Friday, 9th June 2023

Lord Lugard and his dirty shoes

By Dare Babarinsa
19 April 2017   |   4:00 am
Long before the railway lines were built and the Emir of Kano bought a motorcar, Frederick Lugard travelled from Lagos to Sokoto on foot. Before coming to the area around the River Niger and Benue...


Long before the railway lines were built and the Emir of Kano bought a motorcar, Frederick Lugard travelled from Lagos to Sokoto on foot. Before coming to the area around the River Niger and Benue, he had heard so much about this area of the Sudan as Central Africa was called in the 19th Century. Born in India in Madras (now called Chennai), but brought up in England, Lugard was a diehard imperialist for the Empire which Winston Churchill called the Empire on which the Sun never sets.

The aim of imperialists like Lugard was originally to create market for British companies who engaged in global competition with other imperial powers for the supply of raw materials and markets for finished products. By the middle of the 19th Century, British naval power could be felt in every part of the world. It was this phenomenon that took Lugard, a British colonel, to the army in India which the British had acquired as part of its imperial territories. It was the most prized colonial possession of Britain after the loss of the United States. Lugard saw action in Burma, East Africa, Sudan and later was made the governor of Hong Kong. He participated in the final conquests of the independent pre-colonial states.

Before Lugard came in at the dawn of the 20th Century, Lagos had been a British colony for more than 50 years. British forces had also taken control of the port city of Calabar but the rest of the territories were left to African states. Most of the European traders in Lagos had no interest in extending direct rule outside the colony. What they wanted was free passage to do their business and return to base in Lagos. The British missionaries too wanted passage to spread the Christian gospels and turn the Africans from worshiping God in the ways they inherited from their ancestors. Then Lugard led the team, created an army made up mostly of British, Scots, Irish and Welsh officers and soldiers recruited from Africa. It was this posse that knocked down government after government, forcing African states to sign treaty of friendship with the British government. By 1903, with the conquest of Sokoto and Kano, the job was virtually completed.

In his long journey across Nigeria, Lugard and his soldiers travelled mostly on foot. He was bitten at least four times by snakes. Occasionally, especially in the open North, he would have the opportunity to ride on a horse, a donkey or a camel. However, most of the job was done on foot. The heavy guns, the muskets were hauled across the land from battle to battle on foot by African soldiers and commandeered porters. In the beginning, it may not have occurred to them that they were creating a new state, but in the end that was what happened. In his peregrination, Lugard had toyed with putting the capital in Lokoja, Zungeru and even Calabar, but in the end, he settled for Kaduna, a new city on the Hausa plane. When the whole territory of what is now called Nigeria was ceded to Britain at the Berlin Conference of 1885 to 1886, Lugard came under direct pressure from his boss in London. They did not want the capital of the new territory in landlocked Kaduna. Lugard was ordered to bring the capital to Lagos.

Thus when Lugard proclaimed the birth of the new state on January 1, 1914, it was done in Lagos, the colonial territory that had been seized by the British in 1865. The proclamation was done at the then Race Course which has now been aptly renamed Tafawa Balewa Square in honour of Nigeria’s first and only elected Prime Minister. The new territory was called Nigeria as suggested by the brainy adventurer and journalist, Flora Shaw, who later married Lugard. Lugard was transferred from Nigeria in 1919 and was succeeded as Governor by Sir Hugh Clifford who preferred to be called Governor and not Governor-General.

Since then, many men have stepped into Lord Lugard shoes. Despite the phenomenal changes that have occurred since then, many institutions created by Lugard and his colleagues have survived: the military, the civil service, customs, the police and many more. But Lugard’s greatest legacy is Nigeria itself. When the nationalists got independence for Nigeria in 1960, so successful was Lugard and his colleagues that none of the old states asked for independence. The well-established states like the Sokoto Caliphate, the new Oyo Empire centred on Ibadan, the Ekitiparapo Alliance, Borno, the coastal states of the Izon; none asked for independence. Everyone accepted the goodness of the new state created by Lugard and they invested their future in the expected eternity of Nigeria. Even when Emeka Ojukwu declared Eastern Nigeria as the independent state of Biafra, it was still based on the Lugardian formula. There was no history of one government in Eastern Nigeria predating Lugard.

But who would love to step into Lugard shoes? They are worn, dirty and uncomfortable. They are for those who are ready to work, to make sacrifice and create legacies and change the face of the earth. One of the great instruments that we inherited from Lugard and his men was the budget. Every government institution was expected to have its budget. Some years ago, a young friend of mine had met me in my country home in Okemesi, Ekiti State. He wanted to contest for the post of chairman of Ekiti-West Local Government and needed my support and advice. I made a simple request from him: get me a copy of the current budget of the local government. He did not know that local government too statutorily must present a yearly budget. I saw him several times after that but he said he was not able to lay hand on a copy of the budget. I understand that local government councils still pass through the ritual of yearly budgeting but neither them nor the public take the ritual seriously.

But budgeting is an important instrument of government. All the seven British governors (or governors-general) who ruled Nigeria before Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe became the first African Governor-General in 1960, took the issue of budgeting seriously. The three titans who led Nigeria to independence, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, took the issue of budgeting seriously too. Indeed, before April 1 when the financial year begins, according to British tradition, the budget would have been signed into Law or an Act of Parliament for implementation by the executive. Today, neither parliament nor the executive takes the budget seriously. In line with global trends, Nigeria financial year now starts from January 1. But in the Year of Our Lord 2017, when is the National Parliament passing the national budget? It seems we have worked ourselves to a situation where nothing is sacred anymore, not the budget, not the national flag, not the national anthem!

In an attempt to make everyone recognise the sacredness of the yearly budget, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua directed that government and all its agencies must close their accounts by December 31 of each year. Money not spent would revert to the Federation Accounts. However, we know what has happened since then.

By the time Nigeria gained independence in 1960, the public service comprised about 20,000 men and women, including about 2000 British officials. Today, I am sure the public service, with the army of politicians embedded in the fattening room, cannot be less than five million men and women. Can we really say that these five million citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are delivering the goods with the same level of efficiency like the 20,000? Are the trains running better and faster? Are the roads safer? Are the schools better? Are the hospitals more efficient? Are the judges wiser and less corrupt?

Few people want to step into the shoes of Lord Lugard. Who wants to trek from Lagos to Sokoto? For the 100 years the British were here, how many of the Governors, the Divisional Officers, the District Commissioners, the commanders and the top secretaries acquired land in Ikoyi, Victoria Island and other choice estates for their personal use? Lugard, who was governor also of Hong Kong, was not known to have acquired choice properties anywhere. He served the British crown and never claimed one plot of Nigeria for himself. How many people are willing to serve Nigeria now the way Lugard did the British imperial crown? Will serve Nigeria?

One step we need to take to show that we are serious with Nigeria is to take the issue of budget more seriously. Lugard died 72 years ago on April 11, 1945. Nigeria remains his major legacy. If we care about that legacy, then those who inherit the dirty shoes of Lugard need to take their assignment more seriously. They should not wait longer before they pass the national budget. Let us start getting certain things right about Nigeria. In the words of American novelist, John Gardner, the author of Gredel: “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”