Critical Expose of the Effects of 1914 Amalgamation on Nigeria

Last Updated: 07 Dec 2022
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Chinua Achebe citing an Igbo proverb in his “There was a country” tells us that a man who does not know where the rain started to beat him cannot say where he dried his body. The rain that beat Nigeria began more than a decade ago, from the resolutions of the Berlin conference of 1884/1885 to the economic-driven amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates of Nigeria in 1914 by Lord Lugard. When the British set foot on the area presently known as Nigeria, it was a cacophony of many nations; nations which the British preferred to call “tribes”.

Encouraged by the western anthropological binary of the “self” and the “other”, the British colonialists saw themselves as destined and equipped to rescue these African peoples from deep-scaled savagery, superstition and statelessness. They could not acknowledge that these peoples had any form of civilization or system of governance. Even if they did, they did not see the need to encourage the maturity and crystallization of such institutions.

Theirs, they thought was a superior and more authentic civilization, and history especially that of slavery, had perhaps taught them that the need for European to conquer and “pacify” the “other”, the rest of the world, especially Africa was a divinely ordained enterprise (Davison 1991:21-51). Little wonder that when the British came to Nigeria in the 19th century, first as traders and merchants, they did not hesitate to bring along their religion and later, government.

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With conjunction of forces, tact and artifice, they set up administrative machinery which was later to become a metaphor for the suppression and annihilation of indigenous political and socio-religious structures; machinery which was designed to proclaim and establish the superiority of the European “self” over and above the African “other”. For easy administration more than for any other reason, British colonialists banded several nations together in 1914 to create Nigeria: one of the liveliest housewives composed a national anthem for the new nation.

In recognition of the artificiality of the concept of Nigeria, the anthem’s author wrote inter alia: …though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand… Throughout the existence of Nigeria, the second line of the stanza above evokes hypocrisy; it represents one of the major falsehoods on which the British founded Nigeria and on which modern Nigeria thrives. Then the questions as to why do the British merge culturally diverse peoples to forge Nigeria? Was it not possible for them to allow these nations (which they called tribes) to evolve with minimum external influence and interference?

Amalgamation of 1914; Reasons and Prospects

The primary aim of the British in amalgamating the northern and the southern protectorates in Nigeria was simply economic. Compared with the colony and protectorate of southern Nigeria, the protectorate of northern Nigeria proved relatively poor neighbor. The entire south was very viable and richly endowed with surplus resources. The north was not as rich as the south, and was costing Britain money since it was not generating enough revenue to sustain itself.

It was in the bid to offset the cost of the northern Nigeria that Lord Lugard who was the governor appointed a committee to recommend ways of running the almost barren north at a minimal or no cost to Britain. The group recommended the amalgamation of the southern to northern; to join the two vast areas as one country. On January 1, 1914, northern and southern Nigeria were amalgamated into one country and named the colony and protectorate of Nigeria. The amalgamation hence, was purely for administrative convenience and economic exploitation and as Chinweizu (1978) stated, British profit was too important to be allowed to suffer.

The above summary indicates the making of Nigeria and we can observe that the amalgamation of the northern and southern Nigeria was not in the interest of Nigerians as they were not consulted before the amalgamation.

Consequences of the Amalgamation: a Toddler After Hundred Years

Whatever Europe did in Africa in those twilight days, she did them solely for her own advantage and almost always at the detriment of the African. The amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 is no exception. It was a political blunder; much of the history of Nigeria supports this thesis, although no one would acknowledge this in modern Nigeria.

Before independence, the shadow of ethnicity had grown so tall that even the contradictory colonial national anthem could not exorcise it. When the British granted us independence in 1960, it was certain that they have left not a truly “pacified” and unified federation built on love and mutual respect and equity but a mere “geographical expression” as Awolowo, one of the founding fathers of modern Nigeria, put it. When Tafawa Balewa received the independence charter at racecourse in 1960, he, perhaps, also received the charter for instability and disaffection.

The history of Nigeria between 1960 and 1967, when the civil war finally broke out, is a testimony. Generally, amalgamation preserved the difference among peoples and their administration. The adverse national issues were now looked at from local interests. Closely related to this was the unhealthy rivalry which developed between respective administrations as they struggle for different group interest which they represented. So that even in Lugard’s time, Nigeria was divided along north-south lines. Thus, the way the amalgamation was implemented left a legacy of tension among component parts of Nigeria.

Also, the boundary adjustment which accompanied the amalgamation left some geographical in-balance between the north and south thereby creating same adverse impact on subsequent nation-building efforts. Furthermore, in spite of all efforts since the famous amalgamation of the northern Nigeria and the southern Nigeria hundred years ago, an act which the northern leaders to this day consistently and publicily condemn as a mistake, Nigeria as a united country was nothing but a fiction. Certain basic features mark a country out as united. Some of these features are:

  1. Common or similar culture, as well as social system.
  2. Common citizenship, with equal rights and privileges for all men anywhere in the country.
  3. Common laws and a common judicial system.
  4. A common electoral system.
  5. Equal rights of all citizens before the law.
  6. Rights to acquire property and make a living anywhere in the country.
  7. Equal rights to employment anywhere in the country.
  8. Equal rights to protection of life and property.

Most of these features or even more are completely found lacking in our “dear” country Nigeria.

No thanks to ethnic consciousness among Nigerians.

Any Way Forward?

To get the right answers presupposes asking the right questions. Amalgamation of Nigeria is in itself not intrinsically evil. The problem is that many critics of this very concept tend to be more emphatic in its exposition of the ills of this principle, relegating to the periphery and obliterating it good aspects. We tend to sound and resound the trumpets of disparity among Nigerians but prefer to be myopic about things that are fundamental to us as Africans.

It is true as some critics may choose to argue that our amalgamation was an “unconsulted” one as against the United States of America’s voluntary amalgamation. As an Igbo proverb will have it “anyukoo amiri onu o gba ufufu” (igbo proverb portraying that unity is strength), the merging of the northern and southern protectorates of Nigeria could if utilized devoid of ethic sentiments and prejudice will make Nigeria a formidable force in its leadership role as the “giant of Africa”. This could only be possible when national interest is placed foremost as against ethnic interests.

Furthermore, Nigerians at all level should learn to imbibe and assimilate more readily the African spirit of “Ujamaa socialism” as propagated by Julius kambarage Nyerere. This brotherly spirit of communalism will help to eliminate every form of division against tribal lines and foster that brotherhood that is deeply rooted in “Black consciousness”, In conclusion, Nigeria constitutional arrangement should be re-visited and made in such a way that it reflects true federalism by restoring more powers to the regional governments as this will “de-intensify” the unhealthy struggle to control the center: that led Nigeria where it is today.

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Critical Expose of the Effects of 1914 Amalgamation on Nigeria. (2016, Jul 18). Retrieved from

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