Seen from some angles, Nigeria is a remarkable success story: despite its poorly conceived colonial origins, the lingering damage of its colonial subjugation, tenacious civil war, wildly unequal economy, and the recent insurgency by Boko Haram, it has nonetheless remained one nation, growing in population and power, for more than a century now. This new look at Nigeria traces the country’s history from its pre-colonial days as the home region to a number of distinct tribal powers through its definition by Britain as a single nation in 1914, to the hopeful early days of independence after World War II and the ongoing, often tragic disappointments of its governance and economic performance in the decades since. Richard Bourne pays particular attention to the failure to ensure that the wealth from Nigeria’s abundant oil, mineral, and agricultural resources is widely shared, and he offers an incisive analysis of the damaging effects that such gross inequality has on the nation’s stability and democratic prospects. The most up-to-date and comprehensive analysis of Africa’s most important and populous nation in decades, this history—rooted in more than three decades of visiting and working in the country—will instantly be the standard account of Nigeria.
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About the Author
Richard Bourne is senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London University, and secretary to the Ramphal Institute in London. He is the author of Catastrophe: What Went Wrong in Zimbabwe?
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A New History of a Turbulent Century
By Richard Bourne
Zed Books LtdCopyright © 2015 Richard Bourne
All rights reserved.
A merger makes a large possession for Britain
On 1 January 1914, the mix of peoples in a large part of west Africa became 'One Nigeria'. The announcement in the humid city of Lagos, which had been a British colony since the Treaty of Cession was agreed in 1861 between Great Britain and Oba Dosunmu, King of Lagos, was made by Frederick Lugard, later Baron Lugard. He was now Governor-General of the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, and he never liked Lagos. The name 'Nigeria' had been coined by his wife and admirer, Flora Shaw, colonial editor of The Times, in a letter she wrote to her paper in January 1897. She used it to define the territories abutting the River Niger that were then being traded in or claimed by the Royal Niger Company.
In his speech, Lugard argued that the key reason for the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Nigerian Protectorates with the Lagos Colony was to provide a unified railway policy. If this were really the case, it was as if British colonial policy had been hijacked by the heirs of George Bradshaw, publisher of the eponymous railway guides. Lugard announced a new line from the head of the Bonny Estuary to join the Lagos–Kano railway, and claimed 'astonishing' progress in the fourteen years since the King's government – in fact it was Queen Victoria's at the time – had taken over from the Royal Niger Company trading monopoly. He concluded with the kind of grandiloquent guff that was expected at such a ceremony and echoed in later years as others came to power:
Today Nigeria enters on a new stage of its progress, and we all join in the earnest hope that the era now inaugurated will prove, not only a new departure in material prosperity, but also that the coming years will increase the individual happiness and freedom from oppression and raise the standard of civilisation and comfort of the many millions who inhabit this large country. To these sole ends the efforts of my colleagues and myself, with God's help, will be devoted.
Lugard set himself and his successors an enormous challenge as rulers of this large space, which was British until 1960 and Nigerian from 1960 onwards. At 923,700 square kilometres, it remains roughly the same size today. How could they create a modern nation out of the 250 or so ethnicities in this region, with three large cultural and religious blocs, and a major dysfunctionality between a numerous, poor and largely Muslim north, and an increasingly educated, Christian, and richer south? Lugard himself was sympathetic to the feudal, horse-loving north, which he had conquered in a series of military campaigns, concluding with the defeat of the Sokoto Caliphate in 1903. He never took to the advanced and critical citizens of Lagos and its Yoruba surroundings.
Without the British there would never have been a 'Nigeria'. For centuries, of course there had been peoples living in this huge region that now, in theory, belonged to King George V. It included kingdoms that had fought, made peace, captured slaves, traded with each other, risen and fallen. Speaking nearly a hundred years after the amalgamation, the diplomat and scholar Martin Uhomoibhi (b.1954) described this expanse as a kind of commonwealth, with peoples who were familiar with each other even if they were enemies. Europeans – who had got to know the coastline in the sixteenth century, then traded slaves on a large scale and moved on to palm oil after the British ended that pernicious trade in 1807 – were frequently ignorant of this complex history. It was often Christian missionaries, learning and writing down local languages, and providing the first dictionaries for Igbo and Yoruba, who built cultural bridges.
The nineteenth century brought change, initially with the rise of larger states, then with an increasing European impact. In the north the Islamic jihad of Usman dan Fodio (1754–1817), a Muslim reformer whose followers became warriors, led to the formation of the Sokoto Caliphate in 1803. It brought not only the Hausa states under one government but also some provinces of Borno and lands that had formerly come under Oyo, a major state, and the Jukun territories. In the south the collapse in the 1830s of Oyo led to protracted wars in Yorubaland and a spread of refugees.
By the middle of the nineteenth century there was an acceleration of competitive European interest. The Portuguese had been overtaken. The competition was now between the British and the French, with late-starting Germany annexing the Cameroons in 1884 and encroaching on Calabar and Benue from the east. The Anglo-French contest was not only along the coast, but also inland, in the areas – desert, savannah and forest – served by the enormous Niger river and its tributaries. For reasons of trade, imperial rivalry, and 'civilisation', the British and French were moving inexorably, via protectorates, towards outright colonial control.
This process was uneven. The Lagos Colony was born when missionaries at Abeokuta, in Yorubaland, persuaded John Beecroft (1790–1854) – who was British Consul of the Bight [bay] of Benin and Biafra – to order the bombardment of Lagos in 1851 to expel its king, Oba Kosoko (reigned 1845–51). The excuse was that Kosoko would not sign a treaty to end the slave trade, but in reality the missionaries were anxious about the safety of their new converts. However, the British were not satisfied with Kosoko's successor, Akitoye (reigned 1841–45, 1851–53), and a decade after the bombardment Dosunmu signed the Treaty of Cession and a governor was appointed for the new colony. By 1872 the British had built a prison, and when it was rebuilt in 1885 with English bricks it cost £16,000 – at a time when the colony was spending only £700 on education.
Christian missions in southern Nigeria were active quite early in the nineteenth century, assisted not only by traders, but also by the impact of the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron, introduced to suppress the illegal slave trade. Liberated slaves frequently turned to Christianity and, even if they were brought to Freetown, Sierra Leone, the colony for freed slaves, Yorubas and others of the 'Nigerian' ethnicities would seek to go home. Samuel Ajayi Crowther (c.1809–91), the first indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church and someone who imagined a future Nigeria, was of Yoruba origin; he was baptised in Freetown in 1825 and became an active evangelist for the Church Missionary Society. Sarah Taiwo, who died in 1874 and was an ancestor of Olikoye, Fela and Beko Ransome-Kuti, was another of the so-called 'Saros', freed slaves who eventually returned from Freetown to their Yoruba homeland. She returned with a second husband.
In the northern savannahs there was a kind of unity in the Sokoto Caliphate, with its Fulani emirs and Hausa populations and its Islamic primary schools, architecture and dress. Sharia law was not universal but there was an increase in Arabic literacy and Muslim awareness. Here, into its borders, the British were advancing by means of a trading monopoly granted to the United African Company in 1879, shortly called the National African Company in 1881 and then the Royal Niger Company in 1886. This was run by a buccaneering imperialist, Sir George Goldie (1846–1925). His ancestors had been smugglers in the Isle of Man, and he himself had had a raucous past. He got a royal charter in 1886 that gave him the right to trade on the Niger between the Delta and Nupe and on the Benue, which joins the Niger at Lokoja, as far as Yola. Just as Cecil Rhodes (1853–1902), his contemporary, built his diamond monopoly by merging competitors to maintain prices, so Goldie merged first British and then French firms to monopolise the trade.
What was to become Nigeria was the product not only of events on the ground in west Africa, but of politics in Europe and London. In 1884–5 Otto von Bismarck, the power and brains behind the German Empire, masterminded a conference in Berlin designed to reconcile European rivalries in Africa. He himself wanted to open the continent to the traders and investors of the rising economy of imperial Germany. So Berlin was the scene of a major diplomatic victory by Britain over France, for the Niger territories were granted to Britain, even though neither state could be said to occupy them. This was a key moment in what was called 'the scramble for Africa' – an extraordinary late burst of European expansion – when even little Belgium came away with an enormous chunk of central Africa. King Leopold II's bogus 'International Association of the Congo' made off with a region of a million and a half square miles, stretching from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes, which he would rule with unprecedented cruelty until 1908.
A growing spirit of imperial assertion led Britain to cast covetous eyes on the realms of the Ndebele and Boers in southern Africa. It was symbolised by Joseph Chamberlain (1836–1914), a Birmingham businessman who had made a fortune from manufacturing screws and who came to national attention as a radical and enterprising Liberal leader of his city. He split the Liberal Party with his opposition to Home Rule for Ireland and hostility to free trade, and he believed in extending the British Empire with the British government in control. In 1895, as a Liberal Unionist in coalition with the Conservatives, he became Colonial Secretary. In this capacity he was to support Cecil Rhodes' chartered company takeover of 'Rhodesia', victory in the Second Boer War in 1902, an end to Goldie's charter with its multiplicity of treaties with local chiefs by the Niger in 1900, and the conquest of northern Nigeria in 1903.
Goldie's company had become unpopular with the palm oil traders and growers in the Niger – keeping out European competitors, ending profits for local African traders and middlemen and charging high prices for alcohol and guns. In December 1894 its headquarters at Akassa in the Delta were attacked by the Brass, a people who had been pushed to the edge of starvation by company exactions. There was looting and destruction, and some company employees were eaten in a ritual aimed at stopping smallpox. Nonetheless many in west Africa, and among the more knowledgeable in London, recognised that the way the company was run was at least partly to blame.
Chamberlain, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, decided that the forces of the Royal Niger Company were inadequate to control the region; they were also unlikely to deter the French who were trying to establish themselves on the upper Niger, threatening British suzerainty. He made the fateful decision to create the Royal West African Frontier Force, under Colonial Office orders, and gave the command to Lugard in 1897.
Lugard, who had played a key role in bringing Uganda under British authority, was a late Victorian figure not easily imaginable in any other era. He was convinced of British virtues, passionate for trade, a scourge of slavery, courageous, authoritarian and yet prepared to marry an equally strong-willed person in Flora Shaw. When he was older he mentored a young academic, Margery Perham, who repaid the compliment in two magisterial books of biography, which appeared when the empire was becoming an embarrassment and starting to fade into history.
Hence, for Chamberlain, Lugard seemed ideal – a doer, a colonel with a brain, and with a strong imperial CV from east Africa where he had successfully ridden out controversy over harsh methods he had employed on behalf of the Imperial British East Africa Company. By 31 December 1899 the Royal Niger Company had been abolished, and Colonel Lugard was made High Commissioner of the Northern Nigeria Protectorate on 6 January 1900. He was given the Northern Nigerian Regiment – a force of 2,000–3,000 Africans and some 200 British officers from the West African Frontier Force that he had himself raised – with which to take control. He wrote that, for Europeans, the 'greater part' was 'quite unexplored' and that probably only a tenth was currently secured, and he doodled future provinces on a map. In 1901 he decreed the abolition of slavery, and banned raiding and trading in slaves. He also appreciated the craziness of colonial expropriation:
The vast majority of the inhabitants were not only completely unaware that they had been allocated to Britain but were ignorant of the very existence of such a country. Nor were the bulk of these peoples primitive and unorganised tribesmen whose subjection, when Britain was ready to claim it, could be taken for granted: the region contained some of the most highly developed and civilised Muslim states of tropical Africa, centred upon walled cities and defended by armies of horsemen.
With little money, and in a situation where a third of his British officers and NCOs were either sick or on home leave, Lugard proceeded to build a civil administration and conquer the Fulani emirs. Kano was captured in 1903 and in 38 days, marching from Kano, he took Sokoto, Katsina and Zaria. The numbers were always adverse, but the British had discipline and Maxim machine guns on their side. It also seems likely that not all the Hausa soldiers were enamoured of the Fulani emirs who ruled them. At Sokoto, for instance, the commanding officer of the West African Frontier Force, Thomas Morland, went ahead of Lugard with only 650 troops, 25 officers and two Maxim guns to face 15,000 horsemen and 3,000 foot soldiers. But in the battle only a hundred Sokoto men and one British carrier were killed: essentially the Sultan's forces ran away. When Lugard arrived five days later he accepted the surrender of the emirs and oversaw election of a new Sultan.
It was therefore with meagre resources of his own, and considerable respect for the societies he had captured, that Lugard set up and operated his administration. Maintenance of Islam, and therefore discouragement for Christian missionaries and their western-style education, were intrinsic elements of what he called 'indirect rule' in the north. Emirs were required to swear an oath of allegiance to the King. They said, 'I swear in the name of Allah, and of Mahomet his Prophet, to well and truly serve His Majesty King Edward VII and his Representative, the High Commissioner of Northern Nigeria, to obey the laws of the Protectorate, and the lawful commands of the High Commissioner and the Resident, provided that they are not contrary to my religion ...' Native courts were retained, but with a right of appeal to the High Commissioner.
But in 1906 Lugard was forced to resign as High Commissioner of the Northern Nigeria Protectorate and, shortly after, became Governor of Hong Kong, where he founded a university, in 1907. Lugard's forward policy in Nigeria and dismissal of Colonial Office concerns had hit a reef in a cruel punitive expedition against a peasant rising in the village of Satiru, only twelve miles from Sokoto, where his army killed some 2,000. Lugard ordered 'annihilation', and the young Winston Churchill, Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies 1905–08 in the Commons in the new Liberal administration, was deeply shocked. Lugard had also failed to persuade officials of a scheme for 'continuous administration', under which he planned to spend six months of the year in England with his wife while refusing to allow anyone to deputise for him in Nigeria. For Lugard, Hong Kong seemed rather dull after the excitements, military action and empire-building of Africa. But west Africa had not seen the last of him.
In southern Nigeria there had been a confused picture: a colony and protectorate of Lagos, which surrounded an independent Egba state of Abeokuta, and an area round Calabar that an enterprising British consul had declared as the Oil Rivers Protectorate (for palm oil) in 1884 and then renamed the 'Niger Coast Protectorate' in 1893. In 1906 this whole region was repackaged as the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, although the city of Lagos remained a colony. It was a colony whose inhabitants were British citizens used to British courts and that was making progress in health and education, but the arrival of white officials with racist ideas was creating spatial and economic divisions.
Real British penetration in southern Nigeria, with its variety of petty chiefdoms and difficult geography, was slow and peppered with conflicts. In 1901–02 British troops occupied the centre of the Igbo areas in the east, by defeating the Aro, and they were fighting western Igbo communities until 1909. But across southern Nigeria there was a growth in western-type schools, a reduction in smallpox, and the introduction of a native court system, which allowed appeal from traditional courts to those chaired by the British, aspiring to British standards of evidence and assumptions of innocence before guilt.
Excerpted from Nigeria by Richard Bourne. Copyright © 2015 Richard Bourne. Excerpted by permission of Zed Books Ltd.
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Table of Contents
Acronyms and abbreviations xx
Map of Nigeria xxiii
Section 1 1914-39: Invention of a country 1
1 A merger makes a large possession for Britain 3
2 First World War: Nigeria on the front line 16
3 Lugard struggles with opponents 26
4 Between the wars: Nigeria is not a single state 32
5 Between the wars: the economy in a world depression 39
6 Between the wars: a new assertive nationalism 43
Section 2 1939-64: Rocky road to freedom 55
7 Another world war and strategic importance 57
8 Political change and divisive regionalism 69
9 Regional governments and the coming of independence 78
10 The joy of independence 88
11 Overture to disaster 96
Section 3 1964-89: The shadow of the generals 109
12 Military coups, Biafra and civil war 111
13 Reconstruction, another coup and the craving for democracy 130
14 A second republic, its short, inglorious life and its overthrow 142
15 Bubari, IBB and a new military era 157
Section 4 1989-2014: A decade of pain, then disappointment in democracy 173
16 The annulment of an election puts Nigeria on edge 175
17 The disastrous Abacha years 189
18 Democracy, and the return of Obasanjo 201
19 Yar'Adua, Jonathan and threats in the Delta and the northeast 224
Section 5 Reflections 241
Politics as business 245
Ethnicity and religion 250
Oil, inequity and poverty 258
One Nigeria? 265