Nigerians on the unity of their country and the state of their troubled Nation

John Otim

On the occasion of Nigeria’s centenary Nile Journal takes a close look at the country and filed this report




Before 1914 the south and the north of Nigeria were two distinct countries ruled however by the same colonial power, the British. Come 1914 Frederick Lugard the British official in charge engineered the union of the south with the north to form one Nigeria. The country we know and admire today and at times dread.  This year Nigeria clocked its first centenary as one country. To mark the historic occasion President Goodluck Jonathan laid out elaborate month long programs of celebrations.

But not everyone was amused. There are many people in Nigeria who do not agree with Goodluck Jonathan. It is a motley group but this time they are all agreed that the act of amalgamation was a bad idea; imposed on the people by British colonialism in its own interests, the better to exploit the land and the people. They believe that nothing good has come of it. They would if they could even at this late hour reverse the move.

There are people from the south of Nigeria who believe that the union with the north kept the south backward. They believe that amalgamation blocked the progress and the development their country would have enjoyed as an independent southern Nigeria. They believe that the south on its own would have been another South Korea, Singapore or Taiwan.

As evidence of their missed opportunity they point to the admittedly higher level of education that obtains in their region vis a vis the situation in the north. They cite the existence of the northern fundamentalist group of Boko Harum as evidence of northern backwardness. Had the south been on its own, they argue, there would have been no Boko Harum.  Whether this is true or not, Book Harum’s campaign of terror against students and institutions of modern learning in Nigeria is at the bottom of it a form reverse resentment at the poor state of education in the north relative to the south.

There are separatist groups in the north of Nigeria whose views reflect and correspond to that of the separatist groups in the south. They believe that all their woes as a country stem from the act of the union with the south. They believe that if their part of the world had continued to exist on its own, the north would have been great. For evidence they point at the undeniable achievement and legacy of the Sokoto Caliphate. For the non initiates, the Sokoto Caliphate was one of the largest and most sophisticated of political units in pre colonial Nigeria. It occupied a large chunk of what is today northern Nigeria.

This group believes that Northern Nigeria as a distinct and independent country would have been a modern Islamic state with advanced institutions; something like Turkey minus of course Turkey’s secularism. In a rare convergence of opinion with their separatist counterpart in the south of the country, they too believe that there would have been no Boko Harum. Many of whose actions they do not agree with although they do not talk about it.  Otherwise they share Boko Harum’s dreams of an Islamic state in Nigeria.

Now there is an identifiable third group in Nigeria whose views on Nigerian unity is totally at variance with those of the separatists whether south or north. This group is positive about the union and the idea of Nigeria as one indivisible country. They believe that on the world stage the union made their country a force to be reckoned with. To them the shining achievements of a Chinua Achebe or a Wole Soyinka would have been impossible in a divided Nigeria. They hold up the great success story of modern day Nigeria, the global movie industry universally known as Nollywood, as a triumph of unity in diversity.


The third group is made up of people from all over the country. They belong to diverse religious faiths or to no faith in particular. They are for the most part professional people well educated well informed and well travelled. Many of them live and work abroad. Nigeria has one of the largest number of overseas citizens and they are to be found in every country no matter how remote.

Regardless of the origins of the union that Nigeria today enjoys, this diverse group of middle class Nigerians whose influence in the politics of Nigeria is bound to increase as the years roll by, is convinced that a divided Nigeria could only have produced two weak countries of no particular consequence.