Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Situation in Nigeria

Right now, despite terrible things happening all over the planet, the attention of much of the world is focused on Nigeria and the roughly 300 girls who have been kidnapped by a radical Islamic fundamentalist group opposed to “western education” (read: education). They have threatened to sell the girls into slavery (so the slave trade still seems to be going on) and have already claimed to have converted the girls to Islam (the kidnap victims being predominately Christian). Recently the Nigerian president asked President Obama of the United States for help and the governments of America, Britain, France and China have all said to be sending some form of assistance to help get these girls back. This experience has raised many questions though. How could Nigeria have allowed this to happen in the first place? How is it that a terrorist group could act with such impunity without the government and Nigerian military being able to stop them? The usual answer given is a combination of poverty, corruption and incompetence. Yet, how can this be? Nigeria has the largest population and the largest economy in the whole of Africa. In the old days of the British Empire it was considered the African country most prepared to assume full independence. Was ‘most prepared’ perhaps not sufficiently prepared?

From around 1800 the British began to take an interest in the region, particularly after the abolition of the slave trade and the stationing of a Royal Navy squadron in the area to interdict slave trafficking. In 1886 the Royal Niger Company was established, spreading its influence in the region and when the local kingdoms fought back there were a number of small colonial wars in which British troops were successful in suppressing opposition and establishing a northern and southern pair of protectorates over the region. With the establishment of a German colony in Cameroon there were increased concerns about security and the two halves were united in 1914 as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. The coastal areas of the south, where the British presence was most concentrated, progressed rapidly, spreading education and higher standards of living while the more isolated north lagged behind. In fact, slavery was not wiped out in the north until 1936 but as the British presence expanded it was wiped out as it was something that would not be tolerated. Especially around the time of World War II, Nigeria grew increasingly prosperous and was considered one of the best success stories for the British Empire. Soon, Nigeria was on the fast-track to independence and in 1954 the Federation of Nigeria gained total autonomy as a Commonwealth Realm and adopted its current flag.

It might have been better if things had stopped right there but, in the wake of World War II, nationalist and anti-colonial sentiment was on the rise all across Africa and soon the demands for total independence and a complete break with Britain were growing. After a change in government, Britain also gave up on any idea of trying to retain colonies or former colonies to create the “Third British Empire” in Africa that Anthony Eden had envisioned. In 1960 Nigeria declared complete independence and became a republic. Unfortunately, things went ‘downhill’ from there. Election results were never widely accepted, accusations of corruption became commonplace and soon the standard method of changing the government was by one coup after another, starting with an attempt by radical leftists to seize power (the usual suspects). Left fought right, north fought south and from 1967 to 1970 civil war raged across Nigeria. The infrastructure built up in the colonial era was all but wiped out, disease returned, starvation set in and these, combined with the fighting and occasional atrocities resulted in millions of Nigerians being killed.

During all this time, and still today, the royals of the old native kingdoms carried on, as best they could, throughout the changing conditions. Some, like Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, who was Chief Justice of the Nigerian Supreme Court and son of King Ladapo Ademola II of the Alake and Egba clans, worked for the government. Some were themselves a focus for violence like Sir Olateru Olagbegi II, King of Owo, who was deposed and when the civil war broke out, his supporters took the opportunity to strike back at his enemies. King Akenzua II of Benin tried to promote peace and reconciliation but most traditional monarchs were pushed aside. Their status has only ever been recognized in an honorary sort of way and they have been forced to either take part in the political struggle or remove themselves completely and focus on religious and cultural affairs for their particular people. For Nigeria as a whole, even when the civil war ended, conditions did not drastically improve as the country came under the rule of a succession of military dictators. This situation persisted until 1999 when democracy was restored along with the previous complaints of fraud and corruption with every election.

It is true that Nigeria has seen immense wealth burst up from the country, not only because of the large market of the country but also with the discovery and exploitation of oil on the Nigerian coast and other valuable resources. However, rather than an orderly marketplace and increased prosperity for the country, this had led to a wealthier government but poorer people and increased violence as factions fight over the profits from oil revenues. Elections continue to be condemned, not only by the losing parties but by international observers as well as being corrupt and unfair. In short, as is seen in so many failed states around the world, Nigeria has all the ingredients to make for a very successful country but is squandering those resources thanks to corrupt and dishonest politicians who care more about themselves than the national wellbeing. Now we have reached the point where 300 young girls can be snatched from their schools, sold into what amounts to sexual slavery and the government is impotent to do anything about it. Moreover, the fact that political leaders put their own pride and public image before the general welfare is proven by the fact that immediately after this happened the United Kingdom offered help to the Nigerian government but was refused.

Why would British assistance be refused when only a short time later the President was practically begging for any help from a number of foreign countries? Who can say what is going on in his mind, but I would assume it would involve the appearance of having to accept help from the first country of the former British Empire. However, the fact remains that if one is obliged to call in foreign countries to assist in what amounts to maintaining law and order in your own country, then no matter what the law or international community says, you are not really independent at all. Why keep up the pretense? Naturally, I think restoring Nigeria as a monarchy would be of help but, as I have said before, monarchy is not a cure-all and it would all depend on how it was done. As far as placing a native monarch on the Nigerian throne, that would be a difficult proposition. No one monarch represents the whole of the people and it could lead to more civil strife rather than less. That being said, I will not hear any complaints about the map of Africa being drawn arbitrarily by European colonizers. The independent African countries of today could redraw the map if they wish but I don’t think anyone wants to see the break-up of their country, so that is simply a distraction. So, what about restoring the Queen to the throne as in becoming a Commonwealth Realm again?

Nigeria becoming a Commonwealth Realm with Queen Elizabeth II as sovereign would, of course, be controversial. It could be done but even I don’t think it would necessarily make things better. It certainly could but only if it was done in a much more ‘old fashioned’ way than most would find palatable. First of all, no country likes even the idea or image of being ruled by someone else, that is natural and understandable. My ideal for colonial empires is helping along less developed countries to fully developed status to become self-governing members of a wider family of nations with things in common. By going back to an older style of government, I do not mean that Britain should be put in charge of governing Nigeria. That would never be tolerated and it would not even be good for Nigeria. Things might be run better and it might stop hundreds of girls being kidnapped but it would not improve the quality of the Nigerian ruling class and, frankly, I have not been impressed lately by the ability of the British to govern themselves much less others. However, how I think a Commonwealth Realm for Nigeria could be beneficial is to have some viceroyal oversight for the country. That means a Governor-General who is not just appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister, that would be useless. It means having a Governor-General, possibly a royal (British or perhaps even Nigerian) who is impartial and can ensure that things are being run correctly. It does not mean a royal-appointee having power over everyone, but simply have someone there who is not elected, cannot be influenced, who can keep an eye on things to make sure that those who do hold power are following the rules and raise the alarm when they do not.

That, I think, would be the best solution possible that could happen, though of course the odds of such an idea gaining sufficient support would be infinitesimally small. Pride and past grudges should be set aside though. Things have obviously not worked out well for the government of Nigeria or things like these massive kidnappings would not be going on. With a large market, a willing population and natural resources there is no reason for Nigeria to still contain so much poverty or to be incapable of maintaining law and order and keeping its people safe. Something needs to change. Foreign assistance may enable these poor girls to be rescued, but the American Secret Service cannot be the answer to every problem and they cannot solve the fundamental problems that afflict Nigeria. It is time to learn from the past, be frank about past mistakes that have been made, set aside the personal pride of politicians and do what is in the best interests of the country.


  1. I think Malaysia provides the best way forward if Nigeria wanted a native monarch. The various rulers would reign in their respective territories but would elect from their number a monarch for the whole country.

  2. I think that the sultan of sokoto (HRH Sultan Muhammadu Sa'ad Abubakar III) is the only reasonable choice for a nigerian monarch. as the heir to the great sokoto caliphate the most prospourous and scholorly empire in nigerias history his title has more respect and history than any other in all of nigeria. he is also considerd the spiritual leader of nigerias muslims. if nigeria was to make him there sultan it would drasticly reduce insurgency in northern nigeria while giveing nigeria much needed political stability. as well as there own home grown monarch instead of haveing to share one with 16 other nations.

  3. I've finally finished reading your african articles and I have to thank you MM. Before, I had no appreciation toward Africa, thinking they were nothing more than a bunch of savages, especially when I was a republican, since, you know, democracy is the best and the african just don't know how to use the "gift from the gods". After becoming a monarchist and reading your posts, now I can even admire the african communities and their history, and to a certain extent my own, since puerto ricans are also descendants of the africans. Unfortunately in Puerto Rico, african history is glossed over just to use them as pretext to hate the spanish because they used the africans as slaves.


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