Kingship in the Age of Extraction: How British Deconstruction and Isolation of African Kingship Reshaped Identity and Spurred Nigeria’s North/South Divide, 1885-1937

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Rice University

To the outside observer today, Nigeria is a state whose political troubles are sunk in its oil wells. Yet in truth the difficulties facing Nigeria are reflective of colonialism’s alteration of Nigerian society, and in order to truly understand Nigeria’s complex landscapes, one has to understand the evolution of complex national identities. As modern states emerge, each of them are influenced, driven, or in some extreme cases formed entirely around ethnic, religious, and cultural histories. However within some states with sizable minority populations, a counter-cultural form of nationalism is created, whereby a specific group’s culture, beliefs, or history becomes a call for that group’s own state. Whether in the Basque region of Spain, in Iraqi and Turkish Kurdistan, in Quebec, or in Scotland, self-identity around a specific culture can directly lead to nationalist movements. These movements can either resu lt in violent struggles (Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions), prolonged postponement (Morocco’s Western Sahara region), or in independence referendums (Scotland in 2014). Yet regardless of the various effectiveness of identity-driven nationalist movements, states with large populations that share a common social cleavage eventually must deal with their identity crisis in some capacity. Nigerians, however, face an ongoing identity crisis whereby it can be difficult to conceptualize a singular Nigerian identity. Yet herein lies the value of understanding colonial influence on Nigerian identity: Islam and Modern Nationalism are so generationally ingrained that these two competing ideologies supersede all other social cleavages on a national scale. Nigeria’s north/south divide is a rift created as two supremely opposite regions were morphed into two distinct colonies and then abruptly joined together. As northerners of different ethnicities were coalesced into Northern Nigeria, Islam became the uniting identity category that grew in importance as the effects of colonial neglect grew more pronounced. On balance, the institutionalization of hundreds of groups of southerners as a result of a loss of traditional kingship placed southerners in colonial positions and institutions that would eventually lead to pan-Nigerianism. Rather than the single group counter-culture n ationalism prevalent in many states, Nigerians instead face a unique challenge as the ethnic, religious, and culture cleavages of several hundred groups have been consolidated and generalized into a north/south regional divide. As a result of direct rule through the deconstruction of kingship in the south and as a result of indirect rule and isolation of kingship in the north, Nigerians’ identities have been ideologically blended, but geographically placed into contention.

Revision requested by author. Correction to page 9.

Williamson, Hurst. "Kingship in the Age of Extraction: How British Deconstruction and Isolation of African Kingship Reshaped Identity and Spurred Nigeria’s North/South Divide, 1885-1937." Undergraduate thesis, Rice University, 2015.

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