Like Father Like Son? Nigerian Politics In A Post-Independence Era
For many in the African diaspora, the month of October holds a lot of significance. Black History month commemorates the journey of strife, triumph, and growth that the global Black community has gone through in bittersweet nostalgia. Fittingly, the 1st of October marks the independence of Nigeria from British rule in 1960, adding another celebration to the month.
How progressive has the nation of Nigeria been since being left to their own devices to stand on their own? When people hear of “Nigeria” what do they think?
Over the years Nigeria has grown into her skin, a country with a variety of ethnic groups. Nigeria is also known for various things such as, being the home to Fela Kuti (the pioneer of the West African Afrobeat’s genre), known as the propagator of governmental corruption (419), Nollywood, being Africa’s largest oil producer, as well as participating in one half of the Jollof wars between themselves and other West African nations.
However, in the eyes of their former colonial leader, Nigeria was ironically coined “fantastically corrupt” in 2016, by former British Prime Minister David Cameron. This may be factually correct, but, it is interesting that it is coming for a nation whose foundation was cemented through the atrocities that came with imperialism.
A brief introduction to Nigerian history
Nigerian history: Pre-colonialization
Before Europeans set foot on West African soil, the territory that makes up present-day Nigeria was dominated by independent empires and city-states: from the Kanem-Bornu
Empire, which expanded through long-distance trade and military technology, to the Igbo civilisation who were the first bronze casters in Africa.
Evidence of civilisation settling in what we know as Pre-colonial Nigeria dates back as early as 1100BC. The earliest identified iron-using and terracotta art Nigerian culture is that of the Nok people who thrived between approximately 900 BC and 200 AD.
The first white man in Nigeria
The first European contact with Nigeria was in 1485, by Portuguese explorers who reached the coastal Benin empire. A strong trading relationship formed with the exchange of natural resources like ivory, peppers and palm oil with European guns and manila. The first British expedition to Benin was in 1553, and merchant trading developed between England and Benin based on the export of ivory, palm oil, and pepper.
Colonialization of Nigeria
Lagos was declared a colony in 1862 – by 1872, it was a cosmopolitan trading centre. Many firms like the West African company and the Central African trading company as well as two French companies established trade routes in Nigeria trading, gold, oil and other natural resources. In 1877, George Goldie arrived in the region and argued that all the remaining British firms should be a single monopolistic chartered company to combat competition, which he accomplished in 1879.
Goldie united all these British companies to create the United African Company (UAC) in 1879 and renamed it to the National African Company in 1881. He later renamed it to the Royal Niger Company in 1886 as a private independent company.
The setting of territories at the Berlin conference was put in play to legitimise the possession of these claimed African countries. Making these ‘official’ claims meant that no other country could come a colonise an already claimed land. Cameroon went to Germany, and Northern African countries went to France and Nigeria went to the Royal Niger company.
At this conference, they introduced trading tariffs which exploited the area to such an extent that an African King Jaja of Opobo, wanted a piece of the pie; as well as to be able to set up his palm oil trading network. However, he was lured onto a British warship and exiled to St Vincent, on charges of treaty breaking and obstructing commerce.
It became significantly harder for Royal Niger – a chartered company with no national backing – to hold its own against the state-supported protectorates of France and Germany.
On Jan 1, 1890, the company was sold to and transferred all its territory to the British government for £865,000.
The British government’s control
The Royal Niger company, now chartered by the British governed started in 1879 and existed to colonise borderless Nigeria.
That same year, the British crown formed two protectorates: the Northern Nigerian protectorate and Southern Nigerian Protectorate. This, essentially, split the country between ethnic borders – the Northern Hausa land from the Yoruba and Igbo land – exacerbating already hostile tensions.
The Northern Nigerian territory had a budget deficit, and the Southern Nigerian territory had a surplus budget. So in 1914, both regions were combined and became the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.
Nigeria became a British colony in 1901 and gained its freedom in 1960. For the 59 years that Nigeria was colonised, as well as after independence, British influence still shapes the advancement of Nigeria to this day.
The political effects of colonialization on independent Nigeria
The Nigerian government continues to adopt a British style of governing. The law in Nigeria is based on three things: the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, and British common law.
The constitution of Nigeria as a sovereign state, is still in many ways, imbued with western political concepts and structures - which acted as a template to prepare for independent rulership. However, the colonial master’s tactics of ‘divide and conquer’ completely negated the fact that there is a vast ethnic diversity among the people. That disregard for Nigeria’s nationalism was the genesis of the issues surrounding sectionalism, that is profoundly prevalent in Nigeria to this day.
The damage left behind by British colonialism, in many ways, acted as the catalyst for civil wars, such as the Biafra war. Nigeria was already bursting with disunity, as well as the seeds of corruption and exploitation - an infamous branding of Nigerian’s 419 crimes, conceived the current climate of political distrust by many Nigerians.
Nigerian military coups are a shadow of the colonial period where, like many African countries, it was brutally and callously striped and subjugated by sanctimonious and pious oppressors. Who, in a very unchristian-like way, murdered many to take the bounty of natural resources for self-profit.
It is almost as if Nigerian’s didn’t know anything other than taking things by force, even if it leads to bloodshed.
“No wonder Nigeria remains underdeveloped in the midst of its abundant natural resources. We lack true federalism, and we have no solid grasp of our property rights as the foreign businesses have become our Lords.”
Despite being the top African country in oil production, colonial rulers encouraged the focus of agriculture in Nigeria, since it had more raw materials to distribute.
Unfortunately, there are economic policies put in place which plunder resources as it was serving more of their colonial needs.
“We ended up being children of a meat seller that eats bone; they make use of our raw materials and sell the finished products to us at exorbitant prices; we provide the food itself, yet we eat the food crumbs.”
Nigeria’s film industry Nollywood is larger than Hollywood and is second to Bollywood. Nollywood is the second biggest employer after agriculture in Nigeria – it is said to be worth a US$250 million per annum movie industry.
The western form of education given to Nigerian’s by colonial masters helped local Nigerians to read and write the English language. Christian missionaries predominantly aided in reading, writing, and numerical skills. Ironically, the same education that enlightened the Nigerians made them aware of the shortcomings of colonialism and started envisioning the need for freedom.
Like many Commonwealth countries, Nigeria was predominantly left in a much worse condition than before colonisation. The colonial mindset and treatment, having not been stopped at independence, it is seen to be regurgitated again through the many government military coups. Showing that the legacy of imperialism has never aided nor benefitted the countries it sought to better and impose its power over.