Nwabueze’s Distortions Of Nigeria’s History (II) By Mohammed Haruna

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Mohd Haruna new pix 600In the first part of this article last week I tried to debunk Professor Ben Nwabueze’s thesis in his recent essay on the 1914 amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria that the idea of a “Northern Nigeria” was a subterfuge by the country’s British overlords to keep it permanently divided and empower the North to replace the British as its permanent overlord after Independence.
He gave six reasons for his position that the North is a creature that has no basis of unity in its sociology, culture, language and religion. I tried to show how each and every one of those reasons was banal and specious. I concluded the article by promising to show the reader this morning how the professor’s thesis was a hatchet job for President Goodluck Jonathan in his undeclared war to remain on his seat beyond 2015.
In my rebuttal I showed how the learned professor did serious violence to the historical fact that, long before the British came to our shores, the people who lived within the area that became Nigeria in 1914 had related with each other through wars, internal migration, trade, religious propagation and diplomacy. I should have added then that the professor’s origin itself was a symbol of these varied historical intercourses.
According to The New Who’s Who in Nigeria published in 1999 by the Nigerian International Biographical Centre, the professor comes from Atani in Ogbaru Local Government of Anambra State. Atani, as the man knows all too well, or at least should, was originally an Igala town. Old folks in that town, I am told, still speak and understand the language. And its inhabitants still look up to Idah, the historical capital of pre-colonial Igala Kingdom, as their spiritual capital.
Before the jihad of Usman Dan Fodio which begun in 1804 and reached Nupeland and further down the Niger-Benue confluence region by 1810, the Igala Kingdom had extended over parts of Yoruba, Nupe, Ebira, Doma and other neighbouring tribes. It had even extended to parts of Igboland on both the Western and Eastern banks of the Niger, including Asaba, Nsukka and Enugu and, of course, Atani, the professor’s hometown.
Dan Fodio’s jihad contributed to the decline of the kingdom at the same time that it led to the expansion of Nupe Kingdom. But then the Nupe Kingdom itself had its origin partly in the Igala; Tsoede who founded the Kingdom in the 15th century was an Igala prince whose mother was Nupe.
The area that became Nigeria had (and still has) four hydrographical systems: Niger-Benue, along with the many of the tributaries of the two mighty rivers, which is by far the largest, and Chad, Cross River and Atlantic.
These four hydrographical systems were the arteries around which many empires, kingdoms – most notably Kwararafa, Borno, Sokoto, Borgu, Oyo, Benin, Nupe, Igala, Ijaw and Efik – rose and fell and many so-called stateless people like the Igbo, Tiv, Ebira, Kambari, Dakarkari and Idoma and the many tribes on the Jos Plateau, fought, with various measures of success, against subjugation by the larger hegemons long before this corner of Africa was colonised by Europeans.
None of these empires, kingdoms and so-called stateless peoples existed in isolation. For example, as we have noted already, the founder of Nupe Kingdom was half Igala. Again History teaches us that Sango, the Yoruba god of thunder and the third Alafin of Oyo, was born of a Nupe princess.
East of the Niger, Calabar, as the late Dr Bala Usman said in his seminal paper I referred to last week, may have been an Efik polity, but the majority of its people were Igbo, Ekoi and Ibibio while further west the city states of the Lower Niger were of mixed Ijaw, Igbo, Igala, Edo and Nupe origin. Indeed, Opobo, established by King Jaja in 1873, was predominantly Igbo.
So for anyone to say, as the professor has, that the people of Nigeria were strangers to each other within or between the regions until the Whiteman came along and eventually amalgamated the two in 1914 is to do great violence to the pre-colonial history of Nigeria.
However, important as it is to expose the professor’s distortion of our pre-colonial history, it is really besides the point of today’s piece. This, as I’ve said, is to show that his amalgamation essay, stripped of any pretence, is a hatchet job in support of President Jonathan’s war to retain his job for another term.
It has since become a notorious fact that the greatest opposition to the president’s wish has come from the North. What better way then could there be to help the president achieve this wish than by exposing the whole idea of a Northern Nigeria entity as a sham created and nurtured by a colonial master than never wished the country well?
Unfortunately for the professor, even the most casual reading of his essay will show that he was determined not to let any inconvenient fact get in the way of his objective. Instead he was determined to square and squash any such inconvenient fact.
Perhaps the most glaring of such inconvenient facts was the widely accepted notion that Plateau State, along with Benue, is the core of the Middle Belt region. However, through the kind of “monstrous act of gerrymandering” he has accused the British colonialists of in creating Northern Nigeria, he curved out the state out of the Middle Belt and added it to his not-so-Middle Belt states of Niger, Nasarawa and Taraba. The lately departed Chief Solomon Lar, a, if not the, chief protagonist of Middle Belt, must be turning in his grave at such monstrous “travesty.”
This gerrymandering was deliberately wanton; a little over halfway through the essay, the professor claims that “no Executive President of Nigeria has ever come from the Middle-Belt states of Benue, Taraba, Kogi and Kwara, and the South-East.” Obviously the man had to squash the fact that General Yakubu Gowon, as the longest serving military ruler of Nigeria 1966 to 1975), comes originally from Plateau State and is your quintessential Northern minority Christian.
Similarly, it seems everyone, except the professor, knows that Taraba State has always been part of the North-East geo-political zone in what is now widely accepted as the country’s six geo-political zones, the others being, North-West, North-Central (aka Middle Belt), South-West, South-East and South-Central. For the professor, however, Taraba, is in one breath Middle Belt along with Benue, Kogi and Kwara and in the next breath not-so-Middle Belt along with Niger, Nasarawa and Plateau in an area he concedes half-heartedly “may arguably be grouped with the states in the True North as having some, albeit tenuous sociological, cultural, linguistic and religious as well as geographical nexus with them.”
Third, the man says one of the ways the idea of one North poses a threat to the country’s unity has been its “persistent demand for power shift to the North which reared its head in…2007…”
This demand, he adds, has failed to take into consideration the fact that, except for General Olusegun Obasanjo (February 1976 to October 1979) “all the rulers of Nigeria, military and civilian, were from the North.” It is truly amazing how the professor could have forgotten so soon that the first military ruler of this country was his fellow Igbo, Major-General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi (January to July 1966), and it was that first military misadventure by essentially an Igbo cabal of military officers which lies at the root of the country’s long running predicament.
As for the North’s “persistent demand” for power shift rearing its head in 2007, again the professor seems to have forgotten it was his Igbo compatriot, Chief Alex Ekwueme, who planted and popularised the idea of power shift as far back as 1995 during General Sani Abacha’s Constitutional Conference.
Our professor, it seems, suffers from schizophrenia on Northern Nigeria. In one breadth he says it is a fiction foisted on Nigeria by its British colonizers and in the next breadth he says it has had “a powerful hold…on the thoughts, attitudes and views of the people of the area,” such that it poses a grave threat to the country’s unity.
Clearly the illogic of the argument that the unity of one section of a country necessarily poses a threat to the unity of the country seems to have escaped the fine mind of our professor. One would have thought until the various sections of a country are united, the country as a whole cannot be.
Paradoxically, having misdiagnosed the country’s problem the man still arrives at the sensible and rational conclusion that the way to cure the country’s North-South divide is “by the creation of a national front for the activist pursuit of the NATIONAL TRANSFORMATION AGENDA.,” (emphasis mine) needless to say, the worn out mantra of President Jonathan’s administration and a choice of phrase which speaks volumes of where our professor was coming from.
How this national front can be created, he does not say. Whichever way this can be achieved, a national conference of ethnic nationalities, as seems to be currently on the cards, is certainly a non-starter.
This, however, is a subject for another day, possibly next week.

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