The story of Nigeria – a review of the documentary ‘Journey of an African Colony’ by Olasupo Sasore
The release of the seven-part documentary “Journey of an African Colony” recently on NetFix was timed to coincide with the sixtieth anniversary of Nigeria’s independence.
The work is an ambitious tour de force.
The story of Nigeria begins, according to the raconteur, not in 1914, with the Amalgamation, but several centuries before then, with the sailing of a Portuguese ship to what would later be designated Nigerian waters and its return, with four ‘natives’ to the Portuguese homeland.
Another gem? The Amalgamation, and therefore the creation of the Nigerian nation, was not the handiwork of the Right Honorable Frederick John Dealtry Lugard, last Governor of the Southern Nigeria Protectorate, last Governor of the Northern Nigeria Protectorate, and Rrst Governor-General of Nigeria, as has generally been claimed. Lugard was merely acting under instruction.
The facts come thick and fast. For the viewer, there is never a sense of surfeit. The seven episodes shade seamlessly one into another. The story is a rich treasure trove of visual imagery, direct quotations from principals and eyewitnesses, and enlightened commentary. The viewer stands with the raconteur in the middle of the dirt road in Kishi, Oyo State that was the invisible dividing line between the Northern Protectorate and the Southern Protectorate.
The 1851 “reduction” of Lagos, a massive sea-borne attack on the people of Lagos, justiRed, ostensibly, by the need to depose a slave-trading king Kosoko and replace him with his more benevolent uncle, Akintoye. The Rrst bombardment, in November 1851, was robustly resisted by the king and people of Lagos. The second, one month later, was more massive. Kosoko’s cannon lined up on the Marina and a hundred canoes Rlled with men, not to mention Rve thousand men with muskets defending Eko. Ranged against them, the British armada, the strongest navy in the world. In short order, Lagos was pulverized, three quarters of its inhabitants dead or off in <ight, and Iga Idunganran in ruins, with the throne taken.
A surrogate king enthroned.
Ten years later, his successor- Dosunmu would be arm-twisted on-board a British warship moored at the Lagos quays to sign a treaty ceding Lagos to the British crown and commencing the process of British colonisation of Nigeria.
The Berlin Conference of 1884 would divide Africa among European powers with one condition – they must have “effective control” of their “owned” territory.
In 1898, the British government would establish the Niger Committee. It would resolve to merge the contiguous entities of a future “Nigeria” into one entity, to keep the French out. The members of the committee, and “fathers” of the Nigeria project, it is revealed, were William Egerton, Governor of Lagos 1903-1906, Ralph Moor, High Commissioner of the Southern Nigeria Protectorate, Reginald Laurence Antrobus, Assistant Under- Secretary of State for the Colonies, credited as “the real thinker” behind the project, and George Taubman Goldie, creator of the Royal Niger Company, the company that would acquire a charter from the British monarch to “trade” in Nigeria.
The evolution of the protectorates. The colourful story of Jaja of Opobo and his betrayal and exile to the West Indies. The destruction and pillaging of the Benin empire. The story of the “Long juju of Arochukwu”. The occupation of Onitsha. The northern expedition, led by Lugard, on appointment from the British government. The breaching of the Kano wall. The subduing of the caliphate and the killing of Sultan Attahiru.
Other nuggets tumbling in by the minute. How the name “Nigeria” was chosen by Flora Shaw.
Lugard’s formal declaration on the day of the Amalgamation. His intention that “…each part of Nigeria should be raised to the level of the highest place attained by any part”,
A country of 17 million people, with a projected revenue of 300 million pounds.
“Today Nigeria enters on a new stage of its progress…the coming years will increase the individual happiness and the freedom from oppression, and raise the standard of civilisation and of comfort of the millions who inhabit this large country…”
enthused an ebullient Viscount Harcourt, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, at the Colonial Service party, on the day.
“…We have released Northern Nigeria from the leadings of the treasury. The promising and well conducted youth is now on an allowance ‘on his own’ and is about to effect an alliance with a Southern lady of means…”
Other controversies would come as the years rolled by.
Should someone have thought to change the name “Nigeria” after independence? The name came from negre – Latin for “black”.
But what was wrong with black?
Only the fact that for the four hundred years while slavery victimised the black man, it morphed into a derogatory word “nigger”.
If Nigeria were to raise its game and become a world leader, could the name “Land of black people” become a tag to be cherished and proudly claimed by Africans in diaspora, instead of being a term of derogation and abuse?
The symbolism and historicity of the “Guinea Coin”, and the name “Elephant and Castle”.
Two to three million Nigerians moved from the hinterland along Badagry coast to slavery in the Americas, so that ultimately Nigerians would provide almost one in every four of the population of African Americans, as well as the black population dispersed in a broad swathe from. Cuba to Venezuela to Brazil.
Journey of an African Colony is not a complete story. There are gaps, here and there.
Nigeria itself, by whatever name, is still a work in progress, far away even from the modest dream of its imperial architects and its buccaneering, racist midwife. But just as it did in 1914, the Nigeria project still raises the tantalising possibility that someday, it could become a force in the world, and the spiritual homeland, and not just the predominant original source, of the Black Diaspora.