Nigeria. Portugese. The Germans. The British. The French. This is something of a supposed and coherent history. What is Nigerian history? This article leads on from the work done by Fabian Nkeonye Ukaegbu: it is from his writing that I learnt to place these important questions up front, in an introduction. Nigeria: even the name is the creation of some colonialist administrator’s wife. Can we say today that there is no Nigeria? Only Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and thousands of other smaller groupings. Before 1914, it simply was not possible to talk about Nigeria as a territorial entity.
The nation state exists predominantly as a construct, it is a leftover of the Treaty of Westphalia, 1648. This should be common knowledge, taught in primary school. Nigeria. A euro-centric entity, in the heart of West Africa. Its borders drawn up by white man and its early existence having nothing or little to do with Nigerians, before or today.
The map is not the territory, Anne Schutzenberger taught me that…
I am interested in the nastiness lurking within the ordered exterior of the European mindset. I want to inspect the fingernails of the politicians in London as the ships were leaving West Africa with full cargo holds. Come closer and sit beside the fine upstanding citizenry who actually dealt in human life. To eat at the table of some Maritime Bourgeoise, the plantation owners of what is now Haiti. Atlanticism; C.L.R. James’ The Black Jacobins. Imagine the men waiting at the wharves, eagerly awaiting the next ship coming in…
I wouldn’t normally discuss Hegel in this context, but James would back me in this, and Ukaegbu discusses dialectics a lot. There is a famous passage in the Phenomenology of Spirit called “Independent and Dependent Self-Consciousness: Lordship and Bondage.” This comes in the Self-Consciousness chapter of the work which discusses and characterises the rise of human consciousness towards Absolute Spirit in a mytho-poeic manner. Crucially, for Hegel, absolute knowledge, or Spirit, cannot come to be without self-consciousness first recognising self-consciousness in someone else. A developed consciousness must reach this point. Such an issue in the history of philosophy had never been explored before Hegel and its treatment in the Lordship and Bondage section of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Sprit marks a watershed in European philosophy. This particular dialectic describes, in narrative form, the encounter between two self-conscious beings who engage in a struggle to the (philosophical and at-the-same-time very real) death before one enslaves the other, only to find that this does not give him the control over the world he had sought.
I have recently found out about this man, Jaja of Opobo. He earned his way out of slavery and became a big man in the city-state of Opobo in what is now modern day Nigeria.
Dude. Palm Oil got lucrative and Jaja blocked the British division of mercantile capitalists from getting to the interior of his country. He went on and shipped the stuff straight to Liverpool, cut the middle men and kept the power and the money for himself and for Opobo. Then at the Conference of Berlin in 1884, a vote was held and it was agreed that Opobo actually belonged to the British. This man, Henry “Harry” Hamilton Johnstone was a British Consul and invited Jaja to negotiate aboard a British warship. He then had him arrested. He was found guilty of ‘blocking the highways of trade’ and taken as a prisoner to London. Due apparently to his status, he was a guest of Queen Victoria’s at Buckingham Palace before being deported to St Lucia in the Caribbean.