The British's Contact with Nigeria's Peoples, Amalgamation and the Question of Minority Agitation, 1914-1999.

Author:Akanmidu, Paul Ilesanmi


The anthropologists have shown that Nigeria is a multi-ethnic nation and the most populous Black Country in the world, comprising of over two hundred and fifty (250) ethnic nationalities (Nnoli, 1995:27-30; Suberu, 2001:16-19). Each of these groups was independent of one another before the British's contacts and colonialism. In addition, they had peculiar pattern of socio-political and economic administrations long before the British established its hegemony over the vast territory. Each group valued its peculiar historical background, culture, religion, kingship institutions or Emirate and had unique pattern of adjudication for maintaining laws and orders. However, the British administration used the amalgamation of 1914 to force a unity among the diverse independent groups in a structural composition, named Nigeria. Even though, the various groups were brought together as one sovereign or indivisible entity, it is evidently apparent that each of the component units in the composite structure was conscious of its identity. This development eventually gave birth to the stratification of the nation into major (mega) and minority groups. The stratification was born out of the perception of some peoples who classified the existing ethnic groups in the composite structure by size or population. The three most populous groups, Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo, which dominated different parts of the geographical regions of the nation, namely, the north, west and east respectively, were referred to as major ethnic groups. Other independent ethnic sub-units with lesser population were referred to as minorities. These latter groups were what Horton (1975:72-113) referred to as stateless societies. However, Obayemi, (1980:144-164) has criticized the usage of the term, "stateless societies" as rather derogating the status of the groups. He however referred to them as mini states while the major ethnic groups were referred to as mega states in his analysis.

This study focuses attention on the 1914 amalgamation and the emergence of minority agitation in the historical development of Nigeria. The central argument of this article is located within the framework of two schools of thought. The first school believed that the amalgamation of Nigeria was a miscalculated arrangement of the British government, which in her imagination could be used as a platform to bring together segmented groups in order to facilitate its rapid development. Instead of the projected idea, it rather brought diversity, mistrust and distrust among the various groups. The contraption of the groups is what Paul (2011: 67-74) sociologically referred to in his analysis as marriage of inconvenience, which has resulted in grave consequences in Nigeria's polity. The orgy consequence had manifested in diverse ethnic violence, insurrections and militias, which have ravaged the country, making peaceful coexistence of diverse groups almost a mirage (Osaghae, 2001: 2-7). The second school of thought on the other hand, believed that the amalgamation was a major factor in the transformation of Nigeria from segmentary states to a virile nation, recognizable as an entity among the comity of nations globally. This article subjects these two schools of thought into critical engagement with the aim of situating it relatively in proper perspective the amalgamation and its implications on the organic structure of Nigeria especially minority agitation, which has been a major problem in the trajectory of Nigeria as a nation.

Nigeria: The Land and People

Geographically, Nigeria lies between latitude [4.sup.0] N and [14.sup.0]N. The region is located between the great Sahara in the north and the Gulf of Guinea, an arm of the Atlantic Ocean (Udo, 1980: 1). Nigeria is bordered to the north by Niger Republic, to the south by the Atlantic, west by Benin Republic and to the east by Cameroon Republic. The country covers an area of 356, 669 square miles. It is located within two ecological system of savannah to the north and mangrove forest to the south. The coastline stretches for over 500 miles from Badagry in the west to Calabar in the east and it includes the Bight of Benin and Biafra. Apart from this coastline and famous Niger Delta, the Nigeria landmass consists essentially of low plateau of about 600 meters (2000 feet) above sea level. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic society and populated by peoples of different origins. The population figure of the country was put at 195 million (One Hundred and Ninety-Five Million) approximately as at 2017 by United Nations estimates (World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision). The peopling of Nigeria followed the usual process of migration, settlement/state formation and consolidation. This process had resulted in demographic configuration of Nigeria in contemporary times such that these large numbers of ethnic groups ranging in size from a few thousands to many millions speaking between them several hundred of languages. Though their socio-cultural organizations and languages prove very outstanding, they were grouped into a number of linguistic groups, which give a fairly good indication of their broad ethno-cultural affiliations (Armstrong, 1964:8). In most of the extant Nigerian societies, migration followed a similar pattern namely, a group of wandering people moved in search of favorable environment for human habitation. The physical environment to which a particular group was pushed in the course of migrations went a long way to determine such group's extant economic system (Ajayi&Alagoa, 1980: 224-235). For example, the Ijaw people are famous group in the low-lying region of swamps and numberless waterways and creeks. Their traditional economy revolves around fishing and salt making. Until recently, transportation in this area was mainly by the use of canoes, while migrations followed navigable waterways, which were not silted up. Outside the Niger Delta, there is no noticeable barrier to easy movement of people, except in the rugged fringes of hills along the Nigerian-Cameroon borders. Here, Pre-colonial migrations were greatly encumbered such that for instance, the Oron and Ekoi peoples of the Cross River basin might have entered Nigeria through the sea. In the far north, where the topography was largely favored by an open savannah grassland and semi desert, movement of people were facilitated by the use of beast of burden, which were mostly imported into the region from the Middle East and North Africa as far back as the seventh century.

The Linguistic feature of Nigerian societies can be deciphered in the classification done by Greenberg, (1955:108-119). He identified most of Nigerian languages as belonging to the Niger-Congo group of language family. The Yoruba, Edo, Nupe and Ibo languages are classified as belonging to the Kwa sub-family; Efik and Ibibio as well as the Tiv, speak what belongs to the Benue-Congo group; the small ethnic groups in the Benue and Adamawa provinces speak the language of Adamawa-Eastern family, the Fulani speaks the Niger-Congo family of languages; the Hausa speaks language close to the Hamitic language of the Caucasoid stock; the Kanuri speaks the Nilo-Saharan languages. It should be noted that similarities in languages among some Nigerian groups resulted chiefly from inter-group contact rather than common descent.

The displacement that characterized the pre-colonial waves of migration among Nigerians brought desert people into grassland environment, and grassland people into the forest region. For example, the Yoruba who were originally grassland people, living in mud houses with grass roofs, had to adapt themselves to a forest environment by cultivating root crops in the forest areas, and by building mud houses with mat roofs. Examples of adaptation to new environments are found among the Ijaw, other fishing tribes of the Cross River estuary, the hill peoples of the Jos Plateau and north Adamawa Highland. These peoples were not primarily indigenous to their present ecological zones, but they migrated and settled by factors of the favorable climate and geographical suitability for their adaptability. However, beyond the impact of the environment, humanity becomes the main agent of change (Akinyemi, et al, 1989:1-17). In other words, the activities of humanity across the Nigeria landscape were a major force that determined the nature and character of Nigeria's pre-colonial history. As a result of the dominant impact of rainfall on the geographical character of the tropics, the Nigerian vegetation can be seen in zones that are typical of the climate belts. Thus, we have the dried north with its shorter growing seasons, which is characterized by the dense forest vegetation. Consequently, only in few seasons can we have natural vegetation. Rather, the vegetation of Nigeria has been greatly modified overtime due to the long period of human occupation and exploitative and intensive use of land.

Across Nigeria, archaeological accounts abound to suggest that humanity had settled in some parts of the country since the Paleolithic or Stone Age (500, 000 BC). The north is populated by the Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri, Bura etc. In the western region, there are Yoruba, Oyo Yoruba, Akoko Yoruba, Okun-Yoruba, Edo Yoruba etc. In the eastern Nigeria, there are Igbo, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Isoko, Urhobo, Abua, Odual, Ogbia, Engenni, Ogini, Ndoki, Delta-Igbo, Bini, Birom, Angass and Efik etc. Many of these groups constituted the Niger/Delta. In the Middle-belt, Obayemi, (1980: 142-164) mentioned, Nupe, Ebe, Kyede, Gbedegi, Igala, Kakanda, Bassa-Nge, Dibo, Okun-Yoruba, Egbirra, Tiv, Jukun, Idoma, Igede, etc as among the major ethnic groups that clustered around there.

Each of these ethnic groups occupies a distinct track of territory, and most of the smaller groups had very little contact with other groups before the nineteenth century. Yet, there was flow of commercial and cultural contacts between the major and...

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