By Olakunle Olafioye
The disaffection being expressed by a section of Nigeria calling for the breakup of the nation has once again brought the 1914 amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates by Lord Lugard, the then Governor General of Nigeria, to the front burner. The discontent which trailed the exercise from inception appeared to have gradually petered out until recent years when it was resuscitated by the cry of marginalization and deprivation by sections of the country.
After 103 years of the amalgamation exercise and 57 years of independence, not a few Nigerians still feel the unification of the Southern and Northern Protectorates by Lugard, has failed to address the fundamental challenges of the diverse peoples of the nations lumped together as one just as many have repeatedly queried if the initiators of the union really considered the future of the country in terms of a single political entity before the forceful marriage, as many have described the over 10 decades union.
Indeed, the anger against the merger is not a recent development. It dates back 1914 when the exercise was conducted with doubts palpably expressed over the future of the country. The anger and doubts over the union was accentuated by Lugard’s successors. Hugh Clifford, who took over from Lugard had warned in 1919 that ‘the coordination of all administrative work should be directed from a single centre’ but his own successor, Richard Palmer, had disagreed with this view, and had concluded that Nigeria ‘was a mere geographical expression.’ British colonial policy in Africa was vastly different from the French colonial policy of assimilation that envisioned its colonies as possible French states in future but Lugard and most of his administrative successors in Nigeria, many analysts contend, did not have such a vision for Nigeria.
The current agitation for secession and the call for the restructuring of the nation have only accentuated the unending anger against the 1914 amalgamation. Chekwas Okorie, National Chairman of United Progressive Party, UPP, criticized the 1914 union, which according to him was done for selfish reasons.
According to him, the fact that the various nations that now make up the Nigerian nation had smoothly interrelated without hiccups for centuries before the forced marriage was an indication that the various units would have carried on as separate entities without any problem.
“Lord Lugard served the British interest by the amalgamation exercise. For us, it was a very bad contraption for Nigeria because he lumped together people of irreconcilable orientations and backgrounds as well as religions and cultures. He did not have our interest at heart; it was done in the political and economic interest of the British. Prior to the amalgamation, the people that are now known as Nigerians had interacted for several centuries. If he didn’t do what he did then, whatever is called Nigeria today would have been different countries still interrelating without the problems we are having now. So Lord Lugard did a great disservice to Nigeria,” he said
However despite his condemnation of the unification exercise, Okorie still maintains that Nigeria has what it takes to remedy the situation.
“I am not calling for secession but the over-centralisation we are witnessing in this country is dysfunctional. It is now left for us to make good of this very bad situation. The only way we can make it better is to give every ethnic nationality the sense of belonging and the latitude to develop within the context of Nigeria,” he submitted.
A former Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Abubakar Tsav, disagreed with Okorie on the role played by the British in merging the South and the North. According to him, the current call for secession was for the political advantage of the few individuals who feel disgruntled about the activities of the current administration.
“The amalgamation was in order. The issue of separation came into it when a northerner is in power. It wasn’t there when Jonathan was in power. So, the call for separation is purely selfish political interest.
“We have come a long way: we have inter-married and lived together for a very long time but suddenly some people started coming up with the issue of breakup because Buhari is fighting corruption. The issue of separation should have been directed to the National Assembly. It is only the elite that are behind this agitation. The ordinary people on the streets are not bothered about the call and agitation for the break-up of the country,” he noted.
Olapade Agoro, former presidential candidate and national chairman of National Action Council, NAC, is equally not contemplating the breakup of Nigeria as a solution to the problem foisted on the country by the colonial government’s decision to amalgamate the Southern and the Northern Protectorates. Like Okorie, Agoro lampooned Lugard for the selfish motive behind the forced marriage but opined that the panacea for the problem threatening the survival of Nigeria as a nation lies with the leadership.
“When the British came to Nigeria it was primarily for economic interest. The British got to the south when they were looking for the way to evacuate their goods from the north. That was the primary reason they amalgamated the north with the south. It wasn’t then clear to us that the exercise was in their own socio-economic and political interest.
“That notwithstanding, I do not want Nigeria to break up, I want the country united. Those clamouring for our break up are doing so in their own selfish interest. It will be very difficult to breakup now. In fact, I don’t see Nigeria breaking up now. Nigerians should work together to make the union stand as one. We only need a leader that will put in place policies and programmes that will shift Nigerians’ focus away from hunger and deprivation which are in place. Buhari is doing his best. We have arrived as a nation, we cannot breakup now,” he surmised.