Not many Nigerians – not even the so called founding fathers – believed that Nigeria as a country evolved. They saw the country as the product of an erratic, instantaneous action by the British. Take for instance the following quotes from the people widely revered as the founding fathers of Nigeria:
“Since 1914 the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any signs of willingness to unite … Nigerian unity is only a British invention” – Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, 1948.
“Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no ‘Nigerians’ in the same sense as there are ‘English,’ ‘Welsh,’ or ‘French,’ The word ‘Nigeria’ is a mere distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not” – Chief Obafemi Awolowo, 1947.
“It is better for us and many admirers abroad that we should disintegrate in peace and not in pieces. Should the politicians fail to heed the warning, then I will venture the prediction that the experience of the Democratic Republic of Congo will be a child’s play if it ever comes to our turn to play such a tragic role” – Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, 1964.
To accept these statements as the gospel truth is to ignore some salient historical facts that are very germane to the emergence of what later became known as Nigeria. Let us begin our historical excursion from Sokoto.
It all began here when Usman dan Fodio a Fulani mystic, philosopher, military tactician, revolutionary reformer and statesman declared a holy war, known in Islam as Jihad against unbelievers. He soon founded a jamaa or Islamic community, the Sokoto Caliphate which brought the seven true Hausa states Hausa Bakwai – (Biram, Daura, Gobir, Kano, Katsina, Rano and Zaria (Zauza). He also performed the additional feat of bringing the seven outlying satellites, or Banza Bakwai states of Zamfara, Kebbi, Yauri, Gwari, Nupe, Kororofa (Jukun) and Yoruba.
This was a remarkable feat because this was the first time the squabbling neighbors were brought together under one central administration. He was able to fuse together into one religio-political movement and state, people of very diverse backgrounds. He created an elaborate system of administration with Islamic legal system, tax and land tenure system.
The Sokoto Caliphate as it was called, spanned over thirty independent Hausa Emirates with a population of over ten million people emerging as one of the most powerful empires in Africa in the 19th Century. It stretched from the far ends of present day Nigeria and threatened the Oduduwa Kingdom in the south. With colonial conquest, it was declared the Northern Protectorate and later the Northern Region. It is to the credit of the founders of the Caliphate that the British colonial masters relied almost wholly on its system of administration in the implementation of an innovative colonial system – Indirect Rule – in Northern Nigeria and tried without success to foist it on the Southern Protectorate when they declared the amalgamation of the two protectorates in 1914.
The leading role of Sokoto in the early years of Nigeria can also be seen in the emergence of one of its own, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto as the most powerful politician in Nigeria in the First Republic. As national President of the Northern Nigerian People’s Congress, NPC, he led his party to win the majority of seats in the Federal House of Representatives thus qualifying to be the first Prime Minister of the country at independence in 1960. He declined the honor and instead delegated his deputy, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to occupy the office. A proud scion of the revered Othman dan Fodio, he considered the north more strategic to him than Nigeria.
Writing in his autobiography, My Life, he reminded his readers that “It must not be forgotten that almost the whole of the Region as it is today, and a great deal outside it was ruled by my great, great grandfather’s family through their Lieutenants or by the Great Shehu of Bornu.”
When the first Republic collapsed in 1966 and the country adopted the presidential system of government in what is known as the second Republic in 1979, it was again to Sokoto that Nigeria beckoned in search of leadership. Alhaji Shehu Shagari an amiable conservative politician from Sokoto was elected as the first executive President of Nigeria. He comported himself very well and even though he was forcefully and unfairly removed from office by the military, his ability to carve for himself the image of father figure for all Nigerians has left a record that has not been beaten and is very difficult to beat.
Last week, the Guild of Nigerian Editors went to Sokoto to hold its 15th All Nigerian Editors Conference from 27th – 30th November. On the last day of the conference, Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal treated the Editors to sumptuous dinner at the General Yakubu Gowon Unity House, in the precincts of the Governor’s residence.
After the dinner, he gave the Editors some fire side chat. “I believe in Nigeria because God created Nigeria and God does not make a mistake. That is why he created this country and blessed us with abundant material and human resources”.
Aminu Tambuwal is a young progressive Nigerian who has made some serious impact on the National level since his debut into partisan politics in this Fourth Republic. For somebody who rose to the 4th position in the power hierarchy of Nigeria as Speaker of House of Representatives, the coast will be clear for him to go higher if he carries out his present duties in an exemplary fashion.