The occasion of the 100th anniversary of Frederick Lugard’s amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria has reopened discussions about whether that action was a monumental error – one which has led to the entrapment within the same country of ethnicities that would otherwise never have been in union with one another.
There is no question that the amalgamation of 1914 was intended to benefit the British. Its goal was solely to reduce colonial administration costs by consolidating the two civil service operations of the Northern and Southern protectorates into one. Frederick Lugard, the architect of the amalgamation was an unapologetic advocate of colonial grandeur and a fervent believer in British Imperialism. Lugard served as a colonial administrator in Nigeria, Hong Kong, and Uganda – spreading his imperialist ideas and dutifully serving his Queen wherever he went. Like most of the Colonial actors of that period, Lugard was insultingly paternalistic. In his book the “The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa,” Lugard likened the “virtues and defects of this race-type (Africans)” to those of “attractive Children.”
If there were any benefits that would accrue to the new Nigerians, those gains would be merely incidental. To attempt to interpret Lugard’s action in any other way will not be supported by the facts.
However, the fact that the amalgamation was not instituted with the interest of Nigerians at heart does not imply that there was nothing about amalgamation that could benefit the inhabitants of the newly formed nation that became known as Nigeria. Was there anything about the amalgamation of 1914 that enhanced any movements towards unity that Nigerians were themselves already working towards? Were there any attempts by the peoples of the lands now known as Nigeria, to forge unions – through peaceful engagement or conquest – with each other prior to Lugard’s actions?
Nigeria made sense to the British for the three primary reasons that motivate all expansionist conquests. Firstly, the Nigerian nation offered lands that were rich in minerals, superbly arable and fit for agriculture and animal husbandry; rivers and oceans that teemed with aquatic bounties. Secondly, the Nigerian nation offered inland waterways and unfettered access to seas that allowed for the movement of persons and goods. Thirdly, Nigeria offered an abundance of hardworking and enterprising people who would transform the factors of production with which Nigeria was abundantly blessed, into products and services that could be taxed.
The North had ample land and mineral resources. Spanning three vegetation types – the Sahel, Sudan and guinea savannah – the North’s lands could sustain a diverse variety of crops. Grains, cereals, cotton and legumes could be farmed in the Sahel and Sudan Savannah regions; Yams and fruit crops were especially suited to the guinea savannah. The extensive grasslands of the North, and its dry, low humidity climate were excellent for cattle rearing. The South had land that was particularly suited to the farming of yams, cassava and oil palms. Its forests offered an abundance of timber and jute, and its lands were especially conducive to growing cash crops like Cocoa. The South also had an abundance of coal – a fuel necessary for providing the energy to be used for transportation and for production.
While the North offered lands, minerals and people, it had no access to the oceans. While the South had an abundant of enterprising citizens, it did not have the diversity of lands and climes that the North offered.
By amalgamating the Northern and Southern protectorates, Lugard could consolidate the disparate benefits that the two protectorates offered. By consolidating the colonial civil service into one and reducing administrative costs, Lugard was able to obtain what modern productivity experts would call synergies – benefits that provide higher gains than would have been obtained by a simple addition of the benefits offered by the sum of the parts.
What Lugard and the British saw in Nigeria over a century ago has not changed. If anything, in the intervening century, Nigeria has become a much more viable proposition. It turns out that the North does not only have Tin and Columbite, but its lands also contain enormous reserves of Iron ore, Tantalite (the source of tantalum – a major component of capacitors used in cell phones, laptops, DVD players, TV sets, Medical equipment, etc.), Talc, Gypsum, Gold, Kaolin, Lead, Zinc, and Gemstones. The South, it has since been discovered, has an abundance of Oil and Gas, Bitumen and Gold, in addition to Coal. Apart from Oil and Gas, most of these mineral resources remain largely untapped and underutilized.
While it is proper to credit Lugard with the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates, it is wrong to ascribe to Lugard the original idea of Nigerian unification. Long before Frederick Lugard stepped foot in Nigeria, Nigerians had looked across the Twin Rivers – the Niger and Benue – and imagined the unification of the tribes on either sides of the divide. Lugard was a century away from setting foot in Nigeria when Dan Fodio launched a Jihad in 1804 which was aimed amongst other things at extending Hausa Fulani hegemony across all of Nigeria. About 400 years before the Dan Fodio Jihad of the 1800s, the Yoruba had occupied Nupe in the heart of the Middle Belt in a wave of expansion of the Oyo Empire. Yoruba mythology suggests that the deified Yoruba King Sango, son of Oranmiyan, was born to a Nupe Princess.
While the Igbo were historically a largely republican people, who spurned empire building, their cultural and economic influence extended well beyond their South Eastern enclave to reach the Southern extremities of Nigeria. Like other Nigerian tribes, the Igbo also have a story of origin that includes stories of migration from the Upper Egypt region of Northern Africa. Ethnic admixture, cultural exchange, trans-border migrations of people and products, has long been a part of the DNA of the people that inhabit the land called Nigeria. All of these facts make a strong case that the original idea for the possibility of interchange, admixture, and unity of the peoples of the Nigerian nation was initiated historically, by Nigerians themselves – sometimes through trade, but also by conquest.
Lugard’s amalgamation therefore was no more than a convenient fast-tracking of a project that Nigerians had themselves set in motion over 500 years earlier. By the time of the amalgamation, Nigeria was probably well on its way to unification through conquest by the Hausa Fulani. Dan Fodio’s Jihad had already claimed all of the core North, and large swathes of the Nigerian middle Belt – including Nupe land, Auchi in the Benin Empire; Ilorin, the Kogi highlands and Old Oyo in the Oyo Empire. The truncation of that possible historical pathway by the British implies that we will never know what Nigeria could have been, had Dan Fodio’s army swept onwards to the Sea. We will also never know how far the Igbo, the Yoruba, the Ijaw, the Nupe, and other groups would have gotten in their quest to extend their reaches beyond their frontiers.
To speak of the amalgamation as the “accident of 1914” is to hold the view that there were no plausible geopolitical considerations that could have led to the emergence of the Nigerian nation in its present form. History is clear in its verdict that Nigeria’s constituent nationalities have long had expansionist aims that would have ultimately led to the unification of Nigeria.
Nigeria was, and remains a viable proposition. Nigeria’s lands remain arable and superbly fit for agriculture. Its inland and coastal waters offer rich potential for aquaculture. Since Lugard’s time, its population has grown almost tenfold from an estimated 17 million people in 1914 to about 160 million – increasingly literate, and extremely creative, energetic and entrepreneurial people. In the 100 years since Lugard’s amalgamation, the riches in Nigeria’s earth and the numbers and dynamism of its people, have exploded. Its potential is more immense, than Lugard could have ever imagined.
Nigeria’s tragedy is that its people, particularly its leaders, have not been able to turn the potentials offered by the amalgamation of 1914 into enduring benefits. The amalgamation brought Nigeria’s constituent nationalities into a melting pot that was intended to distil its disparate peoples into one united country. Nigerians have so far been unable to birth a more united nation out of the crucible of amalgamation. That failure has nothing to do with Lugard, or with the amalgamation. It is primarily a failure of Nigeria’s leaders – especially the triumvirate that led Nigeria to independence. For all their brilliance and erudition, none of those three – Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and Azikiwe – can be called a father of the nation. They did more for their tribes than they ever did for Nigeria. They were all sadly incapable of forming a nation. At the end of their two decade control of Nigeria’s politics from 1946 to 1966, these men had managed to create a country whose inhabitants identified themselves first as members of their regions and ethnicities, before they were citizens of Nigeria. It must be conceded that the three leaders of the Nigerian nation created fully functional and effective regional governments. The period of their leadership of their various regions has been unrivalled since, in terms of the real growth engendered in schools, public health facilities, public infrastructure, and economic development.
As Nigeria enters into its second centennial, the question that still lingers in every mind is whether the Nigerian nation will make it. Will this marriage survive? There are two answers to that question. If Nigeria continues along its current path, where charlatans and ethnic jingoists jostle for power and place their interests above that of the nation; Nigeria will die, if not a sudden death, then a slow, painful death that will include bloodshed and internecine strife. However, if leaders who are genuine in their intentions and nationalistic in their outlook emerge, and find a way to win the confidence of the Nigerian people, a strong and virile Nigeria will yet emerge.
The challenge of nation building and the capacity to achieve true unity is best exemplified by the South African nation and its timeless hero, Nelson Mandela. The majority black and colored people of South Africa were victims of the racist policy of Apartheid for most of the 20th century. It is easy to forget that Nelson Mandela was sent to jail, for his fight against Apartheid, and for his struggles on behalf of the black and colored people of South Africa. After his release in 1990, Mandela began his service for South Africa. He championed forgiveness as a national principle, and pushed for the new South Africa to be racially inclusive – a true rainbow nation. Mandela became a champion for the rights of the minority whites. It was not a popular position to take, and there were many black South Africans who vilified him, and accused him of selling out. The task of leadership is however not one that always takes the path of public adulation and praise. The Mandela that was jailed in 1963 was a leader of black South Africa. The Mandela that died in December 2013 was the father of a rainbow nation. Nigeria needs leaders in the mold of Mandela – selfless men and women of clear vision and strong will.
Divided as we might imagine ourselves to be, our differences pale in comparison with nations like South Africa and the United States. We must learn from the examples that those nations offer, how lessons from a painful past, can be used to build a more perfect union. We might be Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Ijaw and Ibibio – but we are all black and brown sons and daughters of Africa. We have none of the racial complexities of nations like South Africa and the United States. We might complain about the dominance by certain groups of our national life, however, no Nigerian ethnicity has been systematically denied its humanity and consigned to second class citizenship through laws and policies instituted by the State.
In the new world order in which we live, where global conflicts are no longer ideological but based on religious cleavages and value systems, Nigeria more than any other nation on earth, offers the world a natural social experiment for how nations must address the new challenge of our times – the so called “Clash of Civilizations.” With its near 50:50 split along religious lines, its diversity of ethnicities and fledgling democracy, Nigeria is an object lesson in nation building.
The amalgamation of 1914 was no mistake. Here in Nigeria, we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate the workability of the African dream of unification. What other nation in all of Africa combines within its polity, all of the contradictory factors that plagues modern day Africa. Feudalism exists side by side with an emergent democratic culture. Superstition and religious fatalism inhabits the same space with an emergent technological modernization. The Nigerian state stacks Traditionalism versus modernism; Community versus individualism. The Nigerian experiment is also the global black experiment. Black people everywhere need a success story from the continent. South Africa, despite its impressive technological and economic returns cannot claim the pride of place that Nigeria occupies in the black sub-conscious. The world is rooting for Nigeria to succeed. As the world’s largest back nation, Nigeria’s fate – its progress or the lack thereof, will determine not just how the nation is viewed, but how black people everywhere are regarded.
As we enter into our 2nd century as a nation, there are a number of small gains that we can celebrate. Faulted as our democracy is, we have managed not one, but two successful democratic transitions. We have shed blood for this union in a brutal Civil War. We have demonstrated in Western Nigeria that Islam and Christianity can survive and thrive in the same space – a lesson that the world, and the rest of the country, would do well to learn. We have laid to rest the myth that Nigerian leadership is not accessible to minority ethnicities. We simply need to demonstrate that Nigeria’s leaders can work for the good of all Nigerians, and to define for ourselves the terms under which we, Nigeria’s peoples, will engage with one another.
For one hundred years, we have managed to move this socio-political experiment forward, even though it has tottered on the brink of collapse at times. Faulted as the Nigerian experiment is, it has blessed the world with poets, authors, jurists, doctors, scientists, diplomats, athletes, footballers; it has brought an end to fratricidal wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Darfur, Cote D’Ivoire and Congo, and spear headed regional and continental growth. Nigeria can yet be salvaged. What needs to be done is to address the structural faults that the union presently has, and then to forge ahead with the urgent task of catching up with the rest of a world that has continued to move ahead, in leaps and bounds.