Nwabueze’s Distortions of Nigeria’s History (I) By Mohammed Haruna

Mohd Haruna new pix 600Professor Benjamin Obi Nwabueze, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), is arguably Nigeria’s best constitutional academic lawyer. At eighty one in a couple of months, he has written some of the most authoritative and highly readable books and essays on constitutionalism in Nigeria, Africa and the Commonwealth.
Notable among his numerous books are A Constitutional History of Nigeria, Judicialism in Commonwealth Africa and Nigeria’s Second Experiment in Constitutional Democracy. Among his many essays was his well-argued intervention in the uproar that followed President Olusegun Obasanjo’s declaration of emergency rule in, and suspension of the governor and House of Assembly of, Plateau State in May 2004, in the wake of the sectarian and ethnic violence that had racked the state.
In that famed intervention he condemned Obasanjo’s decision as “the greatest and most brazen act of illegality committed by any government in Nigeria, colonial, military or civilian.” Another essay was one last May in which he supported President Goodluck Jonathan’s somewhat similar declaration of emergency rule in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa as “a masterstroke indeed”, as a strategy for bringing the Boko Haram insurgency in those states to an end.
If, however, as a constitutional lawyer Nwabueze is one of our best, his most recent essay on the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria exposes him as a terrible historian. In that essay, “The North-South Divide as an Obstacle to the Creation of a Nation and National Front”, the man inflicted great injury on the history of Nigeria, pre-colonial and contemporary, and on himself as one of the country’s most rigorous analysts and essayists.
The National Conference President Jonathan said in his October 1 Independence speech he will be organising, the professor said, had forced him to re-examine the 1914 amalgamation and he has been, he said, “dismayed” by what he has discovered. “The North-South Divide,” he said at the beginning of his essay, “…is more real and constitutes a greater threat to the unity of the country than I had realised.”
When Lord Lugard amalgamated the two halves of the country in 1914 on behalf of the British he did so, said Nwabueze, not to create a nation but “to keep its northern and southern segments apart by an imaginary, artificially created boundary line, and consequently to disunite them in interest, attitude, outlook and vision.”
And the main, if not the sole, culprit in all this, the man said, was and remains the North which the British colonialists created in such a way that by its size and population it held a permanent veto on political power in the country.
While the British ruled the vast North as one entity, he says, she ruled the South as two all the way to independence in October 1960. Worse, the two Southern regions increased to three with the creation of Mid-West in 1963.
“Strangely enough,” the professor says, “the idea of one ‘Northern Nigeria’ has persisted as an entrenched fact of life, even after it (i.e. Northern Nigeria) has ceased to be a government entity…They still refer to, or speak of Northern Nigeria in public discourse of the affairs of the country. As far as I know, no one now refers to, or speaks of Western Nigeria, Eastern Nigeria or Mid-West Nigeria; they are all now history, remembered and talked about only as a page of that history.”
Coming from an intelligent and rigorous professor like Nwabueze, this is a rather shocking ignorance of the notorious fact that even during the days of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the North’s first and only premier whose political sagacity gave the region the semblance of one voice, the region had its fair share of political, religious and ideological divisions that characterised the country. Since then these divisions, especially that of religion, have only widened to the extent that the region has been on the defensive in the power struggle between North and South since 1999.
Even more shocking than the professor’s apparent – something tells me it is feigned – ignorance of the divisions in the North is his hostility to the idea that the region should enjoy any degree of unity at all, no matter how tenuous. “The persistent of the idea of one Northern Nigeria,” he said, “is strange because there is nothing like Northern Nigeria as a sociological, cultural, linguistic or religious entity.” He gives six reasons for his position, all of them absolutely banal and specious.
Before we go into these reasons let us to examine some newfangled nomenclatures he has invented for the North as a geo-polity. In place of the familiar division of the region by its adversaries into Far North – some say Core North – and the Middle-Belt, Nwabueze now has what he calls “True North” comprising Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Yobe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara States, 12 in all. His Middle Belt Zone now consists of only Benue, Kogi, Kwara and Taraba States, all of which, he says, are “more in the South than in the North.” That they remain in the North today, he says, it is due to British caprice and not geography.
Lying in between these four Middle-Belt states and the “True North”, says Nwabueze, are Niger, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba States.
One thing to note here is that the professor is obviously unable to make up his mind whether Taraba belongs to his new Middle Belt or to the buffer states he has invented between that and his True North. This clearly speaks of a confused mind. But it is a confusion with a purpose; the purpose of showing, by some geographical and historical contortions that Kogi belongs naturally to the East, Kwara to the West and Taraba to the Delta Region.
It is in this context of Nwabueze’s contortions that we may now examine his dismissal of any idea of the North as one entity.
First, he says the North, just like the South, consists not of one tribe but many. This is a replay of the cliché that Nigeria is an artificial creation. But then so is every nation in the world in the sense that they are all created by men inhabiting a territory not by nature. Indeed there are nations created by men overcoming nature.
Second, he says, the Hausa language, though widely used in the region, is not indigenous to many of its tribes. True. However, as the professor knows all too well, neither is English indigenous to the peoples of the Commonwealth or America. Yet that has not reduced its portency as a unifying factor in the two.
Third, he says in effect, each of the tribes lives in isolation of others. Clearly this is utter rubbish; even in the Stone Age no tribe lived in isolation. The history of mankind, as the professor should know, is that of human intercourse socially, politically and economically.
Fourth, he says not all Northerners are Muslims. Again, true. But just like we don’t have to speak the same language to have a unity of purpose, we also don’t have to believe in the same deity to be united in purpose. Surely our erudite lawyer/scholar must have heard of the expression, unity in diversity.
Fifth, he says the region lacks a common culture and heritage. All the professor needed to have done to save himself the embarrassment of writing such blatant fallacy was to have read the history of Nigeria by leading Nigerian historians like Professors J. F. Ade Ajayi, Kenneth Dike and the late Dr Bala Usman. If he had done so he would have found out that, as Professor Ajayi said in Atlas of Nigeria, a 2002 collection of essays on all aspects of the country, the tradition of the origins of its ethnic groups links “Borgu, Oyo and Nupe; Yoruba and Edo; Edo, Igala and Nupe; Edo, Onitsha, Igala and Nri; Jukun, Idoma and Igala;” etc.
The professor would have also found out, as Dr Bala Usman said in a seminal paper he delivered at a workshop organised by Arewa House in February 1994 on The State of the Nation and the Way Forward, that the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 was not some arbitrary act but something that was driven by “the logic of economic, political, military, cultural and ideological networks which had developed in this corner of West Africa.”
Last, is the professor’s invention of a newfangled nomenclature for the North as a geo-polity which I have already referred to. This, he says, is the most important reason why it is strange to continue to refer to the region as one.
What this deviation alone by Nwabueze from what has been the widespread acceptance of six, at least nominal, geopolitical zones in the country since 1995 has done, as I shall endeavour to show next week, God willing, is to expose the man as doing a hatchet job for President Jonathan, using the widespread Southern antipathy towards the 1914 amalgamation as a convenient cover.

No tags for this post.