By - Adedoyin Shittu
The present day Nigeria is the largest area in West Africa, consisting of a great number of ethnic groups with different languages, histories and customs. The main of these groups include: the Yorubas in the West, Ibos in the East, and the Hausa – Fulani in the North. The country is the most diverse region in the world but in the beginning, there was no country like Nigeria, the space mapped out as Nigeria consists of the Yorubas, Igbos, Hausas, Fulanis, Nupes, Urhobos, Itsekiris, Ibibios, Kanuris, Ogonis, Gwaris, Katafs, Jukars, Edos, Ijaws, Efiks, Idomas, Tivs, Junkuns, Biroms, Agnas, Ogojas and so on. There were Kingdoms like, Oyo, Lagos, Calabar, Brass, Itsekiri, Benin, Tiv, Borno, Bonny, Opobo, etc.
Before the advent of the foreign contact, all of these groups shared a common pagan belief which was to change later due partly to the advent of Islam in the Northern territories in the fourteenth century, and Christianity in the Southern parts as early as the nineteenth century. This situation added two religious groups in Nigeria, and have affected the political, economic as well as the social life of the Nigerians since then. Nigeria the 99th member of the United Nation, according to the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, “is a mere geographical expression, the nations and peoples of Nigeria existed separately and independently for centuries until they were forcefully brought into the artificial State called Nigeria by their Colonial Master, Great Britain.”
Prelude to the creation of Nigeria under the Colonial Rule
The Colony and protectorate of Lagos; the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria; and the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria. These three region-like protectorates became subsequently amalgamated in 1914 to form the Nigerian state.
This campaign to eradicate the slave trade and substitute for it trade in other commodities increasingly resulted in British intervention in the internal affairs of the Nigerian region. As that time palm oil trade was flourishing because of industrialization boom and this attracted more British merchants. Between the periods of 1850 – 1861, the British came through the coastal part of Nigeria via Lagos and the conquered Lagos in 1861. In a series of events in 1882 and 1897, British forces crept inward and conquered more lands in Yoruba land and in the Niger Delta. In 1897, the last region had been conquered.
The conquest of the Northern Nigeria was led by Fredrick Lugard who had been actively involved in local affairs in the region and Northern Nigeria was declared a protectorate under the command of Lord Lugard who was appointed as High Commissioner. By this time, Nigeria was divided into three administrative units: the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, the Lagos Colony and the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria. While the British took a more active role in the south which has port and fertile farmland, colonial officers in the region built medical and police department and invested in European education for the locals as well as infrastructures such as roads and railways. This later proved to be a mistake for the British when the Southern Elites began to oppose them every step on the way. The British had an ambition to make the south, key to its economic interest. The south has also been receptive to Christian missionaries, especially in the East.
The North however was not as resource rich as the South and the region majorly Muslim rejected Westernisation and Christian missionaries. The main task of the British officials in the North was how to control those people who were already accustomed to the Islamic authority. The system of administration used by the British in Northern Nigeria was known as “Indirect Rule” and it was so successfully administered by the British in this region. Indirect Rule was a type of contract between the British colonial government and the traditional rulers of Northern Nigeria. The promotion of Islam in Northern Nigeria helped the British officials to consolidate their rule with the support of the emirs. As long as taxes were collected, the British left the north on their own. This was not the same case in the south.
Prior to the advent of Indirect rule, the Caliph was the supreme authority over the Caliphate, but under British rule, the era of the Caliphate came to an end and a Sultan was appointed by the Governor instead of the Caliph. Unlike the latter, the former had no power on the Native Authorities. These latter represented the basis of the Indirect Rule system, the emirs retained their caliphate titles but were responsible to British district officers, who had final authority. In the traditional Islamic North, the holding of traditional office or title was the core of power and authority, and was kept within the exclusive domain of ‘those born to rule’, who, at their discretion, would ‘co opt others of lower status into the orbit of the ruling class and their word is law. The britiish were able to use the ruling class to rule the people inadvertently. Even after many years of colonial experience — an option which Abubakar Iman, an influential member of the class, would re-echo in 1949. While claiming to be speaking for the common people of the Region, he unequivocally wrote: “To tell you the plain truth, the common people of the North put more confidence in the whiteman than in either their black southern brothers.”
The indirect rule in the West was partially successful but later on, educated elites in the region began to oppose the indirect rule for some reasons. They claimed that the British administration purposely used the uneducated traditional rulers who cannot question or oppose any decision made by the British officials. As a result of this, nationalism sprung up in the region and the demand for the liberation of the country was accelerated. Prominent figures like Herbert Macaulay, known as the father of nationalism, led campaigns against the British colonial government.
Indirect rule was a total failure in the East. This is because there was no central political authority. The absence of this greatly marred the indirect rule system. As a result the colonial rulers ruled directly in the South unlike the North.
While the Southern protectorate prospered, the North were at a disadvantage, coupled with their rejection of the English Education and this resulted in widespread illiteracy and poverty.
In 1914, the journey of the one Nigeria colony began when Britain decided to unite the North and the South, the two protectorates were now made one colony, two regions that were going in opposite trajectories were forced into one colony. Lord Frederick Lugard was the 1st Governor-General of amalgamated Nigeria. The 1914 Constitution created a Legislative Council of the Colony which was however restricted to making laws for the Colony of Lagos alone, whilst the Governor General made laws for the rest of the country.
Professor Omo Omoruyi in his seminal expose on the events of June 12, 1993 titled; “The Tale of June 12: Betrayal of Democratic Rights of Nigeria,” uncovered a can full of worms when he went to the British Archives. In the expose he opined the major reason for the formation of the country Nigeria despite the differences of the region.
“The reason for the decision of the British Government to amalgamate the two incompatible territories was purely financial or economic. The Northern Protectorate was not economically viable. It had become a great drain on the British taxpayer. On the other hand, the Southern Protectorate was not just economically buoyant, it was producing surpluses every year. The British design was, therefore, to remove the Northern financial burden from its own neck and hang it on the neck of the hapless Southern Protectorate.” he would state
According to the British Colonial Secretary, Lord Harcourt, “We have released Northern Nigeria from the leading strings of the Treasury. The promising and well conducted youth is now on an allowance on his own and is about to effect an alliance with a Southern lady of means. I have issued the special license and Sir Frederick Lugard will perform the ceremony. May the union be fruitful and the couple constant”.
Referencing the south as a lady of means is no coincidence as the woman was subjected to the husband then.
By the time Lugard left Nigeria in 1918, the secularized educational policy of the colonial state and its antecedents, the Indirect Rule Policy and the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria, were already firmly established. To protect their interest and also to reward the docile North who were cooperative during the colonial era, the British strategically left the Islamic North at an advantage in comparison with its Western and Eastern counterparts in the Christian South. This they claim was based on the numerical strength of the north. With all these arrangements in place, what was needed then was to have the entire colonial system consolidated. This was to be the task for the 1920s — a task which the colonial administrators in the North, and the retired Lugard and Vischer, now at the Colonial Office, made it their interest to watch over and to defend despite its glaring shortcomings and failures.
Nigerian after Amalgamation
The first schools in Nigeria were all set up by missionaries and were in the south (Baptist Academy-Lagos,1855, CMS Grammer school-Lagos 1859, Hope Wadell-Calabar 1895, Methodist Girls Highscool 1879 and Kings College Lagos, 1909). Access to education in this region meant that the first Nigerian professionals and thinkers were Yoruba,Efik,Igbo,Ijaw,itekiri, Bini etc. It was because of the prevalence of education in the south that you saw some of the first think tanks of Nigerian independence emerge in the form of Herbert Macaulay, Eyo Ita and the Nigerian youth movement all before 1935. By the 1940s, the southern-educated elite had advanced so far due to their education and the restlessness led to a determined push for self rule. Some of the first newspapers in West Africa started out in Lagos as a medium to criticize colonialism and it’s racist institutions by the educated southerners. However the opposite was the case in the North, because of the strict application of the policy of Indirect Rule by the colonial administration and education was only for the elite. Western education was scarce in the early 20th century and those who did go to school went to Arabic schools of learning. The gap would certainly build up and became incredibly evident when most civil service positions in the North were filled by southerners.
Constitution changes were carried out on different occasions to answer to shortcomings but by now the standard of Christian civilization had become a threat to the Northern Emirate and the ccolonial masters. There was also agitations of the political elements in Nigeria at the time led by Herbert Macaulay and Nnamdi Azikiwe for independence from colonial power from the South. By the 1950’s Nigeria’s talk of independence had accelerated to the point the only thing holding back full independence was the North itself. The north asked for more time to catch up before they could consider independence but that was impossible as those in the south had at least a 40-year head start. At the 1950 National Conference, the North demanded that at least 50 per cent of the seats in the Central Legislature be allocated to the region, as a condition for being part of Nigeria and Britain gave in to their request. The North feared that feared that at their state if independence came to Nigeria; the politics of the land would be dominated by those of the south.
The British, in their characteristic “Divide and Rule policy,” left Nigeria with “flawed” democracy though they claimed Nigeria was established as a nation upon the principles and practice of liberal democracy. According to the Willink’s Commission Report of 1958: “The whole structure of the proceedings leading to independence is based on the belief that Nigeria meant to follow the road of liberal democracy and parliamentary government and to base part of the structure on the opposite assumption is to invite government to do their worst. But if the road is followed (liberal democracy and parliamentary government), votes will count and in the last resort it is votes that will win fair treatment for minorities.”
Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe led the NCNC into the important 1959 federal elections, which preceded Nigerian independence. He was able to form a temporary government with the powerful Northern People’s Congress, but it’s deputy leader, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, took the key post of prime minister. Azikiwe received the largely honorary posts of president of the Senate, governor-general, and, finally, president.
Britain in their aim to hold on their colony, brought disjointed units to become one colony. Even in the euphoria of independent, the different ideologies could not be missed. A chilling statement made by Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Sir Ahamadu Bello on the 12th of October 1960 was published by a defunct regional newspaper ‘THE PARROT’ as he was quoted to have said, “The new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of great -grandfather, Uthman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We use the minorities of the North as willing tools and the South as a conquered territory and never allow them to rule over us, and never allow them to have control over their future.”
Nigerian politics has been shaped by ethnic, religious, and geographical conflicts and this has led to the series of military coup that has taken place in the country. The 1963 Constitution was set aside by a violent military coup d’etat which supplanted the 1st Republic with military dictatorship which was to last for about 13 years –including the civil war period (1966-1969), under 4 military Heads of State, ending only in 1979 when the General Olusegun Obasanjo military administration ushered in the 2nd Republic with the promulgation of a new Constitution.
Democracy versus Sharia
The imbalance of power in the country’s political sphere was chronicled by ethnic bias and clandestine agenda by the northern oligarchs that saw the country’s leadership as a means to conquer the South and spread their Islamic ideology in all corners of the country.
In a paper dated July 31, 2019, National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF), parading prominent Nigerians including Elder Solomon Asemota, SAN; a former Minister of Defence, Lt. Gen Theophilus Danjuma (ret.); Prof. Joseph Otubu; Major General Joshua Dogonyaro (ret.); Archbishop Magnus Atilade; Dr. Kate Okpareke; Dr. Ayo Abifarin; Major General Zamani Lekwot (ret.); Moses Ihonde; Elder Nat Okoro and Matthew Owojaiye, analysed the state of the nation, tracing the root of the current crisis in Nigeria to a conflict between democracy and Sharia ideology.
According to NCEF’s paper, ‘The problem of Nigeria is IDEOLOGICAL.’ It is simply DEMOCRACY versus SHARIA: “Nigeria is a democratic country under the invasion of Sharia ideology.”
While Britain interest in one Nigeria have been economic, the Northern elites who have ruled in the majority the people of Nigeria both in the military regime and civilian see Southern Nigeria as an extension of their caliphate. This is why they have continued to push their agenda through many platforms and this has become all to clear for the eyes in recent times.
The establishment of Sharia in the constitution was also pushed as a guise to fight corruption even when they continue to bed it.
With the advent of independence, democracy and freedom was on the lip of everyone but the Northern elites had idolised the idea of an “Islam State” even while effortlessly masking this dream during the various conferences leading to independence creating the impression that ALL Nigerians wanted democracy. Nigeria became an observer in the Organisation of Islamic conference (OIC) during the military regime of General Muritala Mohammed and thereafter to full membership in 1986 during the time of General Babangida regardless that more than half of the population are not Muslim.
Muslim practices Islam as religion while an Islamist manipulates Islam as political ideology. This is the reason Islamism is referred to as “political Islam.” As a political system, Islamists insist that Islam is meant to dominate the environment in which it is practised.
In the 1999 Constitution, a clause that favoured Sharia was introduced. It is absurd that a secular country will try to accommodate a religion. Many have said that the 1999 Constitution is at the root of the present-day problem in Nigeria and the NCEF identify it rightly so. “The 1999 Constitution is a compendium of dual conflicting ideologies pulling the country in two opposing directions.” Section 275 of the federal Constitution allows for the creation of state Sharia Court of Appeals. Sections 262 and 277 also gave judiciary freedom to the establishment of Sharia.
Following the widespread attention drawn by Yerima’s sharia launch,Muslim communities in the north responded enthusiastically. Crowds appeared at rallies across the north to pressure state governors allied with the PDP to adopt Yerima’s course, or to welcome new states into the sharia fold, bus and taxi drivers reduced fares into Zamfara in a show of solidarity. The responses from southern Nigeria (where Christians are in the majority) and from the “Middle Belt,”an ethnically and religiously heterogeneous region with a long history of communal violence, were extremely negative. This didn’t stop its implementation and Sharia has been implemented in 12 States in the North even with the minority Christain in the region. How have the implementation helped the North? Clearly it has not helped because Boko Haram was birthed in 2009 and the region also became the face of poverty in the world. Nigeria is yet to recover from Boko Haram and other Islam groups that has sprung up afterwards.
More than ever the Buhari’s government have slowly destroyed the country fragile unity with religious bigotry and ethnic interest. Even after 59 years of independence from Britain, Nigeria under President Buhari, is caught at the crossroads of the mess, the war of supremacy between “Democracy and Sharia ideology”, or rather between Common Law and Sharia Islamic legal system. In that battle – war between Democracy and Sharia ideology, the Sharia Law ideologists seemed to have won. Today all the structures of governance at the federal level, are firmly under the control of the Fulani Islamists of the North: the Executive arms of the government, Legislature, and Judiciary.
Furthermore, all the four principal Service-Chiefs (except the navy), are headed by the same people, Fulani Muslim North: the army, air force, and Police IG. The same thing is seen in the Nigerian Customs, Immigration, Prisons, Paramilitary, etc. In this conflict of ideology between the progressive south and the Islamic North, the whole country is pulled back by the North and they have firmly cemented their control on the country. Only God knows for how long before Nigeria becomes the Islamic Republic of Nigeria.
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