A new book artfully summarises a fascinating and sometimes troubled historyby Noo Saro-Wiwa / November 10, 2015 / Leave a comment
The Nigerian nation was a concept “as manifest an absurdity as that there is, or can be, a European nation at all events until the arrival of the Millennium.” Those were the words of Sir Hugh Clifford, the then Governor-General of Nigeria, to the Nigeria Council in 1920.
With such shaky foundations it is remarkable that Nigeria (a hotch-potch confederation comprising hundreds of ethnic groups and various religions) has managed to stay together, stuck in this existential quandary.
One year after Africa’s most populated country celebrated its centenary, Richard Bourne, former deputy editor of the London Evening Standard and former deputy director of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, has written a fascinating and wide-ranging book charting the birth of this nation and its struggle to remain “One Nigeria.”
Nigeria began as two colonial protectorates, the northern and southern, ruled by the first Governor-General Lord Lugard. His so-called dual mandate involved “civilising” the natives while helping British investors to benefit from Nigeria’s enormous natural resources. Yet Lugard—an autocrat and racist—was conflicted in his attitude towards the educated southern Nigerian: “… his loud and arrogant conceit are distasteful to me,” he wrote to his wife. “The lack of natural dignity and courtesy antagonise me”. Lugard had more respect for the emirs in the north and their feudal, horse-riding hierarchy. Unwilling to challenge Islam, he was slow to introduce the Western-style education that southerners were receiving.
Lugard applied a system of “indirect rule,” in which administrators maintained tribal ruling systems. This muddled strategy involved dozens of different treaties with traditional tribal rulers. It was designed to curtail those first-generation, educated Nigerians whose irritation with colonial rule posed a threat. By the 1920s and 30s, riots featured regularly. Nationalist organisations such as the National Youth Movement (members included Nigeria’s first president, Nnamdi Azikiwe) fought for universal suffrage, equality for non-European civil servants and an end to the British monopoly of exports at the native traders’ expense.
Meanwhile in the northern protectorate, the elite enjoyed greater cultural independence. The Northern and Southern protectorates maintained separate identities, a cultural and economic disparity that led to Northern concerns about southerners dominating national employment and politics. Fears of…