In the 1950s there were three dominant political parties in Nigeria: the Action Group (AG) in Western Nigeria, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in the East and the dominant Northern party, the Northern People’s Congress.
While the AG and NCNC were nationalist parties that fought for independence, the NPC, established and funded by the colonial administration, didn’t want the British to leave Nigeria.
In fact, when the first motion for independence was moved in the National Parliament in 1953 by a Southern politician, Anthony Enahoro, the Northerners acting at the behest of the British objected. “Northern rulers distrusted the Southerners more than the British colonisers,” said Harold Smith, a British colonial official who blew the whistle on his country’s manipulation of the elections that led to Nigerian independence.
According to Smith, who in his book Blue Collar Lawman detailed how the British manipulated the pre-independence elections of 1956 (regional) and 1959 (federal), said the country’s fate was sealed already on Independence Day in 1960.
“The 1959 election became a mockery because the outcome – Northern domination of Nigeria after independence – was assured before a single vote was cast,” Smith writes in his autobiography, for which he could not find a British publisher because of its explosive content. “The British loved the North and had arranged for 50% of the votes to be controlled by the Northern People’s Congress.”
Smith writes in his 1987 book: “A major proportion of the politicians who made Nigeria notorious for corruption after independence were selected by the British before independence. The politicians and leaders and men of eminence not chosen were often honest, trustworthy and responsible people. Why were these people not brought in him by the British? The answer is that the British needed people they could control. They sometimes selected crooks whom they knew they could control after independence.”
Thus Nigeria was granted independence in a state of conflict because the foundation of its democracy was deeply flawed. It is no wonder, therefore, that barely 7 years after independence civil war broke out in the country.
One country, different nations
The colonial policy of divide and rule has also had a sustained impact on development in the country, leading to wide regional disparities.
The indirect rule, also known as Anglo-Fulani alliance, “fossilised the feudal structure, confirmed the repression by the privileged Emirs and their appointees, prolonged the inability of the North to graduate into the modern world,” writes Frederick Forsyth, the famous English author, in his best-selling The Biafra Story about the Nigerian civil war.
“In the sixty years from Lugard to Independence the differences in religious, social, historical and moral attitudes and values between North and South, and the educational and technological gap, became not narrower but wider,” writes Forsyth.
The UNDP observed in 1997 that the regional disparities in Nigeria are among the worst in the world. In its Nigerian Human Development Report 1997, it said: “A ranking of the Nigerian states by Human Development Index (HDI) puts, for example, the Edo and Delta states (in South Nigeria) on top with an HDI of 0.666 while Borno (in North Nigeria) has an HDI of 0.156. Were Edo and Delta states constituted into a separate sovereign country, their ‘nation’ will rank 90th in the world – relatively high among the medium-level human development countries – while Borno as a separate polity would rank lower than any other country in the world at 182nd position. The states with low HDI are concentrated in the North… The picture presented is clear: It is [one of] wide disparities in HDI (i.e. education, longevity and income) between the South and the North.”
Fifty years after the departure of the British, Nigeria is still divided along the Muslim North and the rest of the country.
The introduction of the Islamic legal code Shariah in twelve Northern states ten years ago against the express provision of the secular Nigerian constitution has increased the difficulty of building a national consensus.
Is Shariah about religion? Soyinka says no. “It is about its cynical manipulation by political forces made desperate by the erosion of a hegemonic power base,” said the Nigerian intellectual.
The struggle to establish a sustainable democratic system based on equity, against the resistance of forces that are the beneficiaries of the existing conditions created by British manipulation, is the greatest challenge Nigeria faces today.
By: Adebola Adeoye