History of the Amalgamation of Nigeria

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Every student of history in Nigeria knows that the amalgamation took place in 1914 when the Northern and Southern Protectorates were merged into a single colony.

In this post, we take a look at how this came to be and the history behind it.

Prior to the amalgamation, one of the most influential governor generals of Nigeria was Sir Frederick (later Lord) Lugard. He played a fundamental role in the history of colonial Nigeria and he was responsible for the amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates.

History of the Amalgamation of Nigeria

History of the Amalgamation of Nigeria

It would be recalled that Lord Lugard arrived Nigeria specifically Northern Nigeria in 1895 from Uganda. His arrival was as a result of the military campaigns of George Goldie which was authorized by the Royal Niger Company at that time. It was Lord Lugard that conquered the northern Nigeria military. At that time, Sokoto was the seat of the caliphate. Interestingly, this was the last Northern Territory to be captured by the British. This took place in 1903.

The military campaign of Lord Lugard in the north of Nigeria included his famous march to Borgu and race on Nikki, who formed the basis of Britain’s claim to Northern Nigeria. This was a result of his successful military campaign in the north, which was on the 1st of January, 1900.

Lord Lugard was appointed as the first British High Commissioner of Northern Nigeria after the district administration of the Royal Niger Company was brought to an end, and formally a British protectorate was established there. This took place 15 years after the British protectorate was established in Southern Nigeria. But the British were yet to conclude on their plans for its colony in Nigeria. During this time, the colony was ruled in three separate pieces. It was later reduced to two units, North and South Nigeria.

In 1912, Lord Lugard became the first British governor-general of colonial Nigeria. It was at this time he presented the association in 1914, mainly for financial reasons.

This process of amalgamation began when Lugard was able to get Mr Lewis Vernon Harcourt, the then Secretary of State for the Colonies to agree with him concerning the merging of the different regions in order to help govern the country more effectively.

A year later, in 1913, Harcourt assigned Lugard as his Amalgamation’s frontline advocate, to conduct an elaborate field work of the country and determine if the different regions should be united. Harcourt clearly stated that Lugard must first be acquainted with the local conditions of the Northern and Southern Protectorate before a proposal for Amalgamation is submitted to the Queen. After nearly a year of thorough fieldwork, Lugard submitted his detailed proposal for Amalgamation on May 9th, 1913.

At that time, there was resistance to this process especially in Lagos and it was said that Lugard simply superimposed on the existing structure of the colony in northern Nigeria. The method of leadership at that time, the indirect rule was a particularly troublesome system and it was simply the financial implications that enable the amalgamation takes place. After the amalgamation, Lugard didn’t make any serious efforts to bring North and South Nigeria under the sole and central administration.

A few years after the amalgamation, Lugard was succeeded by Hyu Clifford. Clifford recommended that the coordination of all administrative work should be directed from a single centre.

However, Clifford’s successor, Richard Palmer did not agree with this view but instead claimed that Nigeria was a geographical expression, he named three divergent although contiguous chunks of Africa.

Overall, it can be seen that despite the amalgamation, the colonial masters seems to have a different perspective on governance. In fact, at that time, the concept of amalgamation was quite unpopular in both North and South of Nigeria and the unification was vigorously opposed by the educated elite of Lagos.

The summary was that in the north, the powerful emirates were against it, as it was feared that a centralized administrative system would weaken their power, which was actually dependent on the British rule, while in the south it was feared as it could have led to the introduction of an unpopular system of indirect rule and collapse few political rights. Lagos based on the educated elite enjoyed the legislative council system.

However, the Governor Generals spoke about the amalgamation and the importance of unity, their policies and actions seem to speak otherwise. For instance, Sir Arthur Richards, one of the Governor Generals after the amalgamation, when considering the 1923 Clifford Constitution, stated that his primary objective was to promote the unity of Nigeria but he created regional councils in the three provinces in which Nigeria was divided, he managed to strengthen the already existing trend towards regionalization in Nigeria.

Interestingly, it was these policies that led to Northern Nigeria having little or nothing to do with the South. This view was subsequently reflected in the 1940’s as the Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Sir Ahmadu Bello, who said it was clear that they both considered Nigeria as a mere geographical expression, rather than a single country.

Many years later, Sir Ahmadu Bello complained publicly that 1914 was an error as it was a compromise that the federal system had introduced as the best suited for the Nigerian environment. Although the amalgamation had led to a unification that established modern Nigeria, it was not without some strains, as it forced the rivals ethnic groups in Nigeria to become a single political entity. This could be likened to trying to make a political alliance between France, Germany and Great Britain.

However, there have been countries where this has worked fine. For instance, Belgium was able to combine two separate and different nationalities successfully.

A century after amalgamation took place; the Federal Government announced that it will celebrate the centenary of Nigeria’s Amalgamation.

The celebrations took place in Abuja in 2014 although the National Assembly wasn’t in full support of the event. On the other hand, the Federal Government revealed that all the expenses involved in the celebrations will be borne by the private sector.

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