Why Calabar was never the Capital of Nigeria

In a primary school in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, a male teacher was coaching the pupils on current affairs of Nigeria. The session attracted me as I listened with rapt attention. Then, he asked a question that many historians don’t seem to have an interest in: “Which city was the first capital of Nigeria?

Abuja,” a boy answered.

No,” the teacher scolded the boy with his eyes. “Abuja is the current capital,” he barked at him.

Lagos,” a girl suggested, not sure of her answer. I was already nodding my head.

Lagos? No,” the teacher replied. I was shocked. I assumed he was joking. Until he said, “Okay, the answer is Calabar.

Calabar? At that point, I was vexed. Is this what we have been teaching future generations? It is better to not teach at all, than to distort history.

In light of this, I decided to write this article to inculcate in us and to teach our children the right history that Calabar was never the capital of a one Nigeria but one of the capitals in a divided Nigeria.

Image of Amalgamation Day
Amalgamation Day in Lagos, January 1, 1914.

I will not want to bore us with the history of Nigeria from 1849-1906 because that is not the objective of this article. But, let me take extract some few points from Wikipedia:

Southern Nigeria was a British protectorate in the coastal areas of modern-day Nigeria formed in 1900 from the union of the Niger Coast Protectorate with territories chartered by the Royal Niger Company below Lokoja on the Niger River.

The Lagos colony was later added in 1906, and the territory was officially renamed the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. In 1914, Southern Nigeria was joined with Northern Nigeria Protectorate to form the single colony of Nigeria. The unification was done for economic reasons rather than political—Northern Nigeria Protectorate had a budget deficit; and the colonial administration sought to use the budget surpluses in Southern Nigeria to offset this deficit.

Sir Frederick Lugard, who took office as governor of both protectorates in 1912, was responsible for overseeing the unification, and he became the first governor of the newly united territory. Lugard established several central institutions to anchor the evolving unified structure. A Central Secretariat was instituted at Lagos, which was the seat of government, and the Nigerian Council (later the Legislative Council), was founded to provide a forum for representatives drawn from the provinces. Certain services were integrated across the Northern and Southern Provinces because of their national significance—military, treasury, audit, posts and telegraphs, railways, survey, medical services, judicial and legal departments—and brought under the control of the Central Secretariat in Lagos.

On Amalgamation Day, January 1, 1914, Lord Lugard said;

You are all aware that His Majesty’s Government, after long and mature consideration, arrived some time ago at the conclusion that it would be to the great advantage of the countries known as Southern and Northern Nigeria that they should be amalgamated into one Government, conforming to one policy and mutually co-operating for the moral and material advancement of Nigeria as a whole.

The Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria will be placed under the control of a single officer upon which the control of a single officer upon whom His Majesty has been pleased to confer the title of Governor-General, thus indicating the importance of this country among the Crown Colonies and Protectorates of the Empire. That portion which has hitherto been Northern Nigeria will be known in future as the Northern Provinces, while the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria will be known as the Southern Provinces of Nigeria; For the present, the Central Headquarters will remain at Lagos, and the Governor-General will divide his time between the Headquarter Stations of the Northern and Southern Provinces.

Where were the Headquarter Stations of the Northern and Southern Provinces?

Southern Province

From its foundation, southern Nigeria was administered by a high commissioner. The first high commissioner was Ralph Moor. When Lagos was amalgamated with the rest of southern Nigeria in 1906, the then high commissioner, Walter Egerton, was made into Governor of the territory.

No sooner had Lord Lugard settled down in Kaduna as regional capital in 1912, that he began to plan for it (Kaduna) as Nigeria’s capital, ahead of the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914. This followed his promotion that same year as Governor-General of the amalgamated Nigeria. As Governor-General, he did not hide his dislike towards Lagos and recommended that the capital be moved to Kaduna as quickly as possible. “Government House, Lagos,” he wrote in one of his papers, “would make an excellent hotel if the transfer to Kaduna was achieved.

Egerton became Governor of Lagos Colony, covering most of the Yoruba lands in the southwest of what is now Nigeria, in 1903. The colonial office wanted to amalgamate the Lagos Colony with the protectorate of Southern Nigeria, and in August 1904 also appointed Egerton as High Commissioner for the Southern Nigeria Protectorate. He held both offices until 28 February 1906. On that date, the two territories were formally united and Egerton was appointed Governor of the new Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, holding office until 1912 (Calabar was the capital of this new Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. However, most of the colonial, diplomatic activities and high level official businesses were carried out in Lagos).

Northern Province

In 1885, Niger district protectorate was under African Company and Niger Delta protectorate was under Royal Niger Company which was formed in 1886. In 1900, both protectorates were added to some part of Niger territory to form the Northern Protectorate. Northern Nigeria was a British protectorate which lasted from 1900 until 1914 in the present country of Nigeria.

The first High Commissioner of the protectorate was Frederick Lugard who actively suppressed revolutions and created a system of administration built around native authorities.

On January 1, 1900, the Royal Niger Company’s charter was revoked and the British took control. The Royal Niger Company was paid £865,000 and was given the rights to half of all mining revenue in a large part of the areas for 99 years in exchange for ceding the territory to the British government. Lugard was appointed the High Commissioner of the newly created Northern Nigeria Protectorate.

Lugard first settled in Lokoja as regional capital to continue with the colonial conquest of the region. Two years later, i.e in 1902, he moved the capital from Lokoja further upstream of River Niger, to Jebba. However, Jebba remained the headquarters for only a few months. Towards the end of the year, he moved even further upstream to Zungeru with the intention of making it the permanent capital of the North (Zungeru became the headquarters for the protectorate in 1902, because it was the most northerly city accessible by river transport).

Many Nigerians will remember Zungeru, a major railway town, as the birth place of Nigeria’s foremost nationalist and first president, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. His father had worked there as a railway staff. It was also the birth place of Biafran Warlord, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu and former Senate President, David Mark.

For a while it seemed as if Zungeru had succeeded where Lokoja and Jebba had failed; it remained the regional capital for 12 years. However, with time, Lord Lugard himself began a search for a more central and more accessible location than Zungeru.

His search finally ended at a location on the Zaria plains, roughly in the middle of the region. Not only was Kaduna centrally located and much more accessible than Zungeru, the Zaria plains in which it was located were well served by two major tributaries of River Niger, River Kaduna, which gave the settlement its name, and River Gurara.

No sooner had Lord Lugard settled down in Kaduna as regional capital in 1912, that he began to plan for it (Kaduna) as Nigeria’s capital, ahead of the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914. This followed his promotion that same year as Governor-General of the amalgamated Nigeria. As Governor-General, he did not hide his dislike towards Lagos and recommended that the capital be moved to Kaduna as quickly as possible. “Government House, Lagos,” he wrote in one of his papers, “would make an excellent hotel if the transfer to Kaduna was achieved.

Image of Lord Frederick Lugard, Governor-General of Nigeria (1914-1919)
Lord Frederick Lugard, Governor-General of Nigeria (1914-1919).

The transfer was never achieved. First, the Colonial Office in London thought Kaduna was too far inland for quick and effective communication between motherland and colony. Second, in 1919, Lord Lugard was succeeded as Governor-General by Lord Clifford, who did not share Lugard’s hatred for Lagos. In any case, such a transfer was considered too expensive an exercise by the British.

YOU CAN ALSO READ: 25 Interesting Facts you did not know about Cross River State

And so it was that Lugard could not fulfill his wish to see Kaduna become the capital of both the North and Nigeria but of the North only.

Conclusion

When the British established the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria in 1914, Lagos was declared its capital.

Lagos maintained its status as capital when Nigeria obtained its independence from Britain in 1960. Lagos was therefore the capital city of Nigeria from 1914 until 1991, when it was replaced as Federal Capital Territory by the planned city of Abuja, built specifically for such purpose.

But, a colony is not a sovereign state. Historian, Professor Michael Crowder in his article, Lugard and Colonial Nigeria – Towards an Identity, speculated that “By definition, colonies were not sovereign states and where relations with other countries were concerned, these were conducted for them by their imperial governments. Likewise, the colonial official did not ‘represent’ his country in his colony, even when he bore a diplomatic title like that of ‘Resident’ in Northern Nigeria, but rather exercised power on its behalf over people who had lost their sovereignty.

So, as Calabar was the capital to the Southern Protectorate of Nigeria, Zungeru and Kaduna were capitals to the Northern Protectorate while Lagos became the capital of a colonial Nigeria in 1914.

So, it would be an historical fallacy to quip that Calabar was the first capital of Nigeria. What would happen to Zungeru and Kaduna which were capitals the same time Calabar was a capital?

Like Abeokuta, Kano, Asaba and Ilorin, Calabar is a capital in Nigeria but not at any time a capital of Nigeria.

Thus, I can assertively affirm that Lagos was the first capital of Nigeria from 1914 when the amalgamation took place to 1963, when Nigeria cut off all ties with Britain to become a Republic and a Sovereign State, then eventually until 1991 when the Federal Capital Territory was moved to Abuja.

Thank you.. You can follow me on Twitter @AmazingAyo

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Ayomide Akinbode

Unbowed! Unbent! Unbroken! A Perfect Gentleman...

2 thoughts on “Why Calabar was never the Capital of Nigeria

  • April 1, 2019 at 7:13 pm
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    Am highly impressed, the clearifcation is indeed a viable one. Thumbs up #Ayomide

    Reply
    • April 1, 2019 at 7:46 pm
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      Thanks Ibrahim…

      Reply

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