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Author Genesis of the struggle for one Nigeria  (Read 189 times)

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Offline Charles Dickson

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Genesis of the struggle for one Nigeria
« on: July 03, 2020, 04:44:26 PM »
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  • Genesis of the struggle for one Nigeria
    By Jide Osuntokun

    In Path to Nigerian Freedom,  Obafemi Awolowo (Faber, London 1947) said there were no Nigerians as there were French or Germans and that the country was a mere “geographical expression” parroting the way prince  Klemens Wenzel Napomuk Lothar Metternich-Winneburg zu Bellstein, the Austro- Hungarian  Foreign Minister From 1809 and chancellor from 1821 until 1848  derided the Italians  agitating for the creation of Italy out of the amorphous Austro- Hungarian empire. The Italy of their imagination however became a reality in 1861.  Awolowo’s scepticism was again echoed by no less a person than the only Nigerian Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka in the late 1990s when Nigeria was living under the jack boots of General Sani Abacha. Nigeria, the territories around the valleys of the Niger and Benue rivers was christened Nigeria in the 1890s by Flora Shaw, Sir Fredrick Lugard’s  girl friend who later became the wife of the first Governor- General of Nigeria after the two halves of the country and the Colony of Lagos were merged together to form a large expanse of territory as a protectorate under the British crown.

    At the emergence of this important and promising country by size and population, the “Nigerians “were virtually absent from the table where the feast was being served. With the exception of a few educated people described by the late Professor Ayankanmi Ayandele  as “deluded hybrids “(Ayandele: The Educated Elite in the Nigerian Society,  University of Ibadan Press 1974) few were aware of being in a new country. The Emir Of Kano  Sarkin Abbas and the Alaafin of Oyo, Gbadegesin Ladigbolu brought into the Nigerian Council to represent “native” interest  and  opinion and who could not communicate with one another were pieces of curio to entertain the British officials and Nana Dore an Itshekiri merchant, with smattering knowledge of English, who Lugard co-opted into the Nigerian Council entertained everyone  in the council since the only thing he always said was” I concur”.  The point I am making is that no deliberate effort was made to excite the interest of Nigerians at the formative stages of the development of the country.

    In the distant past and in their myths of origins, of course myth is not history, there were contacts among the Nigerian peoples. Civilization came into Hausa land from the “East” from where the mythical and eponymous ancestor of the Hausa States Bayajjidah came to Daura, killed the snake that was bothering the people and married the Queen of Daura and fathered the so-called seven Hausa states. Pre-Islamic Hausa land experienced the influence if not power of the Jukun of Wukari who also influenced the peoples in the Benue valley, the Bauchi and Jos plateaus and down to the Cross River valley. The Kanuri influence on pre- and post-Islamic Hausa land was profound. Islam and horses came into Hausa land from Borno and these two factors facilitated the emergence of states in Hausa land. The Kanuri also had “joking relations” with the Oyo empire which got horses from them and these horses were critical to wars of movement responsible for the expansion of the empire. Oyo had consanguineous relations with the Hausa state of Gobir and with the Nupe. People in the Oyo empire traded in Kolanuts and  grains  with the Hausa and  bought horses from Hausa land for hundreds of years  before 1800 and the Nupe people migrated in large numbers to as far as . One of the most powerful Alaafin of Oyo, Sango, had a Nupe mother. The Benin and Oyo dynasties shared a common origin in Oduduwa of Ile -Ife. The Benin empire extended to Eastern Yoruba land and western Igbo land. Large parts of northern Igbo land were under Igala political and cultural influence while the dynasty of the Itshekiri which wielded a lot of influence and commercial overlordship over larger ethnic groups like the Urhobo and Ijaw (IZON) in the Niger Delta had a Benin origin. The point I am making is that Nigerian people were not total strangers to one another. They of course did not belong to a common polity; they were separate from one another and no one state had overarching authority over the Nigerian peoples. The Nigeria imposed by the British was a strange imposition. People continued to see themselves as Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Urhobo and others of the over 300 or more clusters of languages and tribal tongues in which people communicated with themselves or related with one another as ethnic groups. Their horizons did not go beyond their city principalities, emirates or kingdoms. Many years later and by the 19th century, the overlordship of the Fulani Sokoto “caliphate” in Hausa land was grudgingly accepted. In fact, the British did more to build the Sokoto caliphate than the Fulani because the caliphate was on the verge when the British came. This overlordship of the Sokoto caliphate did not include the vast area of the middle belt of Nigeria. In the South of Nigeria, the two sisterly empires of Benin and Oyo did not encompass the entire area. The small ethnic groups of the Ibibio Ekoi, Ijaw, Urhobo and large Igbo group were segmented into clans and villages with very limited political horizons. Ethnic identity did not develop until much later in the first decades of the 20th century when pan Yoruba, pan Igbo, pan Hausa and others began to grow and as this crystallized, the pan Nigeria feeling was yet to develop. Nigerianness was an outside perception for a long time and it remained in the dreams of a few educated people on the coast. Even at that, these budding Nigerians knew very little of the country. Sir Hugh Clifford the successor to Sir Fredrick Lugard In 1920 dismissed the notion of common Nigerian nationality and that some of the lawyers in Lagos calling for constitutional changes to usher in independence would be embarrassed if they were to be taken to their primitive compatriots in Abakaliki and left there without the long protective hand of the colonial administration. What can be said up to the 1930s is that the concept of being a Nigerian was still a mere idea that had not sunk into the minds of the Nigerian people.

     
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    The railways built by Sir Percy Girouard, a Canadian railway builder, when he was governor of northern Nigeria (1907-1909) no doubt opened up the country to commerce. With commerce came movement of people from one part of the country to the other. Nigerians were recruited to work on the trains as drivers and artisans. Most of these were mission educated people. Missionary enterprise had created a new class of educated Africans who were working as clerks in European firms and businesses on the coast and as agents in the hinterland. The Christian missions were however restricted to the southern part of the country on the grounds of not annoying Muslim emirs of the north of the country.  Lugard had decided that for security reasons it would not be wise to allow Christian evangelization of northern Nigeria. He actually felt many of the Christian missionaries in the country were demonstrating more enthusiasm than wisdom. The country was large and there were few British officials available for the work of administration in the tropics. It was therefore out  of enlightened self-interest that the British decided to rule the  vast north through the administrative structure already in existence in the emirate and to freeze them in time with little modifications to remove apparently objectionable practices to  British  mores and tradition. Because of this policy and in order to prevent any contamination from southern Nigerians who had gone to work as clerks and railway workers and messengers in northern colonial administration, they were prevented from living in the northern cities (Birane) and were confined to places outside the towns known as Sabongaris or strangers settlements or new towns. Same policy applied to northern traders who came to the south. Thus, began the history of two Nigerians deliberately fostered by the British who kept them apart from each other. This was of course a deliberate policy to prevent consciousness of a common citizenship or a sense of oneness or national feeling. Over time, there developed vested interest in keeping Northern and Southern  Nigerians apart to the point where  Sir Hugh Clifford, the Governor General said in 1920 that if somehow, Nigerians disappeared from Nigeria, civil war will break out between the British administrations in the North and South. For many years after this comment, the increasing dichotomy between the north and the south continued to fester. Even after independence, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the premier of northern Nigeria publicly stated that his policy was to employ where there were no northerners, first Britons, then Asians and lastly southerners on contract to hold the job until there were northerners ready for the jobs. To an outsider, Sir Ahmadu Bello may appear not nationalistic but he was a realist who felt his first remit was the protection of northern interest in competition with the much more educationally advanced southerners. But this policy reinforced the yawning gap in nationalist feelings in the country between northerners and southerners.


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    Genesis of the struggle for one Nigeria
    « on: July 03, 2020, 04:44:26 PM »
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