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Nigeria's Seven Secrets And The Inevitability Of A Sovereign National Conference (part 3)

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I wish to begin this sequel of my essay with a quote of what Flora Shaw, a former Colonial Editor of the London Times wrote in the newspaper on January 8, 1897: "The name Nigeria, applying to no other part of Africa, may without offence to any neighbours be accepted as co-extensive with the territories over which the Royal Niger Company has extended British influence, and may serve to differentiate them equally from the colonies of Lagos and the Niger Protectorate on the coast and from the French territories of the Upper Niger.” The Lagos colony and Niger Protectorate, all in the south, were not included in the territories to be called Nigeria. The Igbo lands were very much later forced by Walter Egerton, the first Governor of the Southern Protectorate from 1906-1912, who before then took over from the ailing Ralph Moore in 1904 as Governor of Lagos colony, and at the same time was High Commissioner of the Southern Protectorate (which was formed in 1900 to include the Niger Protectorate and areas south of River Niger below Lokoja, which were charters of the Royal Niger Company, and which Protectorate was eventually joined by Lagos colony in 1906) to join the Southern Protectorate after 1906. The Northern Protectorate was called “Royal Niger Company Territories,” and so Ms Shaw’s proposal was for a shorter name for the “agglomeration of pagan and Mohamedan States.” I have written about these states in part 2 of the essay.

It is very clear therefore that Nigeria, as we have today, is a strange creation that must be addressed urgently at a sovereign national conference if the union must work. Let us consider two more secrets about Nigeria which shall throw some more light on what real problems confront Nigeria and what the solution(s) should be.

Secret 5: Nigeria is being tormented by the spirit of fear

1. The Royal North dreads a repeat of pre-1914 conflict:

We find on Wikipedia this statement: “Egerton came into conflict with the administration of Northern Nigeria on a number of issues. There was debate over whether Ilorin should be incorporated into Southern Nigeria since the people were Yoruba, or remain in Northern Nigeria since the ruler was Muslim and for some time Ilorin had been subject to the Uthmaniyya Caliphate. There was argument about the administration of duties on goods landed on the coast and carried into Northern Nigeria. And there was dispute over whether railway lines from the north should terminate at Lagos or should take alternative routes to the Niger River and the coast. Egerton had reason on his side in objecting to the proposed line terminating at Baro on the Niger, since navigation southward to the coast was restricted to the high water season, and even then was uncertain.”

During the colonial period, Southern Protectorate colonial leadership (under Walter Egerton) favoured the expansion of the influence of the South over Northern Protectorate. Duties were levied on goods meant for the Northern Protectorate and which were brought in through coastal ports under the jurisdiction of Southern Protectorate. How much should the Northern Protectorate pay to the Southern Protectorate from those levies? The railway from Kano terminated at Baro, a Nupe town in present Niger state. Goods shipped by this railroad were offloaded into ships or large canoes and transported on the River Niger to the sea. The railroad from Lagos terminated on the bank of River Niger during the administration of Egerton. Northern Protectorate colonial administration was afraid of Egerton’s growing influence, and consequently, that of Southern Protectorate, and the disadvantage of Northern Protectorate (Nigeria) in respect of natural resources (as they thought at that time that the South was more endowed than the North in these resources), geographical location(being land-locked), and education (not a few natives of Lagos colony alone at this period of history were very educated, even more educated than some colonial masters such as Frederick Lugard; the first Yoruba lawyer had been produced in the previous century after the 1807 legislation in Britain prohibiting the involvement of British subjects in the slave trade). The colonial leadership of Northern Protectorate (Nigeria) was also concerned about preserving the culture of the Mohamedans.

When Frederick Lugard took over from Henry Hesketh Bell in September 1912 as Governor of Northern Protectorate, Walter Egerton had been removed as Governor of Southern Protectorate, and replaced by no other person than Mr Lugard in September 1912! Therefore, Frederick Lugard took over as Governor of Southern Protectorate and Northern Protectorate (Nigeria) in September 1912. The singular most important task of Frederick Lugard, an age mate of Walter Egerton (both were born in 1858) was the performance of the “marriage between the well-behaved youth of the North and the Southern lady of means,” the amalgamation of the Southern Protectorate and Nigeria.

This was accomplished in 1914 under the name Nigeria. This formalized the conquest of Southern Protectorate by Nigeria, first with the coup that removed their governor Walter Egerton, and second by the imposition of an unfriendly Frederick Lugard, who assumed the title of Governor-General of the new Nigeria, the first to assume this title, the conquest being complete. Southern Protectorate natives hated Mr Lugard, who worked to protect the interests of Northern Nigeria even in a supposedly united country.

The North would like to see the dredging of the River Niger completed. But it seems there is a deliberate policy by the present Nigerian leadership to delay this. The River Niger, and by extension, the River Benue are very important in defining ethno-Nigerian relations. The politics of the Niger-Benue divide appears to go unnoticed by many Nigerian scholars. Furthermore, the development of the Nigeria railway transportation is not a priority of Nigerian governments for very strategic reasons.

While the nationalists in Southern Nigeria were eager to see off the colonial leadership, their counterparts in the North were not that eager, fearing what would happen to them with the exit of their protectors and benefactors. Any talk of resource control or convocation of a sovereign national conference in Nigeria sends fear down the spine of nationalists in Northern Nigeria, who sense a position of disadvantage. The fear becomes highly exaggerated when they feel or assume the loss of political power. I believe that failure to hold a sovereign national conference to frankly talk among ourselves and undo the fears induced by Frederick Lugard and his successors and the injustices imposed by post-1966 socio-political arrangements of military decrees falsely called Constitutions shall inflict further debilitating blights on our social estate.

2. Southern Nigeria dreads Northern political dominance:

I have no doubt that the “Southern lady of means” favours convocation of a sovereign national conference. But I am also aware that some of her children, because of their unfair benefit from the status quo are against such contemplation. But what I know is that continued denial of the Nigerian presidency shall compel the North to give in to convocation of a sovereign national conference. I think the North shall have a hard time taking the presidency of Nigeria by 2015. This shall willy-nilly force a meeting of nationalities in Nigeria. Some mockers say that if such a conference should hold, it should be on the basis of States. This is baloney! You cannot recognize what you seek to vitiate as a basis of dialogue. We shall meet on the basis of nationalities. For instance, I may attend the conference as a Tiv citizen and not as a delegate from Benue state. The Tiv people have their age-long processes of selecting their representatives. No one should worry about how delegates for a sovereign national conference shall emerge. Each nation in Nigeria should attend to that. We the Tivs would not accept the continued raid on our lands by Fulani herdsmen. We shall no longer permit the extraction of our huge limestone deposits, with consequential pollution of our environment without derivation benefits accruing to our relevant communities; we would like to have control of our natural resources and lands. Only a man who cannot see the future will proudly call advocates of a sovereign national conference, mischief makers. I think if asking for justice makes me a mischief maker in Nigeria, I boldly accept that title. But I say unreservedly, that Nigerian rulers today are troublers of Nigeria.

Secret 6: The collaboration between the Middle Belt and South-South leadership is the key for Nigeria’s redemption.

The Middle Belt is a thick band between the South and North of Nigeria. By population, the Middle Belt is the largest single group in the North. It is the most educated group in the north. Yes, Gowon, Babangida, and Abdusalmi were Middle Belt military rulers, who between them ruled Nigeria for about 18 years. This presents a convenient argument to the Mohamedan north when some of their scholars argue that the North never dominated political leadership in Nigeria. Well, I discussed in the first part of my essay how the Royal North used past rulers in Nigeria, whether of Northern extraction or not.

The point I would like to make now is that the Middle Belt (especially of our generation) possesses the ability to swing political victories one way or the other. And going by the strong sentiments our peoples now feel against the Royal North, it would be impossible for a president to emerge from the Royal North without convocation of a sovereign conference to address the numerous acts of injustice that have made Nigeria to lie helplessly supine on the ground of shame. I am not sure that the South-South would like to surrender the presidency by 2015. There shall be unprecedented political manoeuvring between now and 2015. The good news for Nigerians that seek a more perfect union is that a new dawn is at the door. I wrote and warned the north in November 2009, when I saw on November 22 of that year the demise of President Yar’Adua, the emergence of Jonathan as Nigeria’s president, and the aftermath of violence [See my essay, “On Yar’Adua’s Incapacitation, The Constitution, And A Dream” (2009), which is available online].

Between the South-South and Middle Belt a synergy shall be formed that would make the big three—Igbos, Yorubas, and Hausa/Fulanis to take a necessary notice. Whoever among the big three shall win the confidence of the alliance shall win whatever national contest involving only the big three. However, it shall be difficult for the presidency to leave either the alliance or the south before 2023 except a sovereign national conference is convoked to unleash Nigeria from the drag. The Royal North has a choice to make.

Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria and chairman of the Middle Belt Alliance.

Written By Leonard Karshima Shilgba
[email protected]

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