By Ikenna Ifeobi
A photo from Amalgamation Day, January 1, 1914.
There appears to be a bright side to the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria by the British after all. While the motives of the architects may seem questionable to some, the undeniable truth is that there had to be a meeting point of the country's major cultures eventually.
Given the antipathy created by most post-AD religions towards older tribal beliefs, and even amongst its many denominations, it would have been a very confrontational exercise, costing millions of lives and probably centuries of squabble.
It can be argued that colonialism gave a geopolitical template to the continent, albeit imperfect. Without this initial slate and if left to nation build naturally, most regions would take centuries of warfare to arrive to where they are today.
Also, the entropic trend of political evolution demands that communities, tribes, peoples and nations eventually evolve to their most efficient state. In this case two clear directions; reduce to tiny fragments of city-states, or merge into a behemoth or multinational super state.
Most countries since World War Two have chosen the latter of safety in numbers. It took Europe two wars and countless battles between the old kingdoms: the Romans, the Franks/Gauls, the English and the Spanish, to arrive at the European Union today; a single political economy, comprising of different peoples, nationalities and cultures, but with common goals in terms of economic and national security.
From the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to the European Union, to the Organisation of African Unity/African Union it is clear that the current trend of civilisation irrespective of language or religious ideology is to come together for the common good. Post-1963 Nigeria has seen the country bent on stratifying itself and creating more internal borders. Many have even pushed for the total disintegration of the country as a whole.
A cursory study of the Nigerian psyche would reveal a deep inter-tribal distrust, and a huge religious gulf between the north and the south. These sentiments have been exacerbated by many religious based unrests and especially the 1967 to 1970 Civil War. Fortunately, the entity called Nigeria is not held together merely by national agreement, as many would like to believe, but by strong post colonial and mercantile interests as well. To understand this one must explore the origin of Nigeria.
Nigeria as we know it today, at its earliest inception was a commercial and private property of several British merchants. These different British interests were eventually merged together by George Goldie in 1879 as the United African Company (UAC) and later the Royal Niger Company.
This private property at the time then gained recognition from the British crown, joining the then protectorate of Northern Nigeria and the Oil Rivers Delta into what is known as Nigeria today. The name itself was coined by Lady Lugard (Flora Shaw), in an essay first published in Time Magazine on the 8th of January 1897. She was apparently seeking a shorter name than ’Royal Niger Territories’, ‘Central Sudan’, and the other awkward names being used to refer to the Nigerian region at the time. So we see that Nigeria is tied to deep rooted European mercantilism, protected by the Crown and state. The vigour with which the British and American forces assisted the federal status-quo during the Biafra war would show those mercantile interests enforcing the retention of their original entity.
These private interests in the form of multinational companies still play a major role in ‘lobbying’ governments in post colonial African nations like Nigeria. Nigeria especially remains a valuable entity: rich in the purest crude oil, natural gas, gold, bauxite, coal, niobium, lead, etc; expected to be Africa’s largest economy very soon, and one of the the world’s twenty largest economies by 2050.
It should therefore be expected that those commercial interests that operated through the colonial administration would continue to find new fronts to control such a resource basket, one way or another.
The seed of the post-independent political structure of Nigeria was sowed along religious and tribal lines, and even so without a sense of order and rotation for key positions representing a nascent nation-state.
This was most likely premeditated, as it would make manipulation easy simply by using proxies to achieve political ends and stoking ethno-religious tension through surrogate operation.
The Civil War may stand, after the amalgamation and independence, as the most notable phase in Nigeria’s political history. It is also interesting to note that key participants in that debacle turned out to be heads of state, and the creme de la creme of Nigeria’s political class, most of them attending the best schools abroad at the time and handpicked by the authority of the still pseudo-British government.
The 60s at this time was globally turbulent, with the Vietnam War, civil rights assassinations, apartheid, and the Cold War all brewing. In Nigeria, a constant factor with all the actors in the 60s brouhaha is their closeness to the previous colonial administration; mainly through education and military service. Major Nzeogwu as history tells it was the initiator of what would become the social breaking point of the country.
Born in Kaduna in 1936 to parents from Asaba, in what is today the Delta State, he was of the pioneering group of the Nigerian Army Intelligence Corps, Field Security Section (FSS) of the Royal Nigerian Army, established in 1962 under Captain P.G Harrington of Britain.
He was privy to the intelligence dealings of the post colonial arm of control at the time, which was the military. Nzeogwu was the first Nigerian to hold the post of chief instructor of the national intelligence and security branch of the military from 1962 to 1964. He attended the military academy at Sandhurst in England, and at such a young age had access to the highest levels of national and military intelligence, which in layman’s terms is the nation's spy agency.
Lieutenant Emeka O. Ojukwu, the creator of Biafra was also of very privileged origin even. At a point his dad was rumoured to be richer than the country; his father having provided the luxury vehicle used at the time to receive the British queen when Nigeria couldn’t afford one. He attended Oxford College and was handpicked for his career path in the military. Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa was also selected as the inspector of schools by the colonial administration.
He lost his life six years after the Queen knighted him. President Olusegun Obasanjo, was trained in England and India by the colonial administration, and was in charge of the three marine commando divisions that overtook Owerri and literally ended the Biafra war. Murtala Mohammed played a major part in the war brutally annihilating many communities in Asaba and eventually crossing the Niger, and on his return from the UK thereafter was made president while Gowon was at the OAU summit. Both Chiefs Akintola and Awolowo studied extensively abroad too. Hence one cannot say that there is shortness of Western influence in the orchestration of the Nigerian political class.
The nucleus of the problem in a country like Nigeria is not its ethnic diversity, or multiple languages and religions, but that it has mixed its ethnicity and religion with federalism and governance. Her leadership structure since independence was tied to ethno-religious heroes and figures that were surreptitiously handpicked by a racially hostile colonial overlord.
This made it very easy to orchestrate the entire demographic towards desirable ends, simply by pushing the right religious and ethnic button. On no grounds must religious or ethnic based decisions or organizations be allowed to threaten the integrity of the federal structure and government, and this goes for Boko Haram too.
Development within political circles may begin with a rotational pattern, but must evolve to natural selection based on merit and constitutional principles: the best man for the job. While the rest of the world makes its internal borders fluid and streamlines their government, African economies like Nigeria must not be found furthering the stratification of their internal relationships. The more fluid its internal borders are the more efficient its economy, and more harmonious its social structure would be.
Thankfully the new generation of Nigerians, or the post-unity school era, is beginning to look like the product of a positive social engineering exercise and a blue print for the future Africa. With more inter-tribal marriages, and families and in-laws now crossing tribal lines, the tendency for hostile decisions based on tribal grounds would very soon be a thing of the past. The federal government colleges brought kids from all parts of the country together and have been a big factor in neutralizing these social barriers.
The amalgamation of the entity called Nigeria by the British may yet be the greatest colonial gift ever. The diversity in terms of foreign policy is a huge advantage as it can draw representatives of almost all major global cultures and religions. Spanning multiple climate regions and able to produce an array of crops, her natural resources within the national perimeter is unparalleled. If managed properly, Nigeria can perhaps be the fastest and strongest emerging economy in the world. It took continental Europe hundreds of years of savage warfare to reach the EU stage and present day geo structure. Post-colonial Africa has a template that it can build on based on the fact that most countries were mapped according to resource and strategic positioning.
This structure is retained by the domestic demographic and can be gradually built upon. The amalgamation bypasses the usual years of conflict that would have structured the region the way we have it today, and made resources accessible. Thanks to amalgamation, an Igbo man named Momman Dike was able to chauffer Lord Lugard for over four decades.
Thanks to one nation, we can enjoy livestock and vegetables cheaper, raised and grown in the North.
Thanks to the spirit of nationalism, a Yoruba man like President Obasanjo allowed many Igbo to serve in critical posts in his government, and handed over power to a Northerner on two occasions. Nigeria (and Africa in general) is evolving into a more tolerant cultural synthesis of peoples determined to come together for the common good.
The political mistakes of the past must be seen as lessons on the historical blackboard. The new Nigerian must display nationalism akin to levels seen during national football matches at all times. This is the only way that the society can be engineered past the stratified psyche that defines post colonial African nations like Nigeria today.
On a final note, it is interesting to note that there is no clear determinant as to who is indeed a Nigerian. There is no data base, with verifiable biographic data that can ascertain that an individual is a Nigerian.
The key to political synergy and success in a dynamic country like Nigeria is security and control, and control cannot be realized if every citizen identifiable with the country is not accounted for. A numbering of the demographic would not only give supreme fiscal ability, but ensure security and law enforcement. This is the bright side of amalgamation that must be pursued today for a better Nigeria tomorrow.