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Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Nigeria @55 - Nigeria’s amalgamation was it a mistake?

One of the enduring topics of debate over Nigeria’s nationhood is the question: was Nigeria’s amalgamation a mistake? In 1914, Sir Frederick Lugard amalgamated the Colony of Lagos and the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria with the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria.

Thus, hitherto independent and culturally exclusive kingdoms, such as the Sokoto Caliphate, the Igbo hinterland, Oyo Kingdom, Benin Kingdom among a host of others, were forcefully brought under one political and administrative umbrella under the British Crown.

It was done by the colonialists partly for administrative convenience and partly to enable it tap maximally and evacuate the resources of the colony. This explains why one of the earliest superstructural amenities established by the colonialists included a two-legged railways system that ran from Nguru in the North East to Port Harcourt on the eastern corridor, while the western line ran from Kaura Namoda through Zaria to Apapa in Lagos.

Most Nigerians recognise the fact that this country is vastly blessed in terms of human and natural resources. It is a federation that spoon-feeds its federating units every month through the federal revenue allocation. It is a country where privileged members of the elite have grown stupendously wealthy by living off the fat of the land. It is therefore not surprising that most of these chaps, especially those belonging to incumbent ruling cliques, are fond of advancing the argument that Nigeria’s amalgamation was not a mistake but a great blessing.

Every president or head of state has drummed this down the ears of all who care to listen. In fact, all our rulers and their acolytes like to frown on those who question the basis for Nigeria’s continued cohabitation. They not only follow it up with the warning: “Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble country” but even proceeded to put it in the Constitution.



On the other hand, there are those who believe the country is a “curse” and a big mistake. They argue that it was a colonial project, created to advance the interests of the British colonialists and created in such a way that the colonialists would continue to lord it over the people through their chosen “indigenous successors”. They point to the lopsided way in which Nigeria was configured, whereby one section of the country (the North) is more than the entire South both in landmass and (at least officially) population. This has ensured that the territory is politically dominated by the North, which has so far ruled for 40 out of its 55 years of independence. With the recent election of another Northerner, President Buhari, the former region is set to extend the lead.

It is this class of Nigerians that feel trapped and sterile. It is from among their ranks that the arguments, agitations and struggles (sometimes done intellectually and sometimes asserted in terms of armed protests) have flared from time to time, followed by forceful putdowns by the Nigerian state.

We have, therefore, experienced both peaceful and violent attempts at redressing Lugard’s “mistake”.
The pre-independence constitutional talks by selected Nigerian leaders, which took place in Ibadan and Lancaster House, London, were aimed at agreeing on terms of cohabitation in an independent Nigeria whereby all groups – the three majority groups: Igbo, Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba, as well as the myriad of Minorities – would have a sense of belonging and freedom. When the military struck in 1966, there were also talks aimed at preventing the secession of the defunct Eastern Nigeria (Biafra) and a civil war.

The effort which collapsed resulted in a “war of unity” that claimed over two million lives.
The Constituent Assembly and Constitutional Drafting Committee empanelled by the Generals Murtala Mohammed/Olusegun Obasanjo regime created the 1979 presidential constitution. It was also an effort to find the right formula and balance for Nigeria’s unity. The 1979 constitution has been tinkered several times by various regimes. In 1989, the General Ibrahim Babangida regime called a Constituent Assembly in Abuja. In 1994, General Sani Abacha convened the Constitutional Conference.

Also, the General Abdulsalami Abubakar transition regime empanelled the Dr Ernest Ebri committee to codify the previous constitution-making efforts into what is now the 1999 Constitution. After that the President Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan regimes also held national conferences. All these came to no avail because even after Nigerian leaders agreed to make certain changes, nothing has changed but most Nigerian groups remain restive and yearning for change.

The struggle to make Nigeria better or break away from it produced violent outcomes, such as the Western Region riots of 1962 to 1965, the first military coup of 1966 and the subsequent Nigerian civil war, the Gideon Orkar coup which attempted to excise the core North from Nigeria. It also led to the June 12 crisis after the military brazenly annulled the presidential election won by Chief Moshood Abiola; the Ogoni crisis of 1994, which led to the execution of the “Ogoni Nine” including playwright, Ken Saro-Wiwa; the Niger Delta armed struggle for resource control, and currently (but in a different perspective) the Boko Haram terrorism, which seeks to turn Nigeria into an extremist Islamist “caliphate”.

Part of the signs of Nigeria’s blind groping in the dark is the incidence of going to the past to bring back former military rulers to come and rule as civilian elected presidents. The military brought back General Obasanjo in 1999, while the “change revolution” of April 2015 brought back General Buhari, who made his first advent in 1983/85.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, at a church service to commemorate the nation’s 55th independence captured the situation aptly when he said that Nigeria is still deeply divided along ethnic, religious and sectional lines. The search for nationhood has been physically and emotionally bruising, yet it has yielded nothing.

The nation has spent billions of naira in that direction yet it has made no progress. After 101 years of being assembled by a foreign colonial power, and 55 years of self-rule by its indigenous leaders, Nigeria is still very much at sea.

The hunger to build a nation that will be a toast of all her citizens is shared by most Nigerians but the gallantry to take the right steps to achieve it is simply not there. Meanwhile, the search continues.

Source: Vanguardngr

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