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Formation: The Making of Nigeria, from Jihad to Amalgamation

An interview with Lehlé Balde.

When Dan Fodio’s jihad erupted to life one Tuesday in February 1804, hardly anyone could have anticipated that this motley crew of amateurs would still be alive in one week, never mind triggering the birth of a nation. It was the first in a series of unlikely and mostly unrelated events across the globe, which would snowball over the next hundred years into the formation of the largest black country in the world. As Nigeria turns 60, it is inevitable to look back at what has been while looking hopefully towards the future. In this interview with authors Feyi Fawehinmi and Fola Fagbule authors of Formation: The Making of Nigeria, from Jihad to Amalgamation. The story of the hundred-year time period between 1804 and 1914 during which the character of Nigeria was formed; factually and faithfully following the most important characters, events, and influences in what is the least understood, most mythologized, and most politicized era of the country’s history. The much-anticipated book will be released in Nigeria on October 22nd, 2020. Excerpts.

Fola Fagbule is a banker and investment professional focused on infrastructure in Africa. He currently serves as a Senior Vice President and Head of Financial Advisory with overall responsibility for mergers, acquisitions, capital raising, and other technical advisory assignments at the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC)

Fola Fagbule

Feyi Fawehinmi is a qualified accountant with over a decade’s experience working in the UK’s financial services industry across banking, asset management, private equity and insurance. His professional experience has involved the implementation of large regulatory changes in the financial services industry and statutory reporting across a broad range of financial entities. He has written a long-running blog on Nigerian socio-economic issues and his writing has featured on numerous publications.

Feyi Fawehinmi

1) What inspired you to write the Book Formation? Why now?
Feyi: Fola and I always talked about Nigeria every time we hung out together. We have both always felt that in many ways, the country is flying blind and our generation could benefit from a retelling of our history. We both felt that the pre-colonial period was the least known period of Nigerian history even though there is more than enough material available to tell a compelling story.

Read also: Nigeria at 60: A Blast from the Past

Fola: Yes, we had both read a lot of African history and Nigerian history, and we just couldn’t find one single document that contained the pre-colonial history of Nigeria in a concise document that was easily accessible to the modern-day reader. We decided to help reignite this conversation by offering Formation as that book. So, our biggest inspiration is the hope that Formation will help to spark a conversation about what it means for Nigeria to exist as a country and how Nigeria came to be.

2) What do you love most about being Nigerian? (Fola Responds)
We both love the creative energy and the sheer cultural power of the new generation of young people who are busy redefining what Nigeria means both at home and globally, just by living their lives and following their dreams. You’ll find it in everything from music to movies to the arts, fashion, technology, business, and the various professions. It’s defiant energy which rejects all the limitations that have been placed before it and insists on being seen and heard, on being excellent and on prospering. I absolutely love it.

3) What do you wish you could improve about the state of the nation? Feyi: The education system. One of the conclusions we came to after writing Formation is that human capital development is the most beneficial and long-lasting change anyone can bring to Nigeria. Unfortunately, our long history as a resource nation has distracted us from having the necessary focus on this critical type of development.

4) Formation is a book that is stripped of myth and agenda of the pre-Colonial history of Nigeria. Why do you think history is often distorted and has gaps? (Fola Responds)
History is a lot like news reporting, which you are very familiar with. Perspective matters, and the agenda of the writer is fundamental to understanding the historical record. Nigerian history has been richly documented in numerous books, academic papers and oral traditions. But the perspective from which the stories have been told, and the agendas of the writers have often created distortions, both intended and otherwise. Gaps have also typically emerged from a simple lack of focus on the perspectives of less powerful people, minorities and women. In Formation, we made a deliberate effort to be conscious of these perspectives, gaps and agendas on every page and with every word that we wrote. That is what we mean when we say Formation is stripped of myth and agenda.

5) You go into a lot of detail in this book. The chapters contain many scenarios including a description of the River Niger and the lay of the land in 1800, Dan Fodio and the Fulani Jihad, The Arrival of Europeans, and much more. Do you think readers will be surprised by some of the stories?
Feyi: Oh, definitely. There are some interesting and surprising details about some characters and events in the book that came as a surprise to us. We hope readers will find them as enlightening as we did. Ultimately, as Nigerians, we have not told our stories enough. Also, Nigeria being a country with a very young population means that a lot of people will be hearing these stories for the first time.

Fola: Absolutely. It was so important for us to bring this story to a new generation of young readers who may be engaging with Nigeria’s pre-colonial history for the first time. I think this group of readers in particular will benefit from a new perspective as to the raison d’etre of Nigeria. Our biggest hope is that this will help us all chart a more advantageous future for the people of the country.

6) What do you think needs to be improved about the way in which Nigerian history is taught in schools? What needs to be reviewed?
Fola My understanding is that history is actually not taught at all anymore in Nigerian schools (certainly at primary and secondary levels), which is a tragedy and a disaster, if true. So the most important improvement must be to re-introduce the subject into the curriculum. But I do think it needs to be a carefully thought-through re-introduction. For example, the history teachers themselves need to be properly educated about the real history of Nigeria. Feyi and I both remember being taught as children that a White man named Mungo Park “discovered” the source of the River Niger, which is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever been taught in my life. I was very happy that we were able to re-tell a more accurate version of the Mungo Park story in Formation. So, things like this need to be more carefully considered in the development of the curriculum as the subject is being reintroduced. We certainly hope that Formation can be an important part of that process. Creating the proper context for our national story is a critical civic responsibility that we owe to the coming generation.

7) Your aim with this book is to retell a story from an increasingly forgotten part of Nigeria’s history. Much of Nigeria’s most popular history has covered the colonial and post-independence period, but you think that the pre-colonial period has many interesting stories and lessons for us today. Can you elaborate on this without giving too much away?
Fola: Our research led us to conclude that Nigeria’s modern-day character was formed long before the establishment of a country called Nigeria. We believe that events and occurrences during the century immediately prior to the formation of Nigeria in 1914 provide a very important key to understanding our country today. Many scholars and thinkers have often attributed key elements of our national character to colonial rule, or military rule, or the curse of crude oil, or tribalism, among other things. Our contention in Formation is that none of these is the original source and that we have to look further back into history to understand ourselves better.

8) Do you think Nigeria has done enough to recognize and the wrongdoings done to particular groups of people?
Fola: That is a heavy question and unfortunately, I do not think we have done enough as a country. In Formation, we show how so many modern-day crises that we are still dealing with in Nigeria have their origins in unresolved cycles of political violence beginning long before the modern country was ever conceived, never mind formed. I think that this type of understanding is important to creating a future country that is deliberately focused on justice, reconciliation, and peace. This is the most important foundation for economic development and wealth creation. We hope that Formation can also help in achieving this objective.

9) Who is this book for and what do you hope to contribute with this publication?
Feyi: This book is for any Nigerian and any person who wishes to understand the complexity of Nigeria. We have tried our best to write it in an engaging style that is very easy to read. We hope that anyone who picks it up will enjoy it and be enlightened. Our biggest hope is that Formation will help bring about the start of a new conversation about Nigeria’s past, and a new future that is only possible from a better appreciation of that past.

10) Where can the public purchase the book? (Feyi Responds)
The book comes out October 22nd in Nigeria but those who have pre-ordered online will get it slightly earlier than that. It will be available in all good bookshops across Nigeria and subsequently in Europe and America as well. Formation can still be ordered online from the Cassava Republic website

Fola Formation is already available on Amazon (UK) as well as several good online booksellers.

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