The death of Chief M.K.O. Abiola in detention brought back the memory of the patriotic exploit of Tai Solarin (of blessed memory) in October 1974. Solarin, the ever conscientious social critic of immense repute wrote the famous pamphlet titled ‘The Beginning of The End’ to rally together all lovers of freedom in Nigeria. The pamphlet was Tai’s immediate reaction to the announcement made by Major-General Yakubu Gowon, the then military Head of State, that the proposed date of 1976 earlier earmarked for the handing-over of government to a civilian administration was no longer feasible. In the tradition of the Nigerian students at the time, there was a lethal response with demonstration denouncing Gowon’s military government for its corruption and intransigence to relinquish power after nine years in power. There were reports of death and injury of students in the hands of the trigger-happy Nigerian law enforcement agents sent to curtail the demonstrations.
The once popular GOWON [Go On With One Nigeria] overnight became a pariah. The easy-going crowd of Lagos were the first to give the signal that the honeymoon was over. The Lagosians had hitherto borne the inconveniences of being shunted out of the motorway as Gowon or any of his cohorts and family members journeyed to and from the airport in their endless travels. In those heady good old days, Gowon, as the reigning military monarch, had the habit of a circus master. He travelled first class at all times with every available siren blowing at full blast. At least you could count 48 cycle riders around his long impressive limousine.
The popular rumour in those days was that while Gowon was still in his bathtub, the first jeep carrying the bold signs ‘Road Closed’ would depart from Dodan Barracks. On good days, when Gowon finally emerges from his palace, the roads would have closed for about one hour. There were countless false alarms when the road would be re-opened without any sign of a journey. This was again at the time when major road works were going on all over Lagos. So it meant when the roads were eventually declared open, it would take another two to four hours to get things back to normal.
The pent-up frustration of many years was unleashed on Gowon by the Lagosians as they practically booed him off the road. They called him all sorts of abusive names as he passed by in his elaborate motorcade. As a matter of historical fact it was indeed the end of his reign. He barely lasted a couple of months more before his friends and enemies ganged up to send him packing. It was a classical example of a ruler who lost touch with his constituency because he allowed sycophants to clog up his senses with unrealistic tales.
The title of this essay borrows heavily from the sentiments that informed The Beginning of the End by Tai Solarin. At this moment in time, the situations of Nigeria have unfortunately regressed to The End of the End. This means it has reached a state of no return. It is either break or bend but the status quo has got to disappear forever. It is quite clear to all who care to use the common senses that Nigeria is again facing another epic moment in its short history. This is another time when the wisdom of keeping Nigeria together as a country is in great doubt.
Matters have again not been helped by the type of unitary system of government put in place first by the Arthur Richard’s Constitution of 1947 and then by the successive military governments since 1966. The question of whether there is a future for Nigeria as presently constituted and managed has again become more contentious since 1993 when the despotic government of Ibrahim Babangida unilaterally nullified the result of the only open and fair election ever conducted in Nigeria.
That election, brilliantly managed and conducted by Professor Humphrey Nwosu, by its fair outcome would have held a lot of promises for a new beginning to the people of Nigeria. Nigerians, by the result of that election, seemed to have come of age and seemed eager to learn to live together under a climate of freedom and openness as human beings. Nigerians seemed to have recognised and accepted their natural weaknesses and natural strengths. They seemed to have determined, despite these problems, to work together at overcoming all the natural fears and prejudices borne of cultural differences. They seemed to have realised that these fears were natural and are due to ignorance about each other. And Nigerians seemed to have acknowledged their common needs and interests with respect to the pursuits of basic human needs for happiness and good life.
To the dismay of everyone, those invisible and clandestinely constituted powers that have held Nigeria by the jugular vein since its amalgamation in 1914 decided that the entire people of Nigeria lacked wisdom. These men of the night seemed to believe that all Nigerians could not be trusted to make a right decision of such great importance. These obnoxious unknown elements, with a terse unsigned letter typed on a plain sheet of paper, decided to nullify the result of that election. That is supposed to be the end of the matter. And everybody in Nigeria was expected to accept the annulment with equanimity and of course with due deference to the divine wisdom of these hidden rulers of Nigeria.
The-powers-that-be have spoken and nobody dare raise a query. This is the nature of the ethnically divided and Mafia-like administered country to which every citizen is ceaselessly being called upon to defend her unity and uphold her honour and glory. This unity doctrine, the only political philosophy Nigeria possesses, is firmly encrypted in the national anthem, same in the national creed as well as in the national psyche. The unity of Nigeria not the equality, not the liberty and not the fairness of Nigerians is judged as an inalienable right and a must-have political commodity. Every government policy, every government programme and every government project is couched and geared towards this single aim – the unity of Nigeria.
Just like Yakubu Gowon, these hidden, faceless and unaccountable powerful individuals that have held guns to the heads of every Nigerian are so befuddled with the air of their inherited importance that they cannot see that the era of their shenanigans is over. They cannot see that the veil of ignorance has been removed from the eyes of the ever-trusting people of Nigeria. They are oblivious to the fact that Nigerians have been faithful these past 38 years but that they (the rulers) had time and time again taken Nigerians for granted. They are unmindful that Nigerians have been too trusting almost to the point of stupidity.
Unfortunately, these rulers have actually taken it for granted that Nigerians are indeed stupid. The rulers refused to acknowledge that Nigerians have given their souls and their everything to this accursed British creation in spite of all the odds stacked against them hoping that there will be positive changes along the way. The rulers could not appreciate all the sacrifices Nigerians have made in order to make this unholy contraption work. These so-called leaders continued to collaborate with their foreign and local masters and have wilfully and continually trampled on the wisdom and the faith of the small people.
The rulers seem to have sworn and are actually prepared and indeed very ready to ride and milk the willing Nigerians to death. Now the peoples who are hitherto called Nigerians have lost faith in anything called Nigeria. They have waited long enough for the creepy class of Nigerians who labelled themselves leaders – natural, unnatural, political, military, civic, etc. – to redeem themselves to no avail. They are demanding, for the first time in their lives, for freedom.
The word freedom everywhere in the world has signalled the beginning of a revolution. It is the alarm call that transforms a slave to a free person and a servant of another person to a master of one’s own. It is also the only intellectual and spiritual reality that has the power to give courage to all oppressed soul as they throw off the yoke of oppression to embrace the soothing comfort and living joy of an inalienable right to liberty. This is a dangerous omen for the fake leaders.
The signs are ominous and the result, if history will serve us right, can never be favourable to the renegade class who have been ridding on the back of the people’s ignorance. P.J. Proudhon in its treatise titled ‘What is Property: An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government’, writes, “The more ignorant man is, the more obedient he is, and the more absolute is his confidence in his guide…. At the moment that man inquires into the motives, which govern the will of the sovereign – at that moment man revolts. If he obeys no longer because the king commands but because the king demonstrates the wisdom of his commands, it may be said that henceforth he will recognise no authority and that he has become his own king.”1
The peoples of Nigeria even at the time under the colonial rule were invited to make contribution on the kind of government they would like to have. There was extensive consultation from the district/divisional levels to the provincial/regional levels. Every Nigerian was encouraged to contribute to the preparation of the 1951 Macpherson Constitution and particularly to the 1953-54 and 1957-58 constitutional conferences. What has been the experience of Nigerians since 1960? A clique of power-loving, power-driven, godless, wicked, selfish, myopic, vision-less people who are devoid of virtue or excellence have strangled the free will of the people until the people have been forced to turn around and are now prepared to fight back.
Of course, these god-forsaken immoral people should be scared. The French revolution was a good example of the nature of trends and ways the anger of the people could go when it finally boils over. Why can’t these treacherous leeches and so-called leaders learn from history? Why are they so vacuous, mentally lazy and unable to use their heads and hearts for glorious deeds? Why are they so obsessed with the collection and accumulation of mere perishable material treasures, which will be devoured in no time by moth and rusts, as advised by the holy books? Why?
There is no sane answer except every generation in a particular society seems to go through its own cycle of tutelage. It seems every human being goes through a learning period before it can secure and maintain growth and maturity. However, why is Africa seems to lag behind this historical development range, if the creation story that all persons in the world grew out of the same seed was true?
Anyway, on the Nigeria’s situation at this time in history, the people of Nigeria are now making a demand for freedom. How should they go about it? Is it a reasonable option? Can this be done in anyway without bloodshed and with less disruption to the present way of life? Is the present way of life worth defending anyway? Is Nigeria still a viable creation? Does Nigeria have a future? What is the cost – social, economic and political – of the endless fight of each ethnic nationality against fear of domination by another ethnic group? What is the cost of the ever-deepening vigilante attitude against other ethnic groups flowing from this fear of domination? Is it still a feasible option to insist that the people of Nigeria cannot have a good life or any life at all except as politically forced, wedged and hedged together in the way they have been this past 100 years?
The nature of the composition of tribes and ethnic groups that make up Nigeria has been its undoing from the moment of its creation. As part of the grand delusion, the political leaders who recognised this cancer coined the slogan, unity in diversity to cushion the pain and havoc the cancer was wrecking on the body polity. It is not out of place to wonder aloud and ask, whether the British colonial government, the creator of this chimera knew of this impediment. If the British knew of this impediment why did she insist that this independent and different nationalities should be forcefully married without given any serious thought to the consequences? As if the British colonial government give a damn about these consequences as long as it serves the national interests of Britain.
It is important to understand that the British colonial government had never hidden the fact that its interest in Nigeria was not in anyway geared primarily to the benefit of the peoples of this land. The peoples of the British colonies have always been seen and will always be seen as a means to an end. They were not the end of British interest and even after almost a century, this colonial philosophy has not changed. According to John E. Flint in ‘Nigeria: The Colonial Experience from 1880-1914’, he writes in his opening paragraph, “When the British began to extend colonial rule over Nigeria in 1880s, they had no thought of creating a colony that would one day become a nation-state.”2 Since then whenever the British government got involved in the Nigerian problem, it has never been and it will never be to protect the people of Nigeria but solely to protect its own national interest.
This British national interest which started with the need to “prevent France from obtaining control of the British palm-oil trade in the Niger delta”3 and as a defensive measure “designed simply to retain existing areas of British commercial predominance”4 has grown to encapsulate the only relationship Britain has ever developed with any of her empires. This is the outright brazen manner of a supremacist power with all the natural (if not divine) rights to embark on unwholesome, unregulated and uncaring exploitative spree of colony’s resources for the good of the motherland or the Crown.
This illegal contraption called Nigeria was not meant to have a future, it was a commercial entrepreneurial venture motivated by greed and later driven by circumstances of vain glorification of State power as captured in the name of the country – Great Britain. The first enemy to the design of British exploiters in West Africa was the hash climate plus a mosquito and tsetse fly infested land. These natural soldiers created specially for this purpose in Nigeria by The Divine Creator thwarted Great Britain’s permanent possessive intention of the land and of the people on it. Maybe, if not for this natural climatic and environmental Armed Territorial Security Forces, Nigeria could have been another North America or Australia where all the indigenous population were drastically culled to a negligible number to pave the way for the religious zealots and bandits from Europe.
The British colonial core philosophy was and still is ‘Save the King/Queen and screw the people’. The chess board game is a very good example of the reality of the English worldview where the pawns, the knights, the bishops, the rooks and even the queen are all expendable materials. The whole world, if England is allowed to have her way, even at the end of the twentieth century, is expected to revolve around the English Monarch. Today, the British interest in Nigeria has widened and it is diplomatically camouflaged under the promotion of global peace and international development.
However, the exploitative trade content of this relationship has not diminished, if anything, it has expanded. And so it has always been and shall always be that the interest of Britain is never going to be the same as the interest of Nigeria. As long as Britain has her cronies in charge of affairs in Nigeria this deceit will never come into the open. As far as Britain is concerned, even after 38 years of political independence, Nigeria is still seen as a British property. Therefore, like a hen placed under care any egg laid by the hen still belongs to the original owner of the hen. Nigeria is in care of the feudal lords who are in turn under the service and protection of Britain.
When Nigeria came into being as a country through the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates, the few humane thought received by the people of this land came mainly from the Christian missionaries. Particularly, it came from the freed slaves, who have become Christian missionaries, led by Bishop Ajai Crowther. The British government and the European business groups saw these missionaries as meddlers and a bunch of do-gooders who were thought to be clogging the wheel of trade and profit.
It was the missionaries who insisted that the education of the natives was important and must be accorded primary attention by the colonial government. As far as some of the Colonial Governors were concerned, this educational programme was seen as simply taken things too far. It seems they were aware that such exercise would open the minds of the native people to knowledge and wisdom and of course lead to the natural consequences which knowledge bestows. The ability to know what is right or what is wrong. This is in tune with P.J. Proudhun’s assertion that “in a given society, the authority of man over man is inversely proportional to the stage of intellectual development which that society has reached….”5
Unfortunately, the colonial government could not do anything to hold back this educational development in the Southern Province. This is due to the fact that the returning freed slaves who had been exposed to education in Freetown could not resist the challenge of sharing their literacy skills. Since they were motivated by their newly acquired Christian spirit of love and fellowship they were more than eager to forgive and to share their new found knowledge with the people who had earlier sold them into slavery. With such altruistic motive, there was little the white men in the Southern Province could do to stop them.
Moreover, the Southern Province was again fortunate to have a liberal minded Governor in the person of Sir William MacGregor (1894-1904). This Governor who was much hated by his colonial colleagues for adopting a pacific kind of indirect rule avoided the use of military force unlike his counterparts in the Northern Province.6 Moreover he offered genuine partnership to the educated Africans to participate in the administration of the province. The foundation of the Nigeria’s problem of today could therefore be traced to this important difference in the administrative style and the personality between the Colonial Governor of Northern Nigeria, Lord Lugard and the Colonial Governor of Southern Nigeria, Lord MacGregor.
Historians have documented some salient differences noticed between these two colonial governments in Nigeria. They discovered that the Southern Province Secretariat located in Lagos encouraged and allowed educated men to act as middlemen in merchandising or as employee of European firms. That it appointed capable Africans into the highest administrative posts in the Colonial Office. And that it allowed the Christian missionaries aided by the educated free slaves to proselyte among the natives and to build schools. They found that the reverse was the case in the Northern Province. John Flint in his historical accounts on Nigeria between 1889 and 1914 reported that, “The British system in Northern Nigeria indeed negated all the aspirations of the educated and Christian groups. In no other part of Nigeria was British pragmatism carried to such negative extremes,”7. What is this British pragmatic policy that Flint is talking about?
After the military conquest of the Sultan of Sokoto and the various other emirates in the North, the British colonialist realised that for economic reason they would not be able to afford the administrative cost of directly managing the huge land areas that had fallen under their control. They realised they needed aides to rule the extensive land mass earlier captured by brutal military expedition. Rather than take-over completely the whole civil administration, they restored partial political sovereignty to the traditional overlords or where they have been killed to their relatives after these frightened men had duly pledged, by signing spurious illegal and ill-worded treaties, total allegiance to the colonial white man as the new overall lord and master.
In earnest and as in all human endeavours, there was competition and rivalry between the colonial secretariats in the North and that in the South. The bone of contention can be found in Flint’s account; “The northern regime from its early years began to bid for dominance over the whole country.”8 Remember we are not talking of Hausa-Fulani men and Yoruba or Igbo men yet. This dominance issue is about the white men posted by Colonial Office in London to oversee the Crown possession in Nigeria. They were already plotting intrigues for dominance in 1914. We shall not over flog this issue of dominance yet but it is important to see where the poisoned chalice of the Nigeria’s problem was brewed.
Moreover, part of the pragmatic policy of the Northern Colonial Office was the policy aimed specifically to quarantine the people of Northern Nigeria away from western education and influence. Lord Lugard and his protégées argued under its Indirect Rule Administration principle that they did not want to destroy the “pre-existing stock” of native institutions or the power of the traditional rulers but to graft the European standards and methods to them.9 So the colonial government disallowed the southern educated Africans from living and teaching in the North. The Colonial government could not share the fervent believe of the educated Africans that the deliverance of other Africans from illiteracy, cultural superstitions and economic backwardness lies in opening the eyes and minds of the people to liberal education. These Africans seriously and sincerely believed they had been similarly liberated from ignorance and superstitions, the bane of Africa’s under development then and even now, by the power of education. The southerners were practically refused permission to proselyte or to teach in the north.
The Christian missionary schools were forbidden in the North except those opened by the Colonial office for the children and relations of the ruling traditional feudal rulers. Finally, biblical religious education was seriously disallowed in those schools. The Colonial office took great pains in vetting teachers employed from Britain to teach in these schools to ensure that they would comply with this shielding policy of the north from western influence.10 The blackout of the north was total and the Northern Colonial office had no qualm about it. In 1947, Awolowo was moved to sound a note of warning when he wrote in Path to Nigerian Freedom, “Southerners who go to the North to work or trade have to be segregated…. The seed for a future minority problem in the North has been sown by the Government. It will grow…. When the bitter harvest comes to be reaped, as surely it must, unless the present policy is changed, the British Government should bear the blame.”11
What is this traditional institution the British Colonial Government was so keen to protect? This is what John Flint said about it, apart from the fact that the Northern administration had been “a failure whether judged in terms of administrative efficiency or of economic development…Yet the northern administration displayed a vehement defensiveness, asserting that it alone had discovered the true principles of African administration.” He added, “In reality, the British had done little more than make themselves the overlords of an existing feudal system. This feudalism, being of a highly developed and strongly Islamic type known only to the Savanna belt of West Africa, was quite foreign to the rest of tropical Africa and had almost no relevance to the general principle of African administration.”12
This is the existing stock the colonial government praised to the high heavens as a miracle system. A feudal system that claimed and built its creed around godliness and holier-than-thou attitude particularly an overt behavioural conducts of piety. Its practitioners are against all principles of human dignity or liberty or civilised justice based on equality of all persons without sexual or religious discrimination. They have no patience with democracy and people’s participation or all the ideals the educated southerners were keen to share with all Nigerians irrespective of geographical location. However, what Flint failed to see in his analysis was the salient irrefutable fact that there was a kindred spirit between the Northern Nigeria feudal system and the British so called constitutional monarchy. These two systems of government were both built on bloody conquest, massacre and plunder of the innocents and on the patronage of pirates, mercenaries, secret agents or turncoats and assassins.
The idea of protecting Northern Nigeria from the ambition of the Southern educated Africans to share the light of enlightenment with their African brothers in the north of the country was callous and was born of bad faith. Even though the Colonialist rationalised this move as necessary to protect the culture of Northerners it had other ulterior political and economic motives. Awolowo seems to have hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “People of Southern Nigeria are not deceived as to British aim in the Northern part of Nigeria. It would appear that the Britain rulers say this to themselves: ‘We have made a mistake in the South by giving them too much freedom. As a result they are growing out of control. We will see to it that no such mistake is repeated in the North.’ To make assurance doubly sure the Government is doing everything possible to make it difficult for the enlightened Northerner to be contaminated by those in the South.”13
Why should a colonial government went to the extent of creating the seed of division, fear, hatred, enmity, suspicion and calumny in a country it forcefully established if there was no clandestine motive in the whole design from the beginning? This is the genesis of the Nigeria’s problem. It is easy to blame the British Government for the present woes of Nigeria, but that is not the purpose of this elucidation. It is merely to help us understand the cause of a special phenomenon, which is not peculiar to Nigeria but to all people in history who are being oppressed and being used as fodder to serve the whims of their oppressor.
In the state of primitive nature there is nothing wrong about this, but when a nation, a society, a man or a woman lays claim to enlightened civilisation and high culture, it is then that this inhuman atrocious practices become offensive. Again, when the oppressors used the power of their ill-acquired grand position, of their hypocritical religion, of their cunning higher intelligence or enlightenment to rationalise this indefensible practices, it is then that these deeds become practically unforgivable.
The matter of conscience – of knowing right from wrong – is supposed to be one of the great insights a man of learning and culture ought to have attained before he lays a claim to civilisation. It is not that the British government and her emissaries in the Colonial Office were bereft of the matter of conscience. It is, just as it was then and it is still today, that the British self-interest would always over ride any altruistic endeavour that would have allowed the colonies to develop in a way that would make them to become equal competitors in the skewed global economy that favours the already developed world.
At the turn of the twentieth century, with the ever growing enlightenment of the continent of Africa coming from the freed slaves who have tasted the forbidden fruit of knowledge together with their zealous crusade to reach out to the black world, these freed slaves gave the shock to the imperialist powers. The British government in turn decided that the areas of the empire that had not been infested with this cankerworm should be prevented as a matter of policy from the pack of these detested ‘rabble-rousers’.
This was how the Colonial Secretariat of Northern Nigeria became a vanguard for the protection of an archaic, wicked, oppressive and feudal system that had hitherto never been seen in black Africa and that was cleverly used as a veritable weapon against the supposedly ill-informed, half-educated, American-influenced ex-slaves who were seen to be bent on causing unnecessary confusion in this part of the King’s glorious empire. They found the answer to this intractable problem in Indirect Rule Administration.
It has often been glibly recorded as a Lord Lugard’s creation; this is of course a myth. The entire British political system from the time of William the Conqueror in 1066 to date is built on an Indirect Rule philosophy. Even, despite many efforts by erudite British philosophers through the ages to promote a change away from the oppressive monarchical absolutist political system, they only succeeded in scraping ‘the beast’ on the nose without any fundamental damage to which a simple political plastic surgery could not amend. They failed.
Indirect Rule in latter day Britain is now called Parliamentary Democracy. It is all a case of an elaborate cover up of the greatest inhuman system of inequality ever sustained for so long. Although, there is no denying that all concerned, particularly those who are benefiting from the archaic inhuman system, appreciate the fundamental flaw it carries. They are quite aware of its inherent abuse of wealth and power, its promotion and support for inequality and its clever removal and denial of genuine freedom to the larger population.
Thinkers spurned by the establishment either as a result of their blood ancestry linkage to the Crown or as a result of assimilation into the upper class echelon could be seen, even at the turn of a new millennium, defending this idolatrous system with a fervent hypocritical passion that goes beyond belief. There is no doubt in my mind that these privileged scholars all know that it is share deceit to hold on to this hypocritical position because most of them were students of philosophy, politics and economics from the prestigious Oxford or Cambridge Universities. These scholars, by their association with the works of great western thinkers, even of British nationals, all know of the inherent immorality, both from a Christian viewpoint and general ethical and philosophical principles, of the idea of setting up a person or a family as an object of adoration, reverence and worship. Yet they would argue that the British monarchical tradition is the best pragmatic political arrangement in the world.
Typically, the British establishment turned their noses at the American democracy for instance and at anybody who canvasses for real economic and political freedom in any part of the British Empire. There was a time when this kind of political activities were classified as heresy and treated as criminal treasonable offence by the imperial State authority. Thomas Paine was sentenced to death in absentia for his works on The Right of Man that made a passionate and sensible case for the liberty of all human beings. It was the Second World War that took the wind off the sail of British obduracy with respect to the wishes of the peoples of her empire for a right to self-determination.
It is therefore false to credit Lord Lugard with a system that had been in practice for almost a thousand years before Lugard set foot on the Nigeria soil. If there is any credit at all, it is to the effect that he applied an existing political practice effectively to achieve his own peculiar adjudged good aims for Nigeria. Whatever other good works Lugard did in and for Nigeria, he should be remembered as the man who succeeded in digging the great gulf of segregation, discrimination and reckless political partisanship in the body polity of Nigeria forever.
What Lord Lugard did in Nigeria has a lot in common with what Henrik Verwoerd did in South Africa. The apartheid philosophy and the indirect rule administration built around a divide and rule machinations were both from the same stock of a common belief. This is the conceited and unnatural faith in the supremacy of one man over another and the use of natural differences of either colour of skin or of language or of religion or of brutal inhuman power/force to construct a political ideology around which the political economy of a country can be erected.
This is the social and political minefield through which the southern educated Nigerians had to wade to make a case for Nigeria to be allowed self-rule so as to free their country and themselves from white supremacist political rule and white economic domination. The salubrious gain the natives of the empires made from the First and Second World Wars was the fact that the principle under which those wars were fought became the catalyst that hasten the defeat of the underlying philosophy around which empire doctrine was constructed.
The philosophy preached by John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Jean Rosseau, John Stuart Mills and others who have theorised about freedom, equality of man, rights of man, and contractual consent between the people and their rulers came to the forefront after the wars. The argument for upholding an empire on behalf of the native people became indefensible in the light of the fight against Adolf Hitler couched in the same refrain of the right to self determination by a nation and the right to resist any forceful territorial occupation by another nation.
The Colonial Office in Whitehall sensing the change in the mood of the world with respect to an out-of-fashion empire ownership quickly put in place a damage control mechanism all over the British Empire. In my random observation and tentative review of the colonies released as independent nations from 1947 to 1960s, it is found that all these countries show a common pattern of problem.
Considering the closeness and similarities of these problems, it is difficult to explain them off as mere coincidences. It was not difficult for the ever hard working British Colonial civil servants who had seen the political usefulness of a divide and rule strategy that enabled a handful of white civil servants to manage millions of native people in their various postings not to see its continued relevance even after independence of these countries, albeit with a remote control mechanism. The strategies designed and implemented across the British Empire to control the long-term damage of the independence fever could be summarised as follows:
First, the colonial civil servants ensured that as the wind of change was blowing across the world, they had to remain in control of political power long enough in order to secure all the gains of empire building and to prevent losing these gains to the enemies of the British Government. The enemies identified were those half-baked educated and ungrateful natives who, despite being given everything, – education, overseas scholarship, employment, and privileges to live in white man’s quarters, for instance – were waging wars of independence against their colonial benefactors. The design was therefore couched to ensure that whatever happened this group of so-called ingrates would never be allowed into the State Houses of the independent nations.
Through these clandestine designs, the core personalities and the moving forces in the nationalist struggle were sabotaged from winning elections and from controlling the political affairs of these countries at the final count. All students of international politics will be advised to keep an eye on the present Labour Government in Britain and study the pattern of the purported devolution of power to Scotland and Wales. The same trick that was used in the far away colonies is again been adopted in the neighbouring colonies close to home. The tricks are still the same. These are, the sabotaging of the people’s candidates, the manipulation of the selection or election processes to suit the manipulator who always know more than the people, the gerrymandering of the population to favour umpire’s choices etc. A leopard does not change its spot, even on its dying bed.
Second, the artificial division and differences among the people that have been nurtured through the years were made permanent by institutional arrangements and other policy measures. The strategy varied from country to country, but essentially it was to magnify and gerrymander the population census of the different groups and to load their favourites with fictitious numbers that they knew would make a difference to the outcome of national elections. They brought to the fore the religious differences of the people as part of the divide and rule strategies. The partitioning of India into two on the eve of British departure was a classic example. The strategy was repeated in very many different forms in all the other colonies. They promoted the adoption of the Westminster unitary form of parliamentary democracy during constitutional conferences using their stooges as mouth organs regardless of the impracticability of the system under a true democratic regime built on the principle of equal rights and not on inherited feudal rights.
Third, they planned not only to accord empty political independence but they ensured never to hand over the economic power to these emerging independent nations. In line with this intention, and as the independence dates were drawing near, they strengthened vigorously with capable white men the private sector participation in the native economy – banking, insurance, trade, commerce and the fictitious manufacturing industries that depended wholly on Britain for their industrial machinery, raw materials and technical experts.
Fourth, to make assurance doubly sure, they committed these countries to massive debts that was incurred for non-requested capital development projects through which these countries were forced to negotiate for financial assistance, technical aid and other like helps after their purported independence. Examples of such projects were railways, roads, and building structures like hospitals, schools and universities.
The University of Ibadan project for instance was “underestimated…by about 90 per cent”14 of the project cost. These additional costs fell on the new fledging Nigeria state to cover up. The reverberation of this supposedly unintended financial commitment led to massive students and lecturers disturbances in the 1960s at the university as a result of unmet expectations due to a lack of resources. According to John D. Hargreaves in The Idea of a Colonial University, “Like all aspects of colonial legacy, it contains serious problems for the inheritors.”15
As late as the 1990s, another good example is the Hong Kong Airport project that was based on the same political design. The plan for the construction of the airport was conceived on the eve of British departure from Hong Kong. The principal architects and all major contractors were drawn from Britain and, of course, the cost was borne by the citizens of Hong Kong who did not ask for the project.
Lastly, as the demand for independence reached a crescendo in each of these poor countries, the British Colonial Civil Servants created new political structures. They embarked on fundamental reforms of the existing institutions that had hitherto served the empire favourably well. They calculated and feared that, if the structures were left intact they could become veritable instruments in the hands of the nationalist for the unravelling of the elaborate House of Deceit built on the colonial sands.
In all the above they succeeded even beyond their wildest dreams. They gave the countries independence as the natives, mostly the empty loudmouths, demanded. They organised vigorous programmes of boundary adjustment, constitution drafting conferences, political reforms of government institutions and the purges of once erstwhile favoured collaborators but now deemed undesirables.
They conducted population censuses, arranged for elections to all the tiers of government, and conducted political transition processes in different forms depending on the calibre and intellectual status of the nationalists.
In every respect, the British Government achieved her main objective, which was to put into the State Houses of these countries nothing but their clones and puppets. The result of this landslide achievement was the fact that these countries though independent politically were all tightly tied to the political and economic apron strings of their former colonial rulers many years after political independence.
Nigeria as a country under focus here is a classic example of such countries that had the misfortune of British colonisation. After 38 years of independence from Britain, Nigeria still has its deformed artificial heart and other live wires attached to a generator surreptitiously hidden in the hands of British establishment or her protégées. It is easy to discount these observations with a wave of the hand. However, the fact remains that unless concerned Nigerians who are aware of the immense potential this country possesses understand the above crucial and fatal point, then they will for ever continue to waste their time, their lives, and their resources for nothing.
This is the evening time of Nigeria as coupled together by the British Colonial ruler. This British-Nigeria must die if Nigerian-Nigeria is ever going to live. The cankerworm, the moth, the cancer and the million other ailments it carries in its body had eating too deep into its political cells to give it any hope of survival. The sincere political doctors who are not motivated by the size of the fat cheques, which a prolonged sickness of the dying nation might bring into their bank accounts, are considering euthanasia. They are of the opinion that euthanasia will ease the suffering of this poor nation and particularly the insufferable agony of its dependants who have been physically, psychologically, economically, socially and spiritually traumatised as well as paralysed by the care and attention they have optimistically devoted to this sick country for the past 38 years.
The Abiola’s phenomenon of the June 12 saga is merely significant in the sense that it opened up vividly the festering wound of the political tumour Nigerians have tried so much to hide under the flamboyant but borrowed British political garment. Obafemi Awolowo in particular was one of the few sincere Nigerians who was aware of this fatal wound and who tried from 1947 to bring the presence of this ailment to the attention of all like-minded Nigerians to no avail.
Awolowo throughout his political life worked from a single script fundamentally rooted in justice for all. The most single important weakness that could be associated with Awolowo was his penchant to stand firmly on a course as soon as he saw the sense of it. He was a man who loved Nigeria and everything of Nigeria with great passion. He was highly learned because he worked hard at knowing. He was a genuine seeker of truth. He sought the truth about Nigeria and as soon as he found it he could not keep it to himself without sharing this knowledge. His many publications bear witnesses to this unique love and affection for the people of Nigeria.
Let me quickly explain my position before this writer is labelled an Awoist. This writer was never a political activist. But before now I enjoyed sharing and debating opinions like most armchair philosophers in Nigeria even though we lacked any theoretical foundation to underpin a position. But all the same, like most Nigerians, this writer seems to understand right and wrong at a plain simple common sense level. Like many Nigerians who are still not totally bent under the yoke of Nigeria’s intractable problems, this writer also seeks to understand the wherefore and the wherewithal of Nigeria’s political logjam. In the process I came across publications devoted to Africa and Nigeria in particular and my eyes were opened to some fundamental truth about my race, my country and her people. Awolowo’s books on Path to Nigerian Freedom and Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution among others were very revealing. These books brought in to focus a vivid enlightenment and a fruitful uncoloured variance to some of the issues on which I had been, hitherto, confused for so long.
Awolowo was the only ideologist Nigeria ever had. He based his whole life treatise on building a case for the minority population of Nigeria. This was the driving force that prevented him from given an unconditional support to the Republic of Biafra. Like every fair-minded person at the time, there was no one of conscience who was not appalled by the wrongs perpetrated by those involved in the coups of January and June 1966 and the pogrom of 1966 that led to the civil war from 1967-1970 in the country. Even after 30 years these dastardly acts are still too gruesome and too revolting to be repeated in detail for the civilised ears in this book. Yet, Awolowo could not afford to be pessimistic and to accept the fact that the Nigeria political experiment was impossibility. I believe it was the faith he had in the redeeming nature of man that compelled him to stick to Nigeria until his death.
Up to the last minute of the 1983 election, Awolowo believed he had some answers to the Nigeria political insurmountable problem but fate and the enemies of Nigeria who were more concerned about their own national interest refused to allow the opportunity this noble man, a natural gift of God to Nigeria at that time in history, deserved. If there are any people in Nigeria who were short-changed by the failure of Awolowo to run the affairs of the country, it was the people of the Western Region who he left behind after a glorious short service from 1954-1959 to pursue national politics. The nostalgia of that short memorable stewardship still lingers today. Just to imagine what it could have been if he had focused all his energy, skill and talent on that part of the country gives one a sweet feeling of pride and yet a great sense of loss.
Be that as it were, Nigeria has been held together so far by the concerted efforts of genuine patriots who were motivated by the need to protect the rights of ethnic minorities within its fold. These patriots knew that the major ethnic groups were prepared to swallow up the Biroms, the Efiks, the Gwaris, the Idomas, the Ijaws, the Katafs, the Ogonis, the Urhobos, etc. if given the chance. These minorities who are physically, culturally and psychologically surrounded almost to the point of annihilation by the mighty Hausa-Fulanis and Igbos were the singular factor that made Awolowo refuse to change his position on Nigeria. Lest we forget he campaigned tirelessly as Vice-Chairman in the Yakubu Gowon’s Government to get the boundary of Nigeria redrawn in order to assure political self-determination to all the identifiable nationalities or minority groups in the country. This is Awolowo’s legacy to Nigeria to which we shall all be grateful as the evening time of British-Nigeria closes.
This writer is not a pessimist but surely and truthfully would prefer to be seen as a realistic optimist to the core. To hold on to any sentimental and unfounded slogan of moving this country forward which is the common salvo of all advisers on Nigeria’s problem is a delusion that is far from reality. Abiolas phenomenon would have been a saving grace if it had been allowed to run its natural course. It could have patched this country together for another period of time hoping that along the way we would learn a lesson or two about the futility of our present ways and put a stop to our foolishness. But nay, Ibrahim Babangida and his hidden masters who were not courageous enough to show their faces in daylight decided that Nigeria could go on as it has done this past 38 years without an implosion. Let us wait and see.
Abiola’s death is the last straw that broke the camel’s back. It is a cervical spinal damage and the doctors have declared it can only be patched up but the patient can never walk again. If the patient is allowed to survive it will remain a cripple for life. Is that what the masses of Nigeria want? This is the hour of decision. There is no longer any time left to play politics. Prolonging the demise of this chimera much longer will only cause more pain and heartache to all concerned, so the doctors have advised.
Alas who will administer the fatal dose to this crippled bedridden chimera that is so far gone that it is continuously fallen in out of consciousness. The political doctors advised us to simply turn off the oxygen mask (alias black gold) and that the patient shall pass away quietly without any whimper in its comatose state.
This is the riddle of the Nigeria’s situation today. As a result of our faithlessness in a country that has so much to offer and so much promise to give for our collective well being, we have from its inception colluded to pillage, exploit, rob and steal her resources without any plan to replenish them for posterity. We have behaved as if it was the end of a free bazaar where every participant had to grab as much as he can carry for the bazaar would never come to town again. We have behaved as if we all have another country separately somewhere and so our piratical and pillaging activities were dictated by our primary love for this other country that we meant to develop at the expense of Nigeria.
Maybe we have been right all along. Instinctively, maybe we knew, or at least the street-wise smart ones among us knew, that Nigeria as constructed by the mischief making British could never work. This might explain the careless abandon with which we have so far addressed our problems. Nigerians seem to have singly and collectively – in thoughts and in deeds – became hopelessly dependent and totally parasitic on one single minority. We designed a political structure and economic policies that are fatally flawed in the sense that they are incapable of growth. A parasite can only go as far as its host allows it. Even when a parasite takes over its host completely it must still take care to ensure that the source of life of its host is not hampered.
Every wise parasite knows that the death of the host means its own death as well. As parasites we have become hopelessly useless and congenitally lazy to the extent that even all the natural features we had originally have been shed off or have died for lack of use. We are so sure of our total parasitic dependency that we began to create mini-parasites of ourselves believing that our host will carry the extra burden without given any consideration to her long suffering and patience. We even imprisoned our host to make sure it does not desert us. We stifled life out of all the children of our host hoping that by so doing we shall take over their God-given inheritance.
This is the riddle facing the Nigeria nation as we march with trepidation into the new millennium. A nation blooming with the effervescence of promising human talents in all spheres of endeavour as well as natural resources both on land and in land is now in great travail. From the north to the south of Nigeria and from the east to the west of this great land mass there are agonising wailing noises caused by suffering and inhuman hardship. This is the result of the simple fact that we are totally lacking in wisdom necessary for harnessing these gifts together for the good of all. The missing link in our human make-up and political constituency is LOVE. It is unfortunate that we could not understand that without love no relationship is possible.
The Christian Bible said, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for that is the Law and the Prophets”16 There is no reason why Nigeria should not have been great or be on the path to greatness if the different nationalities within its enfold understand this simple wisdom. We have spent all this time plotting evil against each other, deceiving each other and playing the wise and intelligent when we have been stupid and foolish. We have spent valuable time destroying the work of others while pretending to be building or assisting to build. But this is the evening time when the alarm bell has sounded and the cry has gone forth, “To your Tents, O! Nigerians”.
This is not a time for preachment. It is too late now. Let the ruling powers try to hold the next stage of development back and they will find that they can no longer succeed. The answer to a quick and final dissolution of this nonsense is very obvious but this is not the time to go into detail. This writer will just appeal to all Nigerians at this stage, to stop and think for a moment.
Is it still in the interest of those of us who are still marginally alive today or of our posterity to continue with this inglorious experiment?
How can we believe and revive confidence in ourselves?
Can we start now to learn to trust each other because in this lies our greatest weakness and strength as a nation?
Is it still possible to undo the evil of the past years?
Are we ready and prepared to face a Truth Commission openly and solitarily?
Are we willing to confess that indeed we have wronged ourselves?
Do we now recognise the enemy within the fold and the enemy outside the fold?
Are we courageous enough to stand up to the enemies now that we are wiser?
Do we have the fire of truth in our belly to feel morally outrage at the cause and cost of our ignorance, cowardice, enslavement and imprisonment?
Can we do the right thing even at this late hour?
The answer lies with each of us. But remember this is the eleventh hour and any delay may be too late.
SAM ABBD ISRAEL
19 July 1999
1. P.J. Proudhon, What is Property: An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government.
2. John E. Flint ‘Nigeria: The Colonial Experience from 1880-1914’ in Colonialism in Africa, 1870 – 1960. Volume 1 The History and Politics of Colonialism 1870 – 1914. Edited by L.H. Gann and Peter Duignan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1969. Pp. 220 – 260.
5. ibid. (P. J. Proudhon)
6. ibid. (John E. Flint)
9. Raymond Leslie Buell, ‘Section VII: Nigeria’ in The Native Problem in Africa. Vol. 1. New York: The Macmillan Co. 1928. Pp.717-718.
10. Andrew E. Barnes, ‘Some Fire Behind the Smoke: The Fraser Report and its Aftermath in Colonial Northern Nigeria ’ in Canadian Journal of African Studies, 31, No 2, 1997. Pp.197-228.
11. O. Awolowo, Path to Nigerian Freedom. 1947 p.52. 12. John Flint ‘Nigeria: The Colonial Experience from 1880-1914’ in Colonialism in Africa, 1870 – 1960. Volume 1 The History and Politics of Colonialism 1870 – 1914. Edited by L.H. Gann and Peter Duignan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1969. P.250
13. O. Awolowo, Path to Nigerian Freedom. 1947 p.52.
14. K. Mellanby, The Birth of Nigeria’s University. London, 1958 p.103. (Quoted from John D. Hargreaves, ‘The Idea of a Colonial University’ in African Affairs. P.36),
15. John D. Hargreaves, ‘The Idea of a Colonial University’ in African Affairs, vol. 72, No. 286, January 1973. Pp.26-36.
16. The Holy Bible, The New King James Version. New Testament, The Gospel According to Matthew Chapter 7 verse 12. p. 1383. Thomas Nelson. 1979.