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Writing Nigeria: The sources of formation (3)

Writing Nigeria: The sources of formation (2)

We combined Basden’s wonderful storytelling with the outstanding academic works of Igbo scholars like Kenneth Onwuka Dike (Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta), Augustine Okwu (Igbo Culture and the Christian Missions 1857-1957), and Don Ohadike (The Ekumeku Movement, Western Igbo Resistance to the British Conquest of Nigeria, 1883-1914) among others, to paint as accurate a picture as we could.

Finally, we utilized the remarkably diligent historical work of writers like David Northup (Trade Without Rulers) and Geoffrey L. Baker (Trade Winds on the Niger) to understand the financial and economic perspectives, without which the history of Eastern Nigeria cannot be properly told. Chapters of Formation like The Glorious Incompetents, Exit the Bible, Enter The Gun, as well as Conquest and Discontent benefit particularly from source documents such as these and many more.

Finally, Frederick Lugard. Our problem with writing about this larger-than-life character was an altogether different one. Given how prolific the subject himself was as a writer, and how determined he was to ensure that his own version of history was the one that endured, how could we possibly tell a fair story about him? There is a lot of material on Lugard, almost too much. We were at risk of simply writing a book about Lugard if we took the easy route of just relying on the easily accessible material.

Our approach was to group Lugard material into three categories – the things written by Lugard as they happened such as his diaries; the things written by Lugard long after they happened, like his seminal tome Dual Mandate; and the things written by other people about Lugard. This third category could be further split into two sub-categories, people who disliked Lugard and people who admired him.

We came away further convinced that there is no lack of deep and expansive high-quality accounts of Nigeria’s tortuous history for our modern generation to rely on

The second category was the easiest to decide on – those things written by Lugard long after the events had happened, or he had left the scene, were mainly to get his version of history on the record. We mostly treated this as hagiographic material and ignored them. His diaries however were invaluable given that he wrote them as the events happened, for example as he travelled through Nigeria. They contain plenty of mistakes and willful misunderstandings, but this added to their value as a tool to transport us into an era far removed from us.

How about the plethora of material on Lugard written by third parties? This was tricky to navigate given how the Marmite Lugard seemed to only ever elicit strong feelings in those who knew him. Dame Margery Perham wrote 1,500 pages on Lugard’s life split across two volumes. The one we relied on the most was Lugard: The Years of Authority which covered the years 1898 – 1945 and, the era when he had the most influence in Nigeria.

Read also: Writing Nigeria: The sources of formation (2)

Dame Perham no doubt was an admirer of Lugard but over the course of interviewing him multiple times and spending extended periods of time with him, she was able to force him to answer difficult questions about his stewardship in the country, in particular, his controversial policies and outright crimes. In taking this rather honest approach to her work, she freed the reader to come to their own conclusions on Lugard. Ours was overall unfavorable, but others may see him differently. Another excellent resource we used was Rory O’Grady’s The Passionate Imperialists.

An engineer related to Lugard by marriage, his book does not pretend to be a dispassionate account of the lives led by Lugard and Flora Shaw. But once that is understood, it is very easy to navigate as an easy-to-read account of their lives which leveraged access to some important family documents. These two books and others helped us piece together the chapter of Formation that we called Frederick Lugard: The King in the North.

A few other important books are worth mentioning to illustrate the importance of perspective to us in writing Formation. One of these was an eye-witness account by a European woman named Sylvia Leith-Ross (formerly Sylvia Ruxton) who was born in 1883 and lived in Nigeria off and on from 1907. Her Stepping Stones, Memoirs of Colonial Nigeria (1907-1960) is a rich document that provides an all-too-rare perspective, that of a woman, in the affairs of pre-colonial Nigeria.

Other important pre-colonial historical accounts by women that feature prominently in Formation include the works of Cheryl Johnson-Odim and Nina Emma Mba, who co-authored For Women and The Nation, a ground-breaking biography of the great early Nigerian feminist and political leader, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Abeokuta. Kristin Mann’s Slavery and the Birth of an African City, written about Lagos between 1760 and 1900 was another, without which it would have been impossible for us to produce the Formation story.

All told, the more than a hundred books and papers that we relied upon to produce Formation confirmed several things to us. We came away further convinced that there is no lack of deep and expansive high-quality accounts of Nigeria’s tortuous history for our modern generation to rely on. What is required is a new effort to engage with these historical records and documents, standing on the shoulders of the great post-colonial historians of Nigeria, in a way that “moves Nigeria’s narrative in a different and exciting direction of the 21st-century reader” as The Guardian newspaper described our effort in its review.

As we said from the beginning, our sincerest hope remains that Formation will help spur the beginning of a new conversation about Nigeria’s history and help chart a more advantageous future for the humans of Nigeria.