Saturday, January 23, 2010


By Prof. Omo Omoruyi.

I do not want to start a controversy; there is definitely a contrasting notion of right and wrong and in the origin, purpose and end of the State in Christian and Islamic political thought on the one hand and between these two religions and the African Traditional Religion on the other. Every community in Nigeria has its own history. Every community has a clear notion of what is right and wrong with the Nigerian project. Also every ethnic community in Nigeria has a clear notion of creation and of the creator of Nigeria. Let me speak of my people, the Edo people.

The Edo people to which I belong have a history of how the world began and of the position of the Edo people in it up till this day. I recall listening to the Oba of Benin addressing a crowd of people at St. Matthews Church compound in 1952 on the need for the people of Benin and Delta to reclaim their right in Nigeria. He was very emphatic that the people of Benin and Delta must have a state of their own. I recall this incident very well as that was my first time of hearing the Oba speak in public. This was the first time I heard of the betrayal of his people by the British. He told his audience that Britain never told his father that they would be substituting one colonial rule for another one. These were profound statements that didn’t dawn on me as they did not form the subject of discussion in my home even though politics was well discussed in my home. These were not issues that formed the subject of discussion in schools. The year 1952 was the beginning of a new system of government that brought in Ministers.

The following year, the Oba of Benin carried this campaign to the leaders of Benin and Delta Provinces. He was very definite that in dealing with the British, his people were never told through their traditional leaders that at some point they would be made to serve under the Yoruba. In a powerful address to the leaders of the people of Benin and Delta Provinces in Benin on September 18, 1953, the Oba of Benin made a case for a new State for the people of Benin and Delta Provinces because all want to get freedom, not only from the white man, but from foreign African Nation (YORUBA).

The Oba had in mind two forms of colonialism and therefore two forms of liberation. While Nigerians in general were fighting for liberation from the British colonial order, the different ethnic nationalities that found themselves in the artificial political regions (North, East and West) should also seek liberation from the "African Nation". This was a distinction never appreciated until later by other ethnic nationalities in the north and in the east. Today, at the national level, the minorities in the north and in the south are confused as to how Nigerian politics can be moved beyond the tripod. We tried to experiment with how the minorities in the north and in the south could form the Fourth Dimension and move the country beyond the tripod. This is the subject of my book, Beyond the Tripod in Nigerian Politics.

One would recall how the Oba of Benin challenged his people as follows: I hope everyone will pull his weight in this National Struggle, because at this critical time when all the Nations of this country called Nigeria are fighting hard to assert their National status, it will be unwise for Benin-Delta to do nothing about asserting its own".

The Oba made another profound statement as follows: The unity of Old Nigeria can only be maintained by the type of regionalization the London Constitutional Conference has recommended.

He went on: Benin-Delta was a sovereign Nation before the occupation of the country by the British; that is why Britain cannot annex it (Benin-Delta Nation) to the Yoruba State". The above is from Michael Vickers: Ethnicity and Sub-Nationalism in Nigeria (Oxford 2001).

From the above, the Oba of Benin was clear that the people of Benin and Delta Provinces were one people before colonialism created the two artificial Provinces. He further said that the Benin and Delta Provinces were sovereign people before the British occupation and that the British deprived them of their sovereignty. The Oba of Benin was very definite that this was made worse with the creation of the artificial region that placed the people of Benin and Delta Provinces under the Yoruba, another "African Nation".

What the Oba of Benin was saying was what Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo said later in books. According to the Oba of Benin, Nigeria was made of many Nations before the white man came to amalgamate the different parts into one Nigeria. As the Oba put it, amalgamation did not mean the process of annexing one Nation to another State as the successors of the British in different parts of Nigerian attempted to do in the old regions of the North, the West and the East.

The Oba of Benin was reacting to the statement of the Alake of Abeokuta during the opening of the House of Assembly on January 7, 1952. It should be noted that after the Speech from the Throne delivered by the Lt. Governor, Sir Hugo Marshall, the Alake of Abeokuta rose to speak and commenced his speech as follows:
"On my right sits the Oni of Ife….. On my left, the leader of our Government, Obafemi Awolowo…..The voice of the West is complete". (Hansard of the Western House of Assembly January 7, 1952)

Did the Alake appreciate that Nigeria was made up of Nations brought together in the three political regions by the British? Did the Alake know that beside the Yoruba Nation there was another Nation in the West? Did the Alake know that that his speech was offensive to the non-Yoruba in the region? Where did he place the Oba of Benin and the Olu of Warri? How could the Alake of Abeokuta say that the voice of the West was complete after naming three Yoruba?

Where were the Benin and Delta Provinces who were though part of the Western Region were occupied by non-Yoruba people artificially put in the same Region by the British?
Who would recognize them? For how long would they go unrecognized?

Arising from this incident, the non-Yoruba in the House of Assembly made up their mind to agitate for a home of theirs, a new Region that later became the Midwestern Region as the Fourth Region in Nigeria.

Reading the report of Lord Lugard’s visit to the southern states before he proceeded with the amalgamation, it was obvious that the issue of making one ethnic nationality to serve under another was never raised with the leaders of the communities in the south. But that was what Lugard proceeded to doing in 1914 and after; it was this injustice that formed the basis of the north-south relation after independence. Lugard’s plan was to make one part of the country to serve under another part. That was never raised with the leaders of the south.

What the Oba of Benin was saying was that the Edo people have a history of creation or of their place in history. The Edo people lived in an independent country with diplomatic relation with Portugal in the 15th Century before the British people ever stepped on any part of Nigeria. Even at the commencement of the amalgamation project, the British had a treaty relation called the "Treaty of Protection". In fact, when the British Governor General to the two "Nigerias" visited Benin he had this to say about Benin and its administration.

The Binis are intelligent and law abiding. They had like the Buganda established a regular form of government.

Lord Lugard went on: Benin must be an ancient kingdom dating back to 14th and 13th century and the home of the highest art discovered in Africa outside Egypt, I suppose.

Narrating the subject of discussion when he paid a visit to the Benin traditional ruler and the leaders during the time he was planning his amalgamation, Lord Lugard had this to say in his letter to his wife: Of course, we (he and the Benin leaders) talked much of the massacre and of the subsequent army under Dawson, which broke the power of Benin.

Appreciating the military prowess of the Benin military he had this to say in his letter to his wife: It took a strong upwards of 2,000 blue jackets with artillery etc. and they had heavy fighting. That was 1897, just when I came from South Africa to raise the West African Frontier Force.

Lord Lugard also acknowledged the level of political awareness of the Bini people and the development of Benin during his visit to Benin. According to him, The Bini Chiefs, who presented themselves stripped to the waist, only raised one question, the water rate as Benin had laid on water supply.
For the above, see Margery Perham, Lugard: The Years of Authority (London Collins 1960) p. 405.a

All the foregoing about the Benin attitude to the way Nigeria was formed by the British and the place of Benin in Nigeria during the visit of Lord Lugard contrast sharply with the notion of creation in the Bible and with the notion of creation of Nigeria in the theory of Obasanjo. I am aware that the Yoruba people of which the President is a part, have clear notion of creation and the place of the Yoruba in the past, the present and the future. These ethnic positions are not necessarily anti-Nigeria.

I still recall what Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the sage of Nigerian politics said that one has to be a good Yoruba before being a good Nigerian and not the other way round. Even Lord Lugard avoided the Yoruba elites in Lagos Abeokuta and Ibadan like a plague. Of the Yoruba of Lagos, Lord Lugard said in a letter to his wife:
I am somewhat baffled as to how to get into touch with the educated native… start with. I am not in sympathy with him. His loud and arrogant conceit are distasteful to me, the lack of natural dignity and courtesy antagonize me.

Of the Yoruba in Ibadan Lord Lugard had this to say:
You will see the class I had to deal with. They say that Lagos people will not be reduced to the futile condition of the north Nigeria without a protest and a big noise; they had emissaries all over Ibadan, Oyo and all the Yoruba towns stirring up the people to resist loss of their lands and taxation. They regard it with suspicion if I blow my nose, and think it means some deep-seated plot. I am beginning to think that they are hopeless and that any attempt to make any reform with their cooperation is impossible. The above is also from Margery Perham p. 389 and 390.

What should be noted was that at this time, the Yoruba could boast of many Lawyers, Doctors and Engineers, more educated than Lord Lugard and he knew so. He also knew that these Lagos educated natives who have been to Europe and studied in England had access to world news. He knew that they were conversant with the plan of the British to amalgamate the two "Nigerias" as they were able to read what was said in the British Parliament on the matter. This was why he wanted to move the Capital of the amalgamated Nigeria to the north, Zungeru or Kaduna, a plan that was later executed by General Murtala Muhammed.

The "Lugard’s children", as the northern political leaders were called by the Lagos elite, are still of the view of Lord Lugard today. This is Nigerian’s history; General Obasanjo did not tell us, which one he was referring to.

President Obasanjo is a Christian and a spirit-filled he professes. One should be of the opinion that whenever he refers to God, he actually means the Christian God. The interpretation in the north is that when Obasanjo says that God created Nigeria he is actually referring to the Christian God. The implication of this kind of reasoning is dangerous in a multi-religious society like Nigeria.

And that God is God of Justice and Mercy that saw him through the period in the Gulag. Why does the President not say so that the God he serves is God of Justice and Mercy that abhors what in the Nigerian military under General Abacha was blessed by Allah. Chief Obasanjo was a victim of what was dubbed "SET UP". The notion of "SET UP" is a special way of framing colleagues through suggestions For the meaning of set up phenomenon, see the copious instances in General Chris M. Alli memoir, The Federal Republic of Nigerian Army (Lagos Malthouse Press 2001) pp. 356-360. It is fascinating how it operated under the regime of General Abacha. When it leads to a successful coup not necessary bloodless or to the framing up of colleagues, it is characterized as receiving the blessing of Allah. But when it fails, it is also said that Allah prevented it. Allah worked both ways. This was part of the teaching of the military institutions and academies and in the barracks in Nigeria during this period of the military regime.

It was after reviewing the foregoing that I once suggested that the only solution to the politicization and ethnicization of the armed forces was total scrapping of the military and the starting of a new one all over again. It was my view that that was the only way we can have a representative and accountable armed forces in a democratic Nigeria.

One should have expected President Obasanjo to keep the above distinction in mind. He should have been in a position to say so in a gathering of his fellow believers as General TY Danjuma recently did. One would recall how General Danjuma spoke to a gathering of Northern (Nigeria) Christian Elders Forum on April 20, 2002 on the crisis facing the Christians in the North. According to the General, the Christian Religion was and is still under assault in Nigeria with the admission that the Muslims are planning to take over the country. See www. of May 24, 2002. He did not say so in the gathering of Nigerians in his office or in the barrack as President does in public function involving Christians, Muslims and practitioners of African Traditional Religion. General Danjuma spoke to the faithful in a Christian gathering and not in a public meeting of Christians and non-Christians. Does the President know that this is the proper thing to do?

One should have expected President Obasanjo to refer to the original notion of the State in Christian political thought that it was created because of the original sin of man. He should have cited the works of the great theologians, St. Augustine of Hippo or Thomas Acquinas, who are the greatest exponents of the divine justification of the origin and purpose of state. He did not cite the link between this tradition and the later exponent of the secular nature of modern state. Only Israel of all the Judaic/Christian related states, that have religion as its basis. This is understandable.

But the President did not address the fact that the Islamic political thought is different from the Christian political thought. Does the President appreciate that in the Islamic political thought, there is nothing called the separation of the Mosque and State? Does President Obasanjo know that some key Islamic States in the world are organized according to the Koran except Turkey. Turkey has strict rules about secularism as a commitment to "Westernization". The Turkish political class must defend secularism as one of the Ataturk’s Imperatives. A government would risk being sacked if it toyed with it, as forcefully enunciated by the founder of the modern Turkey, Ataturk. Does the Nigerian President know that many of the key Islamic States are prefixed with the term Islamic Republic of this or that? This is the basis of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

Nigeria is a full member of OIC. I recall that the Nigerian President found himself attending a D8 Meeting of Islamic Leaders that has nothing to contribute to Nigeria economic development, except join them in the anti-Western rhetoric. While the Islamic leaders were harping on their concern with the West, President Obasanjo used the occasion to sing his hackneyed song of "Debt Relief". Debt relief from Egypt or Bangladesh or what! This was why I tried to help President Obasanjo that he should not do what the former Islamic political generals of the past who got Nigeria into OIC would not do in public because they knew in their heart that "Nigeria is neither an Islamic nor a Christian State".

When President Obasanjo said that Nigeria is a creation of God, he failed to address his notion of the origin of Nigeria within the context of the debate about Sharia and the fears of Christian who want Nigeria to return unto Caesar the things that are Caesars and unto God the things that are Gods. This notion is alien to the Islamic notion of State.

(culled from First published July 2002)