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The phenomenon of Biafra (2)

By Douglas Anele

The Fulani jihadists moved southwards into Ilorin at a time when Oyo Empire was disintegrating. Thus, the conflict between the Alaafin and Afonja, the kakanfo or General of the Oyo army and governor of Ilorin, was exploited by a Fulani teacher Mallam Alimi, whose descendants established Fulani control over the area. Meanwhile, before the entire north was conquered by Lugard, events had made British occupation of Yorubaland a real possibility. The most crucial of these was the threat of French encroachment into Yorubaland.

As a result, Lagos Colony, annexed by Britain in 1861, signed a treaty with the Alaafin of Oyo in 1888 that placed all Yorubaland south of Ilorin under the control of the government in Logos, leading to the creation of the Colony and Protectorate of Lagos eight years later. Before then, in 1893, the Niger Coast Protectorate covering areas in the Niger Delta and extending inland to Lokoja and River Benue was established. On January 1, 1900, it was renamed the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. An important step taken by the colonialists to pool together the economic resources of the various areas in order to use them more efficiently in Britain’s interests was the merging in 1906 of the Lagos Colony with the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria by Sir Walter Egerton to form the new Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.

Interestingly, the fiercest resistance to British colonialism was in the east, particularly Igboland. Having established its presence in the Niger Delta, the British were anxious to extend their control into the Igbo hinterland. It took a decade of constant bombardment from about 1900 to 1910 by the British expeditionary force before major Igbo communities like Arochukwu, Afikpo, Abakaliki and Onitsha among others were brought under British control. From the foregoing, it can be inferred that the steps leading to the foundation of Nigeria were constructed out of the bricks and mortar of violence by an imperial power motivated by obsessive desire to exploit the territories it had conquered by force. In otherwords, the British subjugation of the autochthonous communities that that were cobbled together to create the Nigerian state was not motivated a high moral impulse to bring the benefits of western civilisation to the indigenous peoples; it was purely a display of the brutal philosophy of “might is right” for the economic interests of imperial Britain.

Having been subdued with the Maxim gun, northern Nigeria and its southern counterpart were separate British colonies for more than a decade with different modes of political administration. In the Southern Protectorate, the colonial governor ruled through the legislative and executive councils while in the north he did so through proclamations. In 1912, Lugard was posted back to West Africa from Hong Kong and appointed Governor-General of Nigeria, with a clear mandate to amalgamate the two protectorates. The task was accomplished on January 1, 1914. Several reasons have been advanced why amalgamation was embarked upon by the colonialists two of which are of paramount importance.

First, the overarching reason was optimum economic exploitation by the British Crown of the huge human and natural resources in the Niger territories. Flora Shaw’s justification of the motive for the aggressive and exploitative rationality of British colonialism in general applies equally to her husband’s amalgamation project in Nigeria: “In nearly all the colonies there is much fertile land which already produces some of the most necessary and valuable raw materials of trade. Cotton, silk, rice, rubber, sugar, coffee, tea, oils…and other important elements of civilised industry are home products of our tropics. …the increase which might result in British trade by a mere opening of the markets that lie as yet unapproached within the Empire is past calculation. Such opening would necessarily be reciprocal in its action, and every market of supply over which our administration extended would automatically become a market of consumption for manufactured goods.”

The second reason was to rid Britain of the financial burden of northern Nigeria. There is sufficient evidence that the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria was landlocked and so economically impoverished that it had to depend from the beginning on the grant-in-aid of about three hundred and fourteen thousand five hundred pounds a year from Britain (a situation which contradicted the exploitative logic of colonisation) and, later, on subsidies by the government of the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. This point needs to be emphasised because of the ridiculous attempts at inversion or falsification of history by half-baked intellectuals and theoreticians of caliphate colonialism led by Prof. Ango Abdullahi who claimed recently that “…none of the western and eastern regions had the money to effectively run the affairs of the region until they got financial support from the northern region.” Prof. B.I.C. Ijomah, in an essay entitled “Open Letter to Prof. Ango Abdullahi,” provides a decisive refutation of the notion that the north provided financial assistance to southern Nigeria that I need not reproduce the Tables contained in his article.

Still, it is necessary to state some facts to buttress Ijomah’s argument. In 1913, Lord Harcourt, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, acknowledged the fact that northern Nigeria needed southern Nigeria to survive economically, which prompted the amalgamation so that Britain would no longer give financial assistance to the north, when he proclaimed: “We have released northern Nigeria from the leading strings of the Treasury. The promising and well conducted youth is now on an allowance on its own and is about to effect an alliance with a southern lady of means. I have issued the special license and Sir Frederick Lugard will perform the ceremony.” Of course, there is a good reason for Lord Harcourt’s triumphal assertion: before the amalgamation, exports from southern Nigeria amounted to five million, one hundred and twenty-two thousand ponds whereas the paltry sum of two hundred thousand pounds was realised from the north.

Naturally, southerners opposed the British colonial policy of subsidising the north with funds derived from the south. For instance, on Tuesday, January 31, 1911, the colonial secretary was severely criticised for suggesting that the south should advance a loan of two hundred thousand pounds to the north for completing the Baro to Kano railway, in addition to the princely sum of one million, two hundred and thirty thousand pounds required from the south. Hon. Sapara Williams, an outspoken critic of northern dependence on the south, insisted that before the loan would be approved, Lord Harcourt should clarify the type of relationship that existed between Lagos and Zungeru, the administrative headquarters of the south and the north respectively. It is crystal clear, therefore, that the amalgamation was intended principally to bolster the economy of Britain and use resources of the south to develop the land-locked, economically disadvantaged northern Nigeria. As far as Lugard and other British imperialists were concerned, the legitimate interests and concerns of southern Nigeria must be subordinated to the interests of Britain and the north.

But why were the British colonisers so enamoured of northern Nigeria to the extent that they were willing to pass the burden of maintaining it to the south, despite the fact that Britain’s cultural influence through missionary education and Christianity was far more prevalent in the south than in the north? I think it is because Lugard and his cohorts saw illiterate northerners as simple, humble, and more amenable to obedience to centralised authority – qualities appreciated by colonialists and people in power generally. This is understandable, considering that the Islamic theocracy established by Usman Dan Fodio and his descendants in the north tended to encourage conservatism, submissiveness, herd mentality and dislike for anything that might challenge established order. Contrast this with the south where people were more receptive to western education and values introduced by Christian missionaries. Additionally, in the case of Ndigbo, the dynamic, individualistic and achievement-oriented values of Igbo culture tended to make them a people that cannot be easily intimidated or overawed by the white man. Little wonder, then, that the British colonial masters usually described the Igbo as “uppity” and as “the most troublesome of West African peoples.”

The lopsided geographical configuration of Nigeria after the Lugardian amalgamation which has remained intact to this day seems to have been deliberately designed to ensure that the north continues to dominate Nigeria’s geopolitical landscape, because it constitutes over seventy percent of the landmass of the country. Most researchers on Nigerian history concur that the arid, predominantly Muslim north and the south with a huge population of Christians are different countries. Max Siollun, in Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976) states that Nigeria was artificially created by a colonial power and that she is so ethnically, culturally, religiously and linguistically diverse that it is virtually impossible for her citizens to have any commonality of purpose. Yet, the British imperialists, blinded by purely economic interests and administrative convenience, went ahead to amalgamate without the consent of the people and without deep thought about the unintended repercussions of amalgamation.

To be continued. 

 

 

 

 

 


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