Nigeria: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (I)

By Yussuf Ayodele*

Nigeria like most African countries has colorful pages of history full of struggles, actions, pleasure, regrets, victories, defeats, love, hatred, conflicts, conquest, explorations, discoveries, mysteries, miracles, fun, nostalgia, reminiscence and many more. Fortunately, the mementoes of history aside from the fun it offers have self control mechanisms that prevent repetition of undesirables for those who wish to learn from it. A travel back into the past would therefore not only mean fun and entertainment for Nigerians especially as we celebrate the handing over and inauguration ceremony but also a lesson and a guide for seekers of real and positive change. Oliver Wendell said it right
“A page of history is worth a volume of logic”

The Journey
Prior to the 19th century and well beyond the 18s, kingdoms and empires were already established. In fact the oldest recognizable evidence of an organized society in Nigeria according to archaeologists dated back to the Nok culture that existed between 500BC and 200AD. The Sokoto Caliphate, Kano, Kastina, Zaria, Gobir, Borno, Ile Ife, Oyo, Nupe, Ijaw, Igala, Calabar, Okrika and many others are part of the early civilizations.

The arrival of the colonial master (the British) during the scramble for Africa in the 18th century saw the opening of a Pandora’s Box for these separate peaceful kingdoms that would later become Nigeria. During these dark periods, most Africans were fooled into accepting the Europeans on the promise of stopping slave trade (which did not really stop), introducing education, providing security and support against local rivals. Those who refused the offer later succumbed on battlefields; Nigeria is not an exception.
Such was the fate of Lagos when the British backed Akintoye against his cousin – Oba Kosoko and expelled the latter in 1851. With the presence of a more ‘obedient and loyal’ Akintoye, the British annexed Lagos on the 6th of August in 1861.

Occupation of southern territories continued after Lagos had been annexed. By 1870, most southern territories had been silenced by missionary works. For example, the establishment of the Methodist church in badagry, Lagos in 1841 (where Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowder was ordained in 1861), the first Secondary School – Church Missionary Society (CMS) Grammar School in 1859, publication of the first Newspaper in 1860, establishment of the presybetarian church in Calabar, Baptist in Abeokuta and Ogbomoso and many more.

The phrase “Missionary work” should not be confused for a mere religious service, for it is a phrase often misinterpreted to conceal it political connotations. While the missionaries meant serious political occupation and dominance as a show of ‘power’ in the world politics, religious activities are only non violent strategies of cushioning resistance to colonization earlier adopted prior to the use of force. This is the more reason why the Northerners who would never surrender their indigenous religion were met with more brutality.

The United African Company (UAC) was formed in 1879 (renamed National African Company in 1881) in order to control trade on the Niger. This attracted rival occupations by the French, Germans and Belgians thus leading to a Berlin Conference on February 26, 1885, where African countries were partitioned and ‘shared’ among the colonial masters. Nigeria was seeded to Britain and Congo to Belgium.
Later in 1885, in respect of the partitioning at the Berlin Conference, the British businessmen bought out all the French rivals, chattered and renamed UAC the Royal Niger Company in 1886.
On January 1, 1900, the Royal Niger Company and the Lagos Protectorate (plus other southern territories) became the British northern and southern protectorate respectively.

Active missionary work continued with the creation of the first hospital in Nigeria – The Sacred Heart Hospital in Abeokuta in 1895 and the first government primary school in Badagry in 1899.

In 1898, Nigeria was allegedly named by Flora Shaw – a girlfriend to Lord Lugard who coined the name from the “Areas of the Niger River”. The name Niger itself according to historians originates from its Taureg name egerew nigeriwen used by inhabitants along the middle reaches of the river Timbuktu in the 19th century.

In 1901, the Lagos Ibadan railway line with a length of about 123miles was completed while the first motor road was completed in Ibadan, Oyo in 1905, and in 1906, the Federal Capital of Nigeria was moved from Calabar to Lagos.

While the British’s hold of the Southern Protectorate was already secured by 1880s, the conquest of the Northern regions didn’t come until around 1903 after several battles and confrontation. The great name to be reckoned with here is the colonial administrator Lord Baron Fredrick Lugard who broke up the empires into various European colonies. He introduced the indirect rule in 1912, a system of government where the native rulers are allowed to rule their traditional land as long as they collect taxes to serve the prosperity of the British.

The British Northern and Southern Protectorate of Nigeria were merged (in what became The Great Amalgamation) on the 1st of January in 1914 (the same year of World War I).