Nigeria was birthed in 1914, when the British formally united the “Niger Area” as the “Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria”. Administratively, Nigeria remained divided into the Northern and Southern Provinces, and Lagos Colony.
The name Nigeria was taken from the River Niger running through the country. It was coined by Flora Shaw who was at the time Baron Frederick Lugard’s girlfriend, who he later married.
Before this time, people within this region, especially those in the coastal areas had been dealing with Europeans, notably Portuguese and Arabs from land via the desert before the British and French came along.
The British went beyond just trading through several trading companies, mostly private though fulfilling imperial mandate, to determining who and what to be traded and the conditions under which trade was to be done. They also superintended over the large-scale slave trade (especially the transatlantic bulk shipment of human cargo to the Americas and West Indies, where they serviced the huge plantations there) that became the hallmark of their intervention in Africa for a while, though such had existed before their advent at a much smaller scale with Arabs mainly, of war captives amongst the African tribes, juvenile delinquents and then much later, just about every unlucky person that appeared to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Though the British were in the forefront of championing the cause for an end to slavery, they quickly replaced that with the colonization of the remnants.
The paramount chiefs got in exchange for these slaves, guns, ornamental objects and help in defeating their enemies amongst other favours. Many of these chiefs and kings were later deposed, many exiled, others killed once they attempted to stray from the confines they’d become eventually boxed in by those who would later become colonialists. It is pertinent to note that African monarchs did not just lay on their backs allowing themselves to be raped by the colonialists. In the North of Nigeria several Emirs and their armies fought off the British invaders gallantly, winning initial battles, only to lose subsequent ones leading to the deportation or outright killing of the Emirs, who were then subsequently replaced by regents thought to be loyal stooges of the British imperialists. You will still find evidence of some of these battles in places like Hadejia, in today’s Jigawa State, Kano State and other parts of the North were cemeteries containing the remains of British soldiers and officers lay, as well as Durbars organized in memory of those historic events.
Punitive expeditions like the above were also carried out in parts of the South by the British to whip the locales and their leaders into line. Many like Jaja of Opobo in the Niger Delta will be deported to the West Indies, while an Oba of Benin will suffer humiliation, his people mercilessly murdered in the late nineteenth century, while artefacts of great cultural and religious significance were carted away and are today adorning British museums; some even coming up for sale clandestinely in auction houses over the years.
The SouthEastern region, republican in nature, was not also spared the British punitive expeditions. They can be said to have suffered the most indignities as at the end of their humiliation they had people they considered less worthy placed as lord over them by the British. If you consider that most of the people of this area didn’t have central leadership in the first place, then you’d understand how culturally destabilizing the incursion of the British into the Igbo political life affected their psyche and came to play a role in the wholesale erosion of the culture that seem to be more pervasive amongst these people.
Where there were already established paramount rulers, the British (who now got the swath of land that now encompasses the region now called Nigeria) ruled via them especially in the North and some parts of the South, while in some areas of the South were rule was by consensus and the people republican, district heads (regardless of what the populace felt about them) were appointed
to exact rule on their behalf. This was indirect rule.
The next tool the British employed to carry through their colonialist agenda was Christianity. Southerners readily threw away their religion and way of life to accept the way and teachings of the “Oyibo”, while the Northerners, in the main managed to keep their Islamic ways, though the British still managed in some areas to instill Christianity and it’s accompaniments of schools and hospitals in their areas of influence.
Soon enough, Africans besides acting as cheap Labour for British enterprises in Africa, also served in the imperial army, losing life and limb in the “Great War”, that had nothing to do with them in the first place. The Africans who fought in places like Burma (now Myanmar) came off with the feeling that white men were not divine and were as much mortals like they were. Many Africans, including Nigerians also had opportunities to study in Europe where ideals of democracy, justice and equality were either well established or taking root.
The Second World War, further caused more Africans to yearn for independence, especially those who were directly and indirectly involved in the war. Most Africans were surprised that the same ideals the European powers were fighting for, were the same they denied them back home. The same feelings gained ground in Asia, especially amongst the Indians, and as soon as they gained their independence, the agitation by Africans (ex-combatants, European trained professionals, academics and students) for independence grew in leaps and bounds. The role played by nationalists in Nigeria such as Herbert Macaulay cannot be simply swept under the carpet. Unfortunately, political correctness in Nigeria usually means that others who played little or no roles in the fight for independence received equal mention, even when it’s common knowledge that the agitation for independence was cultivated, nurtured and bore fruit mainly in the south of Nigeria.
The European colonialists noticed this, and after several efforts at frustrating attempts to allow self determination of Africans by Africans, decided to arrange independence for Africans on their own terms, even when it was at gross disadvantage of Africans and the evolving nations.
The British organized several constitutional conferences with none engendered towards assuaging the yearnings and aspirations of the Africans whom they intended to handover power to. From the onset, the different sections that made up the contraption that was Nigeria had different agendas, and the British appeared to have encouraged the varying groups to stick to their guns.
Elections were organized and Nigerians elected into parliament were to discuss the way forward in the new nation that was to be born, interestingly the erudite Anthony Enahoro who moved a motion for the independence of Nigeria, would have to escape by the whiskers via an outlet in the building, following the fracas that greeted his motion especially by members of parliament of Northern Nigerian extraction.
Ghana took their opportunity as soon as it was delivered them in 1957. Nigeria will have to wait a little while longer.