Contemporary Nigeria from Historical Perspective
Nigeria is a country in the western region of Africa, with population of 170 million inhabitants but according to recent UN estimate, Nigeria has 184 million populations. Whatever the case may be Nigeria is the most populous “Black” country on earth and also one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, Nigeria is believed to have at least some 250 ethnic groups. The historical processes and events that culminated to the formation of Nigeria began in 1851 when Britain bombarded Lagos in a bid to evict King Kosoko of Lagos, the then suzerain accused of perpetuating the obnoxious trade in slaves, following the abolition of slave trade in 1807 by the British parliament and subsequent abolition in all British colonies in 1833.
A decade later in 1861, Lagos was officially annexed as a colony by Britain which meant Lagosians were accorded the right and priviledges enjoyed by every John Doe walking the street of London. Meanwhile in other part of Nigeria, the British merchants had established themselves as strong trading partners, most especially in the coastal areas. By 1885, the British gradually but steadily began the interior penetration of the Niger area and also to physically establish themselves as part of effort to enforce the “principle of effective occupation” amongst other principles adopted at the Berlin conference of 1884-85, convened by Otto Von Bismarck, the German Chancellor to address the cut throat competition for oversea territories or spheres of influence among the European countries. In 1886, The British monarch granted charter to Royal Niger Company (RNC) formerly United African Company under Taubman Goldie to administer it spheres of influence in the Niger area on behalf of Britain as a way of deterring interlopers most especially the Germans and the French encroaching from both West and East respectively. The RNC for some times was responsible for annexation of more territories for the British in the Niger area, for instance in 1897, Tubman Goldie oversaw the bombardment of Bida and Ilorin. The Benin punitive expedition of 1897, further gave the British advantage to forcefully extend physical control of its political machinery. Furthermore the British forcefully ended the Ekitiparapo war that had engulfed Yorubaland for 16 years, which further gave advantage to interfere in local politics.
Meanwhile, the prescient British colonial officials in London had by 1898 constituted a committee known as Niger committee headed by Lord Selborne to look into possible merger of the various claimed territories in the Niger area. By 1900 the British had begun building the Lagos to Kano rail network that connect the south and the north. The railway projects were the first attempt at merging together the territories of the Niger area and by extension the various ethnic groups spread across the length and breadth of Niger area, from Lagos to other southwestern area inhabited by the Yoruba, to southeast and south-south populated by the Igbo, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Calabar, amongst many others to the far north where Usman Dan Fodio Jihad had united the Hausa city-states under the Sokoto Caliphate, living side by side with the ancient Borno of the Kanuri, the Tiv, Nupe, Ebira, and other prominent groups in the northern region. It must be borne in mind that the activities of the British were not deliberately geared towards facilitating communications or interrelations among the ethnic groups or by any remote chance to improve the lot of natives but to facilitate trade and most especially for easy evacuation of raw materials to the metropolis.
By 1914, the need to achieve administrative convenience and to harmonize railway policies as argued by some scholars, made Fredrick Lugard the executioner of Niger area amalgamation, and thus began the journey of a country yet to become a nation of one people, with common goals and aspirations after 100 years of coexistence.
Since the amalgamation in 1914, Nigeria has passed through some horrid and turbulent times. Towards Nigeria’s independence for instance, in the 1950s when the various ethnic groups that make up the heterogeneous fabric of the country were brought together to draft the first made in Nigeria constitution by Nigerians for Nigerians, otherwise known as the Macpherson Constitution, what became prevalent and brazenly apparent was ethnic or micro nationalism to the detriment of true nationalism that would have unite the country. Each ethnic groups most especially the major ones Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba, and Igbo were about their own people or at best regional interest. Suspicion, tension, fear of domination of one group by another, and cries of foul and injustice characterized the constitutional conference.
While the West and the East (collectively called South) who had gone far in acquiring western education were itching for independence, the North, on the contrary had far lesser number of western educated elites and was bidding it time for the fear of domination by its western and eastern counterparts. So by 1953, when the motion was moved that Nigeria be granted independence by 1956, the North objected, the furious southerners responded with rage and labeled their northern counterparts cog in the wheels of progress. By this time the crack in the edifice of the British creation had become visible but then it had to be patched up by the soon to be gone British colonist consented to by the ambitious generation who fancied it status as the new generation political elites and rulers, and so Nigeria went to sleep with fire on its roof. Within seven years of independence, Nigeria had successfully plunged itself into civil war made possible by visionless leadership, corruption, inordinate ambition of the political elites, ethnic distrust, hate, ignorance and ego.
Fast forward to 2016, Nigeria is still characterized by visionless leadership particularly among the federating units, endemic corruption (that has fetter and grown so well to the extent it has its own standing army of judges, lawyers, lawmakers, military officers, police, religious leaders, devoted congregations, domestic servants, civil servants, even spiritual servants and millions of poverty stricken masses sustained by the generosity of the political elites through stomach infrastructure), inordinate ambition of the political elites who deftly play the ethnic and religious card when checkmated, ethnic distrust, hate, ignorance and ego. Nigeria still remains theatre of nightmare with bleak hope for the masses that bear the brunt of bad, terrible, shabby and contemptuous governance. After several decades of cohabitation, inter-marriage and inter-dependency, secessionist threat still lingers on in the Eastern Nigeria and now South-south the lifeline of the country’s economy. The South-south agitation for fairness and restructuring of the country is a campaign that has been ongoing for decades, in fact it has become avenue for hungry politicians and warlords to enrich themselves and become billionaires, but at this stage it has assumed a perilous dimension and if not well managed may spell doom for the region and entire Nigeria. It must be stated unequivocally that Nigeria has given far little in terms of attention and development to the region that filled its purse for many decades, however, the political elites along with the impromptu billionaires otherwise known as the militants have not been fair and accountable to their people.
To compound Nigeria’s ethnic tension the Fulani herdsmen who are naturally in perpetual search of good grazing land for their livestock recently became law unto themselves killing, maiming, and forcefully evicting innocent citizens from their farmlands creating thousands of people internally displaced in their own domain, most especially in Benue state, North central region of Nigeria. Response from the presidency unfortunately is either silence or denials which in both cases translate to consent to criminal act, this has raised suspicion of President Buhari’s blind loyalty to his kinsmen.
In over 50 years of Nigeria’s independence, even before independence Nigeria has never had true national leader that command the respect, trust, and loyalty of all Nigerians. Those touted as nationalists in Nigeria’s history were hopeless tribalists. Nigeria’s historical nationalist only achieved that feat on the pages of newspapers, when it was time for real politics their region or ethnic groups came first. For instance, Sardauna of Sokoto never for once pretended to be nationalist unlike some of his contemporaries, throughout his political carrier he pursued only one agenda “the northern agenda”, in fact the political party he founded was Northern People Congress (NPC). He even referred to the amalgamation of Nigeria as “mistake of 1914”. Awolowo of course was a proud descendant of Oduduwa, he championed the Yoruba nationalism and as far as he was concerned Nigeria is just a “mere geographical expression” if I may add “inhabited by competing nationalities”. Zik of Africa on the other hand was a Pan-African, he tried to be a nationalist but when that failed he became the Igbo leader.
General Muhammadu Buhari could have emerged as the first true national leader of Nigeria, considering the support and goodwill majority of Nigerians invested in him, but so far so good, he has done little to capitalize on the goodwill to propagate true spirit of nationalism and give a sense of belonging to all in order enlist and sustain the support of all Nigerians to achieve his goals and effort to galvanize the rise of a great country.