Tuesday, January 19, 2010


By Prof. Omo Omoruyi

I once had the occasion to challenge the assertion of President Olusegun Obasanjo on the origin of Nigeria in my essay published by Vanguard. In the essay, I reviewed the contribution of Chief Richard Akinjide on the same subject. While President Obasanjo attributed the creation of Nigeria to God, Chief Akinjide called what the British did in Nigeria as a colossal fraud. I thought the President of Nigeria was just joking and maybe trying out an idea that he knew would have problem making it to stick. Why did he not drop the matter when everyone in Nigeria seems to be convinced that the Nigerian project since its creation is acknowledged as patently unjust to many groups in Nigeria? Should it not have been obvious that since God is a just God any unjust project like Nigeria should not have been associated with God? God is a just God and could not therefore be associated with an unjust act. But recently there has been a persistent attribution of God as the creator of Nigeria to the extent that anyone who dares to question the colonial basis of Nigeria the President quickly calls one all kinds of names. In fact, those who question the President mischaracterization of what Britain did in Nigeria are deemed to have committed a sin in the eyes of President Obasanjo. It is this persistent attribution that God is the creator of Nigeria that is making me to further do this essay.

This essay is not meant to question the fact that God is the source of knowledge and of human understanding and the giver of all things. But we see the "gilded tomb with worms in fold" and we call it the work of God! That is not fair. Which God, one may ask? I am arguing that God means different thing to different faith. But President Obasanjo is a Christian. As a Christian, I know what God means that revealed Himself to believers in three different ways through the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Christians do not invoke the name of God in vain so I was taught in my first day of being exposed to the Bible. This is one of the Ten Commandments. The Holy Bible is clear on this as
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Exodus 20:7
I am worried with the way the Nigerian President plays with God’s name in virtually everything he does.

There are two senses when we talk about "Nigeria". In the first sense, we are concerned with the name, Nigeria, This is like all human beings that must be given names as a way of differentiating one from the other. Who gave us the name Nigeria? We should ask the President that tough question. Was it God? We could ask, how do we come about the name we carry in our daily lives?

The second sense is that we are concerned with how the territory that goes by the name Nigeria came into being? There is no doubt that the name has no meaning in various languages as far as I know. To many people the name does not invoke positive sentiments. In fact it invokes negative sentiments such as neglect, oppression in the hand of some officials that go by that name such as the Nigerian Police or the Nigerian Army.

In the literature on the origin of Nigeria as a name, it first appeared in The Times of London on January 8, 1897 in an essay written by Miss Flora Shaw, who later became the wife of Lord Lugard. Was she sent by God to come up with the term in the word of President Obasanjo? Maybe she was but she did not say so in her essay.

In her essay she was making a case for a shorter term that would be used for the "agglomeration of pagan and Mahomedan States" that was functioning under the official title, "Royal Niger Company Territories". She thought that the term, Royal Niger Company Territories" was too long to be used as a name of a Real Estate Property under the Trading Company in that part of Africa. She was right. That has nothing to do with the people in that part of Africa. What is important in Flora Shaw’s article was that she was in search of a new name and she coined "Nigeria" in preference to such terms as "Central Sudan" that was associated with some geographers and travelers. She thought that the term "Sudan" at this time was associated with a territory in the Nile basin. She then put forward this argument in the Financial Times of London of January 8, 1897 thus:
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.

What is important in the name coined by Miss Flora Shaw were the following facts:
    That Nigeria was to apply to the "agglomeration of pagan and Mahomedan States" meaning the North as we know it today; That the term, Nigeria was to serve to differentiate the area of the Royal Niger Company from other areas. This means that Nigeria was not to apply to Lagos colonies and other Protectorates in the south, meaning the current southern states; That the term Nigeria was to apply to the Royal Niger Company Territories. It should be noted that Sir Frederick Lugard was hired by the Royal Niger Company to bring together under his administration the "Pagan and Mahomedan States". That the name later assumed by the collection of territories amalgamated in 1914 was actually an incorporation of the two system of administration in the south (Lagos Colony and Protectorate) into an existing entity put together under the Royal Niger Company called Nigeria. That the use of a name that was already assumed by the British territories in the north for all the territories amounted to a colossal fraud.
In the literature on the origin of Nigeria as a country, we are told that it was of a colonial creation, meaning that it was created by the colonial power, the British. This is what we are all told as young people in schools. This is what we, as teachers, have been telling our students. This is what parents should be telling their children. How could anyone associate God with creation of Nigeria under the following circumstances?
          The many unjust acts associated with the way the idea of Nigeria was conceived by the British officials; The way the British ran Nigeria and eventually handed over to the preferred group at independence; The way the successive governments ran this country since independence; The way the government of the day is running the affairs of Nigeria since 1999.
Could all the foregoing be associated God? Could this be one way of punishing Nigerians? How could one associate Nigeria with the work of God? The widening inequality everyday ought to have been obvious to the President that it would be unchristian to associate God with an unjust economic or political order.

In a more sophisticated reasoning, we are told that following the "scramble for Africa" in the late 19th Century, Africa was "partitioned" into "real estate property" by and for the Europeans. After the "partitioning of Africa", the present area called Nigeria was allocated to Britain. Consequently, the area occupied by present day Nigeria was allocated to Britain at the Berlin Conference, Britain like other European powers, France, Belgium, Portugal, Germany, Italy and Spain, set out after 1885 to establish "effective occupation" of her "real estate property". One could recall the many studies on this subject such as Saadia Touval, The Boundary Politics in Independent Africa (Harvard University Press, 1972).

The method of "effective occupation" by Britain varied from one part of the "real estate" to another. Some by outright fraud called "treaty of protection", some by "conquest" and other a mixture of both. Even though in international law there ought to have been a difference, the two forms of "effective occupation" were misapplied in the eventual colonization of Nigeria. What I am trying to say is that the method of "effective occupation" applied by Britain between 1885 and 1900 was different from one part of the "real estate" to another.

What is important was that in the exploitation of the "real estate", the different peoples inhabiting the different areas were taken as part of the real estate, materials and objects of exploitation. Eventually the people developed into the status of "British Subjects". The people inhabiting the British enclave called Nigeria were called "British Subjects" before October 1, 1960. It was under this status that Nigerians qualified to be Knighted and adorned with the tile of Queen Counsel. Have we forgotten that our Armed Forces were called the "Queen’s Own" Nigerian Regiment", etc., etc. President Obasanjo like many officers of his generation was not recruited into the Nigerian Army but into the Queens Own Nigerian Army. Those who were Knighted and given other Honors from London were proud to call themselves "Sir this" and "Sir that" or QC. They did not know or they ought to have known that they were being conferred titles as "British Subjects" and not as "Nigerian Citizens", because there was nothing so called until after October 1, 1960. Nigeria as an actor on the international scene commenced with the formal granting of independence by Britain to the people of the colony on October 1, 1960. A lot of ignorance abounds in Nigeria. Instead of trying to resolve the matter we are further complicating it by attribution of God to the origin of Nigeria.

I had to face my colleagues in the Constituent Assembly with this fact in 1978. The Murtala/Obasanjo military regime had passed a decree on disqualification of persons from the succession election and made it effective from January 15, 1866. I was shocked that this found its way into the Draft Constitution Bill that we were to consider in the Constituent Assembly. The date was discriminatory as the date January 15, 1966 only applied to the date of the first military coup in Nigeria. This was why I pushed for the amendment to the Section of the Draft Constitution on the argument that if the military was interested in cleaning Nigeria of whatever past conduct it found unacceptable, the date should be the date when Nigeria was born. I genuinely believed then and still do so today that the only level playing field in any legislation that purports to treat Nigerians as Nigerians should start from October 1, 1960 and not from any artificial date after then. I am referring to the military’s plan to bar certain persons from January 15, 1966 and my successful amendment in the Constituent Assembly on the ground that the military’s date was discriminatory and did not accord with the historical fact of Nigerians as Nigerians as commencing from October 1, 1960. By an overwhelming vote of 121 to 16, my amendment was carried and the effective date was moved from January 15, 1966 to October 1, 1960. See Volume Three, The Proceedings of the Constituent Assembly 1977/78.

Another important issue we should note was that the method of "effective occupation" of the British "real estate" by Britain did not lead to one British territory called Nigeria. What Britain had in her "real estate" in this part of Africa between 1885 and 1912 were many pieces of "real estate", territories. It should be noted that there was one huge British territory in the north, called the British Protectorate of Northern Nigeria and there were many British territories in the south.

What we should also note that the fact that we had one huge northern territory did not mean that there was one people. Rather there were many northern peoples that were to be made to be subservient to the Sokoto Caliphate with the Headquarters at Kaduna. Britain did not anticipate that a situation would arise where the non-members of the north would aspire to be of the same political status as the members of the Caliphate. The way Lord Lugard characterized the relationship between the Muslim north and others is intriguing. He paid tribute to the unity of the Emirs and the beautiful "dancers of the pagans". He did not see the possibility of the "pagan" i.e. the present day Middle-Belt aspiring to rule in the north. That the "pagans" took to Christianity was as a result of the fact Christian missions were barred from the Muslim north with the school system. In the Middle-Belt the Church was accompanied with the ability to read and write in English that was primarily required in the propagation of the faith. The Hausa/Fulani who took to Christianity along with the pagans became the light in the Muslim north such the late Dr. RAB Dikko and Professor Ishaya Audu.

The other unanswered question was whether the original object of "effective occupation" of the area was to make the Muslim component of the Sokoto Caliphate the only permanent ruler of the north. What about the Muslim component outside the Sokoto Caliphate such as the Borno area that could lay claim to Islam independent of the Sokoto caliphate? This was an issue in 1978 when Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim thought it was the turn of the Kanuri and not of the Fulani to assume the leadership of Nigeria as a candidate of the north. He referred to the pact between the late Sardauna of Sokoto and his father in law, Sir Kashim Ibrahim that leadership of the north would rotate between Sokoto and Borno. He told us in the leadership of the Nigerian peoples party that that was the basis of his decision to vie for the office of President of Nigeria. The then Sultan of Sokoto Sir Saddique Abubakar, was privy to this pact hence, Alhaji Waziri had so many supporters among the princes in Sokoto during the 1978/79 elections. In fact, one of the sons of the Sultan of Sokoto, Sarkin Fada who was the leader of Waziri campaign team in the north died in a motor accident during this period. This was why Alhaji Waziri’s party had a foothold in Sokoto during the 1979 election. I am saying this much to debunk Alhaji Shagari’s account in his memoir of why the north did not support Alhaji Waziri in 1979.

I was privy to why Alhaji Waziri decided to run as the candidate of the north in the 1979 presidential election. He genuinely believed that it was the turn of the Kanuri with the Muslim North in accordance with the pact between Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and Alhaji Kashim Ibrahim on the way the northern leader should rotate between the Caliphate and Borno. As noted above, the north was further complicated by the emergence of Christianity in the non-Caliphate enclave in Plateau, Adamawa, Benue and Niger. Later there were attempts by successors of Britain in the north to make the land and the people of the north into "one north", "one people" and with "one destiny" especially in their dealing with the rest of Nigeria. I was a witness to the way the non-Muslim elements in the north in these States asserted themselves in 1977/78 in the Constituent Assembly and after in the name of the Council of Understanding and Solidarity (CUS) led by Chief Solomon D. Lar.
(culled from www.nigerdeltacongress.com. First published July 2002)