Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

The Nation State, Resource Conflict, and the Challenges of "Former Sovereignties" in Nigeria

Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

The Nation State, Resource Conflict, and the Challenges of "Former Sovereignties" in Nigeria

Article excerpt

Introduction

In April 2011, David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Britain on a visit to Pakistan acknowledged the role British colonial rule played in creating Pakistan's post-colonial security challenges. Cameron stated: "As with so many of the problems of the world, we [British people] are responsible for their creation in the first place." (1) Pakistan, a part of colonial India, was a British territory between 1757 and 1947. (2) In a similar view on the colonial era, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams referred to colonialism as "illegitimate rule" that was "motivated by greed." (3) To George Orwell, the well-known British novelist and journalist, the British Empire was "a despotism with theft as its final object." (4) While these statements recall one of the most critical and poignant epochs of interracial relations in human history, they have failed to engage with both the ideological underpinnings of colonialism and the functionality of its structural relics, such as, the nation state in Africa.

The nation state in Africa has always been a subject of scholarly and policy analyses since its creation. (5) A look at the evolution of the state as presently constituted in Africa reveals that it is relatively new. Its history is traceable to the resolutions of the 1884-85 Berlin Conference on Africa. (6) Convened by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of Germany, the conference participants, Great Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and King Leopold of Belgium, divided the African continent among themselves. Although the Berlin Conference has often been described as a meeting where Africa was "partitioned," the Conference was merely to formalize long-standing colonial and commercial interests of different European nations in Africa. In what later became Nigeria, K.O. Dike, Nigeria's foremost historian, contends that prior to the Berlin Conference "Beecroft [a British Consul] had succeeded in making British rule familiar to the native states under his consular jurisdiction." (7) This same trend was followed by various European settlers in other parts of Africa, often well before the nineteenth century. These include the French in Algeria, the Dutch (Boers) in South Africa, the British in the Natal and Cape regions of South Africa, and the Portuguese in Angola. (8)

The presence of colonial pathfinders such as traders and missionaries from different Europeans countries heightened the possibility of conflicts between different European nations. Hence, one major objective of the Berlin Conference was to pre-empt wars among different European nations in Africa, a distinct possibility given the strife with which colonial officials and traders jostled for spheres of influence in Africa. (9) After the Conference, European nations simply strengthened their presence through "effective occupation," a principle adopted by the Conference as proof that a given power was really interested in a particular territory it had laid claim to. (10)

In Nigeria, the process of state creation, albeit unofficial, commenced immediately after the Berlin Conference with the granting of a Royal Charter to the Royal Niger Company (RNC) in 1885. (11) The charter was meant to legitimize the British presence in Nigerian territories pending the Foreign Office's formalization of the imperial takeover. Between 1885 and 1900, the RNC intensified both coercion and diplomacy on indigenous kingdoms and communities. Their goal was to obtain the signatures of the rulers of these kingdoms and communities in the form of treaties of friendship and protection. According to Boluwaji Olaniyan, an economic historian who studied consular and company regimes in Nigeria, in 1886 alone, the RNC secured 237 treaties from local rulers. (12) The extent to which the local rulers understood the content of these treaties has been contentious; however, the conflicts that ensued between colonial authorities and the local chiefs over their sovereignties indicate significant misreading of the treaties between both parties. …

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