The Political Culture Britain Gave Nigeria

Fri, Dec 27, 2013
By publisher


By Mike Akpan  |

THE debate seems endless. Was the 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates into what became known as Nigeria a mistake? Historians and political analysts hold contrasting views on this issue. For instance, while many political analysts mostly from the southern part of Nigeria continue to feel that it was a big mistake to bring the two nations together into a political entity, Michael Crowder, an Oxford University historian and joint author of a book entitled “Nigeria: A Modern History for Schools,” thinks otherwise. According to him, amalgamation was a deliberate act of the British government based on economic considerations. The first economic reason according to him, was that the Northern protectorate had become a drain pipe for the colonial government and needed to be merged with the south. “Instead of being self-sufficient, the Northern protectorate was running at a great deficit, and this was being met by a subsidy from the Southern protectorate and a grant of 300,000 pounds a year from Britain. Second, the Southern protectorate had a long coastline, in whose ports revenue from external trade was gained, whilst the Northern protectorate was land bound and exported its products through the south. Amalgamation therefore enabled the revenue thus raised in the southern ports from northern as well as southern produce to be used to develop the country as a whole.

“The third reason was that a single administration would avoid duplicating certain technical departments as well as those administrative departments already serving the whole country. More importantly, amalgamation would coordinate development plans for the territory. For example, there was the need to coordinate a railway policy. Already, three separate lines were in existence and it was proposed to build a fourth. It was clear that rational development of the increasingly complex railway system could only be undertaken with unified control,” Crowder argued. The benefits of the amalgamation were not lost on the British because it enabled the colonial government to pass on to the Moslem north some of the revenues raised from liquor trade in the non- Moslem south. But the amalgamation did not come without its problems. In the south, western education and the development of a modern economy proceeded more rapidly than in the north. The consequences of that imbalance have continued to be the cause of political friction in Nigeria till today.

Harold MacMillan

Despite the amalgamation, the Northern and Southern protectorates were still being run as separate political entities. For example, while the native administration system was introduced in the Northern protectorate in 1916, indirect rule was operative in the south. Although it was the policy of Frederick Lugard, the author of the amalgamation, that the two protectorates should continue to operate separately, a feeling of common nationality had started to develop and rapidly grow among the southern elite who saw themselves more as Nigerians and not from any particular ethnic group. This elite group included lawyers, doctors, journalists and all those who came to make “the educated elite”, most of whom were trained in America and the United Kingdom, UK. This feeling of common nationality grew stronger during the tenure of Hugh Clifford, who succeeded Lugard as governor-general after his retirement in 1919. Besides, the educated elite became increasingly critical of the central government located in Lagos, for not creating room for Nigerians to be involved in governmental affairs and demanded a measure of participation in the running of government. The lawyers, in particular, were excluded from practicing in the provincial courts by Lugard on the grounds that they encouraged litigation for their own financial benefits and against the interest of the ordinary man. The lawyers considered their practice in provincial courts as one area in which they could exert their influence in order to obtain the changes they wanted.

Apart from lawyers who were excluded from practicing in provincial courts, generally, Nigerian professionals or the elite were also excluded from employment in the native administration. Worse still, even those who were considered for appointment into government service, were recruited at a level that they could hardly influence or make any policy decision. These policy blunders increased the frustrations of the elite and made them more vocal in their criticisms of the colonial government. The main target of their criticism was the administration in Lagos. Such policy measures as the building of special houses for European civil servants provoked complaints and criticisms in the early newspapers. Another issue of serious discontent which the elite exploited to their advantage was the 1908 Law proposing to introduce water rate to be paid by the inhabitants of Lagos. Opponents of the law argued  that it was a plan by the government to provide pipe-borne water in Lagos, a measure that was merely meant to benefit the Europeans at the expense of the people of Lagos. The issue of special European housing in Lagos was another reason for Nigerian opposition of the colonial government during this period. The campaign then was that palatial houses were built by the government for its European officers with money obtained from the people who were left to live in squalor. The thrust of the campaign was that there should be equal treatment for both Nigerians and Europeans. The government disregarded all the criticisms claiming that they did not reflect the feelings of the people. But this hard stance of the government succeeded in sowing the seed of anti- colonial movement in Nigeria.

Lord Lugard

Initially, Nigerian nationalism which started to take root at the beginning of the 20th century was inspired largely by non-Nigerians. It was part of a wider Pan-African Movement whose ideas stretched beyond the political units created by Europeans at the beginning of the 19th century by men like Edward Blyden, a West Indian, who hoped to see Negro culture freed from European domination and J.P. Jackson, a Liberian editor of the Lagos Weekly Record, whose newspaper constantly criticized British administration during the 1920s. Other notable figures were W.E.B. Du Bois, an American Negro scholar, whose writings on racial equality greatly influenced the Pan- African Movement in his days and Herbert  Macauley, the father of Nigerian nationalism. Even though the nationalists were pre-occupied with local issues in their campaign, the ultimate goal was to be represented in government’s councils and also to ensure equal and fair treatment for all peoples under colonial administration whatever their race. Outside Nigeria, there was also a regional movement which grew up in British West Africa as part of a wider continental reaction against European policy of colonization. Its campaign was anchored on demand for racial equality and modification of Crown Colony government by allowing Africans to participate in the affairs of their country.

In furtherance of their cause, the nationalists held a National Congress of British West Africa in Accra, Ghana, in 1920 under the leadership of W. Casely-Hayford, a popular lawyer in the then Gold Coast. At that congress, well-attended by representatives of the four British West African colonies, it was decided to send a delegation to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies with a shopping list. The items on that list were a demand for a legislative council for each colony of which one half of its members should be elected Africans; control of taxation by members; appointment and deposition of chiefs by their people; abolition of racial discrimination in the civil service and the establishment of a university in West Africa. Moderate as the demands were, Lord Milner, the then colonial secretary, bluntly told members of the delegation that their demands were unthinkable and therefore would not be met. The delegation returned to West Africa empty-handed after encountering some financial problems. Expectedly, the colonial governors in the four colonies were not happy with the mission and derided it. In Nigeria, Sir Hugh Clifford, the new governor-general, denounced the delegation and scoffed at the idea that the delegates could not claim to be speaking for the people. “They had no grounds for such claim since they were the products of British education and had merely learnt European theories which were suitable only for Europe and Europeans, who were at a different stage of civilization,” Clifford blurted. He also scoffed at the idea of West African unity arguing: “That there is, or can be in the visible future, such a thing as a ‘West African Nation’ is as manifest an absurdity as there is, or can be, a ‘European Nation’ at all events until the Millennium.”

Abubakar Tafawa Balewa

Ironically, it was the same Governor Clifford who, in 1922, introduced for the first time in all British West Africa, a constitution which provided for African members to be elected into a legislative council instead of being nominated. This marked the first step towards representative government in Nigeria. The constitution provided for a legislative council of 46 members, 27 of them officials representing the government and 19 non-officials. Of the non-officials, three Nigerians were to be elected from Lagos by male adult voters, who must have lived there for at least 12 months and must have been on an annual salary of 100 pounds. In addition to the three, a fourth Nigerian member to be elected from outside Lagos, was to come from Calabar. The new constitution , which abolished an earlier one, had the effect of providing an official outlet for the views of those who were critics of the government.  The constitution, according to Governor Clifford, was merely the first step towards extending the idea of election to other parts of the country as a prelude towards self-government. He was right. Soon after the Second World War, that is, by the middle of the 20th century, there was a great wave of nationalism sweeping through Africa which Harold MacMillan, the British prime minister at that time, tagged as “the wind of change blowing through Africa.” This was the time nationalists in Africa demanded political independence from their colonial masters. But MacMillan saw the growing nationalism in Africa in m terms of the Cold War between the eastern and western worlds and feared that an independent Nigeria could go the way of communists. However, in response to the wave of nationalism, successive constitutions followed that of Clifford. On October 1, 1954, Nigeria was granted self- government with limited powers under the McPherson Constitution. On October 27, 1958, the British government agreed that Nigeria would be an independent state on October 1, 1960.

As in amalgamation, British interests were uppermost in the preparation of Nigeria for political independence. For this reason, Britain, known for its strong democratic ideals, decided to abandon them in order to protect its future interests in Nigeria. First, it wanted the North to continue to dominate Nigerian politics and therefore did nothing to restructure Nigeria politically before independence. Consequently, it left Nigeria in a three regional structure in which the Northern Region consisting of three quarters of the total land space of the country and more than half its population, would continue to dominate Nigeria’s political leadership for ever. This structural imbalance has been the major source of political instability in the country ever since. The military government of General Yakubu Gowon tried to address this problem shortly before the Nigerian civil war in 1967 when it came up with a 12 – state structure which gave six states each to the north and the south of the country. But the structural imbalance was soon restored by the government of General Murtala Mohammed when it created an additional seven states in 1976 bringing the total number of states in the country to 19. This arrangement gave the north one additional state more than the south.  Thereafter, subsequent state and local government creations by the administrations of General Ibrahim Gbadamasi Babangida and late General Sani Abacha, further widened the structural imbalance. For now, the north has 19 states against 17 in the south. Of the 774 local government areas in the country, 413 are in the north while the south is left with only 361. This number does not include the six area councils created foe Abuja Capital Territory. There is the likelihood that this imbalance would continue to widen going by the upsurge of demands for more states and local government areas creation now before the National Assembly from across the country. This widening political imbalance is a ticking time bomb which Britain saw and refused to detonate before living Nigeria in 1960 because of its selfish interests.

Nnamdi Azikiwe

That was not all the British government did to betray democracy in Nigeria. It taught Nigerians how to rig elections. This much is revealed by Harold Smith, a former colonial officer in Nigeria, in his autobiography entitled: ‘Blue Collar Lawman.’ According to Smith, “At independence, Britain did not hand over a model of democracy to Nigeria. What it handed over was an arranged, custom-built democracy. The various pre-independence constitutional conferences in London were a charade. To ensure that the talks went the way of Her Majesty’s government, hotel rooms were bugged by secret agents so that they could eavesdrop on what went on behind closed doors… The elections were rigged and the Northern People’s Congress, NPC/ National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC, coalition was formed even before the 1959 federal election results were known. The governor-general, Sir James Robertson, called on Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to form a government even before all the results were announced.

“The British government was actively participating in election rigging and chicanery to ensure that the north with the assistance of the NCNC ruled Nigeria in British interest after independence. The NCNC had done a deal with the British to support those backward and reactionary  northerners whom various NCNC leaders had poured such ridicule in the past. Nnamdi Azikiwe was manoeuvred  to be satisfied with the empty post of governor- general, then president, but was apparently persuaded that this was really the number one job. He would even be commander-in-chief and could wear the uniform of a field marshal. If Zik thought he was to be the real head of the Nigerian military forces, he was to be soon disabused.” The executive powers rested with the prime minister and not with the ceremonial governor-general and later president as Zik expected.

Harold Smith

Apart from election rigging and political deceit, Smith said the British government was also involved in census rigging to ensure that the north was in perpetual control of the federal government. According to him, the massive power of the north rested on the census figures which British officials produced in the early 1950s. He said British officials taught the northern leaders how to use census figures to control the country. For instance, he said, “after the census in 1962, it was found that the Northern Region no longer had numerical majority over the country combined. The NPC leaders found the results unacceptable and cancelled them outright. In a fresh census in 1963, the north improved on the 1962 figures. If the Southerners had thought that the new figures would end the North’s absolute majority, they were bitterly disappointed.” Chief Obafemi Awolowo, leader of opposition in the federal parliament, was so bitterly disappointed at the ‘cooked figures’ with the active involvement of some British officials that he was quoted as saying: “ The twilight of democracy and the rule law in Nigeria is changing into darkness.” Awolowo was right. Rigging of elections and census figures which Britain taught Nigerian leaders has placed the country at where it is today — a country devoid of visionary and charismatic leaders and a country that enjoys its permanent membership of the third world club after 53 years of political independence. This is happening because recruitment of political leadership is never thrown open to the best candidates. Any such attempt is reprehensible to some elements in the North who claim that the leadership of the country is their exclusive property. That is why Nigeria’s culture of acts of impunity among the so-called untouchables is leading us to nowhere. For how long will this state of affairs last? That is why the feeling is growing rapidly down South that after 100 years of forced unity on British terms and 53 years of political independence, Nigerians should be allowed to  sit together to re-negotiate the terms of their future membership of the country. That is why the proposed national conference by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan should be seen as a good centenary gift to Nigerians.

— Jan. 6, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT


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