Key Points From This Episode:
• A biased telling of history in Nigeria after the civil war and how Feyi’s book corrects this.
• The situation in Nigeria where Feyi’s book starts from; the waging of a state-building jihad in 1804.
• Local slavery practices in Nigeria during the caliphate versus how Europeans treated slaves.
• The role of the ending of the transatlantic slave trade in events in Nigeria.
• Tsetse flies making animal husbandry difficult and the main role of slaves in Nigeria for transportation.
• How missionary educated slaves returned to Nigeria and became a new elite.
• The bargain struck by the new elite to stop violent neighboring tribes which led to colonization.
• Events that led to the formation of the Hausa-Fulani and Feyi’s definition of ethnic groups.
• The diverse amount of languages and ethnic groups in Nigeria and the movements that led to this.
• The power play between Europeans in Nigeria and what led to them heading inland.
• The role of the maxim gun and the Berlin conference in the spread of colonialism in Nigeria.
• Joseph Chamberlain’s approach and how the Europeans developed and governed Nigeria.
• Why Britain ended up deciding to amalgamate North and South Nigeria.
• The difference between French and British colonialism and the after-effects on former colonies.
• The current situation in Nigeria; weaponization of civil war and discrimination against Igbo people.
• Climate change causing Fulani migrations to feed cattle and the tensions this is causing.
• Feyi’s perspectives on whether Nigeria will still be a state in 30 years.
• Thoughts from Feyi on why Nigeria is such a tech hub.
Mark: Hello, and welcome to the Charter Cities podcast. I’m your host, Mark Lutter, the founder and executive director of the Charter Cities Institute. On the Charter Cities podcast, we illuminate the various aspects of building a charter city, from governance to urban planning, politics to finance. We hope listeners to the Charter Cities podcast will come away with a deep understanding of charter cities, as well as the steps necessary to build them. You can subscribe and learn more about Charter Cities at chartercitiesinstitute.org. Follow us on social media, cci.city on Twitter, and Charter Cities Institute on Facebook. Thank you for listening.
My guest today is Feyi Fawehinmi, the author of Formation: The Making of Nigeria from Jihad to Amalgamation.
Mark: Welcome to the show, Feyi.
Feyi: Thanks, Mark. Thanks for having me.
Mark: Great. So to start, can you chat a little bit about why you wrote the book Formation and what it’s about? What the reception has been so far?
Feyi: Nigeria is a young country. I think that’s the first point. So we have this population that is about – You can almost think of it as the inverse of a country like Japan. So about 70% of the population is under 30. So I think that’s the first issue. And then we also have a –
Mark: A young country. You mean, young, as in the average ages though. Not that has became a country in recent history?
Feyi: No, no, no. So it’s young demographically, very, very young. So the vast majority of population are under 30. And we also have a kind of like a demand and supply problem with history. So history has been very, very politicized in Nigeria, especially after the Civil War. So some people, the people who won the Civil War, decided on a version of history. And what they kind of did was basically almost like so many different parts of Nigeria’s history –
Mark: I guess, quickly, to back up. So you mentioned the Civil War. I assume some of our listeners will not be 100% familiar with the Civil War. So maybe just give a quick, quick overview of the Civil War is how it fits in the kind of Nigeria national myth story, and then how it’s – Then you could get on with helping understand how it influences politics today.
Feyi: Yeah. So after our independence, 1960, Nigeria, like many other African countries, succumbs with a number of military coups. And the country was very, very fragile. And there were a lot more strong ethnic ties than in national story. Things degenerated after the first military coup. And so we got to the point where, by a part of the country, a small part of the country, the South East, decided that they could no longer be a part of the Nigerian story after being on the receiving end of a number of genocidal attacks. I mean, almost kind of like an ethnic cleansing in the northern part of the country. So decided to secede from the country. The rest of the country came together and said, “No, you’re not going anywhere.”
Mark: This can basically be understood as somewhat analogous to partition with India and Pakistan, where you had some attacks on an ethnic group that were kind of, I don’t know, living outside their traditional boundaries. And as a result of those attacks, they said, “Hey, alright, this isn’t working. Let’s form our own country.” But I guess the difference is India, Pakistan, Pakistan is its own country. Biafra is not its own country. Yeah.
Feyi: Yeah. So you can say probably halfway of the story of a partition where you had two countries out of that. So the Civil War is fought. And the nationalist, if you like, the national version side of the battle, won the war. So a group of people that kind of almost like they settled on a narrative and made real Civil Wars. There was an admirable part of it. Just one part of it whereby, after the war was over, it became a question of saying, “Look, it was brothers fighting. So the narrative of the Civil War was no victor, no vanquished.” So it was a question of saying we didn’t want to punish another part of the country for trying to leave. We are taking it brothers fault, and then it’s all over now.
So that part of it is admirable. But the other part of it is that – And this brings us to what we’re talking about, is that he kind of got to – It created an atmosphere where things were swept under the carpet. So today, Nigeria, you’ll see a lot of people, especially those who are on the receiving end, in the southeast of the country, who there’s a lot of unresolved anger, and bitterness and injustice, whereby people were treated very, very badly, even though I said “no victor, no vanquished”. Some people suffered for it.
So that version of history meant that we kind of shut down history, shut down teaching of history. So history hasn’t been taught in Nigerian schools for a while. And obviously when – Yeah. So when you have that demand side where people are not demanding history, the supply side also fails. So our independence, Nigeria had produced a number of World Class historians. I mean, these were very, very good historians. But over time historian was reduced in status as a – And then after what we just did and have all of that anymore.
So Nigerian history has not been told – I mean, when you combine this with the fact that we have a young population, it means you need to keep refreshing history. I always bring up this anecdote I read some time ago, way back a few years ago, where it said, I’m in the US, since the end of the American Civil War, you can have a different book on the American Civil War every day since the US, since the end of the US Civil War. I mean, you can pick your choice. Whatever narrative or anything you are. But Nigeria is not like that. We are very, very history, and it’s very, very heavily politicized. So we thought we – Fola and I, my coauthor, we thought we could add something for our own generation, which is kind of like the younger generation. We could tell the story of Nigeria and a part of Nigerian history that is not very well known at all. People are a bit more familiar with things around post-colonial history, or post-independence history since 1960. But the 19 century, when we think that the real character of Nigeria was formed, it’s kind of almost like a black hole. Most people don’t really know what happened. And again, it’s not taught in schools, and people are young. So wanting to retell that story, and we know historians. Both of us are – I work in insurance. He works in banking. But we thought we could tell a story and refresh that story to get people .
Mark: Insurance is definitely known for their storytelling ability. .
Feyi: Yeah, insurance is sold. It’s not bought, as they say. So you have to tell a story to get people to buy insurance.
Mark: Basically, both supply side problem in the sense that there kind of, I guess, I don’t know if it was a legal prohibition, or at least a cultural prohibition, on developing this sense of history after the Civil War, because of the kind of risk of upsetting a relatively unstable political equilibrium. And combine that with a very demographically young country where many people then therefore don’t know the history. If they do, they’re getting it probably oral history as probably heavily filtered through their tribe or ethnic group. And then this is an attempt to kind of fill that void in that market and provide a kind of clear, easy to understand history that isn’t very well known. So let’s start there. So like where does your story start? And like what are the key, I guess, actors and stakeholders to help understand the history of Nigeria?
Feyi: Okay, so our story starts in around about 1804, which is when the Jihad kicked off in what is the northwest part of today’s Nigeria. And we chose that point because that jihad –
Mark: Because jihad is also like somewhat – Think of, I don’t know, a politicized term. So how specifically do you define jihad in this circumstance?
Feyi: In this sense, is it’s almost kind of like a state building war, if you like. So what we had was – I mean, in theory, jihad is a holy war then. In the Nigerian context, or what happened, a lot of people who fought on the side of the jihad is weren’t even Muslims. They were protesting injustice, if you like. So, in the setting of what was Northwestern Nigeria at the time, was a very, very – There was a lot of grievance and a lot of own resolving justice. And right into the middle of that walked a charismatic preacher.
Mark: It’s really interesting that you mentioned the state building point. There was an article back, I think it was four or five years ago, when ISIS was at their peak in the New York Times. And I believe that journalist was an American, was an immigrant to America. So not caught up in all the like American culture war stuff. But she basically went and like – I don’t think she did that interviews of people living under ISIS territory, and dug up all of the kinds of like administrative records.
Feyi: Yeah, I remember that story.
Mark: That ISIS was actually better at providing state services like trash collection, public safety, etc., then the Iraqi or kind of Syrian Government whose territory they were taking. And obviously ISIS was doing all sorts of horrible abuses in addition to that, but it was interesting that the did have this really kind of fundamental state building function that I think is all too often kind of forgotten about in modern society where people have an experience of living under largely functional states, and so don’t really understand what it’s like to have that kind of transition period.
Feyi: It gets lost in the – We’re talking about jihad, for example, a holy war, or caliphate or something. It all gets lost in the fight. The people who wage this war, they actually usually have ambitions to build the states. They want to build a function. And the jihad kicked off. And at the height of the caliphate that came out of the jihad in Nigeria. We had a –
Mark: So before this, there were basically, I guess, several kingdoms. What were their food source? I was actually curious when I was reading your book. Typically you think of states forming around like grain, because grain is easily extractable. And Nigeria, in my understanding, did produce much grain and still doesn’t. So what was the primary food source that was sustaining these politically units?
Feyi: So they had this – It was a confederation of very loosely related kingdoms. So there wasn’t one big . And I think – James Scott, yeah. So he’s written –
Mark: Against the Grain.
Feyi: Against the Grain. And he mentioned at this point about cassava –
Feyi: Yeah. So he mentioned this point about cassava states, right? So because cassava is a crop that is not easily stored. You store it and then it gets rotten very quickly. So it’s very, very difficult to tax. So I mean, Nigeria has always been a cassava and yam – It’s a tuba – It’s kind of like a to tuba state as opposed to a proper grain state where you can harvest the grain, store it, tax it, that sort of thing. So yeah, that’s what the food sources mainly were. Yeah.
Mark: So basically, you had this confederation of kingdoms that were mostly Muslim, but not particularly religious. You have this charismatic preacher who steps in and starts this state building jihad .
Feyi: Yeah. Basically, so this kingdom, obviously they were mainly pagan, but then in nomadic group of people call them the Fulani who migrated across West Africa. They brought in Islam.
Mark: At that time, were they moving south? So they were coming from like the northern part of West Africa and then slowly moving south?
Feyi: So they actually came west from west, right? So they actually came from the west in – When you call the foot soldier, like Mali and all those areas in today’s West Africa. So they migrated –Obviously, they migrated south and across. So some of them might reside in a central place. They’re kind of two groups of them. So you had some who were settlers. So basically, they come into a town, and it’s usually on the outskirts that there were scholars. They were very, very well, globally well-connected. So it never took them long to wander away, if you like, into the courts, into the local court, because they had information, they had knowledge. And those kinds of things made them appeal to whoever the king was in that case. And then you have obviously the pastoralists who kept moving around with their cattle. And that’s something that resonates still till today.
But the guy who led to jihad was one of the, what you call the sedentary Fulani. So basically, they settled outside of town . They were very physically different as well. They were light skinned, taller than the local people. So they settled out there. But then they were advisors to the king, to local kings. They were globally connected, like I mentioned. They have networks all around the world, and they provided advice to the king whenever they needed it. So these guys were there, and they also brought Islam.
So you had a situation whereby there was a lot of injustice. Again, the local laws, arbitrary taxes, like big bugbear for people. Your property could get confiscated with no compensation. The rich did what they did. The poor suffered what they must. Those kind of things. And this guy, , began to preach over a number of years, preaching directly against a lot of this injustice. He attracted a huge following based on this latent unresolved injustice. All of that was going on a built over a real following up until the point whereby the local kings then had to make a choice. What are we going to do about this guy? He’s building up a following. He overthrew us one day. We tolerate him. And you can see, if you read the first chapter of the book, you see various things happening. Different ways of trying to tolerate them. At one point in some, some kings will try and outright ban. One of the funniest one was when a king came up with a law saying, “You could only become a Muslim if your father was also a Muslim.” So basically tried to break the chain of religion transmitted through the generation. So ban Muslim dresses, and all that sort of thing.
And until things go to a head at that point, he had built up a following that was ready to say, “You know what? Let’s take up arms. We’re ready to fight. Let’s overthrew these guys. Let’s get rid of this injustice.” All these things you were saying about how life can be better if we adopt your ways . Let’s put it to practice.
So in the end, the king give him a perfectly good excuse by launching an attack on him on his followers. And then a jihad kicked off from there. It was a very, very unlikely jihad battle, because these were a bunch of ragtag guys, effectively, who had nothing more sophisticated than bow and arrows. And they took on an army, local army with about 100,000 foot soldiers and several thousand on horses as well, and somehow they prevailed.
Again, this international connections that they had had meant that they knew about what was called the square formation, which was an effective way of fighting against a mounted army, and army mounted on horses. They fought a number of battles. They lost some early ones, but they fought a number of battles, and they were able to win. And that Jihad then spread across all of what we know as northern Nigeria today. It was a complete war. We destroyed all of Northern Niger. Out of it came that state of Caliphate. What we know as the Sokoto Caliphate. And at that point, it became the largest state in Sub-Saharan Africa at that point in time. They modelled it after the Abbasid Caliphate in Iraq. Again, these guys were very, very well educated. They knew – So , the leader of the jihad, was a kind of like the spiritual leader. His brother was a constitutionalist who actually wrote the constitution for the new states. And then his son, who became the first proper , who was well became like the chief executive who did the building, and actually put the state made the state physical in that sense.
Mark: That’s northern Nigeria. And that kind of starts off what’s. What’s happening in southern Nigeria at the time? I guess, western Nigeria. because it’s like kind of curved.
Feyi: Yeah, the way we named things in Nigeria is a bit – What your eyes on what your eyes are telling you is not what it’s called. So when you say east, for example, the east is actually in the southern part of the country. But different things were happening. So Southern Nigeria was more diverse. There were a lot more kingdoms. So at the point in time, when the Sokoto Caliphate, the jihad was kicking off in 1804, for the biggest Kingdom in the southwest of Nigeria, was very disintegrated, broken up, and a number of splinter kingdoms that emerged out of that. So what we focused on in the book is one of them, a remarkable moment whereby some people who are fleeing, the disintegration of the Empire, set up a new kingdom. A liberal kingdom, which was well governed by the standards of the time, and they became a magnet for all kinds of immigrants, including foreigners from outside of the country. So we had all these different kingdoms. Again, empire, which is well known as well. At that point in time, the Empire had peaked. It wasn’t what it used to be. There were also other smaller kingdoms around who could challenge it.
So Southern Nigeria was a lot more diversity, a lot more going on there. And also about this time was – So in 1804, Atlantic slavery was coming to an end. Well, at least in the British Empire. It was coming to an end, and it would have profound consequences and profound impact on what we know as Nigeria today. Because slavery and the slave trade was woven into the fabric of society deeply.
Mark: How much of the slavery was driven by the Transatlantic Slave Trade? And how much of this slavery was basically, I don’t know, internal slavery that existed prior to the demand from Europeans, mostly Portuguese Americans, for slaves?
Feyi: The internals had been going on for centuries. So it was a core part of life. It was just a way people. I mean, the slaves were bank accounts. Slaves were assets. It was probably was just how people –
Mark: Do you have a sense of what percentage of the population was enslaved?
Feyi: Some of the numbers are hazy. At the height of the Sokoto Caliphate, up to 50% of people were enslaved. But again, it might differ from the way – The violence in Nigerian slavery was not the kind of violence you had in the sense that we have – I mean, we’ve all watched American movies, for example. The life of a slave in America, daily life was beatings, whippings and all that kind of stuff. The Nigerian martial was probably slightly different. The was in the slave . Right? So in America, I mean, slavery was woven with capitalism. So you had – I mean, if you needed to buy a slave, for example. If you were in, say, Georgia, you needed to buy slaves. You don’t get on your house and go raid Mississippi. You go to a market and you.
But over in the Nigerian context, the actual capture of slaves was a very violent affair. The daily life of a slave was probably less violent than what you had in America. There was some – And I don’t want to minimize it, but there was some mobility, social mobility for slaves.
Mark: I mean, it’s kind of like in China, the eunuchs would end up being advisors to emperor.
Mark: The famous one, like Zing, he, I think, who had the giant ships that are like three times the size of –
Feyi: And then you go to East Africa as well. Yeah.
Mark: You have that in the Ottoman Empire as well, kind of history of – And this is just one like kind of mechanism for control, is how do you – I don’t know if it’s what’s happening in Nigeria, but like how do you ensure that your advisors don’t try to overthrow you? Right? You make them from a different ethnic group that has no connections to the broader society, or you castrate them so they have like, no influence in their heirs. And that basically limits their incentive or ability to kind of take over the governing apparatus from you and allows them to give a good “objective advice”.
Feyi: Yeah, so I mean, we had some of that. But then this also was interesting, because the things like the eunuchs, they were was a feature of the trade with the trans-Sahara slave trade. So the slave trade with the Arab world. A lot of that featured in the book. Slaves, they were a daily part of life. They were just normal.
Mark: What was it used for? Because at least in the US south, for example, like the idea was cotton is very labor-intensive, and relatively easy to measure the output of. So if somebody is picking like too little cotton, you know. But for example, with like tuber cultivation, it’s not easily legible. Was it just like kind of basic manual labor that was kind of easily supervised? Or what function did the slaves provide?
Feyi: Yeah. So this is also a good question. So yes, manual labor, farming, but then also porterage. So basically, transportation, carrying stuff from one place to another. I think that was the biggest driver of demand. And we see this happen after – So before the transatlantic slave trade really blew up in the 18th century. And after the abolition of the slave trade, even internally, we still see this. So it was porterage, people carrying stuff. And Nigeria – I think part of this is because a huge chunk of Nigeria is what you might call the Tsetse fly belt. The Tsetse fly is something obviously, like it has really plagued Africa for a long time. And it made it difficult for – It made animal husbandry very, very difficult or next to impossible. So horses, cows, or whatever, it will be very difficult to breed and raise them in huge chunks of Nigeria just because of this attacks animals.
So human beings were pretty much like a biggest forms of transportation. So that was the main ,that was the biggest thing that drove the demand for slaves, especially after the foreign demand collapsed. Porterage, basically, you wanted to move things across the country put them on their head and then you carry .
Mark: Cool. Okay, so let’s go back to the south. You were focusing on the Oyo Kingdom. And that was kind of an offshoot. Now I forget the name of the previous one, the disintegrating kingdom.
Feyi: So, yeah. . Yeah.
Mark: Yeah. So was it – Was Oyo the offshoot of ?
Feyi: No. No. So Oyo was an empire .
Mark: Oh! And then there was the offshoot of that, whose name I forget that was –
Feyi: we had a chapter on in the book here. So this was a small kind of like kingdom. And it was basically people fleeing the disintegration of the Oyo Empire, who then found refuge literally means under a rock. And is a big rock in that town, which is what people fled that anyway. But we profile them as an example of a new states, a new state that was formed –
Mark: And sort of like Cosmopolitan, like kind of what the Netherlands was to Europe in like kind of the 16th, 17th century.
Feyi: Yes. Yeah. So you can see that. I mean, they formed all of a sudden. It was quite open, remarkably open in terms of people from everywhere. And then you also had a dynamic or especially the dynamic of – Now, when the transatlantic slave trade became illegal, the Royal Navy put ships on the Atlantic Ocean and on the Atlantic Ocean, just on the coast of Nigeria, trying to stop any illegal trade. So what this then led to was that we had a whole bunch of – And people didn’t stop just because the Royal Navy warned the Atlantic. They tried to watch out for when the ship patrols were not there and tried to smuggle people. But the Royal Navy ended up catching several illegal ships. And then these illegal ships, basically what they will do was the ship was caught. They will rescue the slaves on them who would who have been exploited, and then take them to Freetown and more in today’s . And then the missionaries, the Christian missionary society who has set up, establish themselves that sort of schools would then take over, would then take the slaves, give them an education, give them new names. And then you had this remarkable thing which happened whereby a whole bunch of ex-slaves were taken to Freetown completely transformed by education, given new names. And then many of them decided to return to Nigeria where they had been captured, and they became a new elites. So all of these were some of these people again came to that town Abeokuta. And they formed a new group with a set of education. Tried to organize this with their own ideas as well. It also had a number of black Americans, actually. A couple of them came who had heard that maybe there was something going on in West Africa. Let’s go back and see if we can integrate in. It didn’t work out for many of them, but some managed it again.
So yeah, this cosmopolitan developed in there. And it was never easy for them, because you had all this aggressive states around them who constantly them for slaves. The significance of their story is that in trying to protect themselves, they first inserted the entry of Europeans into the country, because they struck a bargain and say, “Look, we need protection against this aggressive Kingdom .” Today’s been a republic, who were determined to raid them for sleeves. And by signing that deal the entry of Europeans into the country, which have profound effects further down the line.
Mark: So before getting then, I guess, into what that kind of, I don’t know what to call it, early colonization process look like. You mentioned that Southern Nigeria is much more diverse than northern Nigeria. And northern Nigeria, you mentioned kind of the house that being the dominant. Is tribe or ethnic group like the right term?
Feyi: Probably ethnic group.
Mark: Ethnic group? I asked another Nigerian, they said tribe, but for now. Okay, so ethnic group in northern Nigeria. And then the Fulani came in as kind of a combination of like herdsmen/scholars, and ended up doing a Jihad taking over creating the state. Were there other major ethnic groups in northern Nigeria?
Feyi: Yes, definitely. I mean, Northern Nigeria is actually quite diverse as well. There were a lot of smaller ethnic groups. Then what happened was because the Fulani were able to take over the whole – The remarkable thing about Jihad was that he was kind of like colonization by Fulani. So you had all of the initial leaders of the jihad.
Mark: Do you know what percentage of the population was Fulani? Like was this 10% of the population? Was it 30% of the population?
Feyi: This is a good question. I mean, I don’t have any, but I’ll probably say less than 10%.
Mark: So they managed to mobilize basically like themselves and coordinate amongst themselves probably much more effectively, but then also amongst provided like for other minority groups that might have felt downtrodden and mistreated by the house that they were able to rally them and even some houses as well. So that’s interesting.
Feyi: Yes. I mean, there’s a story we tell in the book about early on in the jihad, when the Jihad was still in Sokoto. Today, Sokoto. Just concentrated in that part. The king of that kingdom where the Jihad kicked-off, he wrote to the other house or kingdom and said, “Look, a small fire that started in my backyard, and I didn’t attend to it quickly. Has now blown up into something else.” So kind of like a warning to the others.
Now, it’s remarkable that the other kingdom didn’t think that the response to that should be, “Let’s raise an army and let’s go help this guy out.” They took the message, and then they – Rather than coordinating themselves in any real sense. It just said, “Okay, what we’re going to do is we’re going to try and protect ourselves.” So many of them just launched a crackdown on any local Fulani population that they had in their midst, which obviously backfired in many ways.
Mark: All the Fulani then just went and joined the rebellion.
Feyi: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Mark: What’s the Star Wars quote? Like the more you squeeze, the more will just like your fingers?
Feyi: Exactly. And therefore, you have been preaching for about 20 years. And in that time, he had raised a number of students. So he had become a popular scholar. And people from across – A lot of Fulani from across northern Nigeria had actually gone across to study in a school and become his student. So when the Jihad kicked-off, it was almost kind of like activating an established network. So a lot of people were, “Oh a Jihad had kicked off in Sokoto.” And they have gone the upper hand. So they decided that, “Let’s kick-off our own version here,” based on whatever it was. So some of them had long standing issues with their host, and just as you always do. People who almost are kind of like foreigners, they settle, and then they have like running battles with their host. And then the opportunity of Jihad came and they decided to launch almost – There were almost kind of like some freelance Jihads that were launched. Just taking advantage of the fact that things had kicked off in Sokoto. So to go back to your point that you mentioned, they were very well-networked. They had much better network coordinate, better on like the hosted who where I kind of splintered and didn’t walk together.
Mark: Yeah. And then you said the south was more diverse, and you are referring to diversity based in, I guess, just like ethnic groups. So one question is like how do you define ethnic groups? I mean, you mentioned and these Hausa-Fulani, right? One had been settled there. The other was somewhat nomadic, coming down with different, I guess, physical appearance. You mentioned by the end of the book that there’s a bit of a like forming of a new ethnic group, like Hausa-Fulani? And when I was in Nigeria, like you sometimes see them paired together, sometimes you still see them separate. So how do you actually think about like defining that, right? I mean, obviously, it’s a little bit nebulous. But when saying the South is more diverse, I presume that means like, I don’t know, more ethnic groups. But how do you put like, I guess, a little bit more of like emphasis on that to make it more concrete?
Feyi: Yes. That’s an interesting question. Like I mentioned, the Hausa-Fulani, the Hausas became Fulani in a sense, and the Fulani became Hausas in a sense. So the Hausa language, for example, a lot of the Fulanis, they adopted the Hausa language. The Fulani language itself is a very, very inscrutable and difficult language . And today it’s only spoken by the pastoralists. Those ones never integrated. They don’t intermarry. But the actual set in Fulani, the scholars, they intermarried very, very much locally. So the Hausa-Fulani identity was created over time. In other parts of the country, it could be religion, it could be language, and it could just be – But it was only have physical characteristics, with the exception of in the North, whereby, like I said, the Fulani were distinctively different.
Mark: That was a migratory group.
JR: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Mark: And you did tweet recently that like one of your hypothesis being for the reason there’s so many languages in Nigeria is slavery. And the way to protect yourself from getting raided by slaves is to speak another language. And that means that it’s a little bit more costly to enslave you because then you don’t know what you’re saying, etc. And so it’s a little bit of a defense mechanism. That might be a defense mechanism that doesn’t have any underlying, I don’t know, like migratory characteristics. It’s just like we moved over that hill in this space that’s hard to reach and live there for five generations.
Feyi: Yeah, remoteness. So basically, slavery was a very, very violent affair. You wake up and your whole village is on fire. People have come from somewhere, raided, just taking you into slavery. Sell you off to someone. So staying in a remote area, in a remote location had advantages in that sense. So basically, hiding in a hill, in a very hard to reach mountain or maybe somewhere beyond some kind of river. So my hypothesis is that, over time, because slavery went on for so long, over time that remoteness, and it prevented a kind of what you normally expect. In a country, like Nigeria, it’s not so big where you have this multiplicity of languages or multiplicity of ethnic groups. I mean, there are places in Nigeria where it’s literally within walking distance. You’ll be able to hear different languages in a different groups. Normally, overtime, you respect that will sort of go away. People have been living close to each other.
Mark: Yeah. So this is interesting, because it sort of goes against the James C. Scott hypothesis, where it’s mostly grained states that are doing the raiding. But here you have like cassava states, tuber states, presumably some of the more coastal states are doing like little bit more fish farming or something like that that are still engaging in this pretty aggressive, I don’t know, right savory project. It also differs from the James C. Scott hypothesis, and that his hypothesis was a little bit less like slavery, cross-slavery, and more of a like farming as slavery, where you would raid, you would put them to work farming in fields, but then they would basically be unable to leave because they would quickly starve if they left. And so it was it kind of slavery, at least as we think of it in the modern world, where there’s somebody like overseeing you within your own property. Here you’re saying it’s like a little bit of a mix between the two. It’s not like full, I don’t know, American Southern slavery, but it’s also not this like James C. Scott-esque slavery where it’s more just like putting you to work in the fields, your own property, but it’s just like your sufficiently sequester that you can’t really escape.
Feyi: Yeah. So I mean, sharecropping was a really, really big, big thing. Basically, I mean, you own slaves, and then you give them a piece of land, and then they go work it out. So basically, you take 80% of whatever they do, and they keep 20% or 10% of anything. And if they don’t farm or they don’t know how best, then there’s nothing. They don’t they don’t get anything out of it. So it was that kind of relationship, which is why, like I said, it wasn’t maybe as daily violence as what you have in America.
And it’s one of the large ethnic groups in Nigeria some of the origin story are that one guy cleared out a piece of land closer to the coast, basically to give himself a new place to trade with the Portuguese in terms of slaves. From this, you get an ethnic group, which formed over time, right. So he’s sort of like the founding father of a particular ethnic group. And then the place where he set up as his own land was mainly to get him closer to the coast so he could trade in better market for for slaves, that sort of thing.
Mark: What’s interesting in thinking about that as compared to like the American identity with kind of westward expansion, is that at least in the US, this was also somewhat similar. People would take their families, go out, start farming, but they always retained this kind of broader sense of identity. No new language has really sprout out. Even looking at the more extreme examples with the Mormons where there was a separate religion, there was a separate society founded. Eventually they were kind of reintegrated within the American fold. They did have the similar, I don’t know, what you call like frontier ethic. But it didn’t lead to this kind of balkanization of society in the same way.
Feyi: Yeah. I mean, the culture spread, but it form new cultures per se. It was the same culture, same language, which is what is really interesting about Nigeria where you have all this. I mean, there’re 500 plus languages in a relatively small space. And it looks like every time things broke off, people broke off from a group, almost as if a kind of new language formed or something. I don’t know. I guess, maybe because maybe a lot of the languages were oral. It wasn’t written down. And then oral language is probably –
Mark: Much more evolutionary.
Feyi: Yeah. Yeah. Over time.
Mark: So okay. So I’m going to mispronounce it, Abeouta. They were basically being threatened by the Benin Kingdom. They invited the British in as protectorate or something so that they could keep their independence, cosmopolitanism. So that was the kind of entry point for the British entry. They were previously parked overseas, not overseas, like just offshore to prevent the slave trade. And now they’re finally making a presence on land. So how did that play out? Like what were then the steps that occurred to end with kind of full scale colonization and control by the British government?
Feyi: Right. So this took quite a long time. I mean, before the Berlin Conference, right? So European power has never gone. They pretty much stayed on the coast. They were trading on the coast, and basically buying and selling any kind of stuff they were doing there just in the same way as it worked with slavery, whereby most of the business ended on the coast. And people didn’t really have an incentive to go internal into the country.
Well, in the name of ending slavery, there was a bombardment of Lagos. Again, this was kind of like led by some ex-slaves who had become what we call the . These were dedicated ex-slaves who partnered with the British to bombard Lagos and take over Lagos and basically in the name of ending the slave trade. Now, obviously, they had their own agenda, obviously. The ex-slave, they wanted to end the slavery and achieve that. But it gives the British a foothold to get into the conference. So they overthrew the local rulers. Put an end to the slave trade quite alright, but then completely took over any kind of trade that was going on there. So all of this persisted for a while until you got to the Berlin Conference.
So what the Berlin Conference then did was basically say – It set the ground rules for anyone to lay claim to territory. So in the sense that you could not sit in Lagos or on the coast and then claim that you own everything behind our coast, all the way up to a certain point. The Berlin Conference said if you want to own it, you have to put down fiscal markers. This then meant European powers began to push inland, just basically – I mean, we had some comical situations where the British and the French were arriving in places internally within days or hours of each other and planting their flags. So it became a great power competition. Because, I mean, say you’re a British, you control the coast in Lagos. But then the French have gone behind you to all the places behind the coast and then lay claim to it. It becomes a problem for you, because, I mean, all the produce or whatever you’re selling at that the cost is coming from internally. So they could easily just block off whatever produce you’re getting. And then you just become redundant, because you’re not getting anything to trade or anything to any kind of business coming your way.
So you have to then lay claim to what was behind the cost. And this meant that European powers began to push inwards. And this is where colonialism basically came in. Before then, it was almost kind of like European powers sit on the coast, do trade with the guys internally and left. Those who went internally were the missionaries. And the missionaries, they were not colonialists per se. They dealt with locals in almost kind of like – In the book, we refer to it as local-led development. So the missionaries coordinated and provided the education for the new guys. And then they allowed the newly educated former slaves to lead. They cannot develop. So many of them returned, they set up schools or businesses, that sort of thing, until all of this happened for maybe roughly about 30 years, which is what we call in the book, we call it the era, where a tantalizing period in human history, where we see what can happen when you have a focus on human capital development and a local human capital development model partnering with Europeans almost on an equal footing before actual colonialism stepped in.
Mark: Okay. And so after that, so then you have the Berlin Conference, and then there’s basically a race to just put a flag down and say, “This is my land.” And they’re mostly competing with the French at that point, and becoming kind of a bit more aggressive. The other interesting thing that you pointed out in the book is the importance of the maxim gun, where a somewhat advanced piece of technology with rifles. It’s like somewhat advanced, but then the Nigerians can just buy rifles from French traders, whatever. But the maxim gun, this gun is sufficiently kind of complicated. You need multiple people. I think what was it? You need six people to like carry it and/or fire it, and then you –
Feyi: About 30 people, yeah.
Mark: Yeah. 30 people. So more. And then you also need like people who are specialized. So it’s not just like you can go to market and buy it. It’s actually like there is this whole training process. And that basically gave the British a substantial kind of weapons advantage, where there was nothing comparable. And so that allowed them to actually really engage in this domination project to a much greater extent than if they were forced to put big armies on boats down there.
Feyi: Yeah. So without my maxim gun, you could not have had the kind of version of colonialism that the British did. So the British were able to get away with doing colonialism with very, very few bodies on the ground. I mean, without the maxim gun, if it was a rifle to rifle thing, then they would have had to put a lot of soldiers on the ground, a lot of bodies on the ground, and then I don’t think that would ever have flown in parliament. Or the government wouldn’t have been able to achieve that. Because, whatever what anyone might say, there were some loud voices against colonialism, especially against colonialism in Africa. People could not see what are we doing there? How are we going to govern this place, for example? There were minority voices, but those voices weren’t allowed in there. So it would have been very, very difficult to say, “Oh, we need to commit 2000 British men or 10,000 British soldiers to go and take over this place.”
But with the maxim gun, and this maxim gun was just a short period of time, when the technological advancement just raised allowed one side to completely raise ahead. And there was just no way. With a maxim gun, 20 British soldiers could take on tens of thousands of local African soldiers and come out on top. It fired thousands, or hundreds of bullets per minute, whereas the rifles who misfire, they weren’t very accurate and took their time to load. But the machine gun could down people by the hundreds in literally minutes. So kind of was the complete game changer in a sense that it allowed that version of colonialism to work, whereby you just need to just a few British soldiers, 20, 30, send them in, and then you will recruit some locals.
Again, this diversity issue in terms of slavery and the legacy of injustice, whereby the British could show up and recruit 2000 local soldiers very, very easily, and then give them some rudimentary training, and then give them some weapons, and then they’ll join you in battle to fight the Fulani who had been oppressing them, for example, for a long time. Or some other ethnic group present there for a long time who sided the British and said, “Okay, maybe the British will buy us out of freedom.” And it was a rational choice for a lot of them and says that these guys have been oppressed for a while. These new guys call up and say, “Okay.” And the British were very good at promising people freedom, even if was just freedom for five or 10 minutes. They promise you freedom. They said, “If you side with us, we’ll guarantee you your independence.” So that maxim gun played a huge role in making that type of colonialism possible.
Mark: So you have the Berlin Conference that says then that incentivizes Britain to race and plant a lot of flags, say it’s our territory, so they can basically control the trade routes. You have the maxim gun that allows that to do that much more aggressively than they otherwise would. So after then you have that, I guess, conquest. Then what does British administration of – And this is about where your book ends. But like, what do then the kind of baseline formation after that conquest of setting up kind of administrative institutions look like in Nigeria? How do they treat the it’s an amalgamation. It’s a bunch of different kingdoms with different histories, different religions, different languages. So how do they then try to govern all of these people who are very different?
Feyi: Yeah. So I think the story probably begins with a guy called Joseph Chamberlain. So who became Colonial Secretary. And he was a kind of like a maverick. . But he had broken two parties in Britain. He broke the Liberal Party, broke Tory party as well. And he was the kind of like a working class Tory. He had very, very different ideas from the general establishment. So the words colonial development were introduced into political lexicon by him in the sense that he introduced the idea that we could develop territories even if we’re not going to make money out of them. And he gave a speech in parliament where he said, “It is the duty of a landlord to develop his estate.”
So, basically, you develop your colonial – Not because of anything, because you own it. Before then it was a question of what can we get out of this place? If we’re not going to make money out of this place, or if we’re only making money out of the coast, then we only stay in the coast. And we don’t spend money on it. Whatever revenues we raise, everything will be self-sustaining. In that sense, Chamberlain became the kind of guy who said, “Look, we can spend money on this place, because we own it. We developed it.” And these are our territories. We’ll begin to treat it like our own. And then that allowed him to justify raising an army, the West African Frontier Force, raising a force to go in and actually begin to control the territory as if it was proper British territory.
So all of that began. It led to the end of the control by private companies. So before then, you have what we call the Royal Niger Company, which is the forerunner to today’s UAC, or at least parts of inside today’s UAC. So the Royal Niger Company was a trading company that managed to use military force to dominate all of the trade around the Niger. So the Niger River was the most lucrative part of the Niger trade, which is where all the trade was in terms of moving things in and out trading. But it was very, very fragmented. Different people control different parts.
Well, what the Royal Niger Company did was basically to use violence to get rid of a lot of the local guys who have been controlling different parts of the territory, and then became the dominant monopoly on the river. So that control then became – It was then where the British government took over what you call an , and they bought out the Royal Niger Company.
Mark: So it’s somewhat analogous then to the East India Company, where the East India Company was a private entity that effectively conquered India, and was using it for their own revenue. And then over time, the British government kind of was like, “Hey, Alright, we’re going to basically nationalize this, point out to shareholders and in turn India into a colony.”
Feyi: Yeah, pretty much. British colonialism worked in this way quite a lot, where some private guys, some private adventurers will go somewhere. Usually, when they get into trouble, the British government would then step in. So it was basically trade, and then the flag. The flag usually came up after the trade. So this is what happened as well. I mean, the guy who led the Royal Niger Company, he made a fortune out of it. He sold the business to the – The company was nationalized by the British government, but got a very good deal out of it. And then by doing that, the British government then began to say, “Okay, we have our men on the ground. You send me someone like .” We have a chapter on it. basically become kind of like an administrator on the ground, actually attempting to govern the place.
And this was where things got a bit different. So in the northern part of the country, gets there. He sees this pretty well established caliphates, which have been developed, again, a nation over 100 years before. You see a caliphate with a structure. Even though at that time, after 100 years, caliphate was on his last legs, was collapsing. But there was a structure and it got a tax system. The tax system at that point was obviously riddled by a lot of corruption. It had all kinds of different things. So what then did was, again, because he was a – I mean, he only had about 15 or 20 people with him there. So what he did was said, “Okay, what we’ll do is we’ll do a kind of indirect rule. We keep the structure in place, the existing structure in place,” you have the sultan and then you have all different , but then I’ll just put a resident, a British resident in each palace, issuing instructions to the .
So basically, from the point of view of the people – So I mean, one of the stories we – Analogies we try to get in the book is that if you arrive in Nigeria and if you just dropped into the country in 1809, you will see this structure of the caliphate in place. The Sultan of Sokoto and different across northern Nigeria all reporting on paying tribute to the Sultan of Sokoto. And then somehow you disappeared. And then you came back in 1904, for example. You will see the same structure in place, but you have to look really closely to realize that, actually, is the British now in charge? Are they behind?
Mark: They kissed another ring.
Feyi: Exactly. So you still have your . You still have your sultan. Well, this time around, the instructions are coming from the British resident just right behind the throne. Yeah, that’s how they govern the northern Nigeria. In southern Nigeria, it was a bit different. In some parts of – There were different systems in different places. So they had to adopt in different ways whereby, in some cases, you have to kick out the ruling, the company ruling class. Or in Benin, for example, when the British raided been in 1897, they kicked out the whole ruling class. Benin was exiled to another part of the country. And then the British basically put someone in charge to run the place. It wasn’t like northern Nigeria whereby the they are allowed.
So you had all these kind of different systems, different – was able to govern all of the North using this system. He set up the capital in a small town called . Just created a new capital. Then from there, he issued instructions to all his residents. And then his residents issued instructions to the local or the sultan. And that’s how he governed .
Down south was a bit different. But then, at this point in time, the key thing that in those days the normal way for government to raise revenue was through customs and excise duties, which meant that having a coast made all the difference in the world. Northern Nigeria is kind of like landlocked. So the southern part of the country was able to pay its own way, and actually even generate some surpluses.
Northern Nigeria needed a bit of additional funding from London to make up the shortfall. So they were able to raise money locally. They raised taxes using the existing taxation system that the caliphate had built in place. But then is constantly asking for money from London. So what they felt was that, actually, we control the south or based on the different groups of people. We control the North, again, under a different sort of a different group of people. So maybe, rather than having this whole business of surplus from the south going to London, and then deficit and then not being funded by London, why don’t we just put them together as one territory and run them as one group? So the amalgamation of Nigeria was pretty much an accountant decision.
Mark: works in insurance.
Feyi: Yeah, exactly. It was an accountant zone to put the country together. And almost nothing more complicated than that. Yeah.
Mark: Well, the accounting decision has had some important implications. Well, so let’s jump to the modern era. But before we do that, France and the UK both had very different, I guess, like colonization strategies. France, I forgot what they called it. But their belief was like everybody we colonize, we can teach them to be Frenchmen, which has this like degree of egalitarianism. And the British, I don’t think ever really – They wanted to, I guess, like westernized people, but never really saw, I think their colonies is becoming full British citizens. One, is that an accurate representation? And two, like how do you – I mean, there’s obviously a book on Nigeria, but you’re well read. So how do you see the different kinds of colonization strategies and then continued engagement where the France have stayed much more engaged with their former colonies? Most of West Africa is under the CFA, which is basically a version of the franc, now euro, that’s a much more stable currency. So kind of much more involved. So how do you see those different colonization strategies like playing out? How do you see them as the modern consequences?
Feyi: Yeah. So the French kept their colonies in a very, very tight embrace, very, very – They kept them really close. So you have things like, people were elected locally in the colonies in West Africa to sit in the French parliament. So you had have some African leaders who were elected. I mean, that didn’t happen a British colony. Britain’s colonization was almost kind of like on the cheap. They did a lot of software by basically, we go into a place, what is the cheapest or the most efficient way we can run this place.
So you can see something like, say, for example, British colonization in Argentina was pretty much just taken over the banks. They control of banks, and that was it. So in different parts, which you find a lot more diversity in the British Empire than in the French Empire. And, I mean, people talk about this all the time. But when they ask you, what is the richest former French colony? It’s very, very difficult to say. I mean, you’re actually looking at – There are not very, very many rich ex-French colonies. You will find some really rich ex-British colonies. You have Singapore. You can you can find some very, very rich, some very poor. So the British, basically, they work with whatever they found on the ground as closely as possible, trying not to spend too much money and running kind of efficiently.
So they gave the language. They exported a simpler version of English, which was created called a basic English and exported to the different colonies. Well, beyond that it wasn’t as tight as the French one. And after World War II, with everyone broke, and the British finances completely shut, the British effectively ran away from the colonies. They basically and run away as soon as they could. Unlike the French who continued to exert. And many people will say influence on a lot of their former colonies, basically holding them in a way that makes it difficult for them to break out. Like you said, the CFA currency. It’s a very emotive issue. Now, I personally think that it has some advantages, because inflation is a killer in a lot of African countries. The CFA franc, it keeps a lid on inflation in the sense that it gives a lot of stability, but then a lot of people make the argument. And they have a very strong point in saying that, “Look, if you’re going to have stability or inflation or controlling inflation, you should do it – Let it be done locally. It shouldn’t be something that has to be done for you by France. Several decades after, you’ll become independent. So those arguments, they do have a point. I think the French –
Mark: I mean, you do want like states to tie their hands in some respect, right? Like an independent judiciary or independent central bank. Those are obviously good things. But then on the other hand, like ideally you want the state’s decision to be to tie their own hands and not to be a foreign power, particularly foreign power that was involved in their colonization.
Feyi: Yeah. So like, I mean, I’ll give you an example. In Nigeria, around about independence, you could – The highest level of appeal was to the Privy Council in Britain. Now, as soon as Nigeria became independence, and then we began to have contests for political power, one of the first things ruling, particularly though, was the ability to appeal to the Privy Council, because they don’t want this tradition whereby the opposition were taking their cases to Britain are winning. In that sense, you might wonder – Nigeria was a newly independent country helped democracy for the opposition to be able to have the outlets, whereby the states couldn’t clamp down on them. Maybe, but then independence, independence, I guess.
Mark: Singapore kept the Privy Council until like the late 80s. And that seemed to be the right decision for Singapore. Singapore is doing all right. But –
Feyi: Yeah. I mean, even New Zealand. New Zealand does not have an independence day. Powers were given over gradually over a long period of them up until the early 80s, I think. But Nigeria, as soon as the contest for political power got intense, stuff like the Privy Council was clamped down on. It would have been better if we had kept it maybe for another decade, or another 15 years, just to allow the opposition develop to a point whereby you’re independent and then you could not crack down on . So that was the kind of the like way it worked. I mean, the British colonies got independence and the vision of independence was more, more true to the word independence than whatever the French colonies got.
Mark: Yeah. So okay, well, let’s now fast forward, right? At the beginning of this conversation, you frame the rationale for writing your book as to develop this history that’s been a little bit lost, particularly among the younger generations of Nigeria. You mentioned the Biafra War, right? And I think we’ve gone through, we mentioned the Hausa and Fulani, the other kind of two major ethnic groups are the Igbo and the Yoruba. The Igbo being the ones who rebelled in the Biafra war, the Yoruba being kind of along the coast with Lagos.
I mean, recently, at least my following on like Nigerian Twitter seems that things have heated up, right? Nigeria stopped, like banned Twitter, because Twitter kicked off the Buhari, because Buhari made a reference to the Civil War and was like, “Don’t make me come kick your butts again.” So like, I don’t know, what’s going on? How do we makes sense to this?
Feyi: Yeah. So probably, we could start from the end. So basically, like I mentioned, the end of the Nigerian Civil War was again, no victor, no vanquished. And even if it’s no written down anywhere, there’s a kind of agreement, or gentlemen’s agreement that we don’t weaponize civil war against any part of the country. We don’t use it to threaten the southeast. I mean, you could have it at lower levels, but at least at the highest levels of government.
Mark: It seems like it’s somewhat similar to the US where there’s all this discussion about – I mean, not the statues. The statues were mostly – Like the Confederate statues are mostly built in the 50s as a reaction to – But military bases, for example, my understanding is that those military bases were named for Southern generals in kind of the 30, 40 years after a civil war, which was a way of kind of reintegration. A way of saying like you never actually succeeded, right? We were all part of one country. And that obviously had its continued source of a lot of tension in the US. But I see this as, I guess, somewhat analogous where, okay, you fight a very brutal civil war. How do you then like reintegrate these people so they don’t want to rebel again while still keeping the kind of institutional structures in place that the winning side says like, “All right, in the US, it’s like kind of 90% slavery. And how do you keep –” I mean, I was recently been reading a Biography of Grant, where it’s really interesting, like initially they thought like, “Hey, all right. We won the war. We banned slavery. Now we’ll go home. Like, done.” And then the South was like, “All right, so now they’re free. But now we have this like basically different ethnic group living here that has no value to us and is actually like threatening us because they made up a substantial portion of the population in some states. So then that’s where you see the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, this really brutal repression. And then the North’s reaction is reconstruction, which is effectively an occupying force to create these norms after about a decade, and there’s a deal to stop reconstruction where the South ends up being an apartheid state for, I don’t know, several years. That’s a long winded way of saying civil war is really complicated operation is really complicated.
Feyi: Yeah. So I mean, at least the US, you could say there was some – Even if not perfect, but there was some good faith attempt at the actual reintegration. But Nigeria didn’t do well beyond the rhetoric. So the rhetoric in Nigeria was good. Again, like I said, we came on and said, “Look, we’re brothers. Brothers, we’re fighting, but we’re still brothers even after the war.” No victim, no vanquish. But then, beyond the rhetoric bits, we didn’t do quite well. We did not actually –
Mark: Is it part of the challenge also that the Igbos are known for being particularly businesslike? So there’s kind of a, I don’t know, natural that they might be over represented in kind of successful business communities? And then, I mean, did that add it all to some of the tension?
Feyi: Well, yeah. So some sort of tension was a kind of like a suspicion. So I don’t want to over-push the analogy too far. But you can almost see the Igbos as Jews in Nigeria, very enterprising. And because the land is kind of more – It’s one of the densest parts of the country. So they travel out of the countries. The Igbos would do business anywhere in the north, in the Southwest. They find themselves anywhere. They lift themselves up by their own hard work. And they build businesses and all that.
Mark: And were they transitory than other ethnic groups. Like did the Igbos moved to like the Yoruba, Hausa-Fulani areas more than like the Hausa-Fulani would move to Igbo areas?
Feyi: Definitely. Definitely. So the Igbos, they move out of Igbo land a lot more, and they established themselves a lot more in other parts of the country. So one of the things which, some northern persons actually said this quite openly that if we were to allow a merit-based system, then the Igbos will dominate the civil service, and dominate the military and all that. So you have stuff like what we call the Federal , which is the kind of system to prevent anyone part of the country from dominating many.
So Nigeria got the rhetoric of the Civil War, the person who got the rhetoric, right? But then we did nothing. The Igbo suffered in terms of – There was no attempt at saying, “Oh, we’re going to bomb you with investments, with love and bring you back into the corner.” No, that didn’t happen. They didn’t have bridges built in the south or infrastructure.
Mark: So no reinvestment. Public rhetoric say like, “Alright, we’re all part of the family again.” But then kind of a, I don’t know, program that effectively discriminated against Igbos.
Feyi: Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t written down anywhere. Yeah. So they definitely suffered for trying to secede from Nigeria. And those wounds are still raw. They’re still there till today. And you get a sense that, especially now, whenever things are bad, whenever we have an economic crisis or problem, people tend to – It gets very, very disturbing now, very, very quickly. People start to blame the Igbos for non-existent problems.
Mark: Their state codes.
Feyi: Exactly, middleman minority, because, people tend to want to skip very, very quickly for doing nothing. And then you’ve seen signs of that again. There’s agitation across the country in Nigeria today. In the north, in the south, there are people, there are all kinds of people agitating for secession. So whatever is happening in Igbo land is no unique to Igbo land today, but then the president, in given, has weaponized the civil war in a matter of, frankly, quite distasteful for a Nigerian leader to do.
Mark: Basically, he crossed a line that had not been crossed for dozens of years.
Feyi: Exactly. He crossed the line on basically, almost kind of like reminding people of the part of the county, or reminding of the Civil War. And I infuriated the way. It got on Twitter. And then we whereby people in the government who have wanted to crackdown on social media for years, they’ve been itching to do this for years.
Mark: And you also have the lucky tollgate massacre from about a year ago, 9, 10 months ago.
Feyi: Yeah. So in October last year, where the government sent in soldiers to shoot out protesters, put an end to the protest if you like, because they felt that, “Oh, was the ground zero. And if we shut it down, then maybe we’ll stop what’s happening.”
Mark: These weren’t like poor farmer protesters too, right? is kind of the most – I don’t know, the richer area of Lagos politicians who have social media, right? You saw those, a lot of the clips going around Instagram. It looked pretty horrific.
Feyi: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there were pretty mixed crowd in there. Like I said, middle class kids, but just generally, even not just middle class, but actually lower class people as well who came there. Again, if you start a movement to fight injustice in Nigeria today, you will you will draw a crowd in no time, because there’s so much injustice, unresolved injustice in different parts of the country that we never managed to resolve this issue. And even with the best will in the world, we don’t have the infrastructure to handle justice. We don’t have a functioning courts. I mean, Nigerian courts have been on strike for two months now. I mean, it’s not something – it’s not something that makes the news. It’s just something that just happened, and it’s what’s going on in there. So even with that, the courts are no reliable. They’re not they’re not there for people. So there are no alternatives for people to express this kind of burning.
Mark: Yeah. In addition to that, the other kind of – I think of like Nigeria today, or I guess major challenges that I see are, one, a lot of the north, there’s basically a new, I don’t know, Jihad that is occurring. There as a Wall Street Journal article last fall, I believe, October, November. That said like the army has effectively given up the rural areas and only controls the cities now. There was, I believe, an attack of governor of some state. His convoy was attacked and like a dozen people left dead. Just kind of horrific stuff. And two, you have Nigeria as an oil state where, I don’t know, like 80% of the federal budget is from oil revenue. And the oil is primarily concentrated in the south. Three, and this I noticed also when I was in Nigeria, like looking at the morning paper, is there’s kind of Fulani herdsmen that are encroaching on Igbo land, which seems to be a point of, I believe – I’m flying at least I kind of saw that in reference to Igbo land, which seems to be a point of continuous tension, where some of the periphery, you’re seeing clashes with some of these ethnic groups where there isn’t this kind of projection of state power anymore.
Feyi: Yeah. Actually, that last point, I will start off with our last point, is actually almost kind of like a climate change issue. Now, the funny thing is that this crisis has been going on for – it was one of the things that triggered the jihad in 1804, whereby herders and farmers will clash. And it’s a problem that America had as well. I will talk about this book I read a few years ago, Redneck Republic, where you have this whole farmers clashing with pastoralists, who are moving their cattle around. And then obviously, with America, with everyone being heavily armed, shootouts and all that. But policy was something that resolved.
Now what we have in Nigeria today is the pastoralists, they start off in the north, but they didn’t have to move further and further south, because it has never been a business. It has never been a properly run business in terms of the way these guys grew they are cattle. They’ve always relied on free food effectively. And without free food for the cattle, the business just doesn’t work. So as climate change has obviously hit parts of the North a lot harder, you have this decision whereby didn’t have to go further in such a pasture. And then the South is a lot denser. And there a bit more urban area. So they’re now running into people’s farms. And it’s causing a huge amount of stress and a huge amount of clashes between people locally. So you have all these reprisal attacks, whereby a Fulani person with his cattle goes, destroys someone’s farm, and then the person maybe poisons the cattle or something, and the Fulani come back and retaliate. And it just goes on, on and on and this pile of violence. So that’s one side of it in a sense that almost kind of like driven by climate change, in a sense that people have to travel further and further just to look for free food effectively for their cattle. So that’s one bit.
Oil is another bit. Now, Nigeria has always been a wannabe oil state in the sense that the government gets most of its revenues from oil. But for the average Nigerian, oil means almost nothing. The average Nigerian does not understand. I mean, Nigerians have never received a payment from the government saying or something related to oil. No Nigerian has ever received this. Not like you have in, say, Alaska, where people oil payments, something. Nigerians have never received anything from government get a payment related to oil. But now, we are now getting to the point whereby oil can no longer – I mean, in 2017, Nigeria crossed a remarkable point, whereby at that point, 100% of the oil revenues of the country, everything could not pay government salaries alone. It’s pretty much a post-oil country, whatever an oil country is. Nigeria has gone beyond that now.
So we’re in the last days of whereby oil cannot even run the government alone. Nevermind building infrastructure, nevermind funding education, and all that. And the elites, we made this point in the book about how you can almost look at slavery as a commodity business. In the sense that there was no value add. You capture the slave. Took them to the coast and sold them to Europeans or something. In the same way, a commodity business in that sense is whereby Nigeria is a country today that exports crude oil and imports refined oil products. So this commodity business, it gives them – It makes it very, very difficult for the elite to break out of it. As far as the ordinary Nigerian is concerned, if all goes to zero today, it probably have no material difference per se on them in the sense that they’ve never actually benefited anything from –
Mark: Sure. They haven’t directly benefited. But presumably, oil wealth props up the state infrastructure to a little bit. And if the state infrastructure – It’s already a pretty weak state. And if they say infrastructure further loses power, then that will have some spillover effects. Soon have direct effects on their lives, but it’ll have some downstream effects.
Feyi: Yeah, it will. So I mean, and this is what brings us to what is pulling up the Nigerian system, talking . Now, people don’t see any reason why they should be Nigerians. And it’s spreading alarmingly.
Mark: The joke is that they’re no Nigerians, except outside of Nigeria.
Feyi: Exactly. When you go outside of Nigeria, that’s when you become a Nigerian, you have a passport. And then you actually identified as an Nigerian. But while you’re in the country – So we’re having ethnic, what I call ethnic entrepreneurs. They are springing up everywhere. People saying you don’t want to be a part of this made things a lot worse. I think it’s one of the federalist papers. One of the quotes I like in the federalist papers said something about , who said energy in the executive is a leading indicator of good governance. The Nigerian executive today has no energy in there. Worry himself. He’s physically and intellectually not a very energetic person, just to put it in a polite way. The state is disintegrating right under his watch, and he’s not really doing anything.
Mark: So let me ask the question then all the listeners want to hear. In 30 years, is Nigeria still a state?
Feyi: I won’t put money on it. I won’t put money in it. I mean, you can count me as somebody who believes that Nigeria shall stay as one country. I believe that. I think Nigeria, the advantages to sustain – We’ve not really tapped into the potential of being one country. But I do not know. In my whole circle, I know quite a number of Nigerians. I could probably say I know one guy who I will say will fight to keep Nigeria as one country. And increasingly, he looks like a crazy guy.
Mark: I mean, your circle probably has some degree of self-selection. How many Northerners are in your circle?
Feyi: Very few, very few. I mean, there are people who – The thing is, I’ll probably say the best thing to get to is a change in people. So I know people who are Nigerians sincerely who believe in the country, that the country should stay together. But now, there’s a sense of –
Mark: Now .
Feyi: Yeah, they’re just saying, “You know what? Whatever. If the country is going to break up, let it break up. And let’s just go our separate ways. Let’s see what we can do.” So it’s a really perilous moment. Unfortunately, as much as I believe that Nigeria should be one country. I’m not sure I’ll be able to put any decent amount on that bet.
Mark: You wouldn’t bet on it. Let’s end on a bit of a happy note. Why is Nigeria such a tech hub?
Feyi: Well, that’s an interesting point. If you have a lot of Nigerians, you’re always going to have a lot of sample of any kind of person you’re looking for. Now, Nigerians have been forced to live with so much friction for so long. Every part of Nigerian life is friction. Is something you’re going to see probably with Twitter, in the sense that this Twitter ban will go on in a matter of days. You probably look at your timeline, you’re still seeing a lot of tweets from Nigerians in Nigeria. Everyone VPN. And it just becomes another friction that people live with. So take holds a promise of making life slightly better in a country whereby your daily existence is frictional. Everything you do in Nigeria involves a lot of friction, and it’s difficult, getting electricity, getting water. Just leaving your house and going out. Taking your own money out of your own bank account from your bank involves a lot of friction.
What tech now holds our promise of getting rid of a lot of this friction, and the Nigeria have embraced it wholeheartedly. It allows them bypass a lot of the obstacles in their way and just connects Nigerians to other Nigerians across the world. But generally plug in the country into the global ecosystem. So it’s exposed a lot of Nigerians what is happening elsewhere. And I think the promise of tech is just basically making life just a little bit better in so many different ways. So if you don’t have to go to a bank to queue – I mean, growing up. My mom, I used to go to the bank when my mom growing up in Nigeria, and I cannot remember a time when I was younger and going to the bank. I can remember a time when we did not have to queue just to get our money out of the bank. Today, you can do so much just online by transferring – I mean, if you’re offering a service that allows people just to avoid that level of friction, then you’re going to get a lot of optics. So I think that’s the promise that tech holds in a country with friction at every corner and every turn. There’re just so many problems waiting to be solved. And tech can help solve quite a number of those problems.
Mark: Oh, great. Thanks so much for coming on the podcast.
Feyi: Thanks a lot, Mark. It was my pleasure.
Mark: Thank you for listening to the Charter Cities podcast. For more information about this episode and our guests, to subscribe to the show, or to connect with the Charter Cities Institute, please visit chartercitiesinstitute.org. Follow us on social media, cci.city on Twitter, and Charter Cities Institute on Facebook. I’m your host Mark Lutter, and thank you for listening to the Charter Cities podcast.