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ideas have consequences

You are here:Home>>Emeka Chiakwelu>>Displaying items by tag: 100years
Displaying items by tag: 100years
Sunday, 05 January 2014 18:53

Nigeria: Rethinking the mistake of 1914

But what was the “Mistake of 1914”? Was it the fact or the act of amalgamation? Those who blame the “fact of amalgamation” say there should never have been a Nigeria, that Nigeria is a fraud, that the various ethnic groups had nothing in common and that Nigeria is just a colonial contraption.


In the beginning, there was a mistake – the “Mistake of 1914”. In split seconds, some 250 ethnic groups were compressed into one map by the British colonial masters. The contraption was poetically nicknamed “Nigeria” – an obvious contraction of “Niger Area”. There had been an unruly competition for African territory among the European colonial powers. They hovered over the continent, like vultures, looking for territories and resources to capture and devour.  In 1884-85, they queued up at the Berlin Conference to share the loot. The British were gifted with the slices of Nigeria. They then created the Nigerian protectorates for their pleasure.


Before then, there was no Nigeria. No Southern Nigeria, no Northern Nigeria. There were many ethnic groups sprinkled randomly over the landmass. There were empires, kingdoms, city-states and emirates. War and peace united and divided hamlets, communities, villages, towns, cities and territories. Trade, military adventures and political alliances crossed borders, tribes and tongues. But there was no Nigeria.


Then, the tag “Yoruba” did not refer to all the people we now call Yoruba. It referred to only the Oyo-speaking people who lived in places such as Oyo-Ile, Ibadan, Ede, Osogbo, Iwo and Ogbomoso, etc. Ekitis were called Ekitis. Ifes were called Ifes. Egbas were called Egbas. Ijebus were called Ijebus. Ijeshas were called Ijeshas. They were not called Yorubas.


In fact, the first newspaper to be published on these shores, established in 1859, was named Iwe Irohin Fun Awon Egba ati Yoruba, literally: “Newspaper for the Egba and the Yoruba”. As at 1859, therefore, Egbas were not referred to as Yorubas. It was the colonial masters and their missionary siblings, for ease of demography and identity, that applied the common identity of Yoruba to all descendants of Oduduwa who greet “eku”, “eka” and “okun” – stretching across what we now have as Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Ogun and parts of Kwara and Kogi states. Today’s “Yoruba” national identity is, therefore, largely a colonial-era development.


In truth, too, the people we call Igbo today were not all known as Igbo before the amalgamation. For instance, Aro and Onitsha often rejected the ideology of corporate Igbo identity. B.O.N. Eluwa, who was the General Secretary of the Ibo Federal (State) Union, told the story of how he toured “Igboland” from 1947 to 1951 to convince “Igbo” villagers that they were indeed “Igbos”. He said these villagers “couldn’t even imagine” that categorisation. David B. Abernethy wrote: “In the 1930s, many Aro and Onitsha Ibos (Igbos) consciously rejected identification as Ibos (Igbos), preferring to think of themselves as separate, superior groups.” In simple language, therefore, the popular Igbo identity in use today is post-amalgamation.


The Igbo story, as told by Eluwa in his book, Ado-Na-Idu: History of Igbo Origin, is instructive. Unlike the Yoruba who migrated as a group, Eluwa said the Igbo migrated in clans – and that should explain the noticeable cultural and linguistic differences. The people we call Anioma today (Delta Igbo, Onitsha, etc) migrated along with the Edo, hence the cultural and lingual similarities (dressing, kingship, “do”, “ndo” etc). The Nsukka Igbo migrated through present-day Benue State, hence the similarities with the Idoma, including facial marks. Many clans in today’s Anambra settled in Igalaland before moving Southward. On the basis of these accounts, many Igbo clans apparently lived in the North centuries ago.


What’s more, what we call “North” today was just a large expanse of land occupied by various sovereignties – the Kanem-Bornu empire, the Hausa kingdoms, the Kwararrafa (Jukun) empire and the Nupe kingdom, etc.  Not until the Hausa kingdoms were captured into the Sokoto Caliphate through Usuman Dan Fodio’s jihad was there a dominant sovereignty in the North. But the North was never one entity. The Kano man, though Hausa, called himself Abakani and the Zaria man Abazasage. They were Hausas and Muslims quite all right, but they were always at war, killing each other. They did not see themselves as Hausa kith and kin, but as rivals trying to expand their territories, just like the pre-colonial “Yoruba” kingdoms.


In sum, contrary to the popular impression, it is not just “Nigeria” that is a colonial contraption. Most of the ethnic and regional identities we so dearly cling to today were either colonial contraptions or constructed by us in the contestation for power in the embryonic Nigeria. The British created the Niger Coast Protectorate in 1893, formed the Northern Protectorate in 1900, and added the Lagos Colony to the Niger Coast Protectorate in 1906 to establish the Southern Protectorate. In 1912, Sir Frederick Lugard was appointed governor for both Northern and Southern protectorates in preparation for the amalgamation for ease of administration.

Then came January 1, 1914. Then came the mistake. The “Mistake of 1914”.


But what was the “Mistake of 1914”? Was it the fact or the act of amalgamation? Those who blame the “fact of amalgamation” say there should never have been a Nigeria, that Nigeria is a fraud, that the various ethnic groups had nothing in common and that Nigeria is just a colonial contraption. Conversely, those who see the “act of amalgamation” as the “mistake” posit that the problem was not the amalgamation per se but the failure of the colonial masters to consciously integrate the 250 ethnic nationalities into one nation. It was like proclaiming a couple man and wife without courtship and without honeymoon. This foundational error in nation-building, they argue, is the “mistake”.


Meanwhile, to say the North and the South had “nothing” in common is a complete exaggeration. Commerce and migration made their paths cross. The story of the farming, trading and consumption of the kola nut puts a lie to the suggestion that the North and the South had “nothing” in common. Many Southern ethnic groups that migrated from Upper Sudan actually settled in the North before their Southward journey. Some political scientists will even argue that the amalgamation was a natural consequence of these historical links. Those who claim the amalgamation was intended to feed the North with Southern resources apparently care little about economic history. For centuries before the amalgamation, Kano was one of the biggest centres of trade in Africa.


I would rather think the biggest challenge to our nationhood today is how to move away from the ethnocentric mindset of the pre-Independence era. Most of our founding fathers were ethnic nationalists. A notable exception, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, eventually abandoned his pan-Nigerian ideals when confronted with our stark political reality. Today, we are still searching for that pan-Nigerian identity. Unfortunately, more and more ethnic nationalists and their offspring are taking the political centre stage and reinforcing these divisions, with balkanisation in mind. Nevertheless, on several indices of integration – such as inter-ethnic marriage, cultural assimilation and internal migration – we are not doing badly, at least compared to 1914 or 1960. However, the political mismanagement of our diversity means we will continue to live with conflicts and tensions.

But we who believe in “unity in diversity” should refuse to give up on Nigeria. With competent and patriotic leadership, our march to greatness will be unstoppable. This I believe.


•NOTE: This article is an abridged version of a chapter in my debut book, Rethinking Nigeria, due for release later this year.


simon-kolawole1-250x300Simon Kolawole writes from ThisDaty

African National Congress made it to 100years... it was no easy journey

As racism and oppression against Black Africans gained momentum in the newly established Union of South African, Pixley ka Isaka Seme a visionary leader in 1911 appeal to all non- European ethnic groups in South Africa to unite together. Pixley ka Isaka Seme rallying words - "Forget all the past differences among Africans and unite in one national organisation" led to the formation of the African based liberation organization named South African Native National Congress (SANNC) at Waaihoek Wesleyanchuch on 8 January 1912. The first elected president of the newly formed organization was John Dube and with company of many intellectuals including Sol Plaatje, an author and a poet the fight against racism and oppression took a more focused dimension.

South African Native National Congress (SANNC) was later renamed African National Congress (ANC) in 1923. With promulgation of Apartheid system of government, African lands and Rights as citizens were taken away. The struggle for gaining of full rights of South African citizenship was not an easy struggle and there were many lows and highs encountered by ANC. But one of the greatest achievements of ANC was internationalization of the struggle that made the civilized world to come together and to reject apartheid government of South Africa. It was not an innocent and bloodless struggle for many lives were lost, properties destroyed and the innocence of a nation was lost forever.

Chiefs, churchmen and a lawyer met at the Waaihoek methodist church in Bloemfontein, and the founding South African Native National Congress (SANNC), the forerunner of the ANC, is born. John Langalibalele Dube, centre, is the first president. Chiefs, churchmen and a lawyer met at the Waaihoek methodist church in Bloemfontein, and the founding South African Native National Congress (SANNC), the forerunner of the ANC, is born. John Langalibalele Dube, centre, is the first president.  Pic: creative commons- Wikepedia

There were many low points during the struggle for liberation by South African majority including the jailing of Nelson Mandela and many of his comrades for treason. Another blow to ANC was the exiles of many of its top notched leaders but it became a diplomatic breakthrough for ANC for the exiles were campaigning for liberation in the foreign lands including Oliver Tambo and Thabo Mbeki who later became the president of liberated South Africa after Nelson Mandela's tenure.

Among the lowest points in the struggle was 1960 Sharpeville massacre of young people and this buttressed to the world how ruthless and cold the system was. Karen Allen of BBC news recalled the massacre with this chilling description: "Thousands of protesters had gathered in Sharpeville, just south of Johannesburg, to protest at the use of the infamous passbooks, or "dompas", that every black South African was expected to carry and produce on demand. It governed a person's movement, was a tool of harassment and was one of the most hated symbols of the apartheid state. Sixty-nine men, women and children were gunned down on that day, killed when police officers opened fire on the crowd. The police station - where they had gathered - is now a memorial to the dead."

The highpoint of ANC struggle was the unbanning of ANC and the release of political prisoners including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and many others from the famous Robben Island prison. The climax of the ANC struggle was the releasing of Mandela and his subsequent election as the first Black president of non-racial South Africa in May of 1994 after spending 27 years in prison. The ANC as a political party and liberation organization deserved the greatest praise and acknowledgement for the defeat of apartheid South African government and its management of victory. To the credit and maturity of ANC victory became the univeral freedom for both the oppressed and oppressor,  white and black, poor and rich.

ANC celebrates 100yrs


There were also unsung heroes, men and women of goodwill all over the world that never sleep nor stop fighting until the evil apartheid was declared death and irreversible. It was truly a collective effort of the good people of the world that refused to be quiet that eventually brought about the collapse and eradication of apartheid.

There has been successful transfer of power since President Mandela has been at herald affairs in South Africa. And each of the successive presidents has done a fairly decent job in trying to right the wrongs of the nation without upsetting the system. Although some will not evaluate it in more positive light given the quantity of poverty in the country, others may even accuse them of being timid and have lost their focus and direction. But all things being equal, it can be a delicate dance being that the majority poor Black masses are hurting but at same time the minority whites were engulfed with fear and anxiety.

The president that came immediately after Nelson Mandela was another intellectual and financial guru named Thabo Mbeki; he was good with the economy. Mbeki appointed both black and white technocrats to his government including the finance minister Manuel Trevor, that helped him to balance the budget and rein in spending. Mbeki appointed Tito Mboweni as the governor of the Central Bank of South Africa, who kept the rand currency healthy and strong, while at same time held down inflation. Mboweni tenured at the South African Reserve Bank was a success story for his monetary policy application reassured investors and business community.

Mandela is elected as the country's first black president.AFP/Getty Images

The current President Zuma has shown a great leadership especially in the economy and management of emerging social crisis of restlessness among the youths. Due to his radical days during ANC struggle, many people were worried especially business community that he has socialistic inclinations. But to the surprise of many he is relatively conservative in spending and economic management. He held down inflation with the spearhead of good fiscal policies and the appointment of Gill Marcus, a conservative financial banker as governor of the Reserve Bank and this has solidified Zuma's new found fiscally conservative principle . Under the leadership of Zuma, South Africa has become the latest member of the BRICS - a powerful trading organization of emerging super nations. South Africa is also a member nation of G-20, the only African member of the esteemed group.

Mandela serves a term as president. The ANC wins a second democratic election, with Thabo Mbeki elected as successor. However, the party's image begins to falter when MP Patricia de Lille presents a dossier containing numerous allegations of bribery relating to an $8.5bn arms deal.Thabo Mbeki Pic:EPA

With resolute and confidence, ANC has matured into a ruling party from their victory and has shown a great ability to lead a multi-racial South Africa. Nelson Mandela, the conscience of the struggle deserved a great respect and honor on the way he directed the affairs of the nation as the first Black president of South Africa. Mandela displayed of no remorse and bitterness to his fellow South African whites was a mark of maturity and statesmanship rarely seen in the annals of history. He taught the world that peace-making is a virtue and the once enemies can co-exist together and peacefully sought out their differences and work together to build a peaceful and prosperous nation. It has not been easy but the legacy he put forward has become a foundation for building a great, non-racial and prosperous South Africa.

With freedom and victory comes great responsibility. ANC cannot afford to sit on its laurels for as the ruling party it has a daunting task of rewriting the wrongs of yesterday. This is an enormous task because of how sensitive and delicate racial relationship in South Africa has become. The liberated Black majority has been overwhelmed with poverty and depravity rooted in the defunct apartheid structure, while whites were riddle with guilt and anxiety on the apparent loss of their ruling class status. ANC as the governing party together with the government leadership needs a strategic outlook and plan to successfully tackle and solve the problem.

Jesse Jackson of the US (C back) stands behind South Africa President Jacob Zuma

Democracy is an expensive form of government and it is not sustainable in a sea of poverty. South Africa under the leadership of ANC has demonstrated that it has the potential to become one of the richest nations under the sun. And the nation of South Africa can lead Africa to a better tomorrow. This is not the time to allow internal bickering to get hold of ANC. The greatest advantage ANC enjoyed is that it has men and women of goodwill that believes that Africa can rise again and become a productive continent that can determine its destiny without begging for a handout. ANC is strategically position to change not only South Africa but the entire continent for good. That must be the desire and vision of ANC, therefore ANC should provide the moral compass to a great nation and a great people.

ANC does not have the time to be timid, visionless and to wallow in corruption because if it chooses to go slow, the people of South Africa will not accept it. Only time will tell whether the blood and sweat deposited in the bank of liberation is redeemable. Happy 100 years anniversary!!!

Africa Political and Economic Strategic Center (Afripol) is foremost a public policy center whose fundamental objective is to broaden the parameters of public policy debates in Africa. To advocate, promote and encourage free enterprise, democracy, sustainable green environment, human rights, conflict resolutions, transparency and probity in Africa.