The superbly organized celebrations to mark the 100 years of amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorate to form Nigeria have just ended in a justified mild form. The Federal Government and the people of Nigeria should be congratulated for the success of the spectacular ‘Remembrance‘ inspite of unstable security environment and the constant threats to the stability of the Naira from the greedy importers with insatiable demand for foreign goods.
It is also to the credit of the Federal Government that certain names came out for honouring, including that of Lugard who performed the real amalgamation in 1914 and his fiancée, Miss Shaw, who coined the beautiful name – NIGERIA. The Queen of England also deserved great honour as a representative of a small nation that had managed a great country of many nations successfully for more than a century.
It is of great note that Nigeria‘s past leaders were honoured in spite of their diverse but often contradictory contributions to the unity, peace and prosperity of Nigeria. The heroes of Nigerian Independence, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe; Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto; Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Tafawa Balewa were duly recognized for their heroic past.
Of course, their modern successors (alive) – Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Chief (Gen) Olusegun Obasanjo, Gen Muhammad Buhari, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Chief Ernest Shonekan received their certificates of Honour through the grace and good luck of President Ebele Jonathan.
It is also interesting to note that many distinguished Nigerians for political and personal reasons, could not accept their deserving honours in a politically insecure environment. Some analysts could not but recollect the peace that prevailed before amalgamation in 1914.
The Sokoto Caliphate has been subdued in 1963 by the British forces which also bombarded Ijebu and Oyo towns between 1902 and 1906, thus bringing North and South under the British control.
It is sad to recollect that the seeds of the current problems of disunity, especially between the Northern and the Southern parts of the country were sown decades ago by past leaders who sadly were unable to repair the damage before their demise.
The Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello was always lamenting the mistake of 1914 that, gLord Lugard and the amalgamation were far from popular among us at that time. There were agitations in favour of succession; we should set up on our own. We should cease to have everything to do with the Southern people. We should take to our own wayh.
Also on the Federal level, Sir Tafawa Balewa who was once the Prime Minister of Nigeria harboured some fear of Southern people of Nigeria as could be inferred from his speech in the Northern House of Assembly, Kaduna in 1952. He was reported to have said that, ‘the Southern people who are storming into this region daily in large numbers are really intruders. We don‘t want them and they are not welcome in the North.
Since the amalgamation in 1914, the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people are different in every way including religion, custom, language and aspiration. The fact that we‘re all Africans might have misguided the British Government. We here in the North, take it that ‘Nigerian unity‘ is not for us.
Unfortunately, Sardaunna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Sir Tafawa Balewa – the trusted leaders of the North were assassinated in the 1966 coup led by misguided military officers of Southern origin. That sad event that caused bitter revenges and deaths of many Southerners, especially the Ibos, was the reason for the civil war (1967-1970). Though the war ended with the slogan of gNo conqueror, no vanquishedh the vestiges of mistrust and bitterness persist until today.
In political perspectives, the mistrust of the North (old North) against the South should be viewed against past events which the present generation of leaders (below sixty years of age) are unable to fully understand and analyse and which older generations are too involved to be neutral. Even the civil war hero, General Yakubu Gowon could not suppress the primordial view in his speech after the 1966 coup and counter coups when he said that the basis for the unity of the country was not there.
In the South, nobody would mistake Chief Awolowo for a true messiah of one Nigeria. His mission was to make the Yoruba nation united, strong and prosperous. He was successful in his chosen assignment in making the Western Region an envy of other regions in terms of efficient administration and party organization before 1960. However, his exploits in federal arena after Independence ended in dismal failure and he was jailed in 1962 for treasonable offences.
His role as Commissioner for Finance during the Civil War cast him in the unfamiliar mould of a ‘murderer‘ in the eyes of many Ibo people. He was accused of ‘genocide‘ and even after many years of peace, he remained an implacable enemy of the ‘Biafrans‘. Chief Awolowo died in 1987 after two unsuccessful attempts in 1979 and 1983 to become President of Nigeria. However, his advocacy of ‘Federalism‘ as the best answer to Nigeria‘s political problems remains sacrosanct.
It was Dr Azikiwe‘s oratorical talent that ignited the fire of nationalism in West Africa and his country, Nigeria. At home after toying with illusion of the concept of ‘One Nigeria‘, he became fully wedded to the principle of federalism as the best form of government in a plural society like Nigeria. Like the other two leaders, Dr. Azikiwe raised Eastern Region to a deserving height before descending into sinecure post of President in 1960 a position whose non-executive capacity was exposed during the election crisis of 1964.
The post Independent military leaders tried to enforce unity through a centralised form of government but scored little success because of entrenched ethnic and religious interests. Though the majority of military Heads of State were Northerners, they could not break the jinx of disunity compounded by economic problems, even with petro dollars flowing ceaselessly.
President Jonathan has a chance with the concept of National Dialogue to right the wrongs of the past and to engender trust between the North and the South, and also to ensure peaceful co-existence among the various nations within a United States of Nigeria. This is a greater assignment that would demand more energy than welcoming back into his party the defecting political mercenaries.