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Rethinking the Mistake of 1914 - By Simon Kolawole,





In the beginning, there was a mistake – the “Mistake of 1914”. In split seconds, some 250 ethnic groups were compressed into one map by the British colonial masters. The contraption was poetically nicknamed “Nigeria” – an obvious contraction of “Niger Area”. There had been an unruly competition for African territory among the European colonial powers. They hovered over the continent, like vultures, looking for territories and resources to capture and devour. In 1884-85, they queued up at the Berlin Conference to share the loot. The British were gifted with the slices of Nigeria. They then created the Nigerian protectorates for their pleasure.

Before then, there was no Nigeria. No Southern Nigeria, no Northern Nigeria. There were many ethnic groups sprinkled randomly over the landmass. There were empires, kingdoms, city-states and emirates. War and peace united and divided hamlets, communities, villages, towns, cities and territories. Trade, military adventures and political alliances crossed borders, tribes and tongues.
But there was no Nigeria.

Then, the tag “Yoruba” did not refer to all the people we now call Yoruba. It referred to only the Oyo-speaking people who lived in places such as Oyo-Ile, Ibadan, Ede, Osogbo, Iwo and Ogbomoso, etc. Ekitis were called Ekitis. Ifes were called Ifes. Egbas were called Egbas. Ijebus were called Ijebus. Ijeshas were called Ijeshas. They were not called Yorubas.

In fact, the FIRST newspaper to be published on these shores, established in 1859, was named Iwe Irohin Fun Awon Egba ati Yoruba, literally: “Newspaper for the Egba and the Yoruba”. 

As at 1859, therefore, Egbas were not referred to as Yorubas. It was the colonial masters and their missionary siblings, for ease of demography & identity, that applied the common identity of Yoruba to all descendants of Oduduwa who greet “eku”, “eka” and “okun” – stretching across what we now have as Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Ogun and parts of Kwara & Kogi states. Today’s “Yoruba” national identity is, therefore, largely a colonial-era development.

In truth, too, the people we call "Igbo" today were not all known as Igbo before the amalgamation. For instance, Aro and Onitsha often rejected the ideology of corporate Igbo identity. B.O.N. Eluwa, who was the General Secretary of the Ibo Federal (State) Union, told the story of how he toured “Igboland” from 1947 to 1951 to convince “Igbo” villagers that they were indeed “Igbos”. He said these villagers “couldn’t even imagine” that categorisation. David B. Abernethy wrote: “In the 1930s, many Aro and Onitsha Ibos (Igbos) consciously rejected identification as Ibos (Igbos), preferring to think of themselves as separate, superior groups.” In simple language, therefore, the popular Igbo identity in use Today is POST-Amalgamation.

The Igbo story, as told by Eluwa in his book, Ado-Na-Idu: History of Igbo Origin, is instructive. Unlike the Yoruba who migrated as a group, Eluwa said the Igbo migrated in clans – and that should explain the noticeable cultural and linguistic differences. The people we call Anioma today (Delta Igbo, etc) migrated along with the Edo, hence the cultural and lingual similarities (dressing, kingship, “do”, “ndo” etc). 

The Nsukka Igbo migrated through present-day Benue State, hence the similarities with the Idoma, including facial marks. Many clans in today’s Anambra settled in Igalaland before moving Southward. On the basis of these accounts, many Igbo clans apparently lived in the North centuries ago.

What’s more, what we call “North” today was just a large expanse of land occupied by various sovereignties – the Kanem-Bornu empire, the Hausa kingdoms, the Kwararrafa (Jukun) empire and the Nupe kingdom, etc. Not until the Hausa kingdoms were captured into the Sokoto Caliphate through Usuman Dan Fodio’s jihad was there a dominant sovereignty in the North. But the North was never one entity. The Kano man, though Hausa, called himself Abakani and the Zaria man Abazasage. They were Hausas and Muslims quite all right, but they were always at war, killing each other. They did not see themselves as Hausa kith and kin, but as rivals trying to expand their territories, just like the pre-colonial “Yoruba” kingdoms.

In sum, contrary to the popular impression, it is not just “Nigeria” that is a colonial contraption, most of the ethnic and regional identities we so dearly cling to today were either colonial contraptions or constructed by us in the contestation for power in the embryonic Nigeria. 

The British created the Niger Coast Protectorate in 1893, formed the Northern Protectorate in 1900, and added the Lagos Colony to the Niger Coast Protectorate in 1906 to establish the Southern Protectorate. In 1912, Sir Frederick Lugard was appointed governor for both Northern and Southern protectorates in preparation for the amalgamation for ease of administration.
Then came January 1, 1914. Then came the mistake. The “Mistake of 1914”.

But what was the “Mistake of 1914”? Was it the fact or the act of amalgamation? Those who blame the “fact of amalgamation” say there should never have been a Nigeria, that Nigeria is a fraud, that the various ethnic groups had nothing in common and that Nigeria is just a colonial contraption. Conversely, those who see the “act of amalgamation” as the “mistake” posit that the problem was not the amalgamation per se but the failure of the colonial masters to consciously integrate the 250 ethnic nationalities into one nation. It was like proclaiming a couple man and wife without courtship and without honeymoon. This foundational error in nation-building, they argue, is the “mistake”.

I would rather think the biggest challenge to our nationhood today is how to move away from the ethnocentric mindset of the pre-Independence era; MOST of our founding fathers were ethnic nationalists. A notable exception, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, eventually Abandoned his pan-Nigerian ideals when confronted with our stark political reality. 

Today, we are still searching for that pan-Nigerian identity. Unfortunately, more & more ethnic nationalists and their offspring are taking the political centre stage and reinforcing these divisions, with balkanisation in mind...Nevertheless, on several indices of integration – such as inter-ethnic marriage, cultural assimilation and internal migration – we are not doing badly...However, the political mismanagement of our diversity means we will continue to live with conflicts and tensions.

But WE who believe in “UNITY IN DIVERSITY" should refuse to give up on Nigeria. With competent and patriotic leadership, our march to greatness will be unstoppable. This I believe.

Author : Simon Kolawole

Comments

  1. Interesting read!
    What bothers me sometimes, is the tribalism exhibited by educated young Nigerians. I wonder why they chose to rope themselves in the trouble, as I see it to be a burden- judging, avoiding, and sidelining a set of people just because they are from certain parts of the country, even before getting to know the individuals.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Interesting read!
    What bothers me sometimes, is the tribalism exhibited by educated young Nigerians. I wonder why they chose to rope themselves in the trouble, as I see it to be a burden- judging, avoiding, and sidelining a set of people just because they are from certain parts of the country, even before getting to know the individuals.

    **I'm sorry I had to type my opinion on Chrisyink's post here. Haven't been able to post comments.
    To me, having a joint account for all our expenses- following a budget, and contingency savings is the way to go.
    I don't understand why my husband can't know how much I'm earning. It's not about having privacy. Is my money more private than my body biko? Okay there are reasons, but we both should have an idea what range the pay is. Besides, his knowledge about what I earn doesn't mean he has access to it.
    I can well be a worrier. And that's why I think the joint account it is! We set all expenses, plans etc on the table, draw a budget accordingly, and fund the account. Every other monies is ours independently.
    It keeps me feeling safe.
    Also, what's the fear about him withdrawing money and leaving me hanging? What happened to the bank order that says, money can only be withdrawn when the 2 signatories to the account confirm?
    Even.if one doesn't want to disclose what they earn, no problems, just contribute the amount decided.
    So, should a good husband change negatively, or the bad one continues being bad, there's some.kinda safety as long as he keeps depositing money as agreed.
    Anyway, in all of these, who.one is married to might be a factor to consider before deciding on financial patterns.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Mistake or no mistake ,we are together now..let's learn to tolerate one another

    ReplyDelete
  4. I've always loved SK.
    Truth is,in as much as we wanna move on as one,the powers that be keep reminding u (us) of our ethnic and tribal differences. We take one step forward (interethnic marriages and co) and one million steps backwards (threat to life over elections,marginalization when it comes to sharing resources and political appointments)
    I donno but I think Nig's are even more united outside her shores than within it...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nowadays, Nigerians are now being divided under partisan politics. APC PDP APGA and what not. I'm really happy we have a new president that can hopefully do a whole lot to our psychic in terms of 'Nation' building

      Delete
    2. Now? Did u just say Now? Like u mean our division just became a recent thing???

      Delete
  5. Brilliant piece by Simon Kolawole, I'm already taking a liking to him and his articles. I reckon that ethnocentrism is as much a great problem to Nigeria as corruption. It is even more pervasive and exhibited by almost all sectors and nook and cranny of the society called Nigeria, from the academic system to the job market to the political arena to business and every other area.

    We can decide to live with '1914' being termed as a mistake or decide to face the realities on ground and harness our diversity for greater benefit of the country. Most countries also have different races/tribes mingling to form their society but we just decide to make a big deal out of our seemingly birth place differences and worse of, we bring this irrelevant difference to key aspect of running a society.

    Still, I believe that one day we'd find the unity in diversity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's why I've always wondered about the Federal Character Commission thing. I dont get it, its just a legalized nepotistic agency.

      Delete

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