Nigeria - the Future of Africa?

By Denis Starkey W.F.

Link to a Map of Nigerian States

"When you go to Nigeria you'll see the future of Africa." These words were spoken to me at my ordination in 1977 by the ordaining Bishop, Bishop Owen McCoy on hearing that I had been appointed to his former Diocese of Oyo in Western Nigeria. I did see Nigeria and spent approximately 18 months there. It is certainly vastly different from Malawi, where I have worked longer, and the other countries in Africa I have visited, and in many ways Nigeria points to what they may become.

Some of the earliest traces of human existence in Nigeria are the remains of fortified villages and a number of rock paintings on the Bauchi and Jos plateau. Around 2000 BC, peoples who had grown cereal crops moved southwards as the fertile lands of the Sahara turned into desert. Throughout Nigeria there have been finds of neolithic polished axes suggesting the area was widely populated during Stone Age times. On the Jos plateau terracotta heads, made of local red clay, and iron tools of the Nok people have been dated from between 500 BC to AD 200.

Early in Christian times, two powerful state systems were developing in the north; a kingdom around the shores of Lake Chad, which later became the Kanem-Bornu empire, and a loose confederation of Hausa states towards the west. Trade from the Sahara resulted in different people contacting each other and so from about the 8th century onwards Islam was brought into Western Africa. The Saifawa Dynasty ruled the Kanem-Bornu empire and, towards the end of the 11th century, this ruling family had been converted to Islam. Consequently, by the 13th century, the empire's influence extended as far west as Kano. The economic prosperity of the empire was based on the export of slaves from the south to the North African coast, plus grain from the savannah in exchange for salt from the northern Sahara.

During the 15th Century Islam probably spread from the west through contacts with merchants from Mali, while muslim spiritual leaders and scholars came to the region in the following century with the migration of the pastoral Fulani people from the east. It was also during the 15th Century that the Nupe and Kororafa states emerged in the middle section of the country.

Much less is known about the history of the south of Nigeria in early times. To the east of the river Niger the Ibo people lived entirely in a village society, without any centralised government or large units. On the Western part of Nigeria's forest belt, the Yoruba states, especially Ife, were developing into powerful kingdoms from about the 12th Century. On the Gulf of Guinea the empire of Benin, ruled by an 'Oba' (a political and religious leader), was well established by the 15th century.

Consequently, by the time the earliest European expeditions reached the West African coast in search of gold, an extremely complex political and social pattern had developed in the areas now known as Nigeria. During the following four hundred years, developments in the north were influenced by the Fulani 'jihad' or holy war, which brought a vast area of the country under a single administration. In the south the influence of European commerce was the main force, dominated chiefly by the Atlantic slave trade. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive, establishing trading posts along the Guinea coast. In the 17th century their influence diminished due to the development of the slave trade by other European powers.

By the early 18th century, British ships were involved in a major share of the slave trade. The most powerful traders became responsible for the government of the local area, providing security and stability for commerce. Only when the British Government commenced to eradicate the slave trade in the 19th century did an extension of the British influence take place and legitimate trade, mainly palm oil, grew steadily. From then on a number of British explorers attempted to travel into the interior. In 1805 Mungo Park travelled down the River Niger as far as Bussa and in 1831 the Lander brothers found a way through the Niger delta to the sea. However, most Europeans who tried to settle in West Africa died of malaria, giving it the nickname 'the white man's grave' and only after the discovery of quinine in the mid-1840s did they stand any chance of settling.

In the north, politics were controlled by the Hausa State systems until the beginning of the 19th century. Usuman Dan Fodio, a Fulani religious leader, preached the need to return to the Muslim religion. He was supported in this by the ordinary Hausa people, wishing to get rid of an oppressive government, and also by the Fulani cattle grazers. His message sparked off a revolution. Within a short time most of the Hausa kings had been replaced with Muslim emirs and so a Muslim empire emerged with a common judicial system and education through koranic schools. Islam became the religion of the ordinary people rather than being only for the ruling class. The Fulani Muslim empire spread beyond the Hausa states and conquered Nupe, while destroying the Yoruba state of Ilorin and the old town of Oyo in the 1820s.

It is suffice for the purpose of this article to mention that Britain eventually colonised the area of present day Nigeria. Using the usual 'divide and rule' policy, in the mid 20th century the British colonial advisors divided the territories into tribally ruled and supposedly self-governing areas. In order to try and reduce tribal and religious tensions, in 1947 a federal system of government was created with new administrative district divisions. Ministerial government was introduced in 1951 and a Muslim Northerner, Alhaji Albubakar Tafawa Bulewa, became the first Prime Minister.

Independence from Britain came on 1st October, 1960, when Nigeria became an independent country within the Commonwealth, with Dr. Azikiwe as the country's Governor-General. On 1st October, 1963, Nigeria became a republic with Dr. Azikiwe as the first President. The elections for the new government seats in 1960 were bitterly contested and, because of tribal and religious differences, the first government was a coalition of the Northern People's Congress and the eastern side, the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons. Since that time Nigeria has experienced numerous, often violent, changes of government. The greatest single threat to the political life of the country was during the 1967-70 civil war between Nigeria and the secessionist 'Republic' of Biafra.

The present ruler of Nigeria, General Ibrahim Babangida, came to power in 1985 during a coup against General Buhari. Soon after taking office General Babangida's Government tried to restore national pride by launching a 'War Against Indiscipline', popularly known as WAI. Considerable success has been achieved through this campaign. In order to reduce chaos at banks and ticket offices, the first part of WAI introduced 'queue culture'. Further phases of WAI have attempted to deal with 'work ethics', 'nationalism and patriotism' and, the most serious problem of all facing the country, 'corruption and economic sabotage'.

The planned return to a democratically elected government in 1988 failed to materialise. Yet the experienced coup plotter, General Babangida, and his government found himself the subject of an unsuccessful coup attempt by junior army officers in April 1990. However, it did shake the government and demonstrated the deep rooted conflict between the predominantly Christian south of the country, from where the plotters came, and the largely Muslim north, from where General Babangida and most of his senior colleagues hail from. Although the government managed to re-establish control, intercommunal tension remains. The riots in northern Nigeria, October, 1990, between Christians and Muslims resulted in over 100 people being killed. Nevertheless, General Babangida seems determined to pursue the course he has set for the country which will see the return to a democratically elected civilian government after presidential elections, originally set for October 1992 but currently delayed until mid 1993.

The present day military government has allowed the creation of just two political parties: The National Republican Convention (NRC), officially regarded as 'slightly right-of-centre'; and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), regarded as 'a little to the left'. The NRC relies on most of its support from the Muslim north while the SDP is backed mainly by the Ibo and Yoruba in the southeast and west, plus a few northerners. However, there is widespread criticism and cynicism about the system yet, apart from such pressure groups like the 'Campaign for Democracy', many of whose members have been arrested, most people seem willing to accept anything that will rid politics of the military. At the time of writing, mid-February 1993, 338 candidates have handed in completed nomination forms signalling their intention to succeed General Ibrahim Babangida!

Whether 27th August, 1993, sees a civilian President in Nigeria remains to be seen but the enthusiasm for democratic rule is in no doubt and, certainly, should provide an example to other countries in Africa which have been similarly 'unnaturally' created from European expansion in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

To return to my opening paragraph and Oyo Diocese, during World War II, in 1943, the Vatican asked the White Fathers to open a mission in Nigeria, with a view to a future Apostolic Prefecture, taking from the Apostolic Vicariate of Lagos the territory known as Oyo Province, which at that time also included what is now Ibadan diocese. Two White Fathers working in Navrongo in Ghana were the first to be appointed to Nigeria and one of these was Fr. Owen McCoy from Britain. At the time Fr. McCoy was serving as an Army Chaplain in Accra with the West African Frontier Force. On 11th October, 1943, Fr. McCoy arrived in Lagos as superior of the future group of White Fathers in Nigeria. His initiation entailed being curate in the S.M.A. Fathers' parish of Ogunpa, Ibadan. In December of that same year four more White Fathers arrived - Frs. J. J. Byrne, J. Williams, T. Kane and M. Coffey. Fr. Williams was sent to Ibadan with Fr. McCoy, whilst Frs Byrne and Kane were appointed to Oshogbo to learn Yoruba and work under the direction of the S.M.A. Fathers. Fr. Coffey was sent first to Oke Are Seminary, Ibadan, and later to Ife.

The S.M.A. Bishop of the area, Bishop Taylor, insisted on these first White Fathers having a six year apprenticeship before allowing them to have their own mission. In 1944 Fr. McCoy was sent to Oyo town as curate to Mgr. Adewuyi, while Fr. Kane arrived there later. Gradually more White Fathers were to be found at Oyo mission, among them Fr. T. Tye at present in retirement in London, to the point where the house became overcrowded. Bishop Taylor relented on his six years apprenticeship and allowed the first White Father mission station to open at Ijio. Unfortunately, Ijio proved too expensive to run and an expected immigration to the area of Catholics from Dahomey never materialised. Ijio was closed down and the White Fathers moved on to their own mission at Otan in 1949.

Long discussions ensued between the Superior General of the S.M.A. Fathers and the White Fathers plus the Apostolic Delegate to arrange the setting up of the new Apostolic Prefecture of Oyo, resulting in Ibadan and district being returned to the Apostolic Vicariate of Lagos. The White Fathers left Ibadan and Fr. McCoy was appointed Apostolic Prefect of Oyo. On the advice of the Apostolic Delegate he took up residence in Oshogbo.

In 1963 the Prefecture of Oyo was raised to diocesan status with Bishop McCoy as the first bishop. When he arrived 20 years earlier there had been three mission stations, four missionaries and one secondary school. Under his leadership rapid development took place towards enabling the diocese become self reliant with regard to both personnel and finance.

On the 13th. April, 1973, the Vatican appointed Bishop Julius Adelakun as the first Nigerian Bishop of Oyo, succeeding Bishop McCoy. The White Fathers remain committed to the Diocese and currently approximately 20 are working there, among whom two are from Britain. 3 Nigerian White Fathers are working in other African countries, giving much hope for 'mission' in the future of Africa.


Information Tables

 

The People and the Country

The Country
923,768 sq. km. (356,574 sq. miles)

Land Use

Agriculture

203,247

Forest

56,356

Other

96,971

 

 

Total Population ('90)

115,500,000

Urbanisation ('90)

Urban (35%)

40,425,000

Rural

75,075,000

Inhabitants per sq. km.

115

The population is made up of over 250 ethnic groups, the four largest being the Hausa, Yoruba, Ibo and Fulani.

 

Age Distribution ('90)

Number
Percentage

1 - 14 years

53,592,000
46.4%

15 - 64 years

58,905,000
51.0%

65 and over

3,003,000
02.6%

Distribution of Working Population ('90).

Agriculture

26,271,630

44.6%

Industry

2,474,010

4.2%

Services

30,159,360

51.2%

 

Religion

Religious adherence (on figures for 1980).

Catholics

8,801,700
12%

Total Christians

35,572,000
49%

Muslims

32,668,000
45%

Buddhists

660
0%

Other Faiths

4,140,340
6%

No Religion

215,000
0%

Christian Practice ('80)

Practising

16,169,840
22%

Non practising

4,042,460
6%

Nominal

15,359,700
21%

 

 

The Catholic Church (8%)

Catholics ('90)

9,583,000

Diocesan priests

1,473

Religious priests

581

Total all priests

2,054

Catholics per priest

4,666

People per priest

56,232

Dioceses:

36

Bishops:

41

Brothers

504

Sisters

2,017

Lay missionaries

10

Catechists

14,246

 

Education

Church ('90)

State

Number

Students

Number

Students

Kindergartens

1,040

83,882

-

-

Primary schools

1,220

229,885

35,181

13,612,765

Secondary schools

137

66,752

6,305

3,506,492

Tertiary

-

-

80

10,038

Adult Literacy ('90)

Men

40%

Women

62%

Of total population

51%

 

Health

Life Expectancy ('89) 52 years
Infant Mortality Rate ('90) 98 per 1,000 in first year 162 per 1,000 in first five years

Access to safe drinking water ('86):

Urban

17,920,487

58%

Rural

17,192,904

25%

Hospitals('89)

11,588

People per Hospital ('89)

9,951

Hospital beds ('89)

60,823

People per bed ('89)

1,871

Doctors ('89)

14,564

People per doctor ('89)

7,814

Nurses ('89)

56,365

People per nurse ('89)

2,019

Dentists ('89)

899

People per Dentist ('89)

128,271

Pharmacists ('89)

3,567

People per Pharmacist ('89)

32,329

 

The Economy

Currency: Naira: 36.4 to the pound (03/93).
GNP ('90) $33,495,000,000 ($290 per capita).
GDP ('90) $34,760,000,000 ($301 per capita).

Agriculture 6%
Industry (Manufacturing 7%) 8%
Services 5%

Foreign Debt $36,068,000,000 $312.28 per capita 110% of GNP.
Average annual inflation ('80-90) 17.7%

Trade ('90)

Imports

Exports

Food

16%

* %

Fuels

1%

** 97%

Basic Commodities

2%

2%

Machinery/transport

44%

%

Other manufactures

37%

5%

* = Textiles and clothing ** = Plus minerals/metals Household

Major Imports: Industrial material, machinery and equipment, food.

Major Exports: fuels and minerals/metals and basic commodities.

Consumption ('85)

Food

31.9%

Housing

2.5%

Energy

1.0%

Transport

2.2%

Health

7.8%

Education

- %

Other

54.6%

 

Facts and figures - We are grateful, and wish to thank, the 'Catholic Missionary Education Centre' (CAMEC) for supplying most of the statistical information in this article.
If you would like to know more about CAMEC, please write to:
CAMEC, Holcombe House, The Ridgeway, London NW7 4HY.


This article first appeared in "White Fathers - White Sisters" (UK),
issue 310, of June-July, 1993.

The article may be published freely with due acknowledgements to the
"White Fathers - White Sisters" magazine.

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