They felt it was a favor to their victim. At a conference table, they conspire and scramble for the countries of Africa as band of thieves scramble for their loot.
‘Welcome my dear Frederick, we have been very anxious about you’, Goldie welcomed the young captain,
‘Thank you Sir Taubman, I couldn’t leave earlier than four days after the French. But we are still in the race.’ answered Federick Lugard.
It was on July 24, 1894, the French Empire sent out a team led by Captain Decoeur. Four days after, Captain Frederick Lugard, fresh from empire-building assignments in East Africa, set out, as champion of the British course. Two young captains representing two great empires of modern history, on a journey that will later change Nigeria ‘forever’ – its history, values, cultures and religion.
A journey that will give birth to a colonial marked by two antagonistic poles, the colonizer and the colonized, the privileged and the less privileged, the MASTER and the slaves.
In the thirteenth century, Islam began to spread across the today Northern Nigeria. The Borgawa, the people of Borgu had been reputed to be fierce fighters who had kept the Fulani jihadist enthusiasts well at bay.
The month of July was the heart of rainy season; the most challenging period of the year for travelers in tropical Africa. Though Frederick Lugard hated the rain and the humidity, but the journey for exploitation cannot be compromised by even the most threatening thunderstorm. And so, by the time he and his team had paddled to Akassa the headquarters of the Royal Niger Company, Lugard was developing a fever. He stepped off the boat and had a handshake with the legendary Taubman Goldie; the man who had formed the United Africa company.
Mr. Goldie, the aging merchant turned administrator/empire builder, meets Lugard, the young solider turning administrator/ empire builder. The subtle trader handing over to the more abrupt military man; two names that echoes loudly in the history of Nigeria.
“How soon can I set out?” Lugard could not rest because until it is done, it is not done.
A uniformed servant brought a tea set to serve the two men, and Lugard’s Batman stood at the door. ‘Cant I have something like a gin and tonic? It is getting on to seven o’clock.
Goldie went and brought a bottle of gin, the soda machine and a crystal glass. The aging merchant would consider his contribution to the civilizing mission of his race in Africa considerable if he could get all the trading nations of the world to ban the sale of liquor in Africa.
‘Reports have it that you’ve been sick, don’t you wish to rest for few days?’ the old administrator is trying to test the colonial spirit of the young Lugard.
‘No, I want to set out tomorrow if possible’.
Every moment counts. A colonial leader does not need to rest until he has been able to conquer and tame the spirit of his colonial subjects. Goldie sipped his tea, having heard the reply of the anxious warrior, he was very happy that this young hero wanted to go on. Goldie could not contain his fear that the French might get to Nikki before the British. But, what would happen to all his efforts if it’s the case;the things he had been doing over the years? He had undercut the French companies and forced them to either leave the areas of the Niger and Benue, or else allow themselves to be bought over by the Royal Niger Company. He had also entered into treaties with the local kings at great financial cost to the company. He had pacified the whole of the territories from Sokoto to Lagos, from Adamawa to the oil Rivers. Now, if it happens, some French tricksters would take all those from him and hand them over as a present to those he had fought and beaten.
He would not allow this to happen. He has to do everything possible to make sure Lugard reached the target before his rival:
‘You will go to Jebba by steamer. From there you will travel southwards. That would be the general direction of Nikki. Our agents in Lokoja and Jebba and in our factories along the river will do everything to ease your journey, we cannot afford to fail’. Goldie held up his tea cup, Lugard touched it with his gin and soda glass, and he echoed;“To your victory”.
That was the beginning of British ‘master plan’. British, the great master shouted victory. The victory was not against his rival, the French because they both have one thing in common; exploitation. The British could not exploit the French, neither the other way, both were white and white means privilege, supremacy, superior. The victory Goldie shouted and Lugard affirmed was the victory against the black;a victory over the savage, the native, the Negro, the black man- body, soul and spirit.
Lugard reached Akassa towards the end of August. He now set out up the Niger in early September. The rains had begun to go down and every leave of the steamer upwards took him away from the steamy tropical forest. Everything anxiously welcomed Lugard – the savannah grasslands, the open country of the North, the interlocking hills and the expensive landscape, all fired the imagination of the new colonial lord.
Reaching Jebba on September 15, Lugard disembarked and decided to go first to Borgu:
“After all, the company had signed a treaty with the king of Bussa and he had styled himself ‘Lord of all Borgu’, he should be able to arrange for us to reach Nikki; ‘we will leave the bulk of the carriers and soldiers”,he took time off to explain to his aides.
Lugard has come with soldiers because the task must be accomplished either by negotiation or by war. The journey to Bussa will only take few days, since the dry season was now setting in. They would march from two o’clock in the morning until the sun was up in the sky and they would then pitch their tents.
The black king of Bussa was vague:“Give gun powder and I shall send letters to Kaima and Nikki so you can see the kings”, the king of Bussa replied Lugard at last.
From Bussa, Lugard went back to Jebba, and by the middle of October set out with three hundred and twenty carriers and soldiers made up of Hausas and Yorubas. A week after they had set out from Jebba, messengers came from the king of Nikki. The king of Bussa must have played his rule in the game.
‘The king of Nikki greets the Whiteman’, the leader of the messengers speaking standing in front of Mr. Lugard.
‘The white man is not to come to Nikki’, the messenger continued.
The young Lord heard it; he wondered on the audacity of the ‘half-developed’, it sounds a joke.
‘If the white man comes to Nikki our king will die within three moons, we do not want our king to die, so, Whiteman don’t come to Nikki’, he concluded.
Messengers have delivered the message; they are now waiting to see the Whiteman’s reaction. Lord Lugard knew better, he was to give his first test to the natives.
“What are they waiting for”, Lugard asked through the interpreter.
“They are waiting to see you go before they return to Nikki. The black men would not go until the Whiteman has left thenativeland.”The interpreter responded.
“Tell them that I shall wait here for another two days, if their king still refuses to see me, then I shall turn in another direction, they and their people will be the losers. All the things which I bring from the big queen of England I shall take to another people who will see the Whiteman and live, rather than those who wish to see the Whiteman and die, that is all”, Lugard responded.
That was not just all, the beginning of all all.
The Whiteman could not risk his life to come to the native land to joke with the inhabitants; his knowledge is higher, his diplomacy cannot be refused, he has all it takes to cajole the black man, rip-off his personality and get him to think the way he wants.
Days later, the messengers have returned to say that the king would now see the Whiteman. That was the Whiteman victory.
We now cede the whole of our territory to you forever
Although the King of Nikki did not receive the Whiteman and his team with high hospitality, Lugard has reached his destination, at last, ahead of his rival, the French. He immediately presented the king of Nikki with a number 13 form. The agreement follows immediately:
WE, the undersigned king and chiefs of Nikki, after many years experience fully recognize the benefit accorded to our country and people by their intercourse with the Royal Niger Company Limited, and in recognition of this we now cede the whole of our territory to the ROYAL NIGER COMPANY LIMITED and their administrators forever. In consideration of this, THE ROYAL NIGER COMPANY LIMITED agrees:
– The said company will not interfere with any of the native laws, and will not encroach on any private property, unless the value is agreed upon by the owner and the said company.
– The said company will not interfere with any of the ground now occupied by natives of the country, unless agreed by the both sides.
– The said company agrees to respect the rights of the native land owners, and the said company will not take possession of their land without payment for the same.
The rest of the agreement was made up of crosses and the designations of the makers as well as witnesses to those marks. With the treaty in the kitty, Lugard is now fulfilled. He left Nikki for Akassa and then England.
Five days is already gone after the great Lord Lugard signed the treaty, now the French captain Decour, a man with long experience of fighting and winning but who did not know that the real contest of life is always between what you’ve done and what you’re capable of doing.
Captain Decour arrived five days after Lugard has finished the game and left. Decour insisted on signing the treaty with the king. The black man will always yield to greater pressure, especially when it comes from the Whiteman; in as much as his own selfish interest is not interfered. He obliged him with another treaty. After signing, the captain with great jubilation sent a telegram back to Paris‘the deal is done’; the empire capital relates the vague victory news to his people. The French media start pouring praise on the French victory over the British. But when the subtle Lugard, who would not blow the trumpet until the medal is brought home, announced his signing of a treaty with the king of Nikki five days earlier than Captain Decour, the French did not know how to handle the earlier news. What a tragedy, a territory is lost.
How would the French tell the world now, that Nigerians are not part of their slaves? International community must intervenes, otherwise its going to be the war of titans; the greats.
The politics of the master(s)!
For the next nine years, the British government took over where the Royal Niger company stopped, using the same man the company had used: Frederick Lugard.
One by one, the Emirs, Obas and Obis were forced to recognize that their lands were being taken over by a power stronger than themselves, and if they did not understand that peacefully, they would be forced to recognize it militarily. The Whiteman knows no compromise; his coming is either to negotiate at his own advantage or to conquer by force.
The first omen of colonial rule was seen in Sokoto in 1825, when a British explorer, Hugh Clapperton visited Sultan Mohammed Bello to seek information about the River Niger. Though another British explorer, Mungo Park had earlier explored the upper reaches of the same river in the western Sudan. He sailed down as far as Bussa where he met his death. Clapperton died later in Sokoto but other European adventurers such as Richard Lander and Dr. Henrich Barth followed hard on his heels.
Each wanted to be remembered by his people as the man who opened up this part of the so-called ‘dark continent’ to European civilization. The race for domination and exploitation of Nigeria was on. The White traders and missionaries took the lead, penetrating the ancient empires and kingdoms of the western Sudan, and arranged phatom treaties with many indigenous rulers.
The unsuspecting rulers were unaware of grand designs conceived in European capitals to annex their domains as colonies and protectorates. It was at the Berlin conference of 1884 – 85 that it was agreed that Africa be partition between a numbers of European powers.
Lugard, now in a ‘position’ must start to take over; his subordination of the sokoto caliphate began, first with the fall of Bida, Niger state to the Royal Niger Company. On taking over, the British government mandate Lugard to overturn the entire caliphate.
After the White Lord captured Kontagora, he sent a message to Sultan Abdurrahman in Sokoto requesting him to nominate a replacement to Ibrahim Nagwamatse, the Emir of Kontagora whom he had deposed. The Sultan rejected what he considered as arrant intervention, and thus gave Lord Lugard the pretext to attack Sokoto, the capital of the caliphate. The process of subjugation was rapid, from Kontagora; Lugard forces invaded Zaria and Keffi. Afterwards, they subdued Kanowhose Emir, Aliyu was on a visit to sokoto.
Culled from- ‘Midnight Stroke: the Oedipus Impulse’, written by Anietie Udobit (2015 revised)