AMALGAMATION OF NIGERIA IN 1914 IS NOT THE “WILL OF GOD”
“You have seen for yourselves what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you away on eagle’s wings and brought you to me. So now, if you are prepared to obey me and keep my COVENANT, you, out of all peoples, shall be my personal possession, for the whole world is mine. For me you shall be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation… Then taking the Book of the COVENANT, Moses read to the listening people, who then said: We shall do everything that Yahweh has said; we shall obey.” (Exodus 19:4-8; 24:7-8).
he present article is our humble contribution to the debate sparked by the recent statement attributed to His Eminence, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto. Speaking on Wednesday, 23 August 2017 at a colloquium organized by Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), the Sultan was reported by the media to have said during the colloquium that ‘the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria is the WILL of God for the country, and that to challenge it is to challenge God himself.’ (Emphasis mine).
The above citation from the Book of Exodus aims to help us put in right perspective the meaning of the expression “Will of God” for the people. We shall use it to evaluate the submission of the Sultan that ‘the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria is the WILL of God for the country.’
However, before we proceed, it is necessary to clarify some points. In the first place, in spite of submissions we make in this article, my high regard and respect to His Eminence, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto, still know no bounds. As leader of all Nigerian Sunnis Muslims and a first-class front-bench religious leader in the country, the Sultan deserves all our respect and honor even though we may not all share his vision of Nigeria or religious creed. Yet, we should respect him as a religious and community leader in the country.
Secondly, it is true that most of Nigeria’s problems of co-existence today owe their origin to the colonial era. However, the leaders of Nigeria today are responsible for solving the nation’s present-day problems.
If there are tensions in the country today, hundred years after the 1914 amalgamation, it is not necessarily because of the past mistakes of the Western colonialists, but rather as result of the unwillingness of the present-day generation of Nigerian leaders to do the right thing, correct those mistakes of the past. If Nigerians are suffering today as result of 1914 amalgamation, it is because of the failure of their leaders to do the right thing, and not necessarily, as result of what the colonial masters did or did not do over a century ago.
In fact, the perplexity we have to deal with is this: ‘why does suffering single us out so conspicuously like this in Nigeria today? Suffering not at the hands of foreigners or colonial masters of the yesteryears, but at the hands of fellow citizens – Nigerians who claim to be leaders of the people – those who claim allegiance to the same land and African race?’
Finally, saying that the amalgamation of 1914 is not sacrosanct does not mean asking for disintegration of Nigeria. This is far from what is being proposed. Disintegration of Nigeria is not also what those calling for restructuring of our political system or self-determination of their people are proposing.
Rather, what is being argued is about fashioning out a homegrown system or political structure that will usher-in a new Nigeria where the federating units could assume certain autonomy and determine their affairs as a distinct people within the larger Nigerian society. That is, a system that could help us overcome the present political structure, which many feel is very discriminating and have alienated them as a people from the Nigerian state.
It is a call for a new Nigeria founded on people-oriented political system, structured from bottom-up instead of the present top-bottom. A political structure that could help us to relate well with one another; allow each federating unit to develop at its own pace within the larger Nigerian society, where everyone could feel belonged.
The Nigeria as we have it today is a stranger to a good number of its citizens, no matter how one tries to cover it up. That is why we have all these agitations and frustrations among the masses in the country today.
Therefore, the purpose of our present article is not to pick quarrels with His Eminence, the Sultan. Rather, our aim is to show that it is absolutely, wrong for anybody, no matter how highly placed, to drag God into the question of the colonial amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 by the British.
In Christian theology, covenant is the technical term for understanding the biblical teaching on the ‘Will’ of God for his people. In the formation of the people of Israel as a nation, after their liberation from slavery in the land of Egypt, God entered into a special covenant with them. This is a special privilege, which God had not given to any other nation or people, except Israel.
God entered into the covenant with the nation of Israel, not because Israel was the most righteous nation in the whole world. But primarily out of God’s righteousness and gratuity. This is especially, because it is from the nation of Israel that the Son of God, the Messiah and Savior of the world, Jesus Christ was to be born. This was the sole aim of the covenant in the Old Testament. It was fulfilled in the New Testament, with the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem of Judea.
The Sultan and 1914 Amalgamation of Nigeria
The Sultan was quoted to have said that the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria was not a blunder because God does not make mistakes. He adds that Nigeria will not be one entity if God doesn’t wish it to be so:
“We became Nigeria in 1914 through amalgamation. People are shouting that our coming together as a country in 1914 was a mistake, but God doesn’t make mistakes. If God doesn’t want such a thing as Nigeria to happen, nobody could ever have made it happen.”
The Sultan went further to say:
“So we claim to be very religious, but we challenge God, you don’t come out in the open and say you are challenging God, but by actions and utterances, many people are virtually challenging God.” (Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto).
Again, the key expression in the Sultan’s speech is this: ‘the amalgamation of 1914 is the ‘WILL’ of God for Nigeria.’ As such, nobody, according to him, should challenge it. To do so, is to challenge God.
At this junction, let us examine the meaning of the word, “will.” In its secular sense, and according to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the word ‘will’ is a contracted form, indicating, future or present predictions. It may be used in the sense of giving order, to carry instructions, or urge to make something happen.
Furthermore, it could also be used in reference to mental power by which a person can direct his thoughts and actions or influence those of others, forcing them, for example, to sign an agreement against their will (or wishes).
In its secular meaning, therefore, the word “will” connotes predictions and mental force. It could be for advancement of personal egos or subjugation of the other. This means that the secular use of the word “will” is very far from the biblical and theological meaning of it.
Because in its secular meaning, the word “will” carries the baggage of use of force, human power to suppress the forces of nature or to subjugate and influence fellow human beings. Perhaps, this could be the sense the Sultan used the word in his speech under consideration. This is because the amalgamation came about as result of imperialistic fiat and not as covenant between two parties for the advancement of the people’s welfare and collective existence as liberated people of God.
Be that, as it may, I think that the Sultan, being a religious leader, obviously, did not use the word “will” only in its secular sense. The Sultan uses the word “will” in religious context. He describes the amalgamation as ‘divine will’ for Nigeria. This is why it is pertinent that we look at the theological significance of the word, “will.”
As noted before, in Judeo-Christian tradition, the theological term often used for God’s will for his people is ‘covenant.’ A covenant is binding agreement or bond between two parties. The common Old Testament term for covenant is BERITH, which probably derives from the root meaning, “fetter.”
Covenants may be between equals or superior and inferior. A covenant may obligate both parties or only one. The covenant history in the Old Testament begins with Abraham. There are three narratives of the covenant-making between God and Abraham (Genesis 12:1-19; 15:1-21; 17:1-27).
The New Testament (New Covenant) is built upon the whole web of covenant theology of the Old Testament. The identification of Jesus as Christ (that is, Messiah), as Son of David, as fulfillment of the messianic prophecies, depends upon the theology of the unconditional covenant with David (and Abraham) [cf. Mt 1:1-17]). The narrative of the Last Super, set at Passover which is a renewal of the Exodus event, is told with covenant terminology (1 Cor 11.25; Lk 22:20).
In the Letter to the Romans, Paul refers to the lasting covenant between God and Abraham and his descendants. He identifies the descendants of Abraham as those who follow his example of faith. Therefore, Abraham is the father of the uncircumcised who believe as well as the circumcised (Rom 4:1-25). Paul contrasts the old covenant and the new, emphasizing the superiority of the new covenant, its openness to Gentiles, and its reliance on spirit rather than the letter of the law (2 Cor 3:1-18; Gal 4:21-28).
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews also emphasizes the perfecting of the old covenant by the new (Hebrews 7:10). Throughout the New Testament the covenant imagery persists. The Book of Revelation brings the imagery to the final day. God proclaims: “I will be their God and they shall be my people” (Rev 21:3).
Therefore, in Christian theology, God’s will is the covenant he enters with his people. It is a liberating and salvific will of God for his people. It is not an imposition, but one that is freely, entered by both parties.
Furthermore, the terms of covenant are clearly spelt out and are binding on both parties: ‘I will be your God and you shall be my people.’ God is always faithful to his covenant.
The law and prophets played the role of reminding the people of Israel to remain faithful to the covenant they have entered with God. The kind of father-son love relationship between God and people of Israel is as result of the covenant. This endures up to the New Testament (Covenant) when God, at the fullness of time, sent his only Son, Jesus Christ into the world for the salvation of all humanity.
This is why the Bible teaches us that salvation of the world came through Israel. That is, precisely, as result of the covenant between God and the Patriarchs, beginning with Abraham and later his descendants.
Amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 is Not Sacrosanct
Amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 was a British arrangement, which they (British) made without the consent of the indigenous inhabitants of the land. Furthermore, as a colonial arrangement against the wishes of the indigenous inhabitants of the land, the amalgamation of 1914 was done in bad faith.
Again, the 1914 amalgamation was never meant to benefit Nigerians of all sections of the country. Rather its primary objective was to perpetuate colonial hold on Nigeria through their spinoffs from a particular section of the country.
It is therefore wrong for anybody to say that such a colonial arrangement, the 1914 amalgamation was the will of God for the people of Nigeria. No. Rather, as an imperialistic arrangement on the people of black race during the colonial era, it was an evil act of men against their fellow human beings.
Another name for colonialism is imperialism. Like imperialism, colonialism is evil. It is inconsistent with the will of God for his people. To associate colonialism with God and call it the will of God for the people, is the highest blunder anyone can commit. God is good. Good and evil are opposites. They can never meet nor go together.
Subjugation of human beings created in the image and likeness of God under colonialism by fellow human beings can never be the will of God. Depriving people their freedom and self-determination is evil and therefore not the will of God.
In other words, imposition of colonial boundaries on indigenous peoples of Africa was not and will never be the will of God. Rather, what is the will of God for his people is their freedom and self-determination.
This is why, in the present article, we beg to disagree with His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto for declaring colonial amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 as the will of God for the country.
There should be no reason why Nigerians of today should believe the doctrine, which claims that the colonial amalgamation of the country in 1914 was the “will” of God for the people. There is also no reason why a Nigerian child should be taught that Frederick Lugard amalgamated the country in 1914 without teaching him that Lugard, a retired British Major, was sent to Africa to subdue through military force, the local populations of East and West Africa for the British Empire.
The Nigerian child has right to be taught and know that Lugard was a mercenary contracted by the East African/Royal British Company to militarily defeat and colonize the Ugandans, the Sokoto Empire, people of the West and East of the Niger in Nigeria, and the Ashanti kingdom in Ghana. This is the African perspective of Nigerian history that is still hidden from the Nigerian child.
The Nigerian child has right also to be taught that right from the beginning of our colonial history, Nigeria has always lived under the pretense of what some have described as “unity without love.” This is evidence from the genuine misgivings expressed by frontline leaders of the country in the years leading to Nigeria’s political independence in 1960.
These misgivings of the founding Fathers of the Nigeria’s political independence, are clear indications that the amalgamation of 1914 was not the will of the people from the beginning. It was, rather, a colonial imposition.
For instance, in 1948, in a speech titled, “The Lie called Nigeria”, Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Nigeria’s first Prime Minister), had this to say about the country’s unity:
“Since 1914 the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historical different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any signs of willingness to unite. – Nigerian unity is only a British invention.” (Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, 1948).
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in 1947, also made the following declaration about Nigeria:
“Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no “Nigerians” in the same sense, as there are ‘English’, ‘Welsh’, or ‘French.’ The word “Nigeria” is a mere distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not.” (Chief Obafemi Awolowo, 1947).
Finally, the Great Zik of Africa had this to say about the country, four years after its political independence:
“It is better for us and many admirers abroad that we should disintegrate in peace and not in pieces. Should the politicians fail to heed the warning, then I will venture the predictions that the experience of the Democratic Republic of Congo will be a child’s play if it ever comes to our turn to play such a tragic role.” (Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, 1964).
From all these statements of the founding Fathers of Nigerian political independence, one can conclude as follows: The foundation of Nigeria as amalgamated nation lacked and still lacks any treaty of love, affection and disposition towards true unity among its components and constituent entities. The talk of unity of Nigeria as a nation could be anything but real.
This is evident in the statement about Nigeria accredited to Sir Ahmadu Bellow (the then Sultan of Sokoto and Premier of Northern Nigeria), at Independence in 1960:
“The new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our great grandfather Uthman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We use the minorities in the North as willing tools and the South as a conquered territory and never allow them to rule over us and have control over their future.” (Ahmadu Bellow – in the “Parrot” Newspaper of 12 October, 1960).
The above statement accredited to Sir Ahmadu Bellow, unfortunately, has been the mindset of political leadership in Nigeria from time immemorial. It has led to a section of the country reinventing their stranglehold on Nigeria. If they do not achieve it through ballot paper, they would come in through the military.
At independence in 1960, we inherited the British “Self-governing Regions of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Today what do we have? As one author put it: We have been forcefully, united by an un-feeling center: “What we inherited was a revenue allocation formula that was largely derivative. Now it is almost ‘allocative.” In the present dispensation, the 50% derivation formula has been reduced to 1%.
Furthermore, the only language that those who control the affairs of the nation understand is the one that brought them there in the first case, namely, ‘force.’ The language of ‘force’ is what is being used to keep Nigeria one. Not love, neither is it justice or freedom.
The use of force to keep Nigeria one has history. It started with the Fulani invasion of the geographical space later christened Northern Nigeria in 1804. They did not negotiate power with the Hausas, they seized it from them on the battlefield.
With regard to the 1914 amalgamation, the British colonized all the empires, kingdoms and fiefdoms in what they called British West Africa in the 19th century. Thus, one thing is certain: the colonization was not out love for the black man:
“It was an imperialistic push for more land, more territories to exploit minerals and other resources from our land. If you did not agree by subtle pressure, they simply applied the brute force. To hell with you and all you cared for!” (George Akinola, 2016).
All these historical facts made most African scholars and elites to refuse to accept the doctrine that colonial arrangement such as amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 is consistent with God’s design for the black race.
In fact, to accept 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria as God’s will for the country is to believe the colonialists’ distortion of the Gospel that Africans are inferior race and therefore must never be allowed to control their affairs. To accept amalgamation of 1914 as the will of God for Nigeria is to succumb to a system that has brought a lot of suffering, torture and humiliation to the Nigerian people.
Was it not as result of preserving the terms of the 1914 amalgamation that we had and have continued to experience series of Igbo pogroms in Northern Nigeria? The most tragic of it all, which culminated in the Civil War (1967-1970), claimed an estimated lives of over 3.5 million Biafrans. Presently, there is quite order for the Igbos living in Northern Nigeria to vacate the place before October 1, 2017 or face another round of genocide.
This is the Nigerian reality, which we have been living since 1914 amalgamation. The continued presence of this reality in Nigeria today is as result of the unwillingness of our leaders to address the injustices caused by the 1914 amalgamation of the country. The political instability of the country since independence up to today, is caused primarily, by our inability to address the problem associated with the amalgamation.
All this implies that the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 has nothing to with God at all. God does not wish evil for his people, although he may allow it, but not in perpetuity. That is why he sends a liberator to his people at the appropriate time. That is what the Biblical story of Exodus testifies. It is what the people of Israel yearned for in the ‘song of the exiles’:
“By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept at the memory of Zion. On the poplars there, we had hung up our harps. … If I forget you Jerusalem, may my right hand wither!” (Psalm 137).
All these show that the amalgamation of Nigeria by Great Britain in 1914 was a colonial arrangement and therefore, there was nothing of ‘divine will’ about it. The amalgamation of 1914 was forced on the indigenous peoples of Africa by Great Britain in that geographical landscape they later named Nigeria.
The root of violence in Nigeria today, the agitations and clamor for restructuring is located in the many types of inequality, which continue to exist and grow in the country. These are situations of inequality, which the amalgamation imposed on us.
Thus, if today, majority of Nigerians are clamoring for restructuring or self-determination through referendum, what they are yearning for is a country where what determines one’s upward mobility is his strength of character, talent and excellence and not tribe, religion or birth. Such a Nigeria is possible if we have visionary leaders who are selfless and people-oriented. Leaders who have overgrown ethnic and religious bigotries, and have conquered the syndrome of allegiance to a primitive oligarchy that has no place in the 21st century.
The Nigerian state and leadership, unfortunately, instead of addressing these issues, prefer to use violence as a form of intimidation to her own citizens. The government uses violence and abuse to establish and maintain power and control over their own citizens, that way, installing fear into the same people they ought to protect.
This is why the greatest challenge for the Nigerian leadership today is to address the mistakes of the past, beginning with this issue of amalgamation. Without resolving this problem, the country will continue to wallow in the wilderness.
The best way to address the mistakes of the past, in particular, the amalgamation, is for the federal government to listen to the voices of those eminent Nigerians who are calling for restructuring and self-determination. In our Nigerian context, restructuring and self-determination as being proposed today, mean the same thing. The self-determination of each component entity is taken care of in a restructured Nigeria.
Amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 is not sacrosanct. It was man made. In fact, a colonial fiat, fashioned to keep us in perpetual servitude. Today, we have all it takes to come out of this colonial trapping: That is, to liberate ourselves and land from the evil designs of the amalgamation of 1914 and work towards creating a new and just Nigeria that is truly, a home to all of us.
Fr. Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic priest. He lives in Rome, where he is professor of missiology (mission theology) in the Pontifical University.