“Imagine that when a Yoruba man walks up to fellow human in the world and he introduces himself as a Nigerian, what comes to the mind of his naïve audience would be that he shares the same humanity, the same human and national space with those blood-thirsty hounds called Boko Haram. It is the pain of forced identity of 1914” – Governor Abiola Ajimobi.
The foregoing statement credited to Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo state succinctly and aptly captures the mindset and the general feelings of the vast majority of people of Nigeria whose regions and/or ethnic nationalities are not directly associated with the marauding Boko Haram sect and so are increasingly wont to believe that the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria in 1914 by lord Fredrick Lugard remains not just a big mistake but a source of harrowing experience that no group of reasonable people anywhere in the world and at anytime would wish to pass on to their generations yet unborn. Certainly Governor Ajimobi may not have said it all less perfectly and in such blunt mannerism pertaining to the subsisting mentality of scores of Nigerians who wish that they had not been unfortunate to form a component part of what is called Nigeria if not for the Lugard’s contraption of 1914 known as the amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria. In the same vein, Gov. Ajimobi’s remark could not have been less significant and timely considering that it came at a time the Yoruba elders and leaders alike – led by General Alani Akirinade – converged in Ibadan on 27th February, 2014 to brainstorm and adopt what has become known as their (Yoruba) regional agenda for the forthcoming national conference.
It is though obvious that the dastardly activities of the Boko Haram sect are increasingly providing us with the providential opportunities and reasons to further question the essence of our unity as one country arising from that singular incident of the amalgamation of 1914, the truth of the matter is that Nigerians must always strive to rise above immediate gains, sentiments and parochial interest as well as the inherently transient pains we are confronted with over the adversity occasioned by the cruel operations of the Boko Haram sect. Agreed, instances abound as to why the 1914 amalgamation remains a very big mistake, but projecting the Boko Haram factor – a more recent phenomenon – as one example is not somewhat tenable. The point is that the modus oparandi of the sect which casts shame and/or embarrassment on the faces of all Nigerians wherever they may be is not practically different from the similar methodology employed by the Niger Delta militants, except that the mission of the former is totally devoid of sensibility, credibility and sympathy within the context of the secularity of the Nigerian Federation and the global concept of peaceful co-existence among people and nations of the world. And unlike the Boko Haram sect whose professed sole aim is to Islamize the country called Nigeria (starting from the Northern region) which it conceives to be feasible via indiscriminating killings and destruction of properties, the Niger Delta militants employed the same killing and destruction approach strictly directed against the oil companies, their workers and facilities as well as the security agents deployed to guard them. Hence the Niger Delta militants’ fight against the degradation of their environment by the activities of the oil companies seemed to enjoy the tacit support and sympathy of not only Nigerians but certain power elements within the international community. That aside, there is clearly no major difference in the form of shame or embarrassment caused by these two militant groups; after all – as the saying goes – one man’s terrorism is another man’s freedom fight. In essence, reference to the Boko Haram phenomenon as one of the factors that underscores the mistake of the 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria may well be out of the relevant factors in issue.
Apparently, it appears that beyond the clear case of lack of consultation of the people and/or ethnic nationalities that make up the Nigerian entity prior to the amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorates which is fundamental to the putative notion of 1914 mistake, we – Nigerians – often seem to complain about Lugard’s contraption called amalgamation or tend to take a swipe at it only when we or members of our ethnic nationalities are not directly involved in the running of certain strategic affairs of the Nigerian state or whenever it seems we are not getting/enjoying “enough” mileage from those in the helm of affairs. This is why it is now a matter of convenience for us to speak about the 1914 amalgamation either as a historical mistake made by the British overlords or a divine arrangement, at different times. It is thus comical that Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, our President from Otueke community in Bayelsa state whose locality appears to be among other communities in Nigeria that have born the heaviest brunt of this farcical marriage of the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria, told us during his television broadcast on the centenary celebration last week that the 1914 amalgamation cannot be rightly viewed – though in his own estimation – as a mistake.
But then, as the peculiar case of the Igbo between the 1960s and through the first three decades of the post-civil war periods would demonstrate, I am quite certain that nothing would have convinced them that the 1914 amalgamation by lord Fredrick Lugard was nothing short of an aberration. And this same line of thought equally extended to the mentalities of both the people of the South-west and the South-south in the wake chief MKO Abiola’s fiasco and Ken Saro Wiwa’s saga respectively. Unequivocally, between these decades of post-civil war period and up till the end of military dictatorship in 1999, the Hausa-Fulani Muslim North had consistently sustained and propagated the very opposite notion of this 1914 amalgamation mistake. Understandably, the reasons for this spectrum of opinions cannot be said to be far-fetched. In the circumstance, however, it is clear that the rotational nature of injustices, pursuit of group interest as well as interest aggregation in our polity has a great role to play in our continually changing perception and evaluation of the 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria as either a mistake or a blessing.
Moreover, for the people Middle-Belt region (who are mainly found in the present day North-central geo-political zone and the likes of their late son Gideon Orka who once attempted to rend the country apart by naively announcing his intention to excise the far North from the rest of the country, nothing aptly underscores their stand on lord Lugard’s 1914 amalgamation than this singular expression of frustration and loss of faith in the Nigerian project. In fact with hindsight, it is no longer uncommon to find northerners of North-central geo-political extraction denying the fact of their Arewa origin by insisting and wishing that they be identified and/or addressed as Middle-belters, which the folks who prefer this name have tended to argue that it helps a good deal to use such to differentiate them from their brethren living in the upland North and who they are wont to believe are the cause of the deteriorating off-shore image problem of Nigerians – basically occasioned by the vicious operations of the Boko Haram sect.
However, though it is always in the character of those in government in Nigeria to play ostrich all a bid to be labeled patriots, the truth is that if indeed the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria is far from being an aberration or a mistake as president Jonathan has contended, one wonders why it has become a recurring decimal for almost every regime/administration that comes to power to attempt to correct the ills resulting mainly from that singular mistake of 1914 amalgamation by organizing constitutional conference, nay, national conference or what have you. Much as it is the highly respected opinion of President Jonathan that the 1914 Lugard’s contraption is nowhere to be found a mistake, the events in the next couple of weeks as we await the commencement of the National Conference would tell better.