Recently, and for about 10 years now, the debate about the union and unity of Nigeria has gathered so much traction. Both the political class and the members of the academia have perpetually propounded theories and narratives about why the nation has remained everything but one. For many, including researchers, analysts and commentators, the problem of Nigeria was (and is) the forceful merger of the Northern and Southern Nigeria by the British Colonial government. Termed the mistake of 1914, the amalgamation is perennially described as the undoing of the entity called Nigeria.
While Britain (through Lord Frederick Lugard) had her own reason for the amalgamation, many remain in the dark even today as to the rationale, and think that the amalgamation should be scrapped, and the regions should be allowed to go their ways. This narrative is further strengthened by purveyors of the termination or expiry theory of the amalgamation.
In recent times, many agitators claim that the 1914 amalgamation of northern and southern Nigeria was an agreement to merge endorsed by the peoples of those regions. Many today (in fact since 2014) say that there was an ouster or severance clause inserted into the amalgamation treaty, and that it has since expired.
One of such is Konye Obaji Ori, who wrote in 2013 that the British Edict of 1914 expire by 31st December of that year, and we would need to agree either to extend it or not. According to him, ‘the document that amalgamated Nigeria into one country would expire. The British colonial edict of 1914 could be renewed or denounced, and the Nigerian state could stay united or split into several entities.’
Similarly, Tony Nnadi a lawyer and Secretary General of Movement for New Nigeria insisted in 2014 that from 2014, Nigeria no longer exists because the lifespan of the amalgamation treaty has elapsed, and that the ethnic nationalities were free to declare autonomy for themselves.
‘Nigeria has come to an end. That’s the way to put it very simply,’ he had declared. He argued that the amalgamation of the different regions did not happen in one fell swoop, but separate events that culminated in 1914, therefore there was equally a need to unbundle the package in order ‘to come to a conclusion on the matter’ of the amalgamation.
‘The British didn’t get the territory overnight, the treaty of Lagos was in 1861 and in some places, they conquered, they got treaties all around, they now started consolidating and merging them as far as 1906, it was in 1906 that they could put all of what they got, their oil rivers here, Lagos there, they put it together as southern protectorate and then, it was in 1914 that they completed the processes because something, they thought the amalgamation could happen overnight, it was a whole series of processes, they had to merge the legal system, the tax system and all of that. In 1914, they consolidated all of those things into one sheet to become what we now call the amalgamation’, he submitted.
This perspective is echoed by Paul Eric who wrote in 2016 that ‘And also because the amalgamation in 1914 was by treaty, obviously, in international law, any treaty that is not dated expires after 100 years and invariably marks the end of the country as it ceases to be legal entity.’
However, Paul Eric seems to be alone in his theory as this researcher examined tonnes of literature on the amalgamation, and there is no mention anywhere as to whether the amalgamation was a treaty or agreement.
But was the amalgamation an agreement or treaty?
In the first instance, there is no study or research, including Lord Lugard’s Nigeria Report on The Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria and Administration 1912 – 1919 (sighted at the National Archives, University of Ibadan), with the indication that the amalgamation was a treaty or agreement. The dictionary defines a treaty as ‘an agreement or arrangement made by negotiation’ or ‘a contract in writing between two or more political authorities (such as states or sovereigns) formally signed by representatives duly authorized and usually ratified by the lawmaking authority of the state.’ There is no available record to testify to this.
But in the case of the amalgamation, what appears more credible is the fact that it was an administrative fiat of Nigeria by the British colonialist overlord for economic and administrative convenience.
Speaking on this matter, a Professor in the Department of History, University of Ibadan, Professor Rasheed Olaniyi explains the basis of the amalgamation: “The unification of a country can come in any form. Some achieve unification of diverse territory through warfare and then they settle at the end of the day and then, unite. In other forms, it could have been through colonization just like we have it in Nigeria. It could also be through treaty or diplomatic maneuvering. But in the case of Nigeria, it was through colonisation.
“The British thought it fit for their own administrative convenience and also for the purpose of budgeting as well as meeting fiscal responsibilities of Nigeria as a British colony by that time. Those were the basic three reasons for bringing the three sections together. Of course, it was for the purpose of British economic exploitation of the country, not for the interest of the peoples. I use peoples because of the distinct differences of ethnicity, culture and so on.”
Historians Mathias Isiani and Ngozika Obi-Ani also argue that ‘[T]he two protectorates were culturally apart, yet in 1914 Lord Frederick Lugard amalgamated them,’ an indication that the amalgamation was a unilateral creation of the British Colonial Government without any due consultation with the regions so merged.
Lugard himself alluded to this in his much referenced report:
‘It was clear that so large a country as Nigeria, with an area of 332,400 square miles – of which the North and South were connected only by a single railway, and the uncertain waterway of the Niger, while no lateral means of communication existed at all – must be divided into two or more dependent Administrations under the control of a Central Government. The first problem therefore which presented itself was the number of such Lieutenant-Governors, their powers, and relations to the various departments, together with the subordinate Administrative units throughout the country, and the control of such departments as the Railway and the Military Forces, which were common to the whole of Nigeria. The functions, and future constitutions, of the Executive and Legislative Councils, the unification of the Laws and the Regulations based upon them, and of the Executive “General Orders” and other instructions, the Judicial system, the methods of Taxation direct and indirect, and the disposal of the Revenue so as to benefit the country as a whole, without creating jealousy and friction, the assimilation of the policy of Native Administration – these, with many minor problems, had to be solved by any scheme of amalgamation which should have any prospect of permanency…’
Was there a Severance or Expiration Clause in the Amalgamation?
Again, a perusal of archival documents and accounts of historians and commentators did not yield any testimony to the perpetually acclaimed 100 years severance or ouster clause of the amalgamation. Once again, Professor Rasheed Olaniyi opines that there was no timeline or time-scale in the matter of the amalgamation.
‘There was no time line, no time frame, no deadline. Not even 100 years. You see, in the process of agitation, for all kinds of break away or something like that, there will be propaganda of all kinds. Different kinds of narrative will come up so there is nothing like 100 years or whatever,’ said Professor Rasheed Olaniyi.
“There was nothing like agreement, it was imposed by the colonial state. As a matter of fact, the first time that the Nigerian political class would meet and discuss was 1947 and that was when Nigeria legislative council or the House of Representatives was constituted in 1947. That was the first time. Subsequently they met 1953,1954 then 1955 so, they met at different points in Lagos, there was a conference in Ibadan where all of them met, there was also a conference in London were all of the met and discussed various issues affecting Nigeria as far as the colonization and state government was concerned. So, they met not before 1947. It was the first time. The three legislative councils, the western province, the Northern Province then the eastern province so, that was the first time they met.
“There was no treaty for the amalgamation of 1914. There was nothing like a treaty. Who represented who and where? These are the questions we need to ask. Who represented the Southern or the Northern Province at that time? If at all, there was something like that, it was colonially imposed because one, there were differences in terms of the various resources of the various sections of the country by that time. So, there was a need to balance the budget in order to facilitate the provision of infrastructure for economic exploitation; there was a need to fund the railway, the customs, to fund so many other aspects of governance by that time.’
From all available data, including Lord Frederick Lugard’s report, there is no proof that the 1914 Amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Nigeria had a 100 years expiry or cessation or ouster clause, as widely claimed by many commentators on the Nigerian state.
There is no record of any treaty signed by leaders of the respective regions, as the amalgamation was a British fiat, for the smooth running and governance purposes.
This researcher produced this fact-check per Splash FM 105.5, Ibadan, with the Dubawa 2021 Fellowship partnership, to facilitate the ethos of truth in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.