words of Dr. Beko Ransom-Kuti, “It is important to say that British rule was not forged on negotiations with Nigerians, but negotiations with ethnic nationalities. So also there was no "Nigerian position," but ethnic nationality positions. The 1960 independence, to our knowledge, was preceded by a curious finding conducted by Henry Willink supported by Gordon Hardow, Philip Mason, and JB Shearer which compiled a report on July 30 1958 now known as the Willink Commission of Enquiry. I advise the senators to read carefully the various positions of nationalities visited by the British agents in compiling their reports. It is of note that every nationality in the space called Nigeria had a position and there was not and will never be a 'Nigerian position' except that imposed by the few people in power.
That Willink report noted in its introduction: "The boundaries of the territory now known as Nigeria were first defined in 1907. The word Nigeria was then 20 years old the unity and indeed the separate existence of Nigeria and their concepts are of recent growth". It should be noted that the 1953 Conference that preceded Willink report, the attendants of the conference went as 'ethnic' representatives and the conference recommended that Nigeria should be a federation of three regions. So all along, ethnic nationalities have been the hallmark and essence of Nigeria. It is instructive that the years preceding 1960 and particularly since 1966 when unitarism was introduced, Nigeria has not known peace but, war, coups, and extreme poverty.”
Politicians have failed to agree to the convening of this conference however, it has been mentioned time and again as the solution to the many problems of the Nigerian unity, peace and continued existence as one entity. No matter how long the SNC is delayed, it will still be convened.
Once again, let us all be reminded that this is the only country where Nigerians are allowed to exist freely; it is home to Nigerians and Nigerians have no other place to call home except this land. We must take interest in the governance of Nigeria by getting actively involved and not just be spectators or critics of the excesses of an insensitive lot of politicians. We must cease to envy the luck of corrupt politicians and actively shun them for being corrupt and unpatriotic; as often as we can, let us make it known to them that we know that they are corruptly enriching themselves on the resources of the people.
We must each believe that it is our duty and responsibility to nurture Nigeria; if we continue to loot and plunder resources intended for the development of the land, there will be nothing left for future generations of Nigerians.
We must rise above the level of seeing ourselves as members of our tiny kingdoms, empires, fiefdoms, etc and begin to see ourselves of the larger entity named Nigeria and be totally committed to her growth and upliftment.
We must inculcate in ourselves and as many Nigerians as possible the spirit of being merciful to Nigeria and showing her some love.