Nigeria: The mistake of 1914

by Femi Owolabi

President GEJ’s present administration could be subtitled as ‘BokoHaram bombings.

Tracing the history back to the emergence of Nigerian nationalism, we’d all admit that the British colonialism created Nigeria- joining diverse peoples and regions in an artificial political entity. Sometimes, I wonder if the White-man did an ethnographic research. Nonetheless, common-sense should tell you that you don’t cage cat and mouse in same place.

Historically, it was Lord Lugard’s fiancee Flora Shaw who in 1897 coined the name ‘NIGERIA’ being so inspired by the River Niger. (The Times London January 08, 1897) And she later became Lady Lugard.

Seventeen years after the coinage of ‘NIGERIA,’ 1914, the Northern and the Southern Protectorates were amalgamated for administrative convenience. For the sake of emphasis, let me repeat this, ‘we were amalgamated for administrative convenience. Ponder on this.  

And then, let us carefully observe these chronicles and the chroniclers.

“Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression…” Page 47, Path to Nigerian Freedom: Obafemi Awolowo. 1947.

“Since 1914 the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite…Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country.” Tafawa Balewa in the Legislative Council, 1948.

“It would appear that God of Africa has specifically created the Ibo nation to lead the children of Africa from the bondage of the ages….the marital prowess of Ibo nation at all stages of human history has adapt themselves to the role of preserver.” Nnamdi Azikwe. African Pilot 06 July, 1949.

The undertones reflecting in these statements of the acclaimed fathers of Nigeria is not in any way conforming to genuine federalism. And if I were the British, considering the stands of these guys, I would have given a second thought- if Nigeria would indeed function as a nation.

Nevertheless, they all came together and embraced the British idea called Nigeria.

Such that, in 1980 Nnamdi Azikwe somewhat shifted grounds in his ‘Ideology for Nigeria’ saying “we must dig deep from our roots to discover the secret of successful co-existence.”

And again, John N. Paden in his book dedicated to the unity of Nigeria: on page 3 of the book, Paden recounted this profound and instructive dialogue between Nnamdi Azikwe of NCNC and Ahmadu Bello of NPC which took place in the mid 1960’s.

Azikwe: “Let’s forget our differences…”

Bello: “No, let us understand our differences. I am a Muslim and a Northerner. You are a Christian, an Easterner. By understanding our differences, we can build unity in our country.”

 It’s quite unfortunate that after ninety-eight years of amalgamation of the 484 ethnic groups and fifty-two years of the country’s independence- we all still live in xenophobia. And the threat of schism is tearing the coat of nationhood apart. The pervading mood of fear has therefore made this questionable; ‘one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity.’ Is Nigeria one nation? Are we bound in freedom? Is there peace and unity? More-also, I beg to challenge the line of our anthem that puts ‘peace’ before ‘unity.’ I don’t think one can have peace without unity, first.

It’s rather a curious paradox that our ‘unity in diversity’ (Balewa’s speech in parliament, 1957) is proportional to the growing unrest pushing Nigeria to the verge of disintegration- where the synergy that is to propel a national rebirth has been hijacked by ethnic, political and maybe religious interests. 

Perhaps, it is a way of curbing this megalomania, when the federal character was enshrined in the constitution to prevent tribal or regional domination of any government or its agency? But one would ask again, what then is this agitation for political dominance all about, has the constitution not given room for genuine equity? Maybe no. This boils down to the ravages of the recent terrorism.

During the reign of President Yar’adua, the government prioritized ways to solving the Niger-Delta crisis. We had the Ministry for the Niger-Delta, and then some of us asked if the new ministry wasn’t duplicating NDDC jobs? The amnesty programme followed, and unarguably kidnapping in the Niger-Delta reduced when the ‘major players’ identified with the government.

President GEJ’s present administration could be subtitled as ‘BokoHaram bombings.’ And now the attention has shifted on this Northern sect. You’d note that the Arewa elders once called on the government on the need to bring the BH to the negotiation table. In my musing; after such negotiations, government would create a commission that functions in same capacity as NDDC and also create the Ministry for?(Arewa/Sharia). And after this, bombings end?

Another government comes in 2015 and what has happened before automatically re-fuels MASSOB gusto for Biafra creation, and the government then would do everything to stop this. And as usual Ministry for the?(Ndigbo)…….

I’m very sure our Afenifere/OPC brothers too aren’t missing in this queue as subsequent government emerges.

 Some say Niger Delta wants to control its resources and another says there is a link between Boko Haram and revenue allocation. Unarguably, terrorism has become the ‘prerogative’ of the duo. We have lost more than 200 lives to Boko Haram attacks in the past three weeks now.

 In an attempt to rationalize all these, I’ve since craved for a National Sovereign Conference (SNC). People like Late Pa Enahoro and Prof. Soyinka shouldn’t be wrong when they say we have to convene a SNC.

On this final note, let me leave you with Chief Falae’s words:

“In 1958, as a prelude to independence, our leaders converged in London to evolve a covenant, a federal constitution. The Englishman was not a fool for agreeing to a federal constitution for the 484 ethnic groups.

Every region had its constitution, coast of arms, Agent-General in London. Thus, Nigeria had four ambassadors in London. As a student of the University of Lagos, I studied four constitutions. There was healthy competition. Awo wanted five shillings as minimum wage, free education, others were not ready. Military threw away the federal covenant. They imposed a quasi-unitary constitution which cannot take Nigeria to the future. Sovereignty belongs to the people. All these problems are symptomatic of fundamental disequilibrium.”   

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Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.


Comments (7)

    1. Yeah but we got to learn how to live together in peace smh and make somtn out of d nationhood. Lol.

  1. **applauding the writer, literally.** Very informative and insightful piece. Now following…

  2. Beautifully written. Easy to understand. The Nigeria amalgamation is not working in simple terms. The division is an age-old problem. We can solve it and have the pieces intact. Otherwise it risks self-breakage, which may shatter big or smaller pieces.

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