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Michael Osakwe: Nigeria at 100: Lord Lugard’s exit plan

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Michael Osakwe: Nigeria at 100: Lord Lugard’s exit plan

by Michael Osakwe

… in 1952, while addressing the Kaduna assembly, the great Sir Tafawa Balewa said in his speech that, “the Southern people who are swarming into this region daily in large numbers are really intruders. We don’t want them and they are not welcome here in the North.

Imagine if you lived to see your 100th birthday. Just imagine.

Imagine how eager you’ll want that day to come. Imagine the celebration your friends and loved ones will be planning for you. Even your enemies, if alive, will celebrate with you.

Unfortunately, as Nigeria approaches that age, that’s not the case for her. Long before now, friends and foes alike have looked expectantly towards that day when Nigeria will be a centenarian, not for the joy of celebrating with her, but with the hope that she’ll no longer exist or that she’ll metamorphose into something else.

I really do not care what outsiders think about our continued existence as one entity. As Abraham Lincoln opined, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” The same applies to Nigeria.

The issue of Nigeria’s break-up has become quite topical in recent months. Clichés like ‘Nigeria will not break-up’ has become the new song on the lips of our politicians. But as we get ready to mark the 100th year anniversary, one is tempted to ask the following questions:

What if the North and South were never amalgamated but remained as separate entities? Was it a mistake? Who has benefited from the amalgamation the most? And if there was a break up now, who’ll benefit the most?

It’s my opinion that the history of our nation begs for scrutiny. As they say, “the only lesson we have learnt from history is that we have not learnt from history.” I do not have the answers to all the questions. But first, I think it’s almost impossible to determine how the North and South would have fared as separate entities if they were not amalgamated, as we know that where ever we find humans, we’ll find problems.

History tells us that the amalgamation was necessitated because the British thought it was going to help facilitate internal trade, movement of the people across regions and help with better administration. Now, that’s like saying, “merge all of Africa, so our people can move freely and do business.” I’m guessing that they didn’t stop to consider the enormous difference in values of the two regions and whether or not the regions wanted such a merger.

As to whether both parties wanted the merger, report has it that in 1952, while addressing the Kaduna assembly, the great Sir Tafawa Balewa said in his speech that, “the Southern people who are swarming into this region daily in large numbers are really intruders. We don’t want them and they are not welcome here in the North. Since the amalgamation in 1914, the British government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people are different in every way including religion, custom, language and aspiration. The fact that we are all Africans might have misguided the British Government. We here in the North, take it that the ‘Nigerian Unity’ is not for us.”

Now, there is no doubt in my mind that Sir Tafawa Balewa was a great man who sacrificed a lot for this country, but the above quote tells me that this was a forced amalgamation with very faulty foundations. And it is obvious that some people, largely Northerners, saw it as a mistake. But of course, not all mistakes are bad. Some come with their unintended benefits. Those who clamored against or thought of the amalgamation as a bad idea then, did not realize what the South brought to the table. Not even the South realized what it brought to the table.

According to Adisa Adeleye, “in 1961, only 400 out of the 41,000 Federal Civil servants were Northerners with only about 30 in senior posts. Only two of the Northerners were in the department of Customs and Exercise; in the Army, there were large numbers in lower ranks, but about ten were commissioned officers.” That is obviously not the case today. Who says it hasn’t paid off? It has!

In fact, in school, we had a slogan that goes, “the farther you are from the oil well, both geographically and otherwise, the better for you.” Yes some Northern leaders thought the amalgamation was not in the best interest of the region then, but now, I think their descendants are having a rethink. With comments like, “It would not be in the best interest of the Northerners to secede; seeking secession should come from somewhere else but not the North,” coming from Balarabe Musa , it’s obvious that the balance of power has changed. Add that to the recent comment by former military ruler, Abdusalami Abubakar, who said, ”At least 20 years will pass before the North will recover… The ongoing Boko Haram insurgency has held the North down, killing thousands of people, crippling businesses & reversing the gains of education… It will take 20yrs to revive the North. A lot of socio economic damage has been done. We have to work together to revive it.”

For me, this anniversary will be a defining moment in Nigeria’s history and a time to seriously x-ray the strands, not bonds that hold us together. I think it’s time we realize that Nigeria is not a political experiment and even if it was, 100 years is too long a time to collate results and make a definite resolution. It’s my hope that the South will have a little common sense going forward and do their own part to reduce the plagues emanating from that region, from pipeline vandalization, to kidnappings, so much so that rumor has it that there’s now the association of kidnappers, and other such issues.

At 100 we are grateful to God for helping us thus far, but if we must continue, we have to sit and talk. This, I believe, is the reason Lord Lugard gave the exit plan.

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