Nigeria, The Mistake of 1914

Lord Lugard (Wikipedia)

Nigeria’s march to becoming a country can be attributed to British colonial constitutional engineering, which sought to establish it’s own extractive structures and institutions to drive it’s economic interests.

Modern Nigeria came into existence on January 1, 1914, when the British imperialist, Lord Lugard effected the union of both the Northern and the Southern parts of country under the name, ‘Nigeria.’
Over the years, several scholars and statesmen have expressed serious misgivings about the amalgamation, describing it as a “mistake.”

In 1948, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa said, “Since 1914, the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite.The fact that we`re all Africans might have misguided the British Government. We here in the North, take it that `Nigerian unity` is not for us.”

Chief Obafemi Awolowo stated emphatically in his book, Path to Nigerian Freedom (1947) that “Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no ‘Nigerians’ in the same sense as there are ‘English’, ‘Welsh’ or ‘French’. The word ‘Nigerian’ is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not.”

Even some Britist colonial administrators saw that the amalgamation was never intended to unite the various component units. For instance, lending credence to the above assertions, Sir Peter Smithers, a British diplomat who played a major part in the evolution of Nigeria as a country wrote, “the creation of Nigeria involved forcing several different ethnic, cultural and religious groups into one political structure. In retrospect of forty years, it is clear that this was a grave mistake which had cost many lives and will probably continue to do so.” (London Times, July 15, 1998).

Smithers not only acknowledged that Nigeria was a colossal mistake and should not have been created by colonial fiat; but, he was prophetic when he remarked that this mortal mistake has cost many lives and will probably continue to do so until the fundamental structural problems of the country are urgently resolved.

The foregoing prediction still hunt and live with Nigeria as a nation. 107 years after, the search for unity has eluded the country. The call for dissolution resonates at every corner giving impetus to the mushrooming of ethnic and religious insurgency.

In recent time, Chief Fred Agbaje, quoted by Femi Akomolafe in his article, Nigeria: Celebrating the mistake of 1914 (2014), held that the union is a wasted alliance. According to him, “Whatever was the reason for the amalgamation and the intention, it was the beginning of the problems of Nigeria. It was a criminal amalgamation for selfish economic and political reasons by the British. It put the political administration of Nigeria in the hands of some people instead of creating an equitable distribution of power.”

Also, a one-time Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Richard Akinjide (cited in Akomolafe, 2014) noted, “In fact, the so called Nigeria created in 1914 was a complete fraud. It was created not in the interest of Nigeria or Nigerians but in the interest of the British. Nigeria was created as a British sphere of interest for business.”

Ngozika A. Obi-Ani, Paul Obi-Ani and Mathias C. Isiani in their collaborative article, The Mistake of 1914: 100 years after? (2014) wrote, “The merger was done without consultation…to enhance proper adequate economic exploitation of the country. The Nigerian people were lumped together, forced into an unholy wedlock and denied the privilege to accept or reject this marriage of convenience.”

Furthermore, Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo in his book, Nigeria and Her Path to Doom (2018) termed the amalgamation as an “arrange marriage” between the impoverished North as the man and husband and the economically buoyant South as the woman and wife. According to him, “It (the amalgamation) was a deliberate and deadly serious matter, with the game plan being to bring the two parties together in order to give the North political power over the South and permanent control over Southern resources.”

The unhealthy relationship between the North and the South over the years has, to a great extent, proven the veracity of these assertions. Indeed, it was this strained relationship between the two regions that led the late Sultan of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello to describe the amalgamation as “the mistake of 1914.”

My opinion does not differ from the ones above: the 1914 amalgamation by Lord Frederick Lugard was nothing short of an aberration. From day one, it was a mistake and a failure and it remains a mistake and a failure till today.

The amalgamation was a forced marriage of ethnic, religious and cultural incompatibles. The crack in this union has been noticeable since the merger in 1914. The differences in culture and political institutions, among others, of the various groups have given rise to ethnic and religious tensions and rivalries. This explains why there has been little peace between the two regions ever since.

Written by
Ezinwanne Onwuka
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