How The British Planted The Seed Of Disunity In Nigeria

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How The British Planted The Seed Of Disunity In Nigeria
The British, employing divide and rule politics, made sure that there was no unity between the leaders of the three major regions at independence, from left: Dr Nnamid Azikiwe (Eastern Region), Alhaji Ahmadu Bello (North) and Chief Obafemi Awolowo (West). The leaders were deeply divided and suspicious of one another

AFRICANGLOBE – Nigeria is a land of superlative potential with its immense richness in agriculture, minerals and human resources. In 1960, when it won its independence from the British, it was the beacon of the continent. Today, Nigeria is touted as the symbol of post-colonial African failure by Western journalists and authors. But Africa’s most populous land was programmed by the British colonisers to fail, argues Adebola Adeoye.

Since its independence on 1 October 1960, Nigeria has been plagued by the North–South sectarian question. Public policies are viewed not on how they seem to address the problems confronting the country or promise to improve the living conditions of Nigerians, but rather which region, or more so which regional elite, would profit most from them. Appointments into public offices are also therefore judged on the basis of which region they seem to favour.

Where is the president from?

The ongoing campaign for general elections has been characterised by the question of the appropriateness of President Goodluck Jonathan’s candidacy.

Jonathan, a Christian Ijaw from South Nigeria who assumed office following the death of the former president Umaru MusahYar’Adua in May, is under pressure mainly from Muslim Northern politicians not to seek re-election next year. Their reason: because Yar’Adua’s predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian Yoruba from the South, spent 8 years in the presidency and therefore the North would be short-changed if Jonathan were re-elected before a president from the North had spent 8 years in the presidency also. Yar’Adua, a Muslim Fulani from the North, was in office from 29 May 2007 until his death on 5 May.

“Today, population count in Nigeria is a highly politi­cised business because, in the words of Nigerian intellectual Wole Soyinka, “the demographic lies implanted on that soil by the British colonial power, which skewed the pop­ulation count in favour of one part of the country to guarantee its political control of the rest, and the security of British continuing interests.”

The Northern Muslim advocates claim that a president from their region should emerge at that election for the purpose of equity and of balancing power. On the other hand, Jonathan’s supporters, both from the South and the Christian North, claim that he is both morally right and constitutionally qualified to seek re-election. After all, no indigene of his native oil-rich Niger Delta region has been president since 1960 and their land is the bread-winner of the nation.

In a presidential campaign, the core problems confronting the country – poverty, lack of infrastructure, mass unemployment – are not discussed, and this is how the country has been run since 1960, with what will appear to the outside world as extraneous issues dominating public discourse. Political parties are devoid of ideological foundation, as strategic consideration for the capture of power overrides ideology.

To put it bluntly, the soul of Nigeria is deeply divided. This does not mean that Nigerians are divided in their aspirations, but through the manipulation of issues with strong emotive power, such as religion, region and ethnicity, the political elite have prevented Nigerians from being able to speak with one voice on how the country should be governed.

Back to the beginning

Nigeria’s problem of disunity can be traced to the merger of the two British colonies of Northern Nigeria and Southern Nigeria in 1914 for the coloniser’s administrative convenience.

While the British directly administered the South, in the North they went into alliance with the mainly feudal Fulani rulers, who had conquered Hausaland and other areas in the vast region in the wars for power and territory of the early 1880s that are generally referred to as the Jihad.

Fulani rulers, known as Emirs, were allowed by the colonial administration to exercise power on behalf of the British Crown. The system of indirect rule was so successful that it was replicated in other British colonies in Africa.

Fulanis, a people whom the British governor Frederick Lugard regarded as “born rulers” and “incomparably above the negroid tribes in ability”, had been migrating from the Futa Jallon area of today’s Guinea into today’s Northern Nigeria since the 1500s.

As the British planned to leave the colony, they were determined to leave Nigeria in the hands of the Fulani elite, with whom they had successfully collaborated in the colonial administration of the country in order to safeguard their future interests.

Nigeria is rich in mineral resources including oil and gas and its huge population meant a lucrative market for British goods.

Politics of population count

How The British Planted The Seed Of Disunity In Nigeria
Odumegwu Ojukwu declaring the state of Biafra on 30 May 1967, following mass killings of Igbo people in the northern part of the country. The declaration sparked a civil war that claimed more than 1 million causalities

To manipulate future power relations in a post-independent Nigeria meant the population of the country must be skewed in favour of the North to guarantee that the Northerners would have more electoral representation in the federal legislature that is disproportional to their true demographic size.

That was exactly what the British did in the first official census conducted in Nigeria in 1952/53 by massively rigging the head count in favour of the North. That census showed that inhabitants of the North constituted 55.4 per cent of Nigeria’s population of 30.42 million. All incidental indicators of population, however, showed that the South should be more populous.

“The 1959 election (that led to independence) became a mockery because the outcome – Northern dom­ination of Nigeria after independence – was assured before a single vote was cast,”
Harold Smith, former British colonial official in Nigeria

The first post-independent census of 1963 gave the Northerners 53 per cent of the 55.67 million people purportedly counted, triggering protests in the South that eventually led to the first military coup of 15 January 1965 and the breakout of civil war in 1967. Subsequent head counts in 1973, 1991 and 2006 have ended in controversies, with the figures rejected by Southerners as they had consistently awarded the North more than 50 per cent.

Today, population count in Nigeria is a highly politicised business because, in the words of Nigerian intellectual Wole Soyinka, “the demographic lies implanted on that soil by the British colonial power, which skewed the population count in favour of one part of the country to guarantee its political control of the rest, and the security of British continuing interests.”

The manipulation of the census right from the beginning ensured that Nigerian politics acquired an in-built feature of Northern domination.[/sociallocker]

Part Two