OPINION / SPEECHES

BASING NIGERIA CENTENARY ON JANUARY 1, 1914 IS WRONG BY HILARY OJUKWU

Date Posted: March 4, 2014

By HILARY OJUKWU

Email: editor@uhuruspirit.org




Since the first day of this year, Nigeria has been in a celebratory mood, though this has been overshadowed by the constant flow of news about the dastardly acts of the terrorist Boko Haram sect. But that has not stopped the celebration of the so-called Nigeria’s Centenary.

On January 1, 1914, the British colonialists fused their Northern and Southern holdings into a bigger territory they called Nigeria. And as it became 100 years on January 1, 2014, since that act was performed, the Nigerian government found it necessary to embark on what they called “A Mission to Inspire the Unity of Nigeria.” Then, in their desperation to impress, they misrepresented and misinterpreted some better-to-be-forgotten-act by dubious colonialists as the birth of the Nigerian nation and declared a celebration of “Nigeria at 100” based on that fallacy.

But it is easy to see the motivation behind these “Centenary” celebrations. Since Nigeria won independence on October 1, 1960, generations of greedy and selfish leaders have ignored the important task of building a real nation from the myriad of tribes that were fused together by the “colonialist demi-gods”. Though the country has been “blessed” with a civil war that was inspired by tribal jingoism, evidence abounds to show that generations of Nigerian leaders have failed to grasp the important lessons of history. Today, tribalism and religious differences still thrive in the country’s social and political life. The result is that almost every tribe in the country now has a militant wing plus a political movement “fighting for the interests of ‘their’ people.” No doubt, the voices that are now calling for the disintegration of Nigeria are many. Adding this to the serious threat posed by the evil activities of the savages known as Boko Haram, we can then see that the people, who benefit both economically and politically, have reasons to become desperate. Equally, Nigeria will hold a general election next February, so it’s possible that the idea of the so-called Nigerian Centenary is merely a political ploy to woo potential voters.

To underline the new-found determination of the current Nigeria’s leadership to champion unity, events have been lined up throughout the year. In fact, almost every well-known national or international day, like the workers’ day, will be “celebrated in alignment with the Centenary spirit.”

There will be similar activities in each of the 36 states of Nigeria. According to the official centenary document, “The national calendar provides 6 months within which states may mark the Centenary. Each State is encouraged to build a Unity Square in its capital or designate an existing public area for that purpose, to be unveiled during the proposed nationwide unity rallies.”

Indeed, while this is the first time that a Nigerian President is seen actively promoting national unity, the problem is that history is being turned upside down and many costly errors are being committed in the name of unity.

First, it is wrong to base the celebration of Nigeria’s Centenary on a past action by some dubious colonialists. Nigeria’s Centenary should rather be based on the date of independence – October 1, 1960 - because it was on that day that the Nigerian nation was born. Those that took part in the negotiations leading to the birth of Nigeria in 1960 are the true founding fathers – not Lord Lugard and his family.

I believe that the reason for this confusion is because the founding fathers had decided not to change the name that the colonial usurpers used for one of their territories in Africa. Honestly, if they had not agreed to continue with the name “Nigeria”, then we won’t be in this confusion today.

Celebrating January 1, 1914 as the date when the present-day Nigeria was born is tantamount to the people of Zimbabwe celebrating the day in 1898, when their territory was named Southern Rhodesia by colonialists after their favourite son, Cecil Rhodes. It is also similar to the people of Zambia celebrating the day in 1895 when their territory was named Northern Rhodesia by the colonialists. Another example is Ghana, which was called Gold Coast by the British colonialists when they seized power there in 1867 or Malawi celebrating the day in 1907 when their territory was named as Nyasaland by the colonial conquerors. There are many more examples.

While Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Malawi and many other African countries banished their derogatory colonial tags after independence, the puppets imposed on Nigeria by the British colonialists retained theirs and thus making it possible for some people to think that the Nigeria of now is the same Nigeria that only meant a swathe of colonial territory with its enslaved African labourers to the colonial masters.

Celebrating the amalgamation of Nigeria by the colonialists is the same as celebrating colonialism itself. This is wrong because in fighting colonialism, Africans had repudiated it in all its ramifications - including the so called amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates on January 1, 1914.

Contrary to the false impression that has been created by the Nigerian government about the amalgamation of 1914, the truth is that the date is one that symbolizes the evil wrought on Africa by the colonizers. The amalgamation had nothing to do with the then oppressed people of Africa. The real amalgamation we should be celebrating is the one that happened when the founding fathers united and voted for independence.

Numerous historical accounts are clear that the amalgamation was forced by financial and administrative challenges in the then British Northern Protectorate. It was not about uniting the peoples of Nigeria. Because if the colonialists really cared about uniting Nigerians, they would not have employed the various policies of “divide and rule” they had used to bastardize the idea of unity. History tells us that it was the Bristish colonialists that actually laid the foundation for tribal and religious disunity in Nigeria. Historical accounts are clear on how the colonial intruders rigged the first census exercise and, of course, the early elections in order to impose their chosen puppets on the country. So, when we talk about corruption and impunity in Nigeria today, we should remember that it was the colonialist invaders that started it. It then makes sense to see that up till today Nigeria is still held captive by the descendants of those agents of neo-colonialism and their friends and that it will take nothing short of a revolution to put the country on a progressive path.

Here is a little extract from the last book of the world-renowned late Professor Chinua Achebe on the legacy of colonialism in Nigeria:

“When Britain decided to hand over power to Nigeria, they also decided to change the governor general. They brought a new governor general from the Sudan, Sir James Robertson, to take the reins in Nigeria. Now that Independence Day was approaching a number of onlookers were wondering why there was a new posting from Britain, and no provision made for a Nigerian successor. It became clear that Sir James was going to be there on Independence Day and, as it turned out, wanted to stay on as governor general for a whole year into the period of freedom. One wondered how he was going to leave. Would it be in disgrace? Would he be hiding, or something of the sort?

It is now widely known that Sir James Robertson played an important role in overseeing the elections (or lack thereof) at independence, throwing his weight behind Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who had been tapped to become Nigeria’s first prime minister.

I remember hearing Azikiwe comment years later on those events. He was asked in a small gathering: “Why did Sir James Robertson not go home, like the other people who were leaving?”

Azikiwe made light of the question: “Well, when he told me that he was going to stay on, I said to him, Go on, stay as long as you like.” The laughter that followed did not obscure the greater meaning of his statement.

Later it was discovered that a courageous English junior civil servant named Harold Smith had been selected by no other than Sir James Robertson to oversee the rigging of Nigeria’s first election “so that its compliant friends in [Northern Nigeria] would win power, dominate the country, and serve British interests after independence.” Despite the enticements of riches and bribes (even a knighthood, we are told), Smith refused to be part of this elaborate hoax to fix Nigeria’s elections, and he swiftly became one of the casualties of this mischief. Smith’s decision was a bold choice that cost him his job, career, and reputation (at least until recently).

In a sense, Nigerian independence came with a British governor general in command, and, one might say, popular faith in genuine democracy was compromised from its birth.


Finally, Nigerian leaders should remember that independence of the country was not delivered on the platter of gold. People fought for it! People died; people were jailed and many were driven to exile for the sake of freedom. So, it was wrong that the colonialist Lord Lugard was honoured as a hero by the government of President Goodluck Jonathan. It is wrong to celebrate those who enslaved Africans. It is wrong because this kind of act is capable of turning history on its head and can contribute in misleading the future generation. In simple terms, the elevation of Lord Lugard to the stead of a National hero has actually belittled the many sacrifices made for independence.

- Hilary Ojukwu | Uhuruspirit



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