Opinion: It is time to break Nigeria up

by Damola Awoyokun

Nigeria business



We want a good-bye-to-all-that referendum now. And the National Conference sitting in Abuja should make itself useful by setting a date for one.  Enough is enough.

Sardauna of Sokoto and Obafemi Awolowo used to be good friends. They visited each other a lot and Sardauna was very keen to implement Awolowo’s policies only if he told him before hand. Once NPC won the December 1951 Northern regional elections, it was AG which had won the Western region’s elections  two months earlier that it congratulated and extended alliance to at the Central House slated to open in February 1952.  The North was never interested in partnering with Zik, NCNC, or the Igbos.

While Zik and the Eastern region were embroiled over the Prof Eyo Ita and the six sit-tight ministers, Awolowo and Sardauna continued to strengthen their alliance. The first branch of AG outside the Western region was formed in Kano on 4th October 1952. Awolowo assured the jittery Northern rulers that the move was not a threat and he went on to deliver several lectures on government by federation in which he did not criticise Northern leadership at all. Arriving in Kaduna, together with Alhaji Gbadamosi and Alfred Rewane, he went to see his new friend, the Sardauna.

When Wazirin Bornu, Mallam Ibrahim Imam who was both General Secretary of NPC and the member from Bornu province introduced a Decency Bill which would make wearing clothes compulsory in the North, the colonial civil secretary who was also the president (speaker) of the Northern House shut it down. On hearing this, Awolowo at the next sitting of the Central House in Lagos raise it as a motion of national importance. The Daily Times of 23rd March 1953 reported Awolowo saying on the floor of the House: “The British ought to be ashamed of themselves because people still go naked after sixty years of their rule.” Since then he made sure he asked for trainloads of clothes in the South to distribute anytime he was going up North.

When the embattled leader of Eastern House, Prof Ita whom Zik wanted out at all cost arrived in Lagos for the opening of the Central House in 1953, he went to seek help from Awolowo who then took him to see Sardauna.   They jointly condemned Zik’s role in the crisis. Immediately Ozumba Mbadiwe, NCNC’s House leader rose to defend Zik and his party on the floor of the House, most members of the AG and NPC walked out in unison.    The North and West partnership was indeed strong.

Then came the blow.

During Awolowo’s October 1952 trip to the North, Sardauna told Awolowo that he was a man of enormous power and prestige in the eyes of his people because of his illustrious ancestry. There were a lot of things which the West was doing that were worthy of emulation. But these things were brought to his notice via newspaper reports.  His people seized on the news and demanded the same things. Daily Times of 7th April 1953 reported Sardauna saying on page 7: “They become unduly embarrassed because they were forced into the position of copyists or imitators.”  That a man of his stature appeared to be a copycat in the eyes of his followers was disrespectful and demeaning.

To buttress his point, Sardauna mentioned the West’s scholarship scheme which when the news came some Northerners agitated for the same scheme too. Sardauna stated further: whereas if Awolowo had taken him into confidence he would adopt them and initiate them simultaneously with the West. And if it was a policy they do not want at all, they would still support them for the West alone should the approval of the Central Government be needed.  Awolowo sat stone-faced wondering whether he was listening to intellectual theft or basics of collective nation building. Sardauna then concluded that both should set up a machinery were there would be regular consultation.

At the previous sitting in Lagos, Sardauna announced to the country that: “the North is like a horse, if you are gentle with it, it will carry you far.” But Awolowo was not interested in partnership nor riding; human dignity counts more than anything to him.   In responding to Sardauna’s proposal, Awolowo said for any collaboration to be “permanent and effective,” there must be identity of outlook on some fundamental principles and objectives. “The British rule in Nigeria, like any foreign rule, was unnatural, unjust and inherently incompetent. It should therefore be terminated not later than 1956.

Sardauna began to make several excuses about the unreadiness of the North to cope with the challenges of doing it alone. Awolowo replied: “the North should not underrate their own ability.” When it was proposed at the Constitutional Review Conference in Ibadan that Nigerians not the British should be central ministers, the North opposed it on the ground that Nigerians are not yet competent. But now there were four ministers of Northern origin doing an excellent job at the central level, Awolowo told him.

Sardauna’s reply was iconic. He said the reason for such an earlier position was because when they went for executive council meetings in Kaduna, they do not “thoroughly discuss the subjects on the agenda and take a concerted line of action,” whereas the white officials always did which made it appear they were superior to them. And when he visited Awolowo in Ibadan, he observed that they too thoroughly exhaust the agenda before going to meet with the colonial executives and that did not make them look foolish at the meetings.  That night, Sardauna gave Awolowo two unnamed “valuable” presents as tokens of “the dependability of his words and bond of his friendship.”

And so after the joint walkout over Zik’s treatment of Eyo, Awolowo decided to take his friend into confidence. He told him in the visiting ministers’ room of the Central House, that the AG had tabled a private bill for self-government to be debated before the business seating closed.  Sardauna left to hold consultations with the emirs and other members of the Northern delegation came back and rejected the idea.  He even asked for the bill’s withdrawal. Awolowo said never, ever. “To withdraw the motion would be a political suicide for the Action Group. It would be a strong weapon in the hands of the NCNC to discredit us by showing us up to the politically conscious element in the South that we are imperialist stooges.” Furthermore, said Awolowo: “the white officials would never take us seriously again.”

The motion was introduced by Enahoro, 4 AG central ministers resigned their posts in order to debate it. The House erupted in pandemonium. “The mistake of 1914 has come to light” Sardauna said resignedly. The Northern legislators where humiliated, their turban stripped off outside the House and at every stop till they reached home, their train was mobbed with sticks and stones. The North became radicalised and demanded secession from Nigeria or a very, very loose association with the South. Zik who was at the gallery on that fateful/historic day, set aside his differences and went straight  down to hug Awolowo.  The cameras had a field day. They started an East-West pact that had never happened before even though they were both Southerners. It lasted only 7 months. NCNC then went to form an alliance with the North.

Why were the Southern regions eagerly seeking an alliance with the North? Because at the Ibadan Constitutional Conference, the North argued that given their size and population, they were entitled to half of the seats in the upcoming Central House. They were right.  The North was three times the size of the Western and Eastern regions put together. As regards population, they were more numerous too. Bola Ige once disputed this claiming throughout West Africa population decreases as you go upwards toward the desert. But unlike all other countries, as you go upwards Nigeria increases more sideways that upwards. Also the annual tax receipts per head from the North were far more than South’s. The North therefore held the majority vote in the House. And so however brilliant or beneficial your policies were, to have them authorised by the Central Government, you needed the votes of those the South were still sending clothes to cover their nakedness. Even today, Southern senators sit shamelessly in the same chamber with incorrigible paedophile and child rapist discussing ’progress’ for the nation.

The amalgamation of 1914 was not the mistake. The mistake was in Lugard allowing the North to keep their traditions and ways of life. Education and civilisation came to the South due to the uncompromising efforts of the Crowther and the other Christian missionaries backed by the British government. Whereas after the conquest of the North through the 1903 Sokoto and Kano wars, the emirs came to Lugard and said we will give you no more trouble in so far as you prevent those missionaries already gaining grounds in Bida and Lokoja and beyond from corrupting our ways of life.

In return we will give you an unflinching loyalty. This suited Lugard just fine as he confirmed on 22nd March 1903 during his installation of Muhammadu Attairu II as the new Sultan of Sokoto. The colonial regime never spent much in collecting taxes in the North anymore. The emirate did. Using native enforcement schemes, they dutifully brought the collected taxes to the colonial treasury every month in huge numbers.

In the East for instance, up to the 1951 -1953 census, the women resisted being counted because they saw it as a step towards making them pay taxes like their men.  Moreover, in Lagos, Herbert Macaulay was campaigning furiously for the government to increase Eshugbayi Eleko’s £300 per annum “compassionate allowance” when the 6th August 1862 Treaty of Secession put his salary at a percentage of the total exports from Lagos.  That would have been £5million out of £16 million export revenues from Lagos then. Yet the Sultan of Sokoto was paid a total of £9000 annually from the colonial coffers even higher than £8000 being paid to the Sir Hugh Clifford, the colonial governor of Southern Nigeria.  The respect for a people starts from the respect showed their rulers.

At the start of the 1st World War, the Ottoman Empire called for all Muslims to wage jihad against Britain. Lugard jittered and started contingencies against any armed insurrection in North. But Sultan of Sokoto and other emirs told him not to worry.  They said besides treating them well, when Lugard defeated them in 1903, they thought they would lose their culture and religion. Because when they conquered the Yoruba down South, they imposed Islam and their custom on them but Lugard had ensured they kept their religion, morality and customs even after conquest. Hence no call for jihad against the British from Turkey would happen in the North. The Shehu of Borno even wrote in a handwritten letter to Lugard that he had an array of Imams in his courtyard praying for the success of British arms. The letter is worth further quoting:

“In such a case Allah is on our side. Our Lord Muhammad saith: ‘Those who break friendship, kill them like pagans. If you kill them perhaps they will repent.’ I have assisted the Resident with all that has been required, horses, donkeys, bullocks, carriers and corn, and everything that he asked for. The Resident told me that the King of England wanted them. I am the King of England’s servant. Why should I not help him?”

The Sultan of Sokoto and Shehu of Borno were later awarded CBE in recognition of their loyal assistance during the Great War.  What was worse, in 1851, Oba Kosoko of Lagos was deposed because of his positive attitude to slave trade.  With slavery outlawed everywhere in the British Empire, Lagos was eventually seized and occupied in 1861 and a colonial governor imposed because Dosumu, the reining king  was powerless to stop  the slave traffic. And yet when Lugard became the Governor of the North, he permitted slavery and other barbaric customs to persist under his nose. Slavery was eventually outlawed in the North in 1937.

It was this Faustian pact between Lugard and the Northern leadership that provided the institutional context for North-South gridlock today. Once a practice however barbaric was justified as part of the ancient traditions or Islamic conventions, it was automatically accepted as morally valid and permissible in a modern society as well. Flogging women for adultery or cutting their right leg from the thigh or slicing off of hands for theft or child marriage, or sending children to Koranic schools only instead of modern schools were justified in the name tradition and religion. Then the total number of secondary schools in Ibadan alone was more than the in the whole of the North.

Yet, despite the fact that the North represented the enduring power of a bad idea, Southern politicians assured of their own imaginary insecurities flocked to seek political power and certainties from them. With the 1959 elections ending with no clear winner, an alliance had to be formed to determine who would rule. It was no brainer that AG and NCNC should form a coalition. Awolowo had already humbled himself to be a Deputy Prime Minister or Finance Minister in Zik’s government.  Zik had invited AG’s team to Asaba, West’s door to the East to have coalition talks.  The talks were a clever ruse to keep AG’s hopes high and distracted from going upwards to the North for talks. Then all of a sudden, the AG read in the news that Zik and Michael Okpara had gone up North and clinched the deal with the Sardauna on forming the government while still ironing out coalition terms in Asaba. It was a blow reverberating till today. Tafawa Balewa would be the Prime Minister for the new nation and Zik, the President. Even Nkrumah was shocked. He asked Zik why having spent so much energy fighting for colonial emancipation  then settling for a toothless bulldog role when Nigeria needed him the most?  But it was a trap.

As he said in his autobiography, My Life, the first time Sardauna came to Lagos to participate in national politics was in 1947. Then with over £13,500 raised from all over Nigeria {a doctor’s annual salary then was a little over £200}, Zik had led 6 prominent NCNC delegates to London to protest the “obnoxious laws” of Governor Arthur Richards. The trip ended in failure with backbiting, abuses and accusations of theft. Zik’s opponents at the NYM, accused him of squandering the money and trust of Nigerians.  Zik replied insinuating that the Yoruba on the team, that is: Mrs. Fumilayo Ransome-Kuti, Prince Adeleke Adedoyin, Dr. A. B. Olorun-Nimbe, were the problem. There erupted a heated and prolonged press war between Zik’s Political Reminiscence in his West African Pilot and H.O. Davies’ Political Panorama in Daily Service. This led to Lagos Igbos rushing to buy machetes en mass thinking a tribal war was imminent.

The Governor and his General Secretary, Hugh Foot quickly called Zik and H.O. Davies to order at the Government House.  In the middle of all this was the time Sardauna came to Lagos for the first time. As he wrote in his autobiography, he went away with the resolve that “the North must take politics seriously.” And later when the Daily Service published the speech of Zik about Igbos being destined by God to conquer and rule over others, Sardauna’s resolved went deeper. He had been reading Zik and the Igbos through that lens ever since. Hence, immediately his NPC won the Northern regional election in 1951, it was AG he extended cooperation to for the Central House. His final way of neutralising Zik when the opportunity came in 1959 was to offer him a powerless post, which surprisingly Zik and Okpara dutifully accepted in place of being new Nigeria’s first Prime Minister.  It was this historic mistake that Nzeogwu, Ifeajuna and other coup plotters tried to undo in 1966.

All the attempts to partner with the North had always ended in disasters for everyone except the North. It takes an exceptional stupidity and wilful blindness on the part of Southern politicians not to see this. Yet without the South, the North has no power. The fight between Akintola and Awolowo was over this quest for Northern alliance. Once Akintola became the Western premier, he said instead of the AG collaborating with Northern minority parties as was the strategy, they should partner with NPC itself. Amongst other things, Akintola argued, the West’s free education policy had created numerous school leavers which the economy of the West would soon be unable to absorb fast. And since the North was spending so much in keeping Indian, Pakistani and British expatriates in the schools, colleges and university, the West’s graduates and school leavers can be offered at cheaper rates just like in the 1920s and 30s. And in the next 2 elections cycles, that is, by 1969, the North and the West would be economically indistinguishable from each other and would become a powerful voting bloc politically.

While Akintola was certain the new improved Northern alliance would be a tour de force, Awolowo reckoned it would be a tour de fraud. From 1952 to 1953, Northern legislators voted invariably for every bill the colonial government introduced but voted against every bill Western legislators introduced. Yet AG and NPC were in ‘strong’ partnership. When in 1952 the North was having problems with enrolling children in conventional schools, Awolowo offered them spaces in some Western schools. The NPC replied that the only help they wanted from the West was for Awolowo pullout those numerous Western children in Northern schools to make way for Northern children. That was again when their partnership was ‘strong.’

Awolowo warned Akintola that the North had never been a reliable partner and there can never be any fruitful cohesion with them. Akintola went ahead. Barely a year into coalition with the NCNC, the NPC too became convinced that they were in a state of sustained eclipse and had been waiting on the moon, now they wanted to focus on the sun.

When Balewa paid an official visit to Akintola, TOS Benson the federal minister of information and the only NCNC politician on the team was asked to step outside for a minute so that the Prime Minister and other members of his entourage could have a tête-à-tête with Akintola and his AG doyens. Part of the agreement then was to work Awolowo into the government as the Deputy Prime Minister, a post that Balewa adamantly refused to give NCNC. This secret coalition agreement was to be finalised and announced on 2nd of February 1962 when Sardauna would come down to University of Ibadan to commission the Sultan Bello Hall named after his grandfather Ali Abba bin Bello, the Sultan of Sokoto Caliphate.

Awolowo chose to out the dirty secret coalition talks during the National Convention of AG in Jos. He condemned Akintola, condemned the NPC, condemned the coalition talks and affirmed that AG under him would never have anything to do with NPC again. The imbroglio set into motion the cascading events that landed Awolowo in prison and brought the First Republic down with a civil war in tow.

It is high time we dissolved this big beast called a country.  After the constitutional crisis of 1953 the nation became ungovernable. The 4 western ministers that resigned meant the executive arm could not function.

Governor Macpherson flew Awolowo in from Ibadan to his Marina office for a 70 minute long close door meeting. He wanted to know if the AG’s tenacious quest for Nigeria’s independence was also a critique of the territory as it was. Daily Times of 11th April 1953 found the colonial governor asking Awolowo: “Does the Western region want to stand alone as a country?” He opened himself up to suggestion on how best to dissolve the country.

Awolowo flatly rejected the idea of splitting the West from Nigeria.  In fact it was Awolowo who suggested ways of mending it through another constitutional conference, which Macpherson then transmitted to his boss in London, Oliver Lyttleton, the Secretary for Colonies.  Like Zik and other nationalists of that era, Awolowo believed a big, strong and prosperous Nigeria like the emerging United States, would take its rightful place on the world stage and be the pride of Africa and the black world. Instead ever since, Nigeria stubbornly refused to be anything else except a global disgrace. Now is the time to split the country into two or three – and if the South-Southerners want to go it alone – four countries.

No ajoji or omo onile should be afraid of this move in the West at least. Oshodi Tapa was a little boy from the North who was about to be loaded onto a Portuguese ship as another sold slave. With his parents already murdered, he escaped and sought refuge in Oba of Lagos’ palace. Oba Eshinlokun took him in and raised him like one of his own princes.

Oshodi Tapa grew up to become a war general who organised the defence of Lagos when the British ships pounded it with artillery fire in 1851. It took these warships which would later participate in the Crimea War in Russia nine days to subdue Lagos and Oshodi Tapa’s forces ended up destroying one of ships, Teazer. Today Oshodi Tapa and his descendants are accepted as Lagosians with their own area and noble line of succession.

Also, the first sets of Igbos to migrate to and absorbed by the West were Osu outcasts. Condemned to living in evil forests and other dehumanising existence, they seized the endless opportunities the West had to offer and made it. As professionals or working class, they were the ones who went to show their tormentors and dehumanisers back home where the new prosperity was going to be. That led to an outward gush of the Igbos in the 1920s.

According to Crown Agents archives, 13, 000 alone sailed from Lagos to build Ghana’s railway.   Zik’s newspapers and chain of businesses were set up with money from Osus in Lagos. This welcoming nature of the Yoruba would continue even when Nigeria ceases to exist. No non-Yoruba in the West who does not want to leave for his/her new country must be forced to leave. More so, there must be no asset forfeitures. To account for decades of intermarriages,  every ex-Nigerian must be entitled to dual citizenship, one for country of residence and another for country of origin should the two differ.

In fact not much would change by the fluidity of choice of residence in so far it is backed up with the loyalty that comes with Oshodi-Tapa kind of citizenship. What would substantially change however is the fact that the progress and the resources of those who want to live in the 21st century would no longer be threatened or held back by those who prefer to stay put in the 7th century.

We want a good-bye-to-all-that referendum now. And the National Conference sitting in Abuja should make itself useful by setting a date for one.  Enough is enough.




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


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