Independence Day: A Historical Journey on Nigeria’s Creation

As we celebrate yet another, by now almost meaningless, (depends on how you look at it) Independence Day, Nigerians will be deafened by rhetoric, insincerity and more empty promises. There will be parties all over the world and all kinds of expensive jamborees, especially in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The President and all the State Governors will appear in their finest at rallies, and over loudspeakers, dressed in their babarigas, agbadas and feathered caps, robotically reading from prepared speeches, mutter the usual inanities , reading long patriotic messages that we have been hearing for the past 48 years – “we will do this, we will do that; we are on course; there’s light at the end of the tunnel”, and promise heaven and earth and assure us that they are looking after our interests (and not their pockets). Even the clueless Local Government Chairmen and women will get in on the act. Obasanjo, Odili, Ibori, Kalu, Igbinedion, Akume, Yerima, Dariye, Nnamani, Alamieyesigha, Ladoja, Boni Haruna and the whole corrupt lot of them sent similar messages over the last eight years, and we all know what has changed or not changed. A lot of the current governors will send the same messages on 1st October, but we know they are talking from the sides of their mouths, pretending to be righteous, and waxing lyrical. Nothing will change after the expensive parties, and they are back in their offices the next day, plotting to steal our money, subjecting us to more sufferings and causing death and misery to our people.

Anyway, that is their problem, or is it?. I hardly listen to them anymore.

It is on the back of this Independence Day that I would like to regale my countrymen with some historical journey and facts about our country. This is my own way of celebrating our independence. While we may have gained independence from the British in 1960, the last forty-eight years has certainly not been independent to the majority of Nigerians, because we are still enslaved to a small cabal of ingeniously evil, corrupt, selfish, greedy, mad and murderous people in power, who have brought us to our knees.

Hence I reproduce some of our history. The article was written by Peter De Iongh in History Today, December 1964. This will be in two parts as it is a rather long article. I collect rare books, articles, magazines relating to Nigeria’s early beginnings and I am proud to say I have a sizeable collection of these, which I have found to be precious. Some of them are so old they are falling to pieces and have to be specially preserved. I will from time to time extract from this collection to help history students and those others who may be interested in knowing how we arrived as a country, because I do not believe I should keep this knowledge to myself.

Here is the article:

NIGERIA – Two Imperialists and their creation
“The largest of African republics possesses an ancient and composite civilisation, but the form that the country takes today owes much to two British colonial administrators”

By Peter De Iongh, History Today, December 1964, pp 835 – 843

Nigeria will soon go to the polls. It is now a Federal republic of some fifty-five million people, by far the largest population in Africa. Five years ago it was a British dependency; fifty years ago, its boundaries long fixed, it was united under one administration; a hundred years ago it was inconceivable. Englishmen drew its boundaries, developed its economy, gave it a government; but it is still unclear how permanently they built.

It was “suffocatingly hot” in the Lagos Court House on January 1st, 1914, when Sir Frederick Lugard, KCMG, was sworn in as Nigeria’s first Governor-General. Anybody looking back would have reason to ponder the developments of the previous fifty years. In 1864 the only territory owned by Britain in that part of the world was Lagos itself, purchased from a native chief three years earlier with the still unfulfilled idea of checking the slave trade. Protestant missionaries laboured among the heathen at Calabar, Abeokuta and Onitsha, while British merchants plied on the steamy coast and up the Niger-Benue river system. On the coast, they were heirs to the slavers who had turned, along with most of the coastal tribes, to a rather more humane traffic in palm oil. Most of the two hundred firms recorded by the African Steamship Co. in 1856 were engaged here. Liverpool-based, they competed fiercely among themselves for moderate profits, and depended on the savage but monopolistic middlemen of the Kingdoms of Bonny and Brass, who dominated the delta. Perhaps 46,000 tons of palm oil, worth about £1 ½ million, were exported from these regions in a year. There was a British Consul at Fernando Po. The Niger-Benue had been opened up by the Lander brothers in the 1830’s. Fever had taken a harsh toll until Surgeon-Commander Baikie’s discovery of the use of quinine for his expedition of 1854 made river navigation really possible. Since then several firms, of which the West Africa Company was the largest, had moved into the rivers. They had suffered many setbacks and found it hard to make a profit in anything but palm oil. But this meant a conflict with the Brassmen who, with cannons and rifles supplied from Liverpool, often fired on incursive steamers, causing death and damage. The profits of the trade, MacGregor Laird, one of the pioneers had written, were “not equal to the expense of getting at it.” Government help was needed; but the Government was not sympathetic. The Select Parliamentary Committee of 1865 resolved that in West Africa: “all further extensions of territory or assumptions of government, or new treaties offering any protection to native tribes, would be inexpedient.”

With what is now Northern Nigeria there was even less contact. North of the Niger-Benue confluence flourished the Muslim, aristocratic and commercial Empires of Bornu and Sokoto. A few articles of European make could be found in great market cities like Kano, as Heinrich Barth pointed out. Barth was the sole survivor of the British Government expedition of 1851-5 which, staring from Tripoli was intended to explore the entire Sokoto Empire. In his five-volume journal, published in 1857-8, he emphasised the wealth of the regions, the prevalence of slavery and the prospects for trade. He had secured from the Emir of Bornu and the Sultan of Sokoto letters of franchise guaranteeing security for British merchants. He concluded his writings without undue modesty:

“I have the satisfaction to feel that I have opened to the view of the scientific public of Europe a most extensive tract of the secluded African world, and not only made it tolerably known, but rendered the opening of regular intercourse between Europeans and these regions possible”.

But his work had aroused little enthusiasm, popular or official. For many years, the northern Emirs’ experience of Europe was to be limited to the memory of a single traveller on horseback who came with quaint gifts and an insatiable curiosity.

Yet within fifty years, the British flag was flying over a unified Nigeria. Government policy receded from the extreme position of 1865, but the development shows how individual activity can end by creating a national interest that demands Government intervention. Goldie was not allowed to hatch his own golden egg.

George Goldie Taubman – he changed his name to Taubman Goldie on receiving his knighthood in 1887 and later dropped the Taubman – first went to West Africa in 1877. He was aged thirty-one. Born into an aristocratic Manx family and destined for the army, he opted instead for a life of adventure and dissipation.

“I was blind drunk”, he wrote later, “when I passed my final examination for the engineers. Two years later a relation died leaving me his fortune. I was so elated by the freedom this gave me that I bolted without sending in my papers. I went straight to Egypt. There I fell in love with an Arab girl. We lived in the desert for three years. Garden of Allah! She died of consumption.”

Meting Hausa pilgrims from the west inspired him to buy a copy of Barth’s Journal, which he studied. Returning to England, he spirited the family governess away to Paris for a clandestine love affair. Unfortunately, the year was 1870 and the lovers were trapped in Paris by the besieging Prussians. Inescapably compromised, they returned to London and were quietly married. After the wedding, Goldie was still unemployed, but the family had acquired an interest in the small firm of Holland Jacques, which was losing money on the Niger. Would he like to investigate? He agreed; it would give him a chance to see the western Sudan and perhaps do some exploring on his own account.

In the thirteen years since 1864, commerce had grown on the rivers to an annual value of £300,000, due partly to Simpson’s expedition to the Emir of Nupe. That prince had agreed to protect British traders, bartering ivory and shea-butter for firearms. But more firms had brought more bickerings; for example, Millers of Glasgow had entered the lower Niger to bypass the Brassmen and were muscling in on the West Africa Company and Holland Jacques. Brass hostility reached such a pitch that since 1871 gunboats had been summoned yearly. In eight swift years, Goldie, the inexperienced newcomer, made himself master of the rivers. Monopoly was his nostrum, and he persuaded the other firms to amalgamate with him into the United Africa Company in 1879; reorganised and incorporated as the National Africa Company, with a declared capital of £1 million, in 1882. In 1879, two French companies appeared on the river. They flourished at first, but he undercut them fiercely, and bought them into his company in 1884. To eliminate future rivals, he sought to acquire control through a charter company on the East India model – anathema to Free Trade Britain (“The government of an exclusive company of merchants is perhaps the worst of all forms of governments” Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations.) The claims of the Brassmen were brushed aside. Treaties with rulers above the delta established at least a semblance of consent; it was enough for the Berlin Conference, which agreed to British supremacy on the rivers but laid on her heavy and expensive responsibilities. To implement this, the Foreign Office declared a Protectorate over the “Niger districts.” This action was welcome neither at the Treasury nor in the Colonial Office, and Goldie encouraged their attitudes, offering to rule the river above the delta with his own staff and at no expense to Government. In 1886 he got his charter. Meanwhile, protectorate over the Oil rivers remained a dead letter.

The charter gained, Goldie swiftly set up a previously prepared administration, based on London. It contained the germ of indirect rule. The function of the Company Agents was not to govern Africans – resources were far too limited in any case – but to exclude competitors by enforcing prohibitive tariffs, traffic restrictions and trading licences; to trade in spirits cost a firm £200 per annum. In the next eight years, Goldie squeezed the Brassmen off the river, came to terms – his own – with the Liverpool merchants; confirmed Company influence in Gandu and Sokoto; briefed Salisbury in his negotiation of the present northern frontier of Nigeria with the French; and signed a Cameroons boundary treaty with the German Foreign Office, bringing most of the navigable Benue finally into the Company sphere.

Later, Goldie planned to extend the Charter government over the Oil rivers; and he proposed that the Company should abandon its monopoly and create a proper administration, deriving its income – like the East India Company after 1813 – from tariffs alone. But by 1895, the French were actively pursuing the grand imperialist scheme that was to bring most of West Africa under their rule. The new Conservative Government in London began to make impossible demands on Goldie’s small forces as expeditions like that of the notorious Mizon began to appear on the river. French troops occupied Dahomey and crossed overland to the Niger below Bussa. This exposed the Company’s weakest spot – Borgu. Flimsy claims there had to be reinforced quickly, and Goldie’s choice of the man to do so was a brave defiance of the French.

Captain Frederick Lugard had achieved in Uganda a notoriety like that of Mizon in West Africa. That this reputation was undeserved is irrelevant. In Uganda, he had intervened in a religious dispute between Catholic and Protestant converts in order to prevent a civil war. The war had come in 1892, and some Catholic converts had died. Inflated versions of these events had reached the French press and Lugard’s “atrocities” had been bitterly denounced.

This “brigand,” “man destitute of all honour,” had been born in 1858 into the large family of a poor Indian Army chaplain. Sickness forced his saintly mother to leave India when he was a child, and death claimed her when he was seven. He joined the army after a hard schooling and spent most of the next nine years on active service in Afghanistan, the Sudan and Burma. He fell idealistically in love with a girl for whom he virtually threw up his army career. She shrugged him off and, almost desperate with sorrow, he took ship from Naples down the Red Sea. By chance he was offered employment with the missionary African Lakes Company, and in a gallant campaign he cleared Lake Nyasa of Arab slave traders. Next, in the service of the Imperial East Africa Company, he laboured to ensure British control of Uganda, and eliminated slave-raiding. Against huge indifference at home his weapons were a pen and a sincere lucid style; against chaos in Uganda, a few rifles and two defective Maxim guns. To the French, however, he was the worst sort of British imperialist; and, when the Protectorate was declared, the tactful British Government offered him no further employment in East Africa.

Lugard’s arrival in Nigeria found Goldie under growing pressure from all sides. The Brassmen plundered the Company station at Akassa, slaughtering forty prisoners, yet the Government would not consent to disarming them. The Governor of Lagos was demanding that Company troops attack Ilorin, whose Emir was troubling him. French preparations to force a corridor from Dahomey to the Niger were well advanced. Company relations with Nupe were very bad, and the British press were demanding ever more insistently that the Government take over the rivers. When Goldie made plans to send troops against Nupe and Ilorin, Salisbury informed the French, thus ensuring that they knew when the middle Niger would be undefended; on his return from his expedition Goldie found Lieutenant Bretonnet established at Bussa, itself a Company treaty state. Naturally, relations between Goldie and the Government deteriorated sharply; but the need for larger forces in the area could not be denied.

Lugards’s comparative failure to make binding treaties in Borgu in the presence of substantial French units underlined it. Finally, Goldie agreed, provided that Lugard, the only man he felt he could trust, was placed in command. Hence in 1898, Lugard appeared in Company territory in the new role of “Commissioner and Commandant” of the West African Force, soon to become the West African Frontier Force. This spelt the end of the Company. For eighteen months, while negotiations dragged on, its administration decayed, till finally Goldie was bought out for £865,000. In January 1900, the Protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria were proclaimed. Lugard became High Commissioner of the North. Goldie was out of a job, but at least he had done well by his shareholders.

…to be continued.

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