31 January 2013

Nigeria: Marking Centenary of Amalgamation


The plan by the federal government to mark the centenary of the amalgamation of the Lagos Colony, the Northern and Southern Protectorates of colonial-era Nigeria billed to start by February has elicited mixed views and reactions. Those opposed to the plan assert that it would amount to validating colonial and imperial rule and the repression and economic exploitation that accompanied it. In their view, no self-respecting government since Nigeria's inception has accorded any relevance or recognition to the 1914 amalgamation because it would betray a lack of appreciation of its dark import and make it look like a justification of the indignities that Nigerians went through at the time. They imply that October 1, 1960, the year of Nigeria's independence from colonial rule has been accorded a fitting and appropriate place in national calendar and observed with pageantry every year since.

Even if some justification could be made to commemorate the amalgamation, they insist, it would amount to reinforcing the notion that the government was besotted with mere merrymaking, which the celebration of the centenary connotes, a point buttressed by the fact to commemorate Nigeria's 50 years as an independent nation in 2010, over N10 billion was spent.

On the other side of the debate are those who believe that until the amalgamation the three colonial entities of Lagos, Southern Protectorate and the Northern Protectorate, were separate and distinct from one another and they were administered as such, even though it was for the convenience of the British colonisers. Amalgamation therefore was the very first attempt at giving Nigeria an expression as a composite nation in a contiguous geographic area, a concrete form to which Nigerians can lay claim to as their home, which despite the turbulence and upheavals that had threatened its survival, has endured for a century. This certainly is no mean feat, the argument goes, and calls for a celebration in the form of taking stock of how far Nigeria and its people have come in forging a united whole from the disparate entities cobbled together a century ago.

Moreover, no time is more auspicious than now with the climate of insecurity prevailing, which has resulted in needless loss of lives and property, to draw attention to the idea of Nigeria, once described as a "mere geographical expression" but now grown into a real nation and warts and all, has become a virile polity respected by its peers and commanding a leading role on the African continent. Thus in this sense, no opportunity must be lost, least of all its centenary anniversary, in reiterating the necessity to preserve Nigeria as it has become but also emphasise the importance of working assiduously to realize its potential and manifest destiny in Africa and the world at large.

Both sides have some merit in their arguments, but they appear to be anchored on suspicion that the government may be making its plans on the opportunistic expectation of spending huge sums of money to mark the occasion.

Of course, some money necessarily has to be committed in marking the centenary, but the benefits should be seen in the context that it would afford the nation the opportunity to re-assess how far Nigeria has come to aggregate the wishes of its people.

Extolling the virtues of the continuing existence of the Nigerian state is a patriotic duty, not just of the government, but every citizen. Therefore if the commemoration of the centenary is aimed at evaluating the wellbeing of Nigeria right from its colonial beginnings and also chart a way forward in order to concretely realize the Nigeria that its entire people yearn for, then by all means it should go on. It must be noted however that the whole affair must not degenerate into squander mania and waste of money as usually happens when government embarks on projects like this. The occasion should be able to showcase the achievement of Nigeria in all spheres of endeavour as a way of playing up the values inherent in integration and the necessity to work at forging a common destiny for its people. Properly handled and marketed, the occasion could be a productive one, providing opportunity to re-launch a robust programme to teach the true history of Nigeria at all levels of the nation's school system.

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