By Eric Teniola
This is the concluding part of this piece. The second part focused on the economic disparity between Northern and Southern Nigeria
BRITISH rule had also changed the north by introducing a Christian convert population into the region on the outskirts of the Muslim emirates. The British did not consider stabilising the country by dividing it into territorial units consistent with ethno-linguistic zones. In 1898 the Niger Committee had recommended dividing Southern Nigeria into eastern and western regions. Yet, for unspecified reasons, it did not recommend a similar subdivision of Northern Nigeria.
The colonial government belatedly carried out the Niger Committee’s recommendation when it split Southern Nigeria into the Western and Eastern Regions in 1939, yet it left Northern Nigeria intact and undivided. As a result, Northern Nigeria ended up than twice as large as the two southern regions combined.
Creating a country where one region was geographically larger, and had more people, than all the other regions became a constant point of contention. The 1914 amalgamation and the fault lines between the North and South remain among the most contentious issues in modern Nigeria.
More than 106 years after amalgamation, the wisdom of this step is still being debated in Nigeria, and the country continues to grapple with how to deal with the divisions between North and South and the mutual paranoia they often have about each other. The most spectacular eruptions of instability in Nigeria have emerged on a North-South basis: the military coups of 1966, the civil war of 1967-70, the annulment of the presidential election of June 12, 1993 and the ensuing political crisis it generated, and the crisis over Sharia law in the early 2000s.
Each of these controversies has polarised the country on North-South lines. The civil war, which commenced after the South-east seceded, represented one of many attempts to repeal the 1914 amalgamation (the North also threatened secession in 1953 and 1966). It is perhaps unsurprising that conflict would arise in this manner.
It was difficult to build patriotism and emotional loyalty to a country created by a foreign invader and inhabited by people whose prior loyalties had never extended beyond their family, village or kingdom. The lack of British foresight regarding the enormous upheaval that amalgamation would cause is astonishing.
For over twenty- five years prior to the merger, British administrators had year after year mentioned the massive cultural, political and religious differences between the North and South. Yet they insisted on amalgamation simply to fix an accounting problem.
Even if amalgamation was a necessity for colonial administrative convenience, one wonders why it was not reversed or reconfigured when it became apparent that the unified Nigeria would one day become an independent self-governing country.
With no overriding ideological principle behind Nigeria’s creation, it has been left to Nigeria’s post-colonial governments to find ways to rationalise the 1914 amalgamation. Nigeria’s territorial evolution has followed two opposing trends during its colonial and post-colonial eras.
The colonial era was characterised by territorial amalgamation, and followed by the country’s fragmentation into smaller and smaller territorial units during the post-colonial era. Starting from 1967, post-independence Nigerian governments started unravelling Britain’s territorial consolidation by fracturing both the north and south into smaller states, which currently number 36.
It is to Nigeria’s credit that it has developed its own home-grown innovations to reduce tension between the North and South, such as an affirmative action quota system and the alternation of the presidency between northern and southern holders. Perhaps it is pious to expect a colonial government to have contemplated the long-term consequences of its decisions on the people of the colony. As demonstrated again and again in prior chapters, the colonial government’s priority was not to create a new nation with a common ethos.
The priority of Colonial Office officials was to minimize the financial burden to the British taxpayer, reduce bureaucratic duplication and maximize revenue. In that regard it succeeded from British perspective.
In that regard it succeeded from Britain’s perspective. Nigeria was just a page in a colonial accounting ledger.