Nigeria’s political problems leap from the unworried manner in which the British took over, administered and abandoned the government and the people of Nigeria.
British administrators did not make an effort to weld the country together and unite the diverse groups of people. This does not imply that British administrators did nothing good in Nigeria. Far from it.
Many things stand to their credit, and it’s clear that present-day Nigeria owes certain achievements to the dig work of British administrators. Nevertheless, there was one evil that remain alive after British administration, e.g political non-advancement. When the British came, they forcibly rubber-stamped the political state of the ethnic groups of Nigeria and maintained the existing state of affairs until they left. Upon their departure nearly 100-years later, the people resumed fighting for their political right.
When the British came to Nigeria as an imperialism nation to take over the rulership of the country from 1861, they met the people of South totally free, only observing and regulating their own monarchies and institutions. But in the North the British met the Fulani in the process of establishing their rulership in most parts except in the Kanuri area in the North-East.
The gradual but continued establishment of Fulani rulership over the former independent states such as the Hausa, Birom, Anga, Nupe, Tiv and the Yoruba of Ilorin started in 1804 in Gobir[Sokoto], with the rebellion of Usman Dan Fodio. It was by the success of that rebellion alone that the Fulani, who formerly reside as strangers and settlers among the various peoples of the North, began to unseat the traditional rulers of these peoples, and imposed members of their own clan as rulers.
They demolished the free monarchical institutions of these peoples and imposed on them an Islamic orientated, but feudalistic rulership. It was this rulership of the Emirs and their kinsmen that reduced the Northern peoples from their former free and happy, land owner farmer state, to an oppressed, landless slave state, in which they had to pay 60% or more of their food crops, cattle and other products to the Village Head, District Head and the Emirs, in political homage. In addition, those of them who had accepted Islam had to worship behind the said political leaders, in religious homage. In that way, the Fulani aristocratic feudalism was established in the North.
It’s to the discredit of the British who understood the principles of personal liberty and who had nurtured the ideals of social justice for twelve hundred years, still came to Nigeria in the latter part of the 19th century simply to bolster up the forces feudalism and so prolonged the oppression of the people.
Traditionally, the people of the North did not submissively give in to the rulership of the Fulani. They struggled hard to pull down the strange rulership, because it completely took away the political freedom to which they were familiar with. Unfortunately for them, the British came in at this particular time with a superior military force and imposed the “Peace of Britain”, rubber-stamping the Fulani hegemony over the whole area. After that, every effort by the people to be free was regarded as a rebellion against British rulership and was forcibly suppressed.
Now, we can easily understand why there was a fundamental difference between the political aspirations of the leaders of the North and South. In the South, political rulership leaped from the people, that is from the grassroots. These people had been custodian of their own civic rights before the British came. It was easy and natural for the common people to be active again, when political agitation for national freedom became a popular pre-occupation of Nigerians in the 1940s. In the North, however, the ruling class, made up of the Sons and kinsmen of the Emirs, took over the political leadership of the people. Unfortunately, they represented their own class interests, rather than the popular will of the masses. This happened because the British governed Nigerians indirectly through their traditional rulers. In the South, they governed through the Obas, Obis and Ammanyanabos who were relatively powerless amongst their peoples. In the North, they governed through the Emirs whose Sons and kinsmen were the chiefs and Native Authority officials, who lorded it over the people.
These emerged as the aristocratic political leaders of the 1940s, as a result , the true leaders of the masses were handicaps and held down.