The book I have been waiting for has arrived. It is called: Formation: The Making of Nigeria From Jihad to Amalgamation, written by Fola Fagbule and Feyi Fawehinmi and was published by Cassava Republic in 2021. They discovered a magical formula, that the writing of history is too serious an agenda to leave in the hands of historians. These young professionals, both of them in the financial sector, decided to read history books written about the Nigeria land area and write a compelling narrative which, in a sense, is about the inevitability of the emergence of Nigeria as a Nation. Their basic thesis is that given the dynamics of social and political movements in the Nigeria land area at the beginning of the 19th century, whether or not colonialism had occurred, a country very similar to Nigeria of today would have emerged. The argument for the counter-factual is that the colonial regime only tinkered slightly with what they found, focused as they were on their task of exploitation. They did not build a State, they found a State in formation.
What the authors offer Nigerians is a compelling story of their creation. All nations have a story of formation. It is always partly historical and partly creative. It finds the heroes of the nation and edifies them. It draws attention to the enemies and vilifies them. The language is good, the narrative is clear and the book is fascinating and reads like a novel with interesting characters, plots, mysteries, love, hate and epic battles. No one, for example, can respect the pompous, incompetent, arrogant, trigger-happy and love-frustrated Fred Lugard and his wife Flora Shaw after reading this book. Both suffered the terrible trauma of frustrated love affairs in their lives and directed their anger at dealing with Nigerians while telling glorious stories of their alleged contribution to building a civilised Nigeria in books and newspaper columns – they should go tell it to the marines.
In other words, the book challenges us to reject the idea that Chimamanda Adichie for example articulates that: “I am Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because the white man constructed black to be as different as possible from his white. But I was Igbo before the white man came.” The real story is that the White man came and found States and political communities that he essentially messed up. Indeed, way back in 1960, Okoi Arikpo emphatically stated that Nigeria is not an accident. It is not “an arbitrary block of land chopped off the surface of tropical Africa”. On the contrary, Nigeria is a “cultural melting pot” where cultural influences from all directions have met to produce a most dynamic cultural complex.
To go back to Formation, the book tracks the unlikely series of events and characters that were turning a collection of disparate nations into a major state. In 1800, the Oyo Empire was disintegrating and the survivors had congregated in Abeokuta and later Ibadan while Ilorin was about to secede. The story has a backbone, the river Niger and its sister the Benue. The authors describe the River Niger as the best kept tropical secret because from the times of the Romans, the European world wanted to know where it started and ended for good reason. These were the arteries along which people fished, farmed, emigrated and transported themselves to make wars, capture territories and enslaved others, evangelized, in short, engaged in extensive relations. The book outlined the state of play starting with the story of the Jihad of 1804 which had started at Gobir and within a short period federated the Hausa States, the Fulani Kingdom of Adamawa, Nupeland, Borgu and even Ilorin was seized from the crumbling Oyo Empire. Subsequently, Lugard was to add the autonomous peoples north of the Benue to Northern Nigeria and Bornu, which the British got after negotiating with the French. The book also tells the story of the incorporation of the peoples of Southern Nigeria and the traumatic story of the transition from slave trade to the commerce in other goods.
I loved the story of the Dahomean all-female battalions, the Agoji. To amuse themselves, they will climb over a mountain of thorns, enjoy their skins being torn in anticipation of the man tied behind the thorns who they will kill to their heart’s satisfaction. Ask the Egba what they suffered from these feminist warriors. For those who dare insult them by saying “you are nothing but a man”, the punishment is death. As for me, I would loath to be in the same room with one of them. I prefer modern feminists.
From day one, Lugard was focused on having a great legacy as a builder of British imperialism and wrote flowery books about his “contributions” – A Tropical Mandate in 1905 and Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa after retirement in 1922. Formation draws attention to the numerous flowery articles written to support his career by Flora Shaw, girlfriend to George Goldie who the British State gave a Royal Warrant to exploit the resources of the country. Goldie was a philanderer and Flora was one of his numerous side chicks. After Goldie’s wife died, Flora waited for a proposal from her boyfriend which never came. Desperate, she broke with convention and wrote him a letter asking that he marries her. He had been paid by the British State for the Niger Company, he refused and went to China to enjoy his wealth and she went into depression. Fred Lugard on the other hand as a young man fell madly in love with the wife of his officer in India but after some time, she became realistic and spurned him. He developed a serious trauma and decided to come to the Niger area and die fighting for the glory of British imperial possessions. Having failed in their love lives, these two married in their late forties. Flora was six years older than Fred and for more gossip on these characters, read the book.
Lugard’s career was one of brutality. Even the British Colonial Office found his excesses unbearable. After the massacre at Satiru (Sokoto) in 1906, he was ordered out of Nigeria because he could not be trusted not to be a repeat offender. It was when the British State decided to amalgamate the Northern and Southern Protectorates that they decided they needed a brutal administrator to deal with the aftermath so they brought Fred back in 1912. Flora refused to follow him so he brought his junior brother Ned as his personal assistant, it’s called nepotism. It was Ned Lugard who invented the term “trousered natives” as an insult against the educated Lagos elite who were criticizing the administration of his senior brother. J. D. Davies of the Times of Nigeria responded to this invective by calling Fred a “negrophobist” as the word racist could not be used in the press, considered as libel. Lugard was angry and got the court to charge him 100 pounds for insulting Oga. For much of Lugard’s second coming, he had a huge fight with the Lagos press – Kitoye Ajasa (Pioneer), George Williams (Lags Standard), John Payne (Lagos Weekly Record) among others. Lugard’s greatest enemy was however Herbert Macaulay, Bishop Crowder’s grandson, a Land Surveyor in the Colonial Service. For criticising Lugard, he was framed for corruption, sacked and jailed with Lugard calling him ex-convict. He took it as a badge of honour laughing at the idea of conviction for criticising colonialism.
Lugard the murderer was a repeat offender with the Inemo massacre of 1914 with 60 people killed and the 1918 Adubi incident where Lugard organised the killing of over 600 Egba protesters. He was immediately retired from service after the incident. To close the chapter on Lugard, Port Harcourt should reflect on why their city was named after Lord Lewis Harcourt, the man who agreed to re-employ Lugard after his first disgrace. Harcourt was a sexual predator who committed suicide after the revelation that he had raped a 12-year old boy.
The very last paragraph of the book closes on an interesting reflection. The 120 years of history traced in the book from the Jihad to Amalgamation draw attention to one key characteristic. The Nigerian State has consistently resorted to violence and military force to address political differences. This is still the situation today. Clearly, the time has come for us to learn to negotiate to resolve our differences. I strongly recommend reading this book to all Nigerians.
A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.