A hundred years ago our British colonial overlords found it fit to join the North and the South into one political community under the leadership of Frederick Lord Lugard. The British did not set out to create a united Nigeria out of any sense of benevolence or deference for the common good of our people. They did it for purely pragmatic reasons. It made economic sense and fitted with the logic of financial prudence. The fusion of the two former territories would save administrative costs and pool together scale economies for the benefit of the colonial economy. In 1914 Britain was beginning to descend from the zenith of its imperial glory. A century earlier, Admiral Lord Nelson had defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo. Britain had become de facto Master of Europe. Britannia ruled the waves — the world’s pre-eminent industrial-technological and military power. Sterling was the dominant global currency under the erstwhile Gold Standard.
But the times were changing. America was on the rise. The Austro-Hungarian Hapsburgs were in decline. Germany was a rising industrial and military power. Britain was beginning to experience what the historian Paul Kennedy characterises as the syndrome of “imperial overstretch”. The rationalisation of colonial government therefore made sense.
I do not like the word “amalgamation”, with its underlying connotation of integration of objects that are totally dissimilar in nature. There are several commentators who refer to “the mistake of 1914”, as if we Nigerians were so alien to one another before the British came. This could not be farther from the truth.
It is a matter of regret that they don’t teach history anymore in our schools. Our young people and even some of our leaders are dangerously ignorant of history. If you do not know where you are coming from, you can hardly make sense of where you are today, much less of where you are heading tomorrow.
I have been a passionate student of history. Our greatest, notably Samuel Johnson, Kenneth Dike, Ade Ajayi, Muhammadu Junaidu Wazirin Sokoto, Obaro Ikime, Jacob Egharevba, Tekena Tamuno, Adiele Afigbo, Abdullahi Smith, Yusufu Bala Usman, Gabriel Olusanya, Akinjide Osuntokun, Mahmud Tukur, Elisabeth Isichei and Toyin Falola never gave any impressions in their writings that our various communities evolved in isolation from one another.
For centuries, our various communities interacted with each other through war, commerce and diplomacy. Among my own Ninzam people of Southern Kaduna, it is widely believed that we are a branch of the people of Zazzau. I was rather startled to learn that I had kinsmen in Katsina.
The Yoruba and the Bini have close historical linkages. As to whether the princes of Ife founded the ruling house of Edo or vice versa was the subject of a fascinating debate by no less than His Majesty Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II of Ile Ife and His Royal Highness Omo n’Oba n’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa I of Edo Kingdom. Neither monarch disputed the fact that they are cousins.
It is a known fact that the Onitsha royal house has strong links with Bini Kingdom. The rulers of Agwashi-Uku in Delta hailed originally from Igala land in the Middle Belt. The rulers of Ilorin are Yoruba by acculturation but Fulani in descent. The Nupe and the Yoruba have a great deal in common. Some historians depict the ancient Nok civilisation of central Nigeria as a “proto-Yoruba” civilisation. The Yoruba and the people of Borno are of the same Nilotic race, tracing their ancestry from ancient Egypt and the Middle East. A sizeable community of Nsukka Igbo trace their origins from Igala land. For the better part of a century, the Jukun Kwararafa were the rulers of Kano. The Yakasai district of Kano is made up of people of Jukun ancestry.
The process of intercultural cross-fertilisation has continued through commerce, industry and intermarriage. Sir Ahmadu Bello, the late Sardauna of Sokoto, had a Jukun mother. General Ike Nwachukwu’s father was from Abia State, but his mother was a Fulani princess from the Katsina royal house. He himself is married to a Yoruba woman. And their first son, Ike Abubakar Solawole, is also married to a Yoruba beauty by the name of Nadia Iretioluwa Omotosho.
During my growing years, I used to visit the home of Sir Akanu Ibiam in Uwana in Afikpo, Ebonyi State. That was in the 1980s. He was already an old man. His home was on a pleasant hill overlooking the tranquil Cross River. Missionary doctor, statesman and former President of the World Council of Churches, Dr. Ibiam was, in my estimation, one of the greatest Nigerians of our century. Educated at Hope Waddell Institute in Calabar, he graduated with distinction at Kings College Lagos, before studying medicine in Cambridge and St. Andrews. Ibiam rejected a lucrative medical practice and became a missionary doctor. His wife was Yoruba. When he was Governor of Eastern Nigeria, his ADC was General Benjamin Adekunle, whose father hailed from Ogbomoso in Oyo State while his mother was a Bachama from Numan in what is now Adamawa State. Adekunle married a woman from Port Harcourt.
When the civil war broke out in 1967, Ibiam’s wife defied her people and insisted on accompanying her husband to the East instead of remaining in the safety of the Yoruba heartland. He told me of a frightening occasion when a massive bomb was dropped right into the centre of his compound. Miracle of miracles, the bomb never went off! It was of a size that would have obliterated the compound and all its inhabitants. Ibiam hated tribalism and was pained by how Nigerians have become so distant from one another.
As we commemorate our centennial, we must realise that what unites is deeper than what separates us. Our coming together was not an accident of history. The mission of our generation is to create nothing less than a New Nigeria – to give our people renewed hope of a common future, a common purpose and a common destiny.
By: OBADIAH MAILAFIA