The People’s Republic: Paradoxical heritage


UNTIL the late forties, it was a grave risk for a Northerner to express any view critical of British rule in Nigeria. The first Northerner to do so, to our knowledge, was the headmaster of a Native Authority school in the North. He lost his job within a week of his articulation. A long period of ruthless persecution followed, and he was obliged to leave his home for Lagos, where he was employed for sometime in the secretariat of the Nigerian Youth Movement.

The employment of Southerners in the Civil Service of the North was on sufferance and a necessity. As soon as educated Northerners emerged, they were appointed to posts for which a Southerner with identical qualifications would not have been considered suitable. Qualifications for entry into and for promotion in the army and the police force were lower for Northerners than for Southerners.

This policy led to many anomalies. The educated Northerners believed that they were a privileged class, with an easy royal road to posts in the Civil Service reserved for Nigerians. By the same token, they tended to look down upon their fellow Civil Servants from the South as under-privileged. At the same time, the latter became resentful and unduly depressed in the face of the unwarranted discrimination to which they were unjustly subjected. They were estranged from their Northern colleagues, and a mighty barrier of distrust began to grow between the two groups. In consequence of the lowering of standards in favour of Northerners

and its attendant evils, there was a general and permanent loss of executive and administrative efficiency such as was unknown in Southern administrations.

A measure of the deep-rootedness and inflexibility of this injurious policy, which began under the British, is its relentless continuance by Northern leaders to the present day. It reached its high-water mark in the notorious Northernization policy under which, in making appointments to the Northern Civil Service, a foreigner with lesser qualifications was preferred to a Southern Nigerian. Under a tragic pretext, this discriminatory policy has now assumed new proportions in a discordant crescendo.

The seeds of Northern isolationism and disparate standards which were sown by the British are now bearing bumper fruits.

Some influential elements in the North adamantly persist in the unwise pursuit of the second best. And there are many people in the country who cannot help wondering whether the North will ever succeed in shaking itself free from this abominable, disrupting, and divisive British heritage.

The British officials in Nigeria, reflecting the yearnings of their masters at home, did not hide their views that unity and stability in Nigeria after independence depended on the control of the country’s Federal Government by Northern leaders. Their argument was briefly as follows.

The North constituted more than half of the entire country—both in population and size. It is conservative in outlook, and its people, though less educated in the Western sense than Southerners, are more temperate and moderate in their political views and activities. Because of the well-known suspicion on the part of Northerners towards Southerners, the former would certainly not feel happy under the leadership of the latter. Furthermore, because of long-standing bitter political rivalry, an Eastern leadership was not likely to be acceptable to Westerners, and vice versa. On the other hand, because of their non-participation in such rivalry in the past, a Northern leadership was sure to be acceptable to the two Southern opposing blocs.

The British then proceeded, with their traditional skill, to back their views with actions. They used their decisive position in the country’s pre-independence Constitutional Conference to ensure that the political system in the North was as little disturbed as possible by the provisions of the constitution. The North had its own Penal Code as distinct from Nigeria’s Criminal Code; and the fundamental human rights entrenched in the constitution were amply qualified in order to preserve some outmoded and repugnant Northern customs and usages. Christian as well as pagan women in the North were denied suffrage, simply because the feudal caste in the Region did not favour the enfranchisement of women, on pretended religious grounds. We say ‘pretended’ because there is nothing in the teachings and practice of Islam to support this stand.

The British were aware of the monstrosity and abnormality of Nigeria’s federal structure. They knew that whichever political party ruled the North as an undivided unit was sure to have an electoral advantage over any other political party in the country.

Yet with this clear awareness and knowledge, they refused to divide Nigeria into more Regions or States, so as to make sure that, in an independent Nigeria, no one Region or State was in a position, either by its size or population, to overrule the other States put together and bend the will of the Federal Government to its own.

The strenuous demands of ethnic minorities in the North for political self-determination through the creation of States were arrogantly and obtusely ignored by the British Colonial Office.




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