By Douglas Anele
All the military dictators and civilian leaders of Nigeria starting from Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to retired Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari had always proclaimed dogmatically that the unity and oneness of Nigeria is sacrosanct and non-negotiable.
In addition, most politicians, sycophants, clerics, prominent traditional rulers and members of the ruling elite generally maintain ad nauseam that “our strength as a people is in our diversity because it makes our country stronger,” implying that the multiple plural nature of Nigeria is an advantage that should be maintained despite compelling evidence to the contrary.
Now, due to the shameful failure of leaders that have emerged thus far to manage Nigeria’s diversity and create a viable nation founded on justice, equity and fair play for all citizens irrespective of ethnicity, religion, political affiliation and socioeconomic status, it is very important at these uncertain times to examine critically the purported non-negotiability and indissolubility of Nigeria in order to appreciate the onerous challenges facing the present generation and the need for urgent radical sociopolitical engineering.
Besides, the chequered history of our experience with nation building seems to suggest that One Nigeria is an impossible proposition given the deepseated irreconcilable contradictions between the worldviews and cultures of the major ethnic nationalities domiciled in the country – between the north and the former eastern region in particular.
Put differently, the claim of non-negotiability and sacrosanctity of Nigeria must be subjected to the crucible of ratiocinative scrutiny because it seems to be a red-herring meant to distract attention from the fact that British imperialists created the country on the foundation of deceit, manipulation and violence,and deliberately handed her over to the Fulani intent on bringing Usman Dan Fodio’s nineteenth century jihad to its logical conclusion, the total Fulanisation and Islamisation of the entire country.
Unfortunately, naïve prominent southern political leaders with little understanding or appreciation of the real hegemonic intentions of their Fulani compatriots led the quest for Nigeria’s independence on terms mostly tailored to accommodate the excessive parochial demands of northern leaders backed by incessant threats to pull out of the country.
With the benefit of historical hindsight, it is clear that the efforts of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Anthony Enahoro and other frontline southern politicians who participated in the struggle for a single unified independent Nigeria stemmed from monumental errors of judgement.
Only those completely ignorant of frustrating Nigerian history or whose sense of reasoning has been totally beclouded by self-serving motives would suggest, let alone insist especially at this time, that the country must remain the way it was created by Britain since 1914.
As I argued previously in this column, Nigeria emerged through a combination of violence and deceit by British imperialists who, for administrative convenience and optimum exploitation of the people and resources domiciled in the areas they annexed, decided to bring together different ethnic nationalities several of which can stand on their own as viable independent countries.
Moreover, had British colonialists not been blinded by selfish economic considerations and realistically looked at the herculean challenge of compelling very diverse peoples to live harmoniously together under one country, had they really intended that the ethnic nationalities which constitute the new country Lord Lugard created should develop at their own pace in future, they would have used the opportunity of northern unpreparedness for independence when the motion was first tabled in 1953 to partition Nigeria into at least two separate countries.
After all, the same British colonised India,and at independence in 1947 allowed the predominantly muslim part of the country to break away and form Pakistan, and from the latter Bangladesh emerged. Of course, it is likely that aside from economics and the failure of southern political leaders to present a united front for partition, Britain treated Nigeria differently due to racism, a conclusion well corroborated by the history of European contact with black Africa.
Although the creation of Nigeria favoured the north, there is enough evidence that right from the beginning the dominant political and religious leaders of the Fulani dominated northern region were averse to the notion or idea of One Nigeria since they were afraid that the far better educated southerners would dominate them and endanger their traditional way of life. Thus to protect existing feudal status quo and preserve their privileges, northerners not only resisted western education but also opposed integration and close relations with the south.
Accordingly between 1944-45 when the British governor-general, Sir Arthur Richards, was making consultations across the country for a new constitution frontline northern politicians and traditional rulers were unequivocal in their rejection of amalgamation because it is “the marriage of irreconcilables.” Indeed, most of them opposed the idea of a central legislative body for the entire country.
They reluctantly agreed to go along with the proposal if (1) the principle of separate regional development is enshrined in the new constitution; (2) if the northern region is given about half of the seats in the federal legislature. Sir Richardson was replaced by Sir John Macpherson who introduced a new constitution intended to bring the north and south closer at least at the federal level. By this time, the north had learned that it could get its way with the British and myopic southern politicians by threatening to secede from Nigeria.
It must be observed that the northern separatist disposition was more realistic than the push towards greater unity by colonial officials and southern politicians because of deep-rooted cultural and ideological differences between the north and the south.As one perceptive commentator on Nigerian history puts it, northerners did not hide their deep conviction that the British were wrong to amalgamate their region with the south, and expression of that point of view ran right through northern political thinking from the end of World War II to independence.
At various regional conferences put together by Macpherson in 1949, the northern delegates insisted on fifty percent representation at the central government. A year later during the General Conference held at Ibadan in January, the emirs of Zaria and Katsina made it quite clear that “unless the northern region is allotted fifty percent of the seats in the federal parliament they will ask for separation from the rest of Nigeria on the arrangements existing before 1914.The north got what it wanted.
It seems that whenever the north sneezes secession, so to speak, British colonial administrators catch the cold of appeasement! In fact, after independence the north was allotted more seats in the federal legislature than the eastern and western regions combined. This meant that no official decision of the federal government affecting Nigeria as a whole could be taken without the endorsement of northern political leaders.
From the foregoing, it can be inferred that Britain’s duplicitous policy of appeasing the northern ruling class and myopic acceptance of those concessions by southern leaders laid the foundation for domination of political power by the Fulani which has continued up to this time, as if Fulani caliphate colonialism has replaced British colonialism.
Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto and arguably the greatest northern political leader, believed that the formation of One Nigeria in 1914 was a step in the wrong direction. In his autobiography, My Life, Bello described how he was tempted to pull the north out of Nigeria. He relented not out of concern or desire for a united Nigeria but because such a move will be economically disastrous for his region.