“It is to the Northern protectorate that we must look for vast developments, new markets and new products. The wealth of the land has not as yet been unlocked, but its possibilities are undeniable. Northern Nigeria may prove an Eldorado.” ~ From the book British Nigeria by A.F. Mockler-Ferryman (1902).
It is celebrated, documented and appreciated annually, children sing its tunes, news media share documentaries and tales are always told of the 1st of October 1960, as the year Nigeria gained independence from the United Kingdom. Yet, when chronicling Nigeria’s political history, 1960 was not our beginning. If we go back to our historical geography, there was a part that made up this Nigeria by joining after the independence of 1960 and there was another part that was independent even prior to 1960. The question that will continue to arise as such is: Were all parts of the country independent on the 1st day of October 1960?
British Northern Nigeria
The Berlin Conference of 1884 and 1885 provided the area that would become the Northern Nigeria Protectorate to the British and on 1 January 1900, the Royal Niger Company’s charter was revoked and the British government took control, in a ceremony where Frederick Lugard read the proclamation. The Royal Niger Company was paid off and given the rights to half of all mining revenue in a large part of the area that is Northern Nigeria for 99 years in exchange for ceding the territory to the British government. Lugard was appointed the High Commissioner of the newly created Northern Nigeria Protectorate and Lokoja was the first capital from 1900. Zungeru in present day Niger State then became the capital after Lokoja due to its accessibility by river transport before finally Kaduna was ushered as the formidable capital of Northern Nigeria.
Northern Nigeria however, was granted independence officially before the final independence of Nigeria, precisely on March 15, 1953, with the Sardauna, Sir Ahmadu Bello as its first Premier. As such, in March this year, Northern Nigeria had been independent for 64 years, older than the independent country Nigeria.
When the issue of the independence of Nigeria arose in the 1940s, Northern Nigeria opted to maintain Nigeria’s federal structure and voted against independence. Again, in 1952 there was another rejection of Independence by Northern Nigeria, as such leading to the independence of Northern Nigeria first as an entity in 1953, followed subsequently by the complete independence of the country Nigeria in 1960.
British Northern Cameroons
The protectorate of Northern Cameroon actually only joined Nigeria after independence in 1961. A referendum on becoming part of Nigeria was first held in Northern Cameroons in November 1959. Voters were given the choice between a union with Nigeria or postponing the decision. They voted overwhelmingly towards delaying their decision to join Nigeria. It is hinted that what was unspoken on the mind of the people of the Northern Cameroons was the dissatisfaction for not having a ‘third alternative’ on the questionnaire, which may have read: ‘do you wish to achieve independence without joining both the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the La Republique du of Cameroun?’
A second referendum was held in British Cameroons on 11 February 1961 to determine whether the territory should join neighbouring Cameroon or Nigeria. Ultimately Northern Cameroons saw a majority of 60% in favour of joining Nigeria, whilst Southern Cameroons saw 70.5% in favour of integration with Cameroon. Northern Cameroon as such officially became part of Nigeria on 1 June 1961, almost a year after the official independence of Nigeria. This move by the Northern Cameroons was motivated by Sir Ahmadu Bello’s visit and promises to the people prior by urging the people ‘…to look forward to sharing in the tremendous economic development of our country, to sharing in the massive scheme for expanding education. Above all, you can be assured of security of the rule of law, the protection of your lives and houses and farms and to the guarantee of your human rights’.
The Northern Cameroons of then constituted the following regions now located in Borno, Taraba and Adamawa states of Nigeria: Dikwa, Gwoza, Madagali, Mubi, Chamba, Gasjaka, Mambilla and United Hills. Incidentally, these are the areas mostly ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency, and the promise of the Sardauna of then now continues to be shattered to these communities in the now North-East of Nigeria. These regions in their late arrival to Nigeria have created a continuous identity question and a post-colonial dilemma to the real independence of the whole of Nigeria.
The Independence Dilemma
When treading the topic of the Nigerian independence, the historical and political trajectories of Northern Nigeria as well as the Northern Cameroons of early independence and late arrival post-independence is not incorporated conveniently in the annals of history, which is certainly unfair, especially to the regions that joined the county post-1960.
If not all parts of Nigeria were independent on 1 October 1960, then why is it that the history and political development of such territories are not incorporated into the Nigerian political history? It is pertinent that these Nigerians also recognize and understand their peculiarity in Nigeria and receive a sense of belonging.
Indeed, doing so, does not take away anything from the unity of the country, so long as we know where we are coming from. As the late Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa delivered in his speech to parliament in September 1957 saying:
“Nigeria is large enough to accommodate us all in spite of our political differences.”
We need to know every facet of our history, so we can continue to live united as Northern Nigerians, as the Northern Cameroons and as the independent entity that is the Federal Republic of Nigeria.