The Evolution of the Nigerian State from the Colonial Era through the Present Democratic Dispensation

A Nation In Search Of Nationhood

Term Paper, 2011

19 Pages


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Nigeria’s Independence

3. Political Consequences of Amalgamation

4. The Challenge of Leadership in Nigeria

5. Religion in Post-Independent Nigeria

6. Ethnicity and the Struggle for Relevance in Nigeria

7. Vista of Hope in the Horizon

8. Conclusion

9. Bibliography


The Nigerian state has grappled with threats to nationhood since independence as several irredentist movements have truncated the maturation of the country into a nation state. Similarly, gross failure of leadership aided by corruption of political actors has stifled the transformation of the country beyond the colonial partitioning of 1914.

This paper explores the evolution of the Nigerian state from the colonial era through the present democratic dispensation and maintains that the only legacy bequeathed to the country by Western imperialism that has assumed independence is conceivably religion and/or ethnicity. It is the position of the paper that religion and ethnicity have more than any phenomenon significantly militated against the evolution of the country into a nation state. This underscores continuous agitation for sub-regional autonomy and secessionist attempts by the Eastern region of the country as witnessed in the Biafra civil war of 1966.

The secularity of the Nigerian constitution has been interminably jettisoned in the pursuit of scarce social goods by political actors as amply demonstrated in the imposition of Sharia law in some northern states of the country. This has heightened religious and ethnic consciousness of citizens thereby constituting significant drag on the country’s march to nationhood. The paper advocates the recognition of the country’s plurality and diversity as building blocks of unity and national integration. Furthermore the de-politicization of religion and ethnicity are hereby conversed for the development of a robust and virile Nigerian nation.

1. Introduction

The geographical territory in West Africa today called Nigeria is without any vestige of pessimism a creation of British colonial administration which dates back to the 19th and 20th centuries. The occupation of this territory by the British was with all intents and purposes antagonistic to the collective will of the indigenous population who owing to inferior military might, kowtowed to British invasion and subsequent annexation of present day Nigeria into a British colony. This chronicled a marriage of inconvenience between the multifarious ethnic groups that occupy this geographical territory. The reaction of particularly three major ethnic nationalities that constitute this territory, viz; Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, to this union, varied significantly. While the Hausa in the North overwhelmingly stooped to British rule, the resistance in the South Western and Eastern regions of the country largely inhabited by the Yoruba’s and Igbo’s was aggressively extemporaneous. This was not surprising given the differing structures of social organization that obtained in the regions. Colonial rule in the North for instance, was largely aided by the emirate system of administration which gave enormous power to the emirs to administer their territories while answerable to the colonial authority through indirect rule system. However, in the Southern part of the country, the colonial administration met stiff opposition as protests against the crown were widespread. That was partly due to the native authority system that was well rooted in the region which left chiefs with less autonomy to compel absolute obedience as opposed to the emirate system which wielded absolute power and autonomy to the emir who doubles as religious and political leader.

Nigeria was amalgamated in 1914 by Lord Lugard, the first High Commissioner of Nigeria from 1900 to 1906. Lugard had created the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria in 1900 with headquarters at Lokoja (later moved to Jebba) which was soon abandoned, then to Zungeru, and finally settled at Kaduna. Lugard returned in 1912 as Governor of Northern and Southern Nigeria, eventually carrying out the amalgamation of 1914; and thereafter continued as governor-General of amalgamated Nigeria from 1914 to 1918 (Geary, 1965). Given the fusion of different kingdoms and city states like (Kanem-Borno, the Fulani/Dan Fodio Empire, Benin Empire, Kingdom of Ife and Oyo Empire, Bonny, New Calabar, Okrika, Brass, Warri, etc.), the Igbo polities of the south-east, and the small ethnic groups of the Plateau and others that were not part of any of these prominent empires; the new Nigerian nation came to have a land area of 356,669 sq. miles so big and bogus that it was doubted if it could survive or be sustained. The British architects of the amalgamation and the inhabitants both doubted that Nigeria would survive. (Crowder, 1966: 23).

Granted the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914, the colonial administration successively ensured that the two protectorates were administered separately. As Best (2011) noted, the colonialists did that for two reasons. First, they had promised not to interfere with the religion, culture and customs of the caliphate. Second was the need to foster a culture of friendship and nurture the emirate system as a basis for succession after independence. Thus, even though Nigeria was amalgamated, a cultural and by implication religious iron curtain separated the north from the south. Whereas Western education and the westernized elite, urbanization, Christianity, commerce, and other factors were revolutionizing the south, the north remained a culturally and religiously conservative terrain committed to preserving Islam and its traditions. Whereas, Christian missionaries worked to transform the traditional society and its ways of life in the parts of Nigeria where they operated, and this included the Middle Belt areas of the historical north, the colonialists using the Indirect Rule system worked with the Emirs to preserve existing traditions instead (Coleman, 1958; Whitaker, 1973). This preservationist orientation of colonialism was responsible for the perpetuation of the dichotomy between the north and south on the one hand, and between the Middle Belt groups converted to Christianity and the Muslim north on the other hand, a dichotomy that continued into independence and has remained prevalent to date. The dichotomy has further helped to weaken the bonds of nationhood (Best, 2011: 11)

2. Nigeria’s Independence

Nigeria’s independence was not fought with guns and war machines as other former colonies of Britain who had to wrestle their way to independence with the last drop of their blood i.e. Republic of Ireland. The nationalist’s drive for self-government was only temporarily hampered by internal resistance from the Northern region of the country which was ill-prepared for self-determination in 1959. The nationalist movement for independence nevertheless, became a reality in 1960 despite the reservations of the Northern region.

The independence of Nigeria on 1st October 1960, restored hope in many Nigerians in particular, and Africans in general about the future of the continent. Given that even “good government is no excuse for self-government” as posited by nelson Mandela (1995:347), it was hoped that Nigeria as a sovereign nation will blaze the trail in the economic emancipation and advancement of the entire African continent, owing to her rich and enduring resources both human and material. These postulations were swept over some few years later, by the ascension of degenerate and bankrupt indigenous leadership, who perpetually failed to transform the colonial political economy into a self-generating and self-sustaining system that will attack inequality. Where individuals have unequal access to valued resources and services, uncertainty is created in the process. Consequent upon the above, Nigeria descended into the valley of dethronement and enthronement of both legitimate and illegitimate governance structures that left the country tossed left and right by leaders who lacked the competence to navigate her out of the nightmare of colonial rule to an era of progressive development which is a catalyst for national rebirth and sovereignty.

3. Political Consequences of Amalgamation

The amalgamation of the south and north into the colony and protectorate of Nigeria as stated elsewhere in this paper was arbitrarily done by the colonialist without due regard to the different structures of social organization that obtained in the regions. Expectedly, several consequences became apparent and have played defining roles in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the nation. A brief walk down memory lane will reveal the overt disaffection and rejection that greeted the amalgamation by the regional leaders. Best (2011), reported the reactions which were quite negative and despicable about the Nigerian nation. These statements more than the comic relief of politicians nowadays on nationhood, reveal the foundational problems that have relatively inhibited Nigeria’s march to nationhood.

He submitted thus:

(a) In mid-1914, the amalgamation generated a row of anti-northern sentiments across the south, most of it articulated by the western press. The south was simply suspicious of amalgamation and did not see any compatibility between the north and the south. For instance, the Times of Nigeria newspaper saw the amalgamation as synonymous with subjugation of southern Nigeria: […] the conquest and subjugation of southern Nigeria by northern Nigeria, Northern Nigeria system, Northern law as, Northern Nigeria administration must be made to supersede every system in southern Nigeria (Kirk-Green, 1968: 22)
(b) The Nigerian Chronicle of 23 January 1914 described the amalgamation as “a union of names” as opposed to a union of customs, manners and cultures. It added that the amalgamation was a proposed installation of mental slavery. There was already utter dislike and disdain for the Indirect Rule system of the north, based mainly on the Emirate system, especially in the Eastern Region where the Native Authority was introduced and later rejected in 1949. There was a wide belief in the south the amalgamation provided the excuse to transplant the infamous conservative and essentially Islamic system to the south.
(c) Obafemi Owolowo, an early nationalist, Yoruba leader, the leader of the AG and former premier of the western Region referred to the amalgamation and merger of 1914 as a “ mere geographical expression” (Kirk-Green, 1968: 1). There is nothing to show that Owolowo had any respect for the amalgamation. If he had any difficulties, it must have arisen from the cultural and religio-political incompatibility imposed by the amalgamation, and the supposed excess baggage of going with the north. Thus, in 1953, Awolowo leading the Yoruba threatened to pull Western Nigeria out of the Nigerian federation if Lagos was cut from Western Region.
(d) The Sardauna of Sokoto and former premier of the Northern Region, Ahmadu Bello saw the amalgamation as “ the mistake of 1914” (Bello, 1962), implying that him and those thinking like him would have preferred the north to remain as it was before the amalgamation. The chief gain would have been a wholesome retention of the proud Islamic past of the Sokoto caliphate which the British had met on arrival.
(e) The North did not come with a coherent reaction to the amalgamation, mainly because it lacked a developed Western educated elite corps and press to articulate this as it was the case in the south. Its views were largely aired by the northern emirs, including the Sultan of Sokoto, who provided leadership at the time. The Indirect Rule system shielded the North’s institutions from the adverse effects of the amalgamation: In the North, voices were heard expressing resentment at the way the amalgamation dislocated it from its proud Islamic past, geographically, administratively and culturally. 1914 has been criticized and, as an act of folly that has brought little but harm (Kirk-Green, 1968: 27)


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The Evolution of the Nigerian State from the Colonial Era through the Present Democratic Dispensation
A Nation In Search Of Nationhood
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Stanley Kavwam (Author), 2011, The Evolution of the Nigerian State from the Colonial Era through the Present Democratic Dispensation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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