In The Morning of British-Nigeria…
The nature of the composition of tribes and ethnic groups, which make up Nigeria, has been her 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 they knew, why did they insist that these proud, independent and different nations should be forcefully married without any serious thought given to the consequences? – As if it matters to the colonial government.
It is important to understand that the British colonial government has never hidden the fact that its interest in Nigeria was not in anyway salubrious to the interest 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 ends of British interest and even after more than a century, this colonial philosophy has not changed.
According to John E. Flint in Nigeria: The Colonial Experience from 1880-1914, Flint 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 and until now, whenever the British government got involved in the Nigeria’s problem, it has never been and it will never be to protect the people of Nigeria but solely to protect her 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. That is, the outright brazen manner of a supremacist power with all the natural (if not divine) rights to embark on unregulated and uncaring spree of exploitation of colony’s resources for the good of the motherland or of the Crown.
This unwholesome contraption called Nigeria was not meant to have a future, it was created as a commercial entrepreneurial venture, a trading post for cheap labour and raw materials. The principal motivation of the financial sponsors was personal greed and later driven by circumstances of vain glorification of the power of an Imperial State as captured in the name of the country – Great Britain.
The first enemy to the design of British adventurers and exploiters in West Africa was the hash climate and the mosquito infested land. The difficult terrain thwarted their intention to a permanent colonisation and physical possession 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 way for the religious zealots and bandits from Europe.
The British colonial policy was and still is ‘Save the King/Queen and screw the world’. 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 in the Twenty-first 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 development. But the exploitative trade policy of this relationship has not diminished. If the content of trade policies and the spurious memorandum of understanding signed over the years are observed objectively, we shall find the age long manipulation and exploitation have actually expanded. And so it has always been and so shall it always be, that the interest of Britain is never going to be the same as the interest of Nigeria.
However, as long as Britain has her cronies in charge of affairs in Nigeria, this inglorious economic deception and exploitation will never come into the open. As far as Britain is concerned, even after 67years of political independence, Nigeria is still seen as a British property and therefore like a hen in the care of a surrogate, any egg laid by the hen still belongs to the original owner of the hen. Nigeria is under the care of the feudal lords who are in turn happy to serve as the unrepentant vassals of Britain.
When Nigeria came into being as a country after the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914, the few humane thought and acts of kindness received by the people of this land came solely from the Christian missionaries, particularly from the freed African slaves led by Bishop Ajai Crowther.
The British colonial government and the European business groups in Nigeria saw the activities of the inspired missionaries as meddlesomeness by a bunch of do-gooders. The genuine missionaries were seen to be clogging the wheel of uneven trade and profit. It was the missionaries who insisted that the education of the indigenous people was important and must be accorded primary attention by the colonial government.
As far as some of the Colonial Governors were concerned, the establishment of schools and other educational enterprises were seen as simply taking things too far. Why? Because the colonialists were aware that educational development and spiritual enlightenment would open the minds of the indigenous people to knowledge and wisdom. And of course this will lead to the natural consequence which knowledge bestows, that is, the ability to know what is right or wrong. This is in tune with P.J. Proudhon’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 because a lot of the returning freed slaves had been exposed to some learning in Freetown. Being motivated by the newly acquired Christian spirit of love and fellowship and coupled with their acquired literacy skills 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 colonialists in the Southern Province could do to stop them. Moreover, the Southern Province was again lucky to have a liberal-minded Governor in the person of Sir William MacGregor (1894-1904) who was hated by his colleagues for adopting a pacific kind of indirect rule that avoided military force unlike his counterparts in the Northern Province6. In addition, MacGregor 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 attitude and personality style between the Colonial Governor of Northern Nigeria, Frederick Lugard and that of the Colonial Governor of Southern Nigeria, William MacGregor.
Unlike the Colonial Secretariat of the Southern Province located in Lagos, which encouraged and allowed educated men to act as middlemen in merchandising or as employee of European firms; which appointed capable Africans into the highest administrative posts in the Colonial Office; and which allowed the Christian missionaries aided by the educated free slaves to proselyte among the natives and to build schools, 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 harping about?
After the various Lugard’s military expeditions that killed the Sultan of Sokoto and the Emirs of Kontangora, Bida, Yola, Bauchi, Katsina and Kano in the Northern area, the British military force of occupation came to a realisation that for economic reason they would not be able to afford the manpower and the administrative cost of directly managing the huge land areas that had fallen under their control. They perceived they would need administrators, at an exorbitant cost, to rule the huge landmass that had been captured through brutal military conquest.
Rather than take-over completely the whole civil administration of the Sokoto Caliphate, they restored partial political control to the traditional Emirs or where they had been killed to chosen relatives or opponents. Lugard and his henchmen on the hoof wrote and gave letters of appointment to these frightened and bewildered men after they had duly pledged, by signing fabricated, illegal and ill-worded treaties. Through these unjust treaties, the Sultan and the Emirs gave their complete allegiance and loyalty to the Colonial High Commissioner and the Colonial Residents in the various emirates as their new overall lord and master.
In earnest and as in all human relationships, there was competition and rivalry between the colonial secretariats of the Northern Protectorate and that of the Southern Protectorate. 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 You need to remember that we are not talking about 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. We shall not over flog this issue of dominance yet but it is important to see where the poison 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. Frederick 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
As a result, the colonial government disallowed the educated Africans from the South who fervently believed that the deliverance of Africans from illiteracy, cultural superstitions, ignorance and economic backwardness lay in opening the eyes and minds of the people to liberal education. This was more so since these Africans 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 proselytise and to interact with the people in the North. The establishment of Christian missionary schools were forbidden except those opened by the Colonial office for the children and relations of the ruling traditional feudal rulers.
Finally, 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 from intellectual and social contamination 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 religious attitude. Particularly, an overt behavioural conducts of saintliness but the religious practitioners are against all principles that bestow inalienable human rights to freedom, equality, liberty and dignity for everyone. They have no patience with democracy and people’s participation in political activities. All the ideals the educated Southerners were keen to share with all Nigerians, irrespective of geographical location, were anathema to them and were greatly resisted.
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. The two political systems were both built on bloody conquest, massacre and plunder of the innocents and the patronage of professional mercenaries that kill for money, position and honour.
The idea of protecting Northern Nigeria from the ambition of the Southern educated Africans from sharing 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 motive was sold as necessary to protect the indigenous culture of Northerners, it had other enduring 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