In the build-up to the January 1, 2014, take-off of the centenary celebrations by the federal government, the Kogi and Niger State governments are contesting the seat of power of the colonial administration and the venue of the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914 by the then governor-general, Lord Frederick Lugard. The historical event led to the birth of Nigeria.
While the Kogi State government asserts that the event took place in Lokoja, which hosted the Government House of the British colonial administration, the Niger State government claims that Lord Lugard was in Zungeru at the time.
Lokoja is the capital of present-day Kogi State while Zungeru is a quiet railway town in Wushishi local government area, about 55km from Minna, the Niger State capital.
When the idea of celebrating Nigeria's 100 years of existence as a country was mooted by the federal government in 2010, interest groups in the two states said Lokoja and Zungeru should be recognised by the federal government as the epicentres of the centenary celebrations.
An official tour guide of the Niger State Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Mohammed Jubril, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that Lord Lugard left Lokoja in 1902 and stayed at Jebba but established the headquarters of Northern Nigeria in Zungeru.
Jubril said Lugard left in 1907 to Hong Kong and returned in 1912 and was made the governor of the Southern Protectorate, Lagos Colony and the Northern Protectorate. "On January 1, 1914, the amalgamation took place but before then he invited stakeholders from the Southern and Northern protectorates to Zungeru on December 29 and 30, 1913. All of them converged in the area on January 1, 1914."
According to him, after giving his brief, Lugard asked the delegates to suggest a name for the new country and "the delegates came up with names such as Bight of Biafra, Oduduwa, Amina, Bagauda, Nagwamatse, Sudan. Lugard rejected all the names because he never wanted a person's name because of the sentiments it would bring to the new country. It was Lugard's wife, Flora Shaw, who came up with the name Nigeria because the Royal Niger Company was using the word Niger Area North and Niger Area South. She took the word "Niger Area" as a general word and coined the name Nigeria and the committee accepted it,"Jubril explained.
In October of the same year, Lugard was assigned to move his base from Zungeru to Kaduna after the amalgamation. Zungeru was deemed not fit because of the vast impact of mosquito bites, he stated.
He therefore concluded that there was no dispute in the history of amalgamation of Nigeria, because "it belongs to Niger State and the state should be given due recognition as the centre of Nigeria's centenary celebrations."
The commissioner for tourism and culture, Susan Gana, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that the state is not in conflict with any other on the issue. "We are not struggling for any attention. Lokoja has its role which it has played; Zungeru has played its own, but in different capacities. The role of Zungeru is that of the capital of Nigeria as at January 1, 1914, when the Northern and Southern protectorates were amalgamated. There is nothing to contest here between us and Kogi State."
Her Kogi State counterpart, Mr Thomas Acholo, said the federal government had been duly briefed on the position of the state on the matter. He said it would be out of place to ignore where the birth of Nigeria took place in 1900. "If the federal government through its agencies wants to short-change Kogi State because we have nobody at the federal level to speak on our behalf, they should tell us," he said. "It will be difficult to forget where Nigeria was born, where the first primary school in Northern Nigeria was located, where the first prison in Northern Nigeria was located."
The secretary to the Kogi State government, Prof. Olugbemiro Jegede, told our correspondent that the Governor Wada administration had written a letter to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF), which was acknowledged. He said the letter intimated the federal government on the importance of Lokoja in the history of Nigeria, noting that the history of the country, whichever way it was written, would be incomplete without Lokoja playing the integral part.
He said, "The first primary school in the North was in Lokoja, Lord Lugard's office on Mount Patti, the first prison was in Lokoja, the first bank was in Lokoja, all emirs deposed were sent to Lokoja."
A renowned historian, Prof. Michael Omolewa, told LEADERSHIP Weekend in Lokoja that the importance of the city in the making of Nigeria cannot be over-emphasised. He said when the British industries were thriving and producing goods above what could be locally consumed, there was the need to find markets for them as well as source for raw materials for the factories.
Following these events, Omolewa said, the British government posted Lugard to Lokoja to oversee the administration and commercial activities of the area. "One good afternoon in 1897, while watching the Niger and Benue confluence from the top of Mount Patti, Flora Shaw who later became Mrs Lugard noted that the Niger tributaries traverse the land mass under the British rule.
"We had the Northern and Southern protectorates. At this point in time the Royal Niger Company which controlled the administration of the protectorates was already withdrawing. On January 1, 1900, the Royal Niger Company flag was lowered in Lokoja while the Union Jack flag was hoisted for the first time in the history of the protectorates. The event took place in the present Catholic Cathedral in Lokoja," he said.
Another historian, Dr Abuh Shaibu, told LEADERSHIP Weekend in Lokoja that there is no doubting the fact that Lord Lugard made the pronouncement on amalgamation in Lokoja with the insignia along Pamparada Street in the state capital.
Similarly, a history lecturer at the University of Abuja (UNIABUJA), Adamu Simbad, said the roles both cities played in the amalgamation process should be looked at objectively. He said what Lugard did in 1902 was motivated by financial reasons: "The British authorities were after milking the resources of the country. Lugard went for a central area that will enable his government to have an effective control of the resources in the north and south.
"Lokoja has its own significance as the seat of government but where the amalgamation treaty was signed is most significant in the history of Nigeria. Zungeru takes a front roll as the place where the treaty was signed. Zungeru, of course, will have its place of prominence during the centenary celebrations."
On the allegation that Niger is looking for cheap publicity because the treaty of amalgamation was signed in Zungeru, Gana said: "The attention should be in Zungeru and not Lokoja. Lugard left Lokoja in 1902, came to Zungeru and Flora Shaw as early as 1897 in the London Times suggested the name that the country currently uses. Zungeru became acclaimed as the capital of Nigeria in 1914 and if it was the capital of Nigeria in 1914 where would the attention be? The attention ought to be in Zungeru."
On whether any benefit would accrue to Zungeru if it was selected as the venue of the amalgamation for the centenary celebration, Gana said that, apart from being a significant tourist attraction, "the city remains the place where we earned our name Nigeria and it's important to us as a people. It is a binding force between the north and the south; without Zungeru we wouldn't have been together. We benefited from each other in the past and we are still benefiting even now".
The commissioner revealed that the state government had keyed into the programme of the federal government for the event. "We have executed most of the activities as prescribed by the federal government towards the centenary. The governor has approved N175 million for the centenary celebrations including the first Niger State Festival of Arts and Culture."
She denied speculations that the state government became interested in the centenary celebrations because of a planned Centenary Village similar to the Abuja Centenary Town by the federal government in either Kogi or Niger State. "I know of a Centenary Town planned by the federal government in Abuja, but I have no knowledge of a similar thing outside Abuja," Gana said.
On the ruins of the remnants of colonialism in Zungeru, Gana said that Zungeru is not only for the people of Niger State but for the entire Nigerian nation. "Zungeru is a city for Nigeria, the federal government including the Niger State government are to partner and bring Zungeru to life. We should all be proud of that city as Nigerians."
She said the state centenary committee had visited Zungeru to look at the state of things in the colonial town. "We realised after the visit that part of the structures there have to be brought back phase by phase," she added.
On the sentiments attached to Nigeria's amalgamation, Gana advised that Nigerians should be careful not to distort the history of the nation. "A nation that is built on falsehood is bound to collapse; we have no issues with Lokoja. If Lokoja is making a fresh claim she should prove it to Nigerians to see." She insisted that the two towns played distinct roles in Nigeria's amalgamation history.
The senior special adviser to the Niger State governor on tourism and culture, Yahaya Dangana, said Nigerians are being confused by the events that happened in Lokoja in 1900 when the Royal Niger flag was lowered and replaced by the hoisting of the Union Jack by the British colonialists with the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates.
He asserted that signing of the union of Nigeria took place in Zungeru. "The documentation of Nigeria was bounded in terms of written instrument in Zungeru and it's an indirect constitution of the country. This particular piece was signed and delivered in a place in Zungeru in 1914," he stated.
LEADERSHIP Weekend learnt that some natives of Kogi State were not taking the issue lightly. Local tour guides in Zungeru confided in LEADERSHIP Weekend that some scholars and professors from the state had been visiting historical sites in Zungeru in recent times and asking questions on the nation's amalgamation.