Vol. XVII, Issue 4 (Fall 2010):Cultural Heritage
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Included in this issue of AfricaUpdate are reflections on the repatriation of cultural heritage and a related conference that took place in Egypt earlier this year. The focus of Mr. Opoku’s article is on the numerous looted artifacts in Western museums, and the determination of the countries, from which they were taken, to get them back. The author makes reference not only to the artifacts taken from African countries in the late 19th century but also to looted artifacts from countries such as Peru, Greece, Mexico and others. These countries have similar grievances over what is perceived as the wrongful appropriation of their national treasures. The author identifies Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mali and Egypt among the African countries seeking the return of their artifacts. Mr. Opoku provides useful suggestions on the subject and suggests that the full proceedings of the Cairo Conference should be published. We are grateful to Mr. Opoku for making us aware of the ongoing struggle by Africans and others to regain their national treasures.
Yima Sen’s presentation to the Golden jubilee Symposium at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada in September 2010, is the basis of the second paper in this issue. Mr. Sen worked for the United Nations development system for six years as a development expert and was the founding secretary-general of Nigeria’s first major prodemocracy group, the Campaign for Democracy. He discusses the history, achievements and challenges associated with Nigeria since 1914.
Dr. Gloria Emeagwali
Kwame Opoku, Independent Scholar
“The problem of the repatriation of cultural heritage to its country of origin is an old one, based on a 19th century doctrine enshrined in the Treaty of Vienna that scientific and artistic collections cannot be expatriated because they are destined to meet the permanent intellectual needs of the country of origin”. Ekpo Eyo (1)
Queen- Mother Idia, Benin, Nigeria, now in the British Museum, London, United Kingdom.
The Conference on International Cooperation for the Protection and Repatriation of Cultural Heritage, 7-8 April 2010, Cairo, Egypt, ended with demands for the return of certain cultural artifacts which had been looted or stolen by colonial powers in the past. (2) The conference, called by Zahi Hawass, the energetic and dynamic Secretary-General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, was attended by several delegates from several states, including, Austria, Bolivia, Chile, China, Cyprus, Ecuador, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Italy, Libya, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Syria and the United States. Britain, France and Germany, countries holding most of the contested artifacts did not attend. One can understand that there was not much interest in inviting the countries holding the contested artifacts since their attitudes over many decades have not been generally positive or sympathetic to the idea of restitution. However, in the last few years France and Britain have returned objects to Egypt. My own position would be to invite them to attend as observers, ensuring, however, that they do not come to disrupt or sabotage the conference, or even try to dominate proceedings as they are wont to, since eventually, we would need their co-operation to achieve lasting solutions to the questions of restitution. Besides, the USA which is a big market for looted artifacts attended as observer and we have not heard that this presence hindered the participants from achieving their aims.
Information on the number of participating countries seems to vary according to the report that one reads. From the list of participating countries, we note the absence of Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Sudan etc. Did these countries not have any demands for restitution? Ethiopia in particular, still has claims against Italy which returned the Axum Obelisk in 2008. Ethiopia has even more claims against Britain which is keeping thousands of Ethiopian national treasures looted during the infamous attack on Maqdala in 1868. What about Ghana? Has Ghana given up all attempts to recover the numerous gold and silver objects, including the 20 centimeter -high golden head, regalia and other treasures looted by the British in the infamous 1874 Punitive Expedition to Kumasi? Many of the stolen Asante items found their way to the Museum of Mankind in London and are in the Wallace Collection, London. There are also some Asante cultural objects in the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford and in the Glasgow Museum and Art Gallery. Many Asante gold objects are also in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
One significant outcome of the deliberations in Cairo was the drawing up of a list of items the participant States wanted returned:
Greece: The Parthenon/Elgin Marbles torn away from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin in 1801 and now in the British Museum.
Egypt: The Rosetta Stone that the British took away after the defeat of Napoleon’s army in Egypt in 1801 and now in the British Museum. Egypt also seeks the return of the bust of Nefertiti which the German archaeologist, Ludwig Borchart spirited away to Berlin in 1913 and is now in the Neues Museum, Berlin, Germany. Egypt seeks from France the return of the Zodiac of Dendara Temple, now in the Louvre, Paris. Egypt also seeks the bust of the noble Ankhaf now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, United States; the statue of Hemiunu, now in the Roemer-Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, Germany; and the statute of Ramses II now in Turin, Italy.
China: seeks the Summer Palace Bronzes that were looted by the invading Franco-British troops in 1860 and are now with private owners in France. (3)
Nigeria: Nigeria seeks restitution of the Benin bronzes, seized by invading British troops in 1897, including the ivory hip mask of Queen-Mother Idia, that are now in the British Museum, Ethnology Museum, Berlin, Germany and other Western museums. Nigeria also seeks from Germany the bronze crowned head called “Olokun” (Ife), suspected to be in Frankfurt which was seen by Leo Frobenius in 1910 and mysteriously disappeared after the German ethnologist had left Nigeria. (4)
Peru: made it clear that it was claiming the collections from the Inca city, Machu Piccchu that were displayed in Yale University, USA and the return of textiles and the ceramic of Paracas culture now displayed in Ethnology Museum Goteborg, Sweden.
Syria: claimed five artifacts displayed in the Hermitage, Saint-Petersburg, the Louvre and the National Museum in Copenhagen.
Guatemala: put in claims for artefacts in Switzerland and in several American museums.
Libya: is claiming restitutions from the Louvre and the British Museum.
Mexico: is requesting the feather headdress of the Aztec ruler, Montezuma which is now in the Ethnology Museum, Vienna, Austria.
This long list of claims for restitution is surely an indication that a lot more work needs to be done in the area of cultural relations which has not been seriously pursued in previous decades. There is hardly any African, Asian or Latin -American country that does not have restitution claims against some Western country. Those countries that did not have their lists ready would submit them later. In this connection, it would be useful if the whole list of claimed artefacts could be published for general public information.
During the Cairo Conference, Zahi Hawass declared that:
"Museums are the main source for stolen artifacts. If they stop (buying stolen artefacts) the theft will be less." (5)
Larry Rothfield has expressed the view that the amount of antiquities that museums buy represents a small percentage of the volume of objects bought in the antiquities market:
”Museums make up only a small percentage of the buyers on the antiquities market worldwide. And most museums in the West have now already stopped buying illicit or even just dodgy antiquities. That is not going to put an end to collecting of illicit antiquities. Hawass is certainly correct to say that if museums stop buying illicit artifacts, the theft will be less, but by only a slight amount.” (6)
We would like to believe that the museums have stopped purchasing artifacts of dubious origin but the recent history of acquisitions by the museum is not very encouraging. Several American Museums and Universities - The Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Princeton University's Art Museum - had to return looted objects to Italy in 2007. A senior curator of the Getty Museum, Marion True, is still on trial in Italy, for offences in connection with her acquisition of looted objects from Italy for her museum. (7)
The new rules of acquisition that the US Museums adopted were only made under pressure. Besides, these rules are not legally binding and are guidelines that are recommended to the museums. The Metropolitan Museum adopted very quickly new rules of acquisition when Lord Renfrew was about to visit the United States and it was known that this was the subject he would be addressing, with particular reference to the museum. (8) Mistrust of the acquisition practices of Western museums is fairly widespread both in the West and in the non-Western world. Commenting on the spectacular success of the Italians in securing the return from the United States of Italian artifacts, Lord Renfrew wrote recently as follows:
“The remarkable and conspicuous success of the Italian authorities in effecting the return to Italy of major antiquities from a number of museums in the United States has rightly been widely acclaimed (…) It is not only a formidable achievement in itself in terms of the antiquities recovered, but it should also have a deterrent effect against the continuing looting of archaeological sites. The concern, however, must be that the museums in question, and the world of collectors internationally, should themselves draw what seems the obvious ethical conclusion: that the ongoing looting of antiquities should cease and that they should therefore desist from purchasing antiquities without secure provenance. But can we be confident that this will be the outcome?”(9)
David Gill, who has pursued the issue longer than most of us, assessed the situation regarding acquisition policies as follows:
“Forty years have passed since the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. In spite of this there have been major scandals relating to the acquisition of recently-surfaced antiquities by public museums and private individuals. The Italian government has obtained the return of over 100 antiquities from North American collections and these have been displayed in a series of high profile exhibitions. Greece and Egypt have made successful claims on other material. Some dealers appear to be willing to handle material that surfaced along similar routes in spite of this increased awareness of the problem of looting. North American museums have now adjusted their acquisition policies to align them with the 1970 Convention.” (10)
Golden mask, removed by the British from Kumasi, Ghana, in 1874 and now in the Wallace Collection, London.
It would take many years and lots of evidence to convince many, particularly in the demanding countries that the museums have turned a new leaf. This task is made all the more difficult when we have museum directors and others defending the right of the museums to acquire objects of dubious provenance.(11) Some directors are desperately trying to defend past dubious acquisitions by inventing new roles for their museums in order to justify their holding on to objects such as the Benin bronzes. They are busy preaching that these objects are part of the heritage of mankind that they are keeping for all, at a time when most Western countries have made it almost impossible for Africans and Asians to enter their territories. It makes one wonder whether the museum directors know the implications of what they are preaching. Or are they simply living in another world, far from the realities of racial politics in international relations? There is hardly anybody in the non-Western world who does not view the so-called great museums as fortresses for looted artifacts of others.
Some critics suggested that the two day conference would be too short for finding a solution to the complicated issues involved in discussing a revision of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970. (12) They were right. But the aim of the conference was not to find immediate solutions to these difficult questions but to commence a process which would eventually bring us closer to solutions. Follow-up conferences will no doubt deal with the question of international law and regulations.
The very fact that so many countries with divergent demands and interests met to coordinate their efforts in this matter is in itself an achievement. Some of the countries attending the conference, such as Italy have not only demands of objects from others but are themselves requested to return objects taken away in the imperialist period, e.g. from Ethiopia. Moreover, countries like the United States and Austria which house some of the contested objects attended, albeit in observer capacity.
It is good that the conference did not get bogged down with discussions on the revision of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. The representative for the Greek Ministry of Culture, Elena Korka, agreed, that the conference demonstrated the importance to many countries of joining forces. This is not a question of legality but rather one of political good-will and this cannot be summed up in paragraphs of a legal document. Besides, the question of restitution should be primarily addressed to the States concerned rather than their museums which received the objects. We should not forget, for example, that it was not the British Museum that invaded Benin in 1897 but the British Army, on the instructions of the Government. In the first catalogue on the Benin bronzes published in 1899 by the British Museum, Charles Hercules Read stated in a preface:
‘The present publication contains a selection of the principal objects obtained by the recent successful expedition sent to Benin to punish the natives of that city for a treacherous massacre of a peaceful English mission… The whole of the panels shown in the plates have been given to the Museum by her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. They formed two-thirds of the whole series sent home by Sir Ralph Moor.” (13)
It is also important to note that, contrary to what some would like us to believe, the question of the restitution of looted/stolen artifacts in Western museums is not primarily a legal question but a political matter. No doubt the question has legal aspects but to pretend that it is a legal matter is to misunderstand or ignore the role of law in society. Law is one of the important instruments to assist society in solving social, economic and political issues. Law is itself not a problem but a means to dealing with problems. To turn the law into a problem is to obscure the eminently political nature of colonialism which basically provided the framework for large-scale looting and illegitimate acquisition of the cultural artifacts of others. In any case, none of the holders of the artifacts of others can honestly argue that they are willing to return looted items but are prevented by law from doing so. International Law requires from States that they organize themselves in a way that enables them to fulfill their international obligations. They cannot advance the limitations of their own municipal law as grounds for failure to fulfill obligations. Moreover, those who advance limitations of law as obstacles to restitution are often playing a hide and seek game or ping-pong.
Some writers give the impression that the 1970 UNESCO convention forbids parties from seeking to recover objects looted or stolen before 1970, namely those artifacts stolen in the colonial days. What the convention provides for is that its provisions, like those of most conventions, are not applicable to events occurring before its entry into force. In other words, the convention is not retroactive. Most lawyers and indeed, the general public does not like retroactive legislation since it tends to disturb settled legal relations. The convention expressly leaves open the possibility of seeking restitution for objects taken before 1970 on basis other than those of the convention. It does not exhaust the sources and rules of International Law and Municipal Law.
The Statute of the International Court of Justice makes it clear that in addition to international conventions, there are other sources of law such as international custom, general principles of law and judicial decisions which may provide grounds for legal action. We are therefore not obliged to limit claims for restitution to the framework of the 1970 convention.
Some writers also evoke statutes of limitation as obstacle to succeeding in legal actions to recover objects taken before 1970. But the question which has not been sufficiently addressed is whether statutes of limitations apply at all to objects looted, stolen or confiscated in the colonial days. The underlying principle of the statute of limitations is to encourage parties to act promptly as soon as their rights are violated and they are aware of the relevant facts and can pursue their rights. But does this apply to colonial loot? Would anybody have dared to bring such actions against a colonial power whilst it still controlled the colony? We must remember that most lootings in the colonial period were organized by the colonial governments and their armies. Often owners of looted objects have no idea about their whereabouts. Many African artifacts have disappeared without the owners having any idea where they could be.
Another good reason for not seeking a revision of the 1970 Convention is that this approach would cause a long delay in negotiations with countries using all sorts of delaying tactics. Besides, even if we obtained a revision, it will take decades before many States ratify the convention, adding all sorts of reservations. It took certain States 30 or more years before they ratified the 1970 Convention. Some African States have not ratified the convention in the mistaken belief that it is of little use.
The Cairo Conference is an important historic event in so far as it constitutes a first clear attempt in recent years by States with restitution demands to organize themselves and fight collectively for the return of their cultural artifacts. The Conference is thus a direct challenge and answer to the notorious Declaration on the Value and Importance of Universal Museum. (14) Whereas the signatories of the Declaration proclaimed that artifacts kept over a long period in those museums become part of the culture of the States where they are located, the Cairo Conference boldly demanded that these objects be returned to the countries of origin. The artifacts requested are mostly icons that have been over decades in the Universal Museum:
The Rosetta Stone, in the British Museum since 1802; the bust of Nefertiti, in Germany since 1913, and after various locations now in the Neues Museum, Berlin; the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles, in Britain since 1801; and in the British Museum since 1816; and the Benin Bronzes, in the British Museum and other Western museums since 1897. In other words, this is a serious direct challenge to positions many in the West have considered for long to be unassailable. The success or failure of the Cairo requests will have consequences on future demands for restitution of cultural objects.
What the Conference needs to do rapidly, is to establish a Secretariat or some other body that would have, inter alia, the following functions:
The mood in the world as regards restitution of cultural objects has changed considerably in recent decades. As noted by Le Monde in an article entitled, Les réclamations d’œuvres d’art sont-elles légitimes, the many recent restitutions and demands for restitution draw a new world order of cultural patrimony. What would have been unthinkable forty years ago no longer surprises anyone. For example, South Korea is demanding from France the restitution of some 297 manuscripts stolen in 1866 in Seoul and now in the French National Library in Paris. (15) Britain has returned some 25,000 pieces to Egypt; France has also returned artifacts to Egypt and Nigeria.
Examples of recent restitutions abound in the internet sites devoted to the question. Even if the Cunos and MacGregors are not exactly on retreat, they know their position is now under constant serious attacks and that their usual spin is no longer unchallenged. They are defending a colonialist and imperialist position based on 19th century assumptions of racial superiority which should have disappeared with the end of colonialism and condemned several times by the United Nations and other international organizations. They cannot stop the movement of history for more equality and respect among nations and peoples which requires the restitution of looted/stolen cultural artifacts to the countries of origin.
In a way, the Cairo demand for the return of cultural artifacts to their countries of origin is a repetition of a demand made in countless UNESCO and United Nations resolutions. It was also reiterated at the Athens International Conference on the "Return of Cultural Property to its Country of Origin" in 2008. (16) Whether there will be a better response from the holding States will depend largely on the determination of the demanding States to put concrete political as well as other pressures behind the demands. Experience has demonstrated that many of the holding States have developed a morality which seems to consider the stealing of the cultural artifacts of others as quite proper. Indeed, many react as if they were doing a great favor to the countries of origin by keeping their artifacts.
This conference is the first of its kind and will be convened annually. Next year's meeting is scheduled for April 2011 and will possibly be held in Greece. "We hope that we will be 60 countries next year," Hawass concluded in his closing remarks. Will there be more countries represented at the next conference? Many are organizing themselves seriously for the recovery of their cultural artifacts now in the museums of other countries. There are lively debates everywhere. Nigerians, for example, have been very busy in the last few weeks on this matter. At a colloquium at the University of Lagos where Peju Layiwola and Sola Olorunyomi’s Benin 1897.com: Art and the Restitution Question was launched, the majority of participants, including the elite of the Nigerian culture world, agreed that it was time that the Benin Bronzes and other Nigerian artifacts, looted or unlawfully taken abroad, were returned. In this they agreed with the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa, who, in a foreword to Benin 1897.com expressed the hope that the papers to be presented at the colloquium would bring again into focus: “our demand for the return of our looted artifacts”. (17)
Recovering these objects would not be easy but as Hawass quite rightly stated, whether we succeed or not, we would have made the point that these cultural objects must return home. We hope that those countries that have distinguished themselves by massive lootings and wholesale illegitimate acquisition of cultural objects of others will finally recognize and admit that the deprivation of others of their cultural objects cannot be justified on any ground, not even that of acquiring knowledge. Western countries cannot ignore the resolutions of the United Nations on the restitution of cultural artifacts, and insist that others comply with UN resolutions in other matters. Selective implementation of resolutions is a conduct easily duplicated by others.
“Cultural heritage constitutes an inalienable part of a people’s sense of self and of community, functioning as a link between the past, the present and the future; it is essential to sensitize the public about this issue and especially the younger generation. An information campaign may prove very effective toward that end; certain categories of cultural property are irrevocably identified by reference to the cultural context in which they were created (unique and exceptional artworks and monuments, ritual objects, national symbols, ancestral remains, dismembered pieces of outstanding works of art). It is their original context that gives them their authenticity and unique value;” (18)
3. K.Opoku, “Is it not time to fulfill Victor Hugo’s wish? Comments on Chinese claim to looted Chinese artifacts on sale at Christie’s” http://www.modernghana.com
4. K. Opoku, “Ile-Ife triumphs in the British Museum, London: Who said Nigerians were incapable of looking after their cultural artefacts? “http://www.modernghana.com We have no information about efforts to trace the whereabouts of the alleged original “Olokun”. In the meanwhile, there are suggestions that the alleged replica which the Nigerian Commission on Monuments and Museums holds may be the original. “Is the Olokun Head the real thing?” The Art Newspaper http://www.theartnewspaper.com
5. http://lootingmatters.blogspot.com Global Antiquities Conference: Illegal Trade Should Stop NTDTV - Apr 8, 2010
6. “Memo to Zahi Hawass: Museums are not the main source for buying stolen antiquities’’ http://larryrothfield.blogspot.com
7. K. Opoku " New AAM Standards for the Acquisition of Archeological Material and Ancient Art: A Minor American Revolution’’ http://www.africanet.info
8. “This coming January, Prof. Renfrew will receive the 2009 SAFE Beacon Award in a rare visit to the United States. He will give a lecture "Combating the Illicit Antiquities Trade: the 1970 Rule as a Turning Point (or How the Metropolitan Museum lags behind the Getty)" and also discuss the ethics of excavating and collecting, and the merits of the once popular but now rare "partage" system in the SAFE Tour "Collecting the Right Way" at the University of Pennsylvania Museum”. See also David Gill, Is the AAMD policy having an impact on private collectors? http://lootingmatters.blogspot.com
9. Renfrew, “Combating the Illicit Antiquities Trade: Progress and Problems“http://www.ufficiostudi.beniculturali.
11. James Cuno, Ed, Whose Culture? The Promise of Museums and the Debate over Antiquities, Princeton University Press, 2009; Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage Princeton University Press, 2008.
12. See dates of ratification of 1970 Convention http://portal.unesco.org.
13. H .Read and O .M. Dalton, Antiquities from the City of Benin and other parts of West Africa in the British Museum ,British Museum, London, 1899, p. iv.
14. Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums http://icom.museum/universal
15. Le Monde, 8 April, 2010
17. Peju Layiwola and Sola Olorunyomi, (Eds.) Benin 1897. com Art and the Restitution Question, 2010, Wy Art Editions, Ibadan, Nigeria. It is one of the ironies of the illegitimate detention of the cultural objects of others that when a descendant of Oba Ovonramwen writes a book about the 1897 looting of the Benin bronzes, she is unable to use the image of Queen-Idia on the hip-mask without the permission of the British Museum and she may have to pay fees. However, the British Museum, now holding the mask uses it on its publication. Has the British Museum more connection to this symbol than the descendant of the king from whom the mask was taken on defeat and surrender? Has the British Museum now become a Nigerian or Pan-African organization that can legitimately use Pan African symbols? Do the people at the museum who pretended to be friends of Africa feel no shame or pangs of conscience in using a symbol that the museum refused return to Nigeria for the Pan African festival, FESTAC (1977)? Do they have any remaining sympathy or respect for Africans at all? They seem to have no inhibition in using the cherished symbols of others whom they prevent from doing the same through charging fees for the use of the images of the looted/stolen objects in the British Museum. It is true though that Westerners have no great respect for the symbols of other cultures. By this use by others with no spiritual connection to the objects, such symbols are gradually emptied of any spiritual significance and value. The British Museum sets conditions and fees for the use of the images of the looted/stolen objects in the museum. We believe they have no exclusive right to the use of images of the stolen/looted images in the museum. Such pretence has been successfully challenged in at least one case. Crown Fraud: Stolen Benin Bronzes & British Museum http://www.youtube.com See on the Benin invasion Monday Midnite, 1897, http://www.youtube.com
Members of the infamous Punitive Expedition of 1897 proudly posing with looted Benin artefacts.
Several African countries are celebrating their 50 years of independence from colonial rule this year. We can count 16: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mail, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia and Togo (Chung, 2010). However, no other country may elicit the sort of interest that will be accorded to Nigeria, during what is termed the golden jubilee celebration. This is not because of the earlier squabbling over the cost of the ceremonies, but perhaps due to the sheer size of Nigeria in terms of population or human and material resources, as Africa’s most populous country and containing a wide range of resources. At independence on the first of October in 1960, there was great expectation at the emergence of a great modern state in Africa called Nigeria.
It is therefore quite appropriate and even imperative to assess the journey of this country so far, as it celebrates 50 years of political independence and also look at the challenges and prospects of development after five decades.
A historical and political economy approach has been employed for this analysis, mainly because it helps in periodization of developments but perhaps more because it enhances a comparative approach that also enables bench-marking and performance evaluation concerning critical development indicators and possibilities.
The idea of assessment of success is very important, just as the comparative approach, within the African continent, among states in the developing countries and with the rest of the world. In the era of globalism, the interconnectedness of the world presupposes that if you are not looking at the corner of your world from the perspective of globalization, you can at least look at it from the framework of localization.
Also, in terms of political economy, there are those critical scholars who would even suggest that it need not be separated from history. In aligning with this epistemological tradition, therefore, this paper will discuss Nigeria’s development challenges and prospects from a critical social analytical political economy approach.
This will also, hopefully, establish the imperialist and post-imperialist contexts (probably different phases of globalization) of understanding the issues. Based on oral tradition, written sources, archaeology, geographical materials, ethnographic materials or linguistic materials, it has been established that the earliest contacts between the present area of Nigeria and the rest of the world may have commenced around the seventh century.
This was due the Trans-Saharan trade between the northern parts of Nigeria and the western Sudan, Sahara, North Africa, Europe, the Nile Valley including Egypt and the Middle East. This commercial intercourse was to later receive augmentation with the spread of Islam, especially in the Chad Basin. The Trans-Saharan trade fuelled by Islam became a prominent feature of the political economy of northern Nigeria, based also on some concomitant factors:
“The most important of these factors were the introduction of camel (sic) to North Africa, the increases in demand for gold in Muslim countries and Europe, the role of Islam, the emergence of centralized state systems in the Nigeria area and other parts of West Africa, the Islamization of their rulers and the performance of annual pilgrimages by, especially, the rulers and the subsequent diplomatic activities which issued from them.” (Falola et al, 1999:58)
Along the coast, the Portuguese were the first European visitors, having made contact with the Ijaws or Izon or Ijo as early as the 15th century and initiated the procurement of captives. Benin historians reported that one Joao Affonso d’ Aviro, a Portuguese national, was the first European to visit a Nigerian town. His 1486 visit to Benin was a herald to what would come to significantly shape the future of what emerged as the modern state of Nigeria (Falola et al., 1999).
With a combination of interests- mercantilist, colonial acquisition and missionary work, the Europeans would come to substantially determine the history of the peoples of present day Nigeria. According to some of the most authoritative historians on Nigeria, the country was a creation of European ambitions and rivalries in West Africa as part of the “scramble for Africa” leading to its partition. In the area of Nigeria, the contestants were mainly the British, French, German and Portuguese and it was created within territory that once had great kingdoms and states like Kanem–Borno, the Sokoto Caliphate, Ife, Benin, the Oyo Empire, city states of the Niger Delta and civilizations like those of Aro, Igbo Ukwu and Nok (Falola et. al., 1999; Crowder, 1965). The conquest of Nigeria, Crowder has added, was effected through three centres of British interest in the territory: one, trading in Lagos; two, competition for palm oil in the Niger Delta; and three, trade in the hinterland through the River Niger.
Tamuno (1984) has affirmed that from 1899, that is after the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, the British sought to establish and control a colonial state by removing all African opposition to this project. By 1914, Britain had become the paramount ruler of most of Nigeria, with the exception of pockets of resistance from Egbaland, Igbo and Tiv areas.
This historical sketch cannot be complete without recognizing the role of explorers, traders, missionaries and colonial administrators. Of these, George Goldie and Frederick Lugard, stand out. The former for expediting trade in the area of Nigeria under the United Africa Company (UAC), later Royal Niger Company (RNC), and the latter for consolidating colonial conquest. The important explorers were Mungo Park, the trio of Walter Dudley, Dixon Denham and Hugh Clapperton. There was another trio of James Richardson, Adolf Overweg and Heinrich Barth, and the Lander brothers, John and Richard. Much of the colonial history of Nigeria between 1914 and 1960 was social and political engineering to advance British interests, contain the “natives” and engage the nationalist movement which would compel independence in 1960.
British colonial administration was based mainly on indirect rule through African rulers, as distinct from the mainly French, assimilation policy of trying to make colonial subjects into French citizens, a system also practiced by the Portuguese; and German and Belgian paternalism which looked down on colonial subjects. It could be suggested that the character of colonial socialization has left permanent imprints on former colonial communities as discussed by Aime Cesaire, Frantz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah, Walter Rodney, Eric Williams and others. Anti-colonial reactions targeted these influences.
Prior to assessing the performance of Nigeria in terms of development since 1960, from the perspective of challenges and prospects, there are still some important historical milestones to note: Nigeria gained independence in 1960 and became a republic in 1963. At birth, Nigeria was imbued with certain structural imbalances. The first post- colonial general elections were organized in 1964 and due to the turbulence surrounding those elections, largely in the opposition Tiv area of central Nigeria and the Yoruba area in the west, the military intervened in a coup d’état in 1966 in which the Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, from northern Nigeria, the northern premier Ahmadu Bello, the western premier, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, and several political leaders and military officers were killed.
The ethnically and regionally skewed killings by mainly Igbo-speaking officers, would attract a counter coup in the same year, and the killing of the Igbo- speaking Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and Head of State, Aguiyi Ironsi, replaced by Yakubu Gowon, a minority, from central Nigeria. The social turmoil and violence accompanying all these developments, led to the secessionist attempt by the eastern region to declare the state of Biafra and a resultant civil war of 30 months that claimed about one million lives. This development could be interpreted as a culmination of ethnic and regional political rivalries, essentially driven by the elite, eager to manipulate social differences for personal gain.
Meanwhile, the largely agrarian and solid minerals economy of Nigeria (cocoa, groundnut, palm products, hides and skins, rubber, and various food products like cassava, yams, guinea corn, maize, and citrus fruits, as well as coal, tin and columbite, iron, limestone, among others) from the pre-colonial up to the colonial period, was to change into a gradually monocultural economy based on hydrocarbons, with the discovery of oil at Oloibiri in the Niger Delta in 1956. The events from the first military coup d’état, the earlier discovery of oil and the civil war, are very important aspects of Nigeria’s history. For it is possible to suggest that these developments significantly and critically correlate with the challenges and prospects of Nigeria’s development since independence as discussed in an edited volume by Panter-Brick (1978).
Out of Nigeria’s 50 years of independence, the military would rule Nigeria for about 30 years and come to largely shape the socio-economy and politics of the country. Military rule would destroy democratic structures and processes and negate consensual or participatory development for a long period. For purposes of brevity, the highlights of Nigeria’s national history from 1914 to 2010 are presented in Box 1:
Highlights of Nigeria’s National History, 1914 – 2010
Source: The New Nigeria, 1960-2010, Golden Jubilee Edition, Nigeria High Commission, Ottawa, Canada
In terms of general characterization, the parliamentary system of government inherited from the British was discarded for an American-style presidential system in 1979. In addition, the earlier military administration of Yakubu Gowon and Murtala Muhammad embraced nationalist policies and planned development through fairly well conceived national development plans. The later military rulers especially the Ibrahim Babangida period, opted for Bretton Woods institutions’ (World Bank/International Monetary Fund) neo-classical economics or neo-liberal ideological paradigms, despite well meaning programs targeted at social engineering for development, moral development, poor people's empowerment and the likes.
Thus far, there has been an observation of Nigeria’s domestic attributes. However, what has been the position of Nigeria in the global society? Emeka Anyaoku (2010), a Nigerian citizen and former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, recently provided a useful synopsis of this position as follows:
In anticipation of Nigeria emerging as a big African country and leader of the black race, the country was unanimously accepted as the 99th member of the United Nations (UN) in October 1960. An offer Nigeria reciprocated by offering the contribution of a military contingent to the UN peace mission in the Congo, further leading to the appointment of Nigeria’s Brigadier Aguiyi Ironsi, as the first African commander of the force in Congo.
Nigeria would later lead the 22-member Monrovia Group of African countries to merge with the Casablanca Group of five to form the OAU. Nigeria’s support to the liberation movements in Africa in the late 1970s, including Murtala Muhammed’s “Africa Has Come of Age” speech in Addis Ababa on 11th January, 1976 and its leading role in the formation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 1975 were of major significance. Other high points have been international peacekeeping roles including that of the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the Paris Club’s debt forgiveness of 2005, among other actions. These have helped Nigeria’s international image. Mention must also be made of the appointment of a Nigerian as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and Nigeria’s role in initiating the New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD). Another noteworthy positive aspect has been the notable success of several Nigerians in the Diaspora.
Nigeria’s low points include a high crime rate, a faulty electoral process, and corruption. Another source of Nigeria’s bad image has been communal conflicts, militancy in the Niger Delta, religious riots and the Christmas 2009 incident of a Nigerian arrested for allegedly attempting to bomb an American airline. The country’s main weakness, however seems to be its underperformance despite bounteous resources, leading to the appellation of “resource curse” particularly for hydrocarbons, but which could also apply to other resources.
In addition to being the eighth producer of oil and containing the sixth deposits of gas worldwide, Nigeria has 44 exportable commodities and 34 solid minerals. The country's estimated 150 million people, from about 400 ethnic nationalities and Christian, Muslim and African Traditional Religions (ATR), potentially make it the largest market in Africa (Northern Union, 2007).
* Extract from the Golden Jubilee Symposium Paper presented at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, 30 September 2010.