By Eddie Mbadiwe
For one to appreciate the present and plan for the future, it is necessary that we understand the past. Let us look at Nigeria in silhouette pre 1 October 1960.
Flora Shaw who later became wife to Lord Lugard gave the name. Nigeria is pure and simple a creation of the British colonial administration. To a very large extent, the actions of one man called at different times Major, Sir and lastly Lord Fredrick Lugard pre-determined what happened and continues to shape Nigeria.
The calculated and documented actions of Lord Lugard as contained in various despatches could give a sneak preview to Nigeria’s apparently intractable and unending problems. It will also not be wrong to say he was working on directives from London.
Major Lugard had arrived as an employee of the Royal Niger Company principally to trade. He later transferred to the colonial administration. The British conquered the Benin Kingdom in 1896. Two years later Major Lugard formed the West Africa Frontier Force with 2,000 soldiers drawn mainly from the North and predominantly Middle Belt. With the defeat of Benin, creation of the Southern Protectorate became possible on 1 January 1900. Victory by the British in the Anglo-Aro war 1901-1902 removed the last vestiges of opposition and opened up the Niger hinterland to British rule.
The Sokoto Caliphate was conquered in 1903 and the Northern Protectorate was created. Both Southern and Northern Protectorates were governed independently until they were amalgamated in 1914. This amalgamation was for commercial reasons – the colonial administration wanted a railway passage to the sea for export of agricultural produce.
Though the protectorates were amalgamated, their diverse peoples were not integrated. This was a deliberate ‘Divide and Rule Policy’. Lord Lugard’s despatches to the Colonial Office emphasised the need ‘TO SHIELD’ the people of the North from the ‘CORRUPTING mobile and fast advancing people of the South. This was to deny the North the education the South wanted. The first Yoruba lawyer was called to the bar in 1888.
This in my view is the genesis of the crisis of confidence that has plagued Nigeria ever since. The South continued to make progress in what became known as the quest for ‘THE GOLDEN FLEECE’. These products of Western education on return stoked the embers of nationalist flames demanding self-rule and independence as Lord Lugard had predicted.
In the forefront was Herbert Macauley – an engineer who organised series of meetings with workers to demand basic human rights. With the return of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe from the United States via the Gold Coast, the independence movement received a tremendous awakening. Zik’s weekly column in the West African Pilot mobilised the youth and his writings became topics for weekend political catechism. Many young men suffered deprivation of freedom and sometimes incarceration. A few among these were Mokwugo Okoye, Anthony Enahoro, Adegoke Adelabu, Tanko Yakassi, Osita Agwuna, Michael Imodu and Harry Nwana.
The National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons was formed in 1944. The Action Group born in 1950 was led by the much disciplined, single-minded Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The Northern Peoples Congress was formed in 1951 under the leadership of Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello. The only other major political party of this period was Mallam Aminu Kano’s Northern Elements Progressive Union.
Observers have noted that while the southern parties operated on the basis of a unified country, the northern ones concentrated on the north as reflected in their names.
In spite of what looked like petty chauvinism within the parties, it is a fact that Umaru Altine a fine Hausa gentleman was elected Mayor of Enugu. Mazi Mbonu Ojike served as Deputy Mayor of Lagos. This was the Nigeria that people of my generation saw growing up. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. A country where your domiciliary status entitles you to full expression of your potential as happens in most of the civilised world was the model we had.
This political phase was long and tortuous but was essentially bloodless as against what was happening in the southern parts of the continent. The wind of change, which British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan had predicted in Rhodesia, was now a hurricane blowing off British rule and granting independence to British colonies.
In Nigeria, there was Enugu Miners strike followed with Police killings, various constitutional conferences, regional self-government and finally independence.
We were in class five at Government College that year and I know there were many expectations of our new nation. How has Nigeria fared after 50 years?
Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah had written and spoken so eloquently about the place of the black man in the new world order and that image was embedded in our psyche. Are we remotely close to that? No.
Before and immediately after independence, the Nigerian economy relied on agriculture- palm oil and kernel, cocoa, groundnuts, ginger, rubber and cotton. There was limited mining of coal, bauxite, tin and gold. Oil had been found at Oloibiri but commercial production was small.
Yes there was corruption but it was miniscule compared with the brazen effrontery recklessly displayed by our current leaders. Dr Michael Okpara finished as Premier of Eastern Nigeria with only one unfinished building at Ogui Road, Enugu to his name. He had no house in his native Ohuhu until his return from exile after the civil war. His successors (supposedly better educated) assigned whole streets to themselves at Independence Layout.
Musa Yar’Adua, father of the late President was Minister for Lagos Affairs when Victoria Island was reclaimed. He had one plot of land.
With large scale discovery and commercialisation of oil production, the political equation in Nigeria changed forever The Federal Government which controlled all the oil revenue became extremely powerful. The talk all centred on ‘sharing the national cake’. Nobody was interested in baking the cake. Agriculture which had been the life wire died.
The Sardauna was not interested in anything outside the North and sent his lieutenants Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Muhammadu Ribadu to Lagos. Balewa became Prime Minister and Ribadu Minister for Defence
The Rt. Hon Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe had gone to the centre as Governor General and later when Nigeria became a Republic President of the Senate That gave Dr. Okpara a free hand to run Eastern Nigeria
In Western Nigeria, it was different, Chief Obafemi former Premier was Leader of the opposition in Lagos but had little or no power but the Western Premier Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola had the government machinery and all the paraphernalia of power. Ideological differences about alignments erupted between them and led to riots of unprecedented proportions
As students at Ibadan, we saw first hand these charred ‘wetie’ bodies, buses, houses, anything belonging to the opposing camp was set ablaze Shivers still run down my spine just recounting this.
The anarchy that started in the West threatened to engulf the rest of the country. A series of events, fracas in the House of Assembly, state of emergency, electoral irregularities culminated in the young majors’ coup of 15 January 1966. This created mistrust in the military and was followed with a series of counter coups and mass slaughter especially of Ndigbo
The thoughts and feeling among a majority of Ndigbo who saw those headless and disembowelled bodies arrive Enugu railway station were encapsulated in one of the addresses by Sir Winston Churchill during the last war which closing sentence was, “If we must die, let us die like men not like chicken with their necks wrung”.
Anyone in a position of leadership in such macabre circumstances had very little room for manoeuvre. It was therefore not surprising that on 30 May 1967 Lt Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu declared The Republic of Biafra.
This was rebuffed by Nigeria and a bitter 30-month fratricidal war ensued. It is estimated that about one million people lost their lives. War in itself is terrible as anyone who survived Biafra will confirm. It is important that the nation learns useful lessons from any conflict.
The United States- the strongest nation in the history – was forged from the furnaces of two bitter wars the war of independence from Britain and the Civil War. American patriotism, ruggedness and resilience are by products of conflicts. It is still not late for Nigeria to harvest the gains from the civil war.
It is hazardous to predict the future of Nigeria. All the ingredients for greatness are abundant in the land. The economy of Nigeria is among the fastest growing according to the International Monetary Fund, which projected a growth rate of 9% for 2009. Nigeria is the third largest economy in Africa with a population a fifth of the entire continent. It is any serious entrepreneur’s paradise.
Other Africans say they are waiting for Nigeria to lead. They cannot wait indefinite
Nigerians in Diaspora, most of who are extremely talented and competent, must challenge themselves out of their comfort zone. Perhaps the Indian module is worthy of serious study. As Professor Chinua Achebe told me in a recent telephone conversation, “America and Europe were made and kept as good as they are by Americans and Europeans”. My take is that only Nigerians can make Nigeria great. For some the time is now