THE HISTORY OF LOKOJA – WHERE IT ALL STARTED – EMIR OF LOKOJA TOWN
After his arrival on October 3, 1912, Lugard was appointed simultaneously Governor of the British colony and protectorates of Southern and Northern Nigeria and Governor of the British Protectorate of Northern Nigeria.
WHEN many think of Lokoja, they do so mainly in terms of the two great rivers Niger and Benue then the confluence. But Lokoja is more than that.
Perhaps without Lokoja Nigeria would possibly have remained what many cynically say it is: A geographical expression. There might have been no one Nigeria, let alone with one destiny. For it was in this confluence city that Sir Frederick Lugard announced the amalgamation of the then northern and southern protectorates on Jan. 1, 1914.
The conquistador of the Northern Protectorate had also been High Commissioner in the north for six years from the inception of the protectorate in 1900 to 1906.
From northern Nigeria, he left for Hong Kong where he served as governor for another six years.
Unlike views canvassed in conventional history books, Lugard was asked to amalgamate the two territories because the British government then felt that the maintenance of two separate but contiguous administrations was economically wasteful and administratively unwise.
Also, they reportedly wanted to save themselves the trouble of aiding the northern administration through a grant-in-aid of about £100,000 while the southern administration usually had more than a million pounds sterling surplus accruing from its custom receipts.
The northern protectorate on amalgamation covered an area of 694,404.9 square kilometres. It comprised the greater part of the Sokoto caliphate and Borno. Lugard subsequently took the emirates of the Sokoto caliphate as basis for the establishment of a system of local government through existing indigenous authorities.
This was in contrast to the southern protectorate where there were great varieties in the systems of local government operating then.
Apart from the above, creating a historical political significance for Lokoja, no doubt, the outcome of the amalgamation like Lokoja, is still, a jumbled confusion.
The unification remains so imperfect then that a colonial officer Sir Hugh Clifford said in 1919: “The amalgamation had no unifying effect, but in so far as an attempt at unification had been made, efforts of the government appear to have been arrived at forcing the southern provinces to accept the peculiar systems and ideals of the north.”
THE HISTORY OF LOKOJA , WHERE IT ALL STARTED , EMIR OF LOKOJA TOWN At present, the capital of Kogi State, with Governor Yahaya Bello at the helm, Lokoja is today more than Lugard. It is lost to travellers and
settlers from various parts of Nigeria and even beyond. The native
communities are essentially ancient in appearance, predominantly fishermen. To have a full impact of this town set on a valley, is to take a walk up Mount Pati the Plateau that surrounds Lokoja. Mount Pati is about six kilometres above the sea level.
A relatively small town covering only about 20 square kilometres, the
confluence remains largely untapped tourist attraction. It has seen
attractions, but much of neglect both at the federal and state levels.
At Ganaja, the two rivers meet and form a Y shaped confluence and the difference depicted by their colours. The water of River Niger is brownish while Benue is light blue.
These two rivers must have been of major interest to European explorers and missionaries to settle in Lokoja.
Following Mungo Park’s efforts, several British explorers attempted to explore River Niger with the primary aim of knowing the extent of resources of the confluence and its surroundings. The Lander brothers, Richard and John, completed the exploration of River Niger between 1830 and 1832.
Today, the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) has its Lokoja station located on Mount Pati and also the state FM radio station. Lugard also having been attracted to the beautiful scenery made it its administrative rest house.
Interestingly, the houses used by Lugard are still solidly standing in Lokoja though rehabilitated and coverted to various uses. His residence is now within the precinct of Kogi State Government House and the rest house habours NTA.
The town’s tourist potentials, however, remain acutely untapped though there is a museum for colonial history. Lugard’s statute and other relics of colonialism are still there in abundance. Right in its centre is a European cemetery where some early settlers were buried.
There is also the ‘Iron of Liberty” where slaves were set free underscoring Lokoja prominent role in abolition of the greatest scourge of humanity, the slave trade.
A major port for slave trade in Nigeria, Lokoja became a collection centre for seized slaves from merchants and before subsequent release. The ‘Iron of Liberty” stands exactly on the same spot slaves were set free. Located within the premises of Bishop Crowther Memorial School, it is symbolised by the chains and bars used then. Many still remember the efforts of Bishop Ajayi Crowther in the abolition of slave trade himself having been a freed slave.
Some deposed emirs who stood against the tyrannical rule of Lugard and his fellow colonialist ended up being banished to Lokoja. By refusing to co-operate with the colonalist surreptitious looting and the domination of their territories, they were deposed and exiled to Lokoja. The graves of these emirs are in Lokoja till today.
Some of these include the late Emir of Bida, Mallam Mohammed Bashir, deposed in 1901, Mallam Aliyu Abdullahi, Emir of Kano, deposed and exiled in 1903 and Emir of Zaria, Mallam Aliyu Dansidi.
Another spot representing a landmark in Nigeria’s colonial past found in Lokoja is the spot where the Union Jack (the British Flag) was raised in 1901. Symbolically, colonialism started in this spot.
The British consulate was closed in 1866 and replaced by the Royal Niger Company, who under a royal charter, started administering Lokoja.
On December 31, 1899, the British government renewed the company’s charter and January 1, 1900, they assumed direct control.
The European missionaries also contributed in no small measure in raising the profile of Lokoja. The first primary school in the old northern Nigeria was built in Lokoja. Located on the premises of the CMS, it is known as Holy Trinity Bishop Crowther Memorial Primary School and was established in 1865 by Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first African to be ordained bishop of
the Anglican Church.
It also included the first church which was dedicated in 1870. The premises has pitched the Anglican Diocese of Lokoja against the National Commission for Museums and Monuments on the one hand and the moslem community of Kogi State
on the other because of expansion works resulting in the demolition of the original primary school building. It is now a subject for litigation.