• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Writing Nigeria: The sources of Formation (1)

Writing Nigeria: The sources of formation (2)

Our popular history book Formation, The Making of Nigeria from Jihad to Amalgamation was released internationally by Cassava Republic during 2021 and has been extremely well-received by both the academic and general public. We have been lucky to have Formation listed by The Guardian, an important British daily newspaper on its prestigious list of “Books that Explain the World” for 2021. Formation also received favorable reviews in the Financial Times newspaper and the Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, among other notable academic and general interest publications.

We have also been especially pleased to see several great reviews published by regular readers. Throughout 2021, we were graciously invited to speak at numerous events and forums by readers and listeners who have found the story of Formation to be timely and important. All of these have made for a very exciting 2021, and we are pleased that Formation is generating the exact kind of public interest and conversations that we had hoped for when we decided to write this story.

As we have said to many people, reading the stories to write Formation was as much fun and probably more work than writing the book itself. Between us, we read or researched more than one hundred books and academic papers to establish the raw facts upon which we constructed our narrative of the one hundred years preceding the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria in 1914. I

t was very important for us that our story be based on high quality, first-hand, eye-witness sources of evidence. We also wanted these important source books and historical documents to feature very strongly in Formation, because more popular study of these works is essential for continuing the conversation about Nigeria’s rich history. In this essay, we will highlight some of the sources of Formation that most influenced our thinking.

A good place to begin might be with The Niger Journal of Richard and John Lander, which was written by its eponymous authors after their return from an epic journey into present-day Nigeria in 1830. This book is important for many reasons. Firstly, it is one hundred percent based on eye-witness accounts. The Lander Brothers’ journal is one those rare first-hand accounts written in the English Language about what was happening in the lands we now know as Nigeria during the very early 19th century. This was a very important moment in the aftermath of the Fulani jihad led by Usman Dan Fodio and his successors.

Secondly, this book is an epic narrative, which describes this remarkable journey made by two unremarkable young British boys through a vast area of land that was previously entirely unknown and totally misunderstood by the European world. Most importantly, this book tells the story of how the secret of the Niger River and its connection to the Atlantic Ocean was uncovered by white people for the first time, changing the history of Nigeria forever in one dramatic moment. We used The Niger Journal as a critical source for several chapters of Formation, starting with the opening one, A River Runs Through It, and continuing with Mad Men and Missionaries as well as Exit the Bible, Enter the Gun.

Read also: How Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of power held up in 2021

The Lander Brothers blow-by-blow account is rich in dates, detail and context, even if the relative ignorance of the writers about what they were seeing, and hearing was quite evident in many respects. These young white boys managed to travel relatively unmolested from Badagry at the coast through the Yoruba country, up to Bussa on the Niger River, then down to Lokoja and all the way further down the river into the Niger Delta, where they were promptly kidnapped. They eventually manage to regain their freedom and escape by a hair’s breadth back to Europe via Brass Town. They were the first Europeans to successfully undertake such a journey, after many failed attempts, including the one made by Mungo Park, who died at Bussa in 1806. Once the Lander brothers returned to London and made the rest of the world aware of what they had seen and heard, particularly the previously unknown connection between the Niger and the Atlantic Ocean, the future of the lands they traveled through became changed forever, in the direction of European influence.

Another eye-witness account that we relied heavily upon is contained in the Journal of an Expedition up the Niger and Tshadda Rivers authored by The Reverend Samuel Crowther in 1855, after he returned from another epic journey from the coast into the interior of modern Nigeria. Written by the future First Black Bishop in Africa, this is one of the most historically significant books about pre-colonial Nigeria. Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther is one of the national heroes of Nigeria, and certainly one of the most important characters in Formation. We consider him to be the most important Nigerian of the 19th century, with no exception.

At the time he wrote this book, Reverend Crowther was a mature and experienced traveller of about 48 years old, who had lived in England and Sierra Leone for many years and was fluent in several local languages as well as the ones spoken by his European sponsors and co-travellers. In his introduction to the second edition of this tome, the sage Nigerian historian J.F. Ade Ajayi from the University of Ibadan wrote in 1968 that: “Crowther visited the Benue River at a time of rapid political and demographic change, and he gives us a graphic picture of what those changes meant in human terms.”

Crowther’s invaluable narrative is one of those documents that provide the critical shift in perspective that we wanted to bring across in telling the story of Nigeria’s history, and his writing greatly influenced our views about the impact of the creation of the Sokoto Caliphate on human lives in the far southern frontiers of the Fulani Empire, in areas now known as the “Middle Belt” of Nigeria. Crowther’s journey started at Abeokuta, and he went via Lagos, to the Nun River in the Niger Delta and all the way up the Niger and Benue rivers, past Lokoja and as far up as Adamawa.

His knowledgeable writing and linguistic talent shines through the entire document and provides us with some of the best material on the mid 19th century status of affairs in the modern “Middle Belt” area of Nigeria. We found this source document to be extremely important in providing the perspective for writing chapters of Formation like Game of Thrones in the Niger Heartland which is an epic multi-decade story centred around the Nupe Kingdom, and culminating in the 1897 historic Battle of Bida, an incredibly important milestone in the formation of Nigeria.