In 1914, on the 1st of January to be precise, Lord Lugard, the governor of Northern and Southern Nigeria protectorate, signed a document amalgamating the two, thereby bringing to life, the colony and protectorate of Nigeria. This is one fact every Nigerian knows, and one exam question that always comes as a piece of cake.
More than a century later, some Nigerians have struggled to fully accept this reality. What then could be the cause of this deep-seated divide amongst a people brought together by a white man who needs to create a state that will be easy to rule by him and his people?
Let’s take many steps backwards to understanding these people that have come to be known as Nigerians. In the 1900, British had assumed responsibility of a place later to be known as Nigeria from the Niger Company. In other to take over the territories from the Niger Company, the British government paid £865,000, a mouth-watering amount in the 1900s. It is safe then to say that the British didn’t join in the scramble for Africa and spend such a large amount to acquire Nigeria, just to spread a system of government. It was a business deal for them.
If you wonder were the Niger company has disappeared to, well I will tell you, it is known by a different name today, Unilever. A British historian had described Nigeria as a country that covered an area of over three thousand square miles, nearly as big as France and Italy put together, a population that combined more than half the people of all the United Kingdoms. A land of many tribes and many languages, land of different views and different people. A country that ranges from desert on the edge of the Sahara, through the cattle grazing pastures, to the mineral hills of the Central Plateau, down to the coasts and the swamps of the Niger River Delta.
While most countries are born out of common identity and shared ideals, ours was a country born out of a business desire. One that will supply goods and services, a people that will be made to eventually export raw materials alone and depend heavily on the developed world for their finished goods. Does this sound familiar? Sure, it does, because it’s the norm in Nigeria today. Research shows that the settlers and traders in this area called Nigeria today could be traced to as far back as 1100BC. A lot of kingdoms had domiciled here such as the Oyo, Benin Empire and the Nri Kingdom. Islam had reached here through the Borno Empire around 1068AD and the Hausa states around 1385AD during the 11th century. Christianity had come through the Portuguese in the 15th Century.
The transatlantic slave trade started in the region around the 15th Century. Europeans started by abducting people who lived along the coast. Badagry, a coastal harbour was the first slave trading post used by the British and the Portuguese in the worst act of man’s inhumanity to man that the World had and will ever see. Local brokers were then later made to bring their brothers to be sold into slavery. According to history, the king of Badagry had given forty men in exchange for an umbrella. The activities of slave traders escalated conflict that had disrupted old trade patterns through the Trans-Saharan routes. Nigeria had become a British protectorate in 1901, a colonization that lasted until 1960.
Evidence of civilisation is traced to an eight thousand old canoe, with the most sophisticated design of its time in present day Borno State, and the Terracotta arts of the Nork people reveal an advanced culture in the present day Kaduna. The Kanem Borno Empire which had expanded through long distance trade and military technology. The Ibo uku civilisation, the first Bronze casters in Africa who had sourced their materials to as far back as Egypt. Benin Empire with its infrastructure and far reaching diplomatic links, the formidable military and military machine of the vast Oyo Empire. The power of the Sokoto Caliphate is one that always leaves many in awe.
This area was one that was well established with all their systems intact, a well evolved administrative system, functional diplomacy, a working educational system, with successful and admirable systems of trade and agriculture. The stories of the likes of Queen Amina of Zaria and her military conquest is one that shows the strength, determination and guts of a woman.
By the time the Portuguese arrived in the area in the 15th century, West Africans had been engaging in trade with many other countries in different parts of the World for well over 400years. The British, French and Dutch soon came afterwards but primarily for our pepper, palm oil, groundnut etcetera. They all came because they saw potential; they heard about an area that had an abundance of everything that man can grow from.
After seeing all the gift of nature that the people of the Niger area has, they went after our men, women and children, an estimate well over 25million people taken into slavery. They were shipped abroad to work in the cotton field of Americans, the farms and factories in Europe and also the deserts of the Arabia’s.
Even after the abolition of slave trade in 1807, the British still used a combination of religion and politics to secure dominance. The indigenous rulers that were uncooperative, the British attacked. The Lagos invasion by the British Naval bay in 1861, removed the king and installed a stooge, annexed Lagos as the first crown colony and governed it directly from Britain.
There was a war in 1967, it was the Nigerian civil war, one that was caused by ethno-religious riots in Northern Nigeria in 1966, a military and a counter coup and a control over the lucrative oil of the Niger Delta. A war that lasted for almost three years with over 100,000 military casualties and around two million civilians in the acclaimed Biafra had died of starvation.
The United Kingdom and Soviet Union had supported Nigeria while France, Israel and the likes supported Biafra. They all supported a war that was to create the biggest divide amongst a people that were originally forced to come together in spite of their differences.
Well, all of the above being said, Nigeria got her independence in 1960 and was made a republic in 1963, meaning we were free, we had our own supreme court and could really begin to build our relations, ideals and systems as a people, whatever we made out of close to 60years of becoming a Republic is solely our shame or glory to bear.
Every election year and periods of important National discourse, we still see our diversity and ethno-religious differences play a nasty part in our decisions, discussions, and outcome. If China, India and other parts of Asia can build a strong economy out of vast and diverse cultures, we can too. Living up to our name “Giant of Africa” must be our ultimate driving force and our diversity a privilege that makes growth and development faster and more lasting. We must conquer such ugly trends in such diversity that threatens Nigeria’s unity.
By Halima Imam