History has thrust upon our generation an indescribably important destiny – to complete a process of integration which our nation has so long developed too slowly, but which is our most powerful opportunity for development.
He who knows the past controls the future, he who controls the future dictates the present. The journey into the future of our nation begins with the understanding of our past. We need to understand how we came about our unification, how we got here and how to move into our future. Hence, there is the need to briefly review our history
The Royal Niger Company
Very obvious in our history is the British Colonisation experience. After the Berlin conference of 1884, British merchants were attracted to Niger River, as well as some men who had been formerly engaged in slave trade but later changed their line of waves. The large companies that subsequently opened depots in the Delta cities and in Lagos were as ruthlessly competitive as the Delta towns themselves; they frequently used force to compel potential supplier to agree to contracts and to meet their demands.
The most important of the trading companies, whose activities had far-reaching consequences for Nigeria was the then United Africa Company which was an amalgam of various British companies led by George Taubman Goldie in 1879. In 1886, Goldie’s consortium was chartered by the British Government as the Royal Niger Company and granted broad concessionary powers in “all the territory of the basin of the Niger”. These concessions emanated from Britain and not from any authority in Nigeria.
The Terms of the Charter specified that trade should be free in the region, a principle systematically violated as the company strengthened its monopoly to forestall French and German trade interest.
The Royal Niger Company established its headquarters in Lokoja, from where it pretended to assume responsibility for the administration of areas along the Niger and Benue Rivers where it maintained depots.
The Company interfered in the territory along the Niger and the Benue, sometimes becoming embroiled in serious conflicts when its British-led native constabulary intercepted slave raids or attempted to protect trade routes.
The company negotiated treaties with Sokoto, Gwandu and Nupe that were interpreted as guaranteeing exclusive access to trade in return for the payment of annual tribute. Officials of the Sokoto Caliphate considered these treaties quite differently. From their perspective, the British were granted extra-territorial rights that did not prevent similar arrangement with the Germans and the French and certainly did not surrender sovereignty.
Under Goldie’s direction, the Royal Niger Company was instrumental in depriving France and Germany access to the region. It has been said that he may well deserve the epithet “Father of Nigeria”, which imperialists accorded him. He definitely laid the basis for British claims.
Frederick Lugard, who assumed the position of High Commissioner of the Northern Protectorate of Nigeria in 1900, has been often regarded as the model British Colonial administrator. Trained as an army officer, he had served in India, Egypt, and East Africa where he expelled Arab slave traders from Nyasaland and established the British presence in Uganda.
Lugard joined the Royal Niger Company in 1894. He was sent to Borgu to counter in-roads made by the French, and in 1897 he was made responsible for raising the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) with funding from local levies to serve under British officers.
During his six year tenure as High Commissioner, Lugard was occupied with transforming the commercial sphere of influence inherited from Royal Niger Company into a viable territorial unit under effective British Political Control. His objective was to conquer the region and to obtain recognition of the British Protectorate by its indigenous rulers. Lugard’s campaign systematically subdued local resistance, using armed force when diplomatic measures failed.
The protectorate required only a limited number of colonial officers scattered throughout the territory as overseers. Depending on local conditions, they exercised discretion in advising the Emirs and local officials, but all borders from the High Commissions were transmitted through the Emir. Although the High Commissions possessed unlimited executive and legislative powers in the Protectorate, most of the activities of Government were undertaken by Emirs and their local administrators, subject to British approval.
A dual system of law functioned as the Sharia (Islamic law) Court continued to deal with matters affecting the personal status of Muslims, including land disputes, divorce, debt, and slave emancipation. As a consequence of indirect rule, Hausa-Fulani domination was confirmed and in some instances imposed-on diverse ethnic groups, some of which were non-Muslims in the so-called Middle Belt.
The accomplishments of Lugard and his successors in economic development were limited by the revenues available in the Colonial government. One of Lugard’s initial acts was to separate the general treasury of each Emirate from the Emir’s Privy Purse. From taxes collected by local officials, one-quarter and later one-half was taken to support services of the colonial regime, which were meager because of the protectorate’s lack of public resources. In the South, missionaries made up for the lack of government expenditure on services. In the North, Lugard and his successors limited the activities of missionaries in order to maintain Muslim domination.
Consequently, education and medical services in the North lagged behind those in the South. However, progress was made in economic development as railroad lines were constructed to transport tin from Jos Plateau and Northern-grown peanuts and cotton to ports on the coast.
Efforts to apply indirect rule to the South, which was formally a protectorate from 1906, in emulation of Lugard’s successful policy in the North set off a search for legitimate indigenous authorities through whom the policy could be implemented. The task proved relatively easy in Yoruba land, where the governments and boundaries of traditional kingdoms were retained or in some instances, revived.
In the South-East, where Aro hegemony had been crushed, the search for acceptable local administration met with frustration. As a result, the tasks of government initially were left in the hands of colonial officials, who antagonised many Igbos. The Igbos therefore stressed traditional egalitarian principles as a justification for their early opposition to colonial rule. In Yoruba land and in the North, the devolution of administrative duties to the indigenous ruling elite contained much of the early opposition. Resistance to colonial rule was mitigated to the extent that local authorities and courts were able to manage affairs.
THE AMALGAMATION PROJECT
After having been assigned six years as Governor of Hong Kong, Lugard returned to Nigeria in 1912 to set in motion the merger of the Northern and Southern Protectorates. The task of amalgamation was achieved two years later on the eve of World War 1. The principle of indirect rule administered by traditional rulers was applied throughout Nigeria, and colonial officers were instructed to interfere as little as possible with the existing order.
The unification meant only the loose affiliation of three regional administrations into which Nigeria was subdivided – Northern, Western, and Eastern regions. Each was under a Lieutenant Governor and provided independent services. The governor was, in effect, the coordinator for virtually autonomous entities that had overlapping economic interests but had little in common politically or socially. This was what we inherited at independence in 1960.
BASIS OF THE CURRENT NIGERIA.
The Niger River Company gained broad concessionary powers in all the basins of the Niger. The concession had no Nigerian authority’s assent and the concession strengthened British monopoly to forestall the German and French competition. It could be deduced from the foregoing that when Lugard was employed into the Niger River Company in 1894 as the High Commissioner of the Northern protectorate, his objective was to transform the commercial sphere of influence under British control. During Lugard’s administration, it was recorded that progress was made in economic development, even as rail roads were constructed to transport tin and other products to the port for export.
Upon Lugard’s return in 1912, he moved to merge the North and the South and achieved that in two years. The merger was technically loose in affiliation of the three regional administrations into which Nigeria was subdivided.
Now, the question to ask is: can it be safely said that the Nigeria created by amalgamation in 1914 was a product of corporate conspiracy to facilitate British trade? I leave the answer to you!