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The Case against the Warder State in Nigeria

The Case against the Warder State in Nigeria

3 October, 2020

Tatalo Alamu


Last Thursday as Nigerians celebrated the diamond jubilee of the nation, a sombre mood of quiet despair and dashed expectations was all pervasive. For a normally upbeat and uproarious people, this deeply felt spirit of despondency cannot be said to be in the Nigerian nature. But sixty years under the crushing hammer of a malignant deadbeat state, Nigerians must be forgiven for losing their sense of humour and joie de vivre.

Whether in its colonial incarnation or post-colonial actuality, the Lugardian torture-wrack bequeathed to Nigeria by its colonial masters has been a source of boundless miseries and endless national tragedies. In over a hundred years of existence, this nation often resembles a crude abattoir.   It has been a blood-splattered canvas; a killing frenzy that rivals a Homeric battlefield.

In Africa only two countries, Congo and Sudan, can be said to have suffered more than Nigeria. But there is suffering and there is suffering. There is quantitative suffering and there is qualitative suffering. These three African countries are distinguished by their humongous sizes. Perhaps in the post-colonial condition “big” is the password for big trouble.

Yet after the forcible partitioning of Sudan, South Sudan has not known any peace, having dissolved into a nasty multi-sectorial ethnic melee shortly after independence.  In the circumstance of complete institutional disorder, the nightmare of colonial cartography sometimes survives radical structural surgery.

In the light of the disaster it has wrought in Africa and particularly in Nigeria and the monumental tragedy it has engendered for the Black race, a strong case can be made for the swift termination of the colonial state-nation imposed on Nigeria by its imperialist conquerors in their bid to forcibly co-opt Africa into the orbit of western capitalism.

This is what forwarding-looking Nigerians mean by a structural reconfiguration of the terror state bequeathed to us by the colonialists if not its summary termination.  The colonial state-nation has had its heyday. It is a historic by-product of the structural logjam engendered as the western world transited from the epoch of empire to the paradigm of the modern nation-state.

Still seeing itself very much as an empire accessory and brute enforcer, this schizophrenic state needed to internally create imaginary rival empires to crush to in order to sustain its delusions. These hegemonic wars of self-assertion against rival structures in post-empire entities result in pre-emptive strikes against other sections of the nation, chaos and permanent bloodletting such as we witness in post-colonial Nigeria.

The most powerful intellectual and ideological critique of the empire-state was launched by the American founding fathers in a heroic bid to fashion a new type of nation away from the ashes of feudal Europe and the empire-state. Famously, George Washington declined the invitation to become a life president of the new nation on the grounds that his ancestors did not leave Europe to inaugurate a democratic monarchy in America.

This powerful critique at the level of ideas soon transmuted into an armed critique when an obdurate British Empire insisted on collecting tax from a people who had declared their independence and who had no representation whatsoever in the British parliament. Tax without representation has a modern equivalent in subjecting people to punitive tariffs without genuine democracy.

But a nation is a permanent work in progress which requires constant repairs and self-surveillance. Despite its heroic antecedents, it is a tragic pity to watch America mutate into a modern version of the belligerent and bellicose empire-state that its progenitors detested with all passion and which they had to take up arms against.

It was not as if Nigeria’s founding fathers did not suspect that something was not right with the terror toy bequeathed to them by the departing colonial masters. But they were like the proverbial visually challenged clutching at different parts of an elephant and each thinking he has discovered the real thing.

While Zik stressed the need for political resurgimento and economic determinism , an Awolowo insisted that this cannot be as long as Nigeria remains a mere geographical expression. In the case of Tafawa-Balewa and the Sardauna, they laid emphasis on the vast cultural and religious differences among the constitutive people which might militate against unity and core values.

The passage of time corrects errors of perception. It is now time for Nigerians to build on the initial insights of their founding fathers. First, we need to fashion out a new, integrative and wholly indigenous Nigerian constitution which recognizes diversity as a basis for unity and the unifying essence of a multi-ethnic nation. Second, we must find a way to humanize the current warder state which is an old empire instrument of pacification.

Nigeria has been badly served by elements from all sections of the country who have acted as an indigenous class of coolie collaborators against the true interests of their own people. Hence as Nigeria turns sixty, the National Question is taking on a dangerous hue: the gradual mutation of intellectual critiques to a vigorous armed critique of the state as evidenced by the mushrooming of ethnic determination groups and violent rogue separatist movements bent on taking down the Lugardian state.

This morning, we take an unusual look at the amalgamation not as a political tragedy but as a classic love story. Love and loving are human attributes transcending race, religion and creed.  Reading through the following may soften our heart towards Lord Lugard. He was human after all, and a gallant and chivalrous lover to the bargain.

Love in the tropics of malaria

There was something of the tropics about Fredrick John Dealtry Lugard. Despite his ice-cool exterior and glacial temperament, there was an underlying fire, a capacity for fury and vengefulness, which was quite tropical in nature. Lugard also had a capacity for torrid, equatorial passion in the amatorial sense which would be considered in the west as a sign of the emotional incontinence that Africans are particularly prone. Despite being a British warlord, Lugard was in every sense of the word Othello’s compatriot.

Fredrick was a child of the sultry tropics. He was born in the tropics, in Madras, India. He was the son of a British clergyman and his third wife. But he was raised in Britain and eventually enrolled at the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy.  After commissioning, he was posted to the East Norfolk Regiment and from there to the second battalion in India. The tropics had reclaimed its own. It was from the orient that Lugard was to contact the malaria that plagued him for the rest of his life and which became worse as Africa added its own vicious variety.

The fateful conjoining with the tropics and its colonial history was to alter the fundamental trajectory and course of Lugard’s life. But in retrospect, it did not affect his substantial destiny. This is the way fate sometimes plays poker with human destiny. In any case, there is malaria and there is malaria. There is also emotional malaria, which sends the afflicted to the pitch of fevered delirium.

In India, the young officer fell hopelessly and fecklessly in love with a married woman. It was the height of indiscretion. The ensuing furore was to destroy what was a promising military career. Normally high-strung, it was believed that it was at this point that Lugard suffered an emotional and nervous breakdown.

In a feat of self-obliteration partly to redress the shame of an aborted career and partly to satisfy his love of high-risk adventure on behalf of the crown, the future ruler of Nigeria journeyed to East Africa to join the battle against predominantly Arab slave raiders.

The year following his arrival in Africa, Lugard was severely wounded while leading a charge against the stockade of a slave raider very close to Lake Nyasa. For days, Lugard hovered between life and death. It was probably at that point that he experienced a radical epiphany. He found his life’s purpose. He was not going to be a regular British officer periodically called out to defend the interests of empire. But he was going to spend the rest of his life fighting for and securing the interests of the royal majesty in Africa and the Far East.

It was actually on his second tour of what was to become Nigeria that Lugard was named High Commissioner for the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria. Even by then, the Madras-born soldier had become something of a legend in colonial military history. In several campaigns, he had distinguished himself for exceptional valour and his fabled contempt for personal safety. Often hopelessly outnumbered by the swarming natives, Lugard’s military maxim seemed to have been never to spare a maxim or show mercy when you needed to be merciless.

The African campaigns—or punitive expeditions properly speaking—were marked by such savagery and brutality that they marked Lugard in turn for the rest of his life. Apart from having been severely wounded in Zanzibar, Lugard also had a poisoned arrow stuck on his forehead from northern Nigeria. Nobody is sure of how this impacted on Lugard’s mental and psychological state. But gone forever was the callow officer of the Indian Second Battalion, or the youthful inexperienced lover.

Margery Perhams’ description of Lugard is incredibly graphic and unforgettable: “Africa has marked him as her own: Tall, gaunt, angular, dark as a Spaniard, Lugard has the yellow skin, the hollowed cheeks, the sunken eyes, the indented temples which mark the man who has struggled for life with the fever-fiend”.

Perhams could as well have been describing a classic Byronic hero. There were also the dark Spanish looks and a hint of the ancient conquistador and his menacing machismo. But Lugard was not your typical garden variety Don Juan. Any hint of sensual frivolity had been savagely repressed, particularly after the Indian fiasco. Enveloped in a forbidding aura of testy reserve, Lugard never gave anything away.

Yet it was at this point in time that the invisible hand of fate summoned Lugard to what was perhaps his greatest campaign. Militarily and politically, he was already approaching the summit of his power and glory. But emotionally, he remained an Arctic tundra of frigid and frozen impulses. The conqueror of the lower and upper tribes of the Niger was ripe for conquest by love, by affection and by lifelong devotion and faithful collaboration. Romance beckoned…… in the tropics of fever.

Fiona Louise Shaw was born in 1852, six full years before Fredrick John Dealtry Lugard. She was the daughter of a British general of Irish extraction and a French mother.  She was as beautiful as she was proud, imperious, fiercely independent and intellectually self-assured. In the history of British journalism, she was the first woman to have reached its stratospheric summit.

Margery Perhams’ description of this Amazon of the pen is equally gripping: “She looks what she is, a woman to go anywhere and do anything; the woman to write three columns of good copy for a newspaper on the back of a portmanteau in a desert.” Fiona Shaw was an original in every sense of the word. Like her husband to be, she did not take hostages or suffer fools gladly.

They first met in 1893 when they were both approaching midlife.  Nothing came out of that encounter. But it was obvious that they shared a passion for the new British colonies of Africa, Nigeria in particular. It was Fiona Shaw who coined the new name for the British protectorates, although it can be argued that the name had been in private circulation among the Lagos coastal elite for some time. It is an irony of history that the same elite group would view the subsequent amalgamation of the protectorates with considerable dismay.

Fiona Shaw was at this time romantically involved with Sir George Goldie, the legendary helmsman of the Royal Niger Company. It was a doomed relationship. Goldie was a notorious womanizer and feckless rake. His brutal indiscretions led to Fiona’s emotional breakdown. It was at this point that Lugard stepped in like a shining knight in armour. Even then, Fiona Shaw turned him down and only accepted his proposal the second time.

They married in Madeira in 1902 while Lugard was on a leave of absence from the Northern protectorate.  Shaw fully supported Lugard’s proposals about the need for an amalgamation of the protectorates. The basic argument was that there was no need sending the surplus extracted from the South through taxation on liquor, railway and natural produce to Whitehall when the north remained virtually bankrupt.

The union seemed to have liberated Lugard’s political genius. This was Lugard at the summit of his political and administrative ingenuity: brilliantly gaming against Whitehall and frustrating its attempt to rein him in militarily; propping up belligerent subordinates like Abadie, the Colonial Resident of Zaria, against wiser and more restrained counsel from his more experienced lieutenants. An exasperated Whitehall mandarin actually whispered the word “coup” to describe Lugard’s adroit manoeuvres. The amalgamation was actually Nigeria’s first coup.

A vengeful Lugard was bent on putting the old north, particularly the emirate of Kano and the Sultanate, to sword: The emir of Kano for joyously welcoming the thuggish band that put Moloney to death in Keffi and the sultanate for the contumely of Sultan Abdu who had questioned his authority in a moment of frustration.

Military historians have suggested that the Emir of Kano was actually on his way to Sokoto with numerous supporters to commiserate with the new Sultan, Attahiru, over the death of his predecessor and to urge him to get the Fulani to flee en masse from the protectorate to escape the mighty wrath of the Raj. This strange movement provided Lugard with a casus belli. Lugard moved with swift and merciless precision. The Fulani hegemons were put to death. Men are killed not because horses are stolen, but so that horses will not be stolen. The sultanate had been pacified.

But nothing lasts for long in the tropics. Tropical fever set in. Fiona suffered an irreversible breakdown. She left never to come back, but remained in ceaseless correspondence with her beloved husband.

It is a curious irony that Lugard who was to singlehandedly establish the University of Hong Kong and who also championed the cause of the sophisticated Chinese islanders would be so riled by the sophisticated and western-educated elite of Lagos.  In correspondence with his wife, he noted of them:” I am not in sympathy with him. His loud and arrogant conceit are distasteful to me.”

The vengeful African tropics had left their indelible marks on the greatest colonial administrator of the last century. But when we deliberately hurt others, we also hurt ourselves.  Unlike the Chinese who had five thousand years of fairly stable history behind them and who did not have to adopt a new culture and language, early educated African elite came a long way overcoming the colonial mind-set about Africa and other entrenched prejudices. They could not but be loud, arrogant and conceited, unlike the self-assured Chinese who had nothing but sublime contempt for Western culture and civilization.

The pity of it all. Britain would have found a powerful ally in a powerful, prosperous, democratic and liberal-minded contemporary Nigeria. Equatorial distemper is no respecter of humanity. Lugard was human after all. Let good old Freddie now rest in peace while we get on with it.



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