Elegy to Zungeru, the forgotten capital

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor

ImageDilapidated, crumbled and overgrown by weeds… The famous house where Frederick Lugard signed the amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorates

ON the bank of Kaduna River lies Zungeru in Wushishi Local Council. It is about 56 kilometres away from Minna, the Niger State capital. A laidback town with rustic realities, the serenity of the environment, the friendly ambience and wondrful people are salvation tunes for anybody looking for where to relax in a place close to nature. For a writer, creative juice flows in the town because there aren’t much distractions. On a market day, the town is sure to breath life. It welcomes everybody, as people come from far and wide to trade. This Wednesday afternoon, light poured in on the town brilliantly, as traders haggled and bargained.
   The wealth of this town is from its history: The star attractions being the house that Lord Frederick Lugard lived in opulence, and where, indeed, he signed the amalgamation document. The town holds a great deal of significance to the Nigerian state, as it was the birthplace of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first Nigerian Senate President and later president of the country; the current Senate President, David Mark; and Biafran warlord Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. It equally has the reputation of being the burial place of the founder of Nigerian Scout Movement, Australia-born Henry James Speed. Unfortunately, there is little in the town today to show that it had once served as the fulcrum of the nation’s history.
    But unfortunately, the town has not preserved its history as to make the desired income. These monuments have crumbled and decayed and their images are washed out like faded photographs of a distant forgotten era. The town is now a patchwork of both splendid moments, tragedies of funereal black, and darkly coloured vignettes.               
PRIOR to the advent of British colonisation, the region now known as Nigeria, at a time a geographical expression, comprised several contiguous nationalities, each having its distinctive structure, political, economic and social systems that defined relationship with outside world.
      But the extortion of agreement by Britain and forced institutionalisation of a barbaric colonial system ensured the emergence of a town like Zungeru as an administrative and commercial town.
   In the early 20th century, Zungeru was one of Nigeria’s most important towns. It was the capital of Northern Protectorates between 1902 and 1916. It was gathered the village was densely populated because of the concentration of federal civil servants, especially railway workers. With the high presence of Europeans, as well as the native colonial soldiers, commercial activities increased. Most of the soldiers made their shopping in the village market. 

   According to oral history, when the British colonialists came, their inability to call the place Dunguru brought about the corrupted form Zungeru. British forces occupied Zungeru in September 1902, which was then populated by the Nupe tribe. Lugard chose the town as capital of Northern Nigeria over Jebba and Lokoja due to its central location.
   It grew from an almost virgin territory of small scattered settlements of the indigenous population, mostly Nupes, Hausas and the Gwaris, to a town of over 35,100 residents. The population comprised the British, artisans from other West African British colonies and clerks from the Southern Protectorate as well as labourers and traders from Hausa, Nupe, Kanuri, Fulani and other tribes in the Northern Protectorate.
    Being a railway town, with sparse and scattered settlement of the indigenous people, Britain couldn’t have got a better bargain. They cleared the forest and established a market, military barracks and hospital, among other things. Thus, Zungeru became one of the most peaceful, cosmopolitan and politically important towns in Northern Nigeria.
      The movement of administrative headquarters from Zungeru to Kaduna in 1916  was like plucking the goose to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing. But in a way, this decision led to the town’s gradual descent, which  is evidenced in the neglect and lack of interest on the part of government and the citizenry to preserve national heritage.
   To fully understand the extent of this neglect, a journey through the community tells some revealing stories.  Zungeru, the forgotten capital of Northern Nigeria, by Bamtsoho Mohammed, a retired Brigadier General of the Nigerian Army, best capture it.

Government House at Zungeru, where Lugard once ran his government and which was declared one of Nigeria’s national monuments, is gone. The site  was declared a National Monument on February 13, 1962, and the building was erected in 1902, the year that Frederick Lugard established the administrative headquarters of the Northern Protectorate.
   Not even its foundation stones remain. What’s left of Lugard’s office and residence are ruins. With the exception of its columns and the structure’s concrete foundation, the House was completely dismantled in 1916, when the seat of government relocated to Kaduna.
   Aside from the remnants of the building itself, this particular national monument also includes 100ft of land on either side of the crest of the hill on which the house stood
Zungeru’s first church, the United Mission Church was built in 1905, but has been mostly washed away by erosion. Though the church’s original bell and furniture are still in use, the structure is in need of attention.
  The house and its surroundings are a testament of the neglect and vandalisation that have coloured the heritage. Stripped of its original fittings and all, what remains is a carcass nestling among weeds and thorns.
       Other historical sites such as the railway terminus, the steam generators that provided 24-hour transmission of electricity and water to colonists’ homes, and the Officers Mess are still existing; but are badly damaged. The head offices of pioneer multinationals John Holt, the Royal Niger Company and UAC are also visible, but only as ruins.
   The ‘dungeon’, an underground prison dug deep into the ground like a well but without the water. Here, the British lords lowered offenders as punishment. They are lowered into the deep end with a long rope and lifted out with the same rope once they’ve served their term, so to speak. 

    Lamentation, just as it is in the Holy Bible,  rents the air. The people are not really happy with the situation of things in the community on this market day, as many wondered what would have become of the town if Kaduna had not replaced it as favoured land.
   A motorbike rider,  Alhassan Musa, who spoke to The Guardian,  said. “we are not happy that government has neglected Zungeru.  There is nothing to write home about here, in terms of development, from the time the country’s headquarters was moved from the old railway town to date. He also complained about the nonchallant attitude of successive administrations toward preserving the historical monuments.
   Last year May, President Goodluck Jonathan kick-started the N162.9 billion Zungeru Hydroelectric Power Project in Niger State. According to the President, the hydro dam project, when constructed, will generate 700 megawatts of electricity for the country.   Benefits of the dam 
President Jonathan listed employment opportunities, agricultural development and tourism as benefits from the dam.
  The Zungeru Dam was conceived about 30 years ago and the first feasibility study done on the project was by Messrs Chas T. Main International of USA.

Zungeru’s abandoned historical sites
• Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe Centre, a gigantic structure that was initiated during the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. It was built in memory of the late Azikiwe. The edifice was well-conceived and brilliantly structured to house the administrative and library blocks of the centre. Today, it is absolutely abandoned.
• Dr. Azikiwe Primary School is the elementary school that Dr. Azikiwe attended as a boy. And it is still standing.
• Colonial bridge, built by colonial masters is in existence, but rarely used.
• Museum in Zungeru houses excavations of items used by the colonialists. Many of such items can also be found in the state’s museum at Minna. Such items include guns and bullets used by the colonialists, the telephone used by Lord Lugard when he was in Zungeru, the bottles used for storing water and wine, colonialists’ head wears, among others.

FOR THE RECORD: Amalgamation Proclamation Of 1914

By Sir Frederick Lugard

Speech by the Governor-General (Sir F. Lugard) on the occasion of the declaration of the Constitution of the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, January 1, 1914.


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 the one Government, conforming to one policy and mutually co-operating for the moral and material advancement of Nigeria as a whole.

   This policy had been strongly advocated by Sir William Macgregor as Governor of Lagos, by Sir Ralph Moor as High Commissioner of Southern Nigeria, and by myself as High Commissioner of Northern Nigeria about ten years ago. It has continued to be advocated by Sir Walter Egerton and my successors in Northern Nigeria.

   He construction of rival railways in Northern and Southern Nigeria accentuated the necessity having a single railway policy, with a single administration, and over a year ago the Secretary of State decided that the time had come to give effect to the scheme of constituting a single Government for Nigeria.

   Mr. Harcourt was pleased to select me to carry out this difficult task, and he appointed me in the first instance as Governor separately of the two distinct Governments of Northern and Southern Nigeria, with a view to informing myself of Local conditions and submitting to him my proposals for Amalgamation.

   I had the honour to submit those proposals for his consideration on May 9th last. They were accepted in all essentials, and today they are to take effect. I desire therefore as briefly as possible to describe to you, and through you to the official and unofficial community of Nigeria the basis on which this Amalgamation is to be carried out, and the principal changes which will result.

   The Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria will be placed under the control of a single officer upon will 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; each will be under the immediate control of a Lieutenant-General responsible to the Governor-General. The Colony in view of its separate status and traditions will preserve a separate identity, under an Administrator of its own dealing direct with the Governor-General. 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 the Southern Provinces. 

   His Majesty, through the Secretary of State, has been pleased to confer on me the high honour of appointment as Governor-General, and I humbly hope that I may be enabled to discharge the functions of this office, the great responsibilities of which I deeply appreciate, in such a manner as to deserve His Majesty’s approval, and to the satisfaction and contentment of His Majesty’s loyal subjects and of all the people of Nigeria. To succeed in such a task would be impossible unless I have the goodwill and co-operation of all classes, Official and Unofficial, irrespective of race or creed, and I take this opportunity of earnestly asking for that co-operation and loyal assistance, assuring you at the same time that, so far as in me lies, I shall not spare myself nor find any work too hard or arduous, if I can thereby advance the true interests of this country and of each individual person in it, whatever his race or creed, or however humble his rank.

   For the high and responsible posts of Lieutenant-Governors of the Southern and Northern Provinces His Majesty has selected Mr. A. G. Boyle, C.M.G. and Mr. C. L. Temple, C.M.G. officers in whose loyalty and ability he has the highest confidence, and in whose hand the welfare of the Protectorate is assure. As Administrator of the Colony the Secretary of State has selected Mr. F. S. James, C.M.G. whose long experience in the South marks him out as the most fitting officer for the post. I may be permitted to offer to these officers my congratulations, and to express my deep satisfaction that I am privileged to work with them as my colleagues.

ImageThe map of Northern and Southern Protectorates taken in 1909

Various schemes for the dividing of Nigeria into many administrations have been put forward in the Press and elsewhere, but it has been considered advisable to retain the old and well-known boundaries, at any rate for the present and until circumstances demand a change, more especially because the Northern and Southern Provinces are at present under two different sets of laws, the unification of which must necessarily be a task of magnitude which will take time to effect.

  I had hoped to be able to recommend to the Secretary of State some scheme for a Legislative Council of Nigeria, but at present and until communications by railway are greatly extended the proposition is physically impossible. The Legislative Council of Nigeria, if it is to represent the public opinion of Nigeria, must draw its Unofficial Members alike from Calabar and Lagos in the South, and from the Minefields and Kano in the North. To no place, however central, could the busy merchants and others find time to come in order to attend the Councils meetings. It would be manifestly unjust to place the Mohammedan Emirates of the North and the Mining interests on the Bauchi Plateau under a Council sitting on the Coast, in which they could have no representation. The only alternative is that the Legislative Council of the Colony shall in the future limit its sphere to the guidance and control of the Legislature of the Colony.

   And let me here remind you of the enormous extent of Nigeria, Its area comprises over 330,000 square miles – more than 5 times the size of England and Scotland, or one-third the size of British India. The European population is scattered over this area. The largest community is probably at the Minefields in the Bauchi Province, the next largest at Lagos nearly 1,000 miles distant. There are other centres widely separated from each other at Calabar and other Coast towns, at Zungeru and at Kano, while the Niger Company which has the largest capital of any single firm, has its headquarters at Burutu.

   Other means than a single Legislative Council must therefore be right by which, on the one hand, not only local public opinion of the Principals of the Commercial and Mining. Firms, and of other Institutions which have interests in the country, may be given an opportunity of expressing itself, and on the other hand, that the officers of the ripest experience and the most proved ability may be consulted regarding proposed Legislation and on affairs of moment. To effect these objects the Secretary of State has approved firstly of an Executive Council for Nigeria which shall consist of the senior officers of the whole Administration, secondly, of a deliberative and advisory Council, to be called the Nigerian Council, which shall meet not less often than once a year, and thirdly, that all proposed Ordinances with a few necessary exceptions shall be published in the Gazette for two months prior to enactment, so that opinion may be freely expressed before a law is enacted. 

   The Members of the Executive Council named in the Royal Instructions are:-

   The Lieutenant-Governors of the Southern and Northern Provinces, the Administrator of the Colony, the Attorney-General,  the Director of Railways and Works, the Commandant of the Troops, the Director of Medical Services, the Treasurer, the Director of Marine and the Comptroller of Customs.

   The official Members of the Nigerian Council will include the Members of the Executive Council and all 1st Class Residents or Commissioners, the Central Secretary, the Secretaries in the Northern and Southern Provinces and the Political Secretary. The Unofficial Members will include a member of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and of any Chamber of Commerce which may be established in Calabar, and a Member of the Local Chamber of Mines, – all resident in Nigeria and to be nominated by those bodies together with four additional European and six Native gentlemen nominated by the Governor-General. The former to be representative of Commerce, Shipping, Mining and Banking, the latter to be representative of the Native population both of the Coast and of the Interior.

   The Official Membership of the Legislative Council of the Colony has been somewhat altered by the new Royal Instructions, in order that those officers whose work is especially concerned with the Colony may take part in the its deliberations. The they will for the present by the Administrator, the Legal Adviser, the Municipal Engineer, the Senior Municipal Sanitary Officer, the Assistant Treasurer, the Harbour Master, the Commissioner of Lands and the Commercial Intelligence Officer,

The Official Members of the old Council have been re-appointed by His Majesty to the new Council with the exception of Mr. Millar and Dr. Johnson who have resigned and whose places have not yet be filled.

   All three Councils will be presided over by the Governor-General.

   Southern Nigeria was, as you know, divided into three provinces, the Eastern, Central and Western, each under a Provincial Commissioner. In future the Southern Provinces will be nine in number, each of the old Provinces being divided into three. Each Province will be under a Commissioner or Resident assisted by an adequate staff. Departmental officers will be directly under the Head of their own Department.

ImageLord Frederick Lugard

I come now to the Judiciary, concerning which there has I think, been some misapprehension. It was recognized alike by my …… and by the Chief Justice that the extension of Supreme Court jurisdiction into the Interior was inadvisable and, before I came to Nigeria, steps had already been taken to curtail its jurisdiction. Schemes were already under consideration for the creation of separate Courts in the Interior district. These schemes have now matured.

    It is obvious that there can only be one Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, and for this high office the Secretary of State has selected Sir Edwin Speed, who has experience in both Northern and Southern Nigeria and has much longer in Nigeria than his colleague Mr. Willoughby Osborne, It gives me great regret that by force of circumstances, the country will lose the valuable services and ripe experience of Mr. Willoughby Osborne, and I am aware of the high estimation in which his services are held both here and at home. In saying good-bye to Nigeria he will have the satisfaction of feeling that he has discharged the functions of his high office with distinguished success. To His Honour Chief Justice Sir Edwin Speed I tender my congratulations on his appointment and I am confident that while he holds his high office, the proud traditions of British Justice will ever be worthily maintained.

   The curtailment of the territorial jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, and the creation of Provincial Courts necessitates some changes in the existing law, and I am indebted to Sir Edwin Speed for the drafts of the new Ordinances which, with slight and unimportant alterations, will be enacted to give effect to his proposals. They will involve for the present some diminution in the powers of the Native Courts, but it is my earnest desire to see those Courts advance in ability and to maintain their prestige under purely Native Judges guided and supervised by the Commissioners of Provinces.

   The Scheme of Assizes and the method of conducting the business of the Supreme Court are in accordance with the proposals of the new Chief Justice. In future there will be a Court vacation for four months during the rains, and for the remainder of the year the Court will be in Session with its full complement of one Chief Justice and three or more Puisne Judges. The powers of the Provincial Courts are strictly limited and no sentence of over six months’ imprisonment is operative until it has been confirmed. A Magistracy, whose officers are Commissioners of the Supreme Court is set up for the Northern and Southern Provinces.

   In the sphere of Departmental Administration there are some changes of interest. The Railway, Marine and Customs Departments have already, as you are aware, been centralised as common to both South and Northern Nigeria. They remain outside the local administration of the Northern and Southern Provinces. In addition to these three departments the Judicial, the Military, the Treasury and the Posts and Telegraphs” become Central Departments. The Military Forces are organized into one Regiment with five Battallions and two Batteries under Colonel Carter, C.B, CMG as Commandant, with Lieutenant-Colonel,Cunliffe as Assistant Commandant. Mr. Dale takes charges of the Treasury, and Mr. Somerville of the Posts and Telgraphs. A Director of the Medical Service and an Attorney General will act as Advisers to the Governor-General in their respective Departments. In the former case the Medical Departments of the Northern and Southern Provinces will remain distinct, while two legal Advisers will assist the Lieutenant-Governors who with the Administrator of the Colony, will have separate……… of local business. Mr. Cameron becomes the Secretary for the Central Administration, Major Moorhouse for the Southern and Mr. Matthews for the Northern Provinces.

   His Majesty the King has been pleased to approve of a new Badge for the flag of United Nigeria and  of a new Seal. In future there will be only one Official Gazette.

   This, in brief outline, is the scheme of Amalgamation which takes effect to day. The Gazette Extraordinary published this afternoon will to a large extent fill in the details. It is impossible that any scheme which could have been devised should satisfy all the conflicting theories which have been propounded. The proposals I have made have the merit of simplicity. They cause no great dislocation, which would have been most disadvantageous at a moment of transition when divergent policies and methods have to be reconciled.

   I take this opportunity of publicly informing you that the Secretary of State has approved the construction of a new railway, which starting from the head of the Bonny estuary, will run northwards across the Benue river and join the Lagos Kano Railway where it crosses the Kaduna river some 50 miles South of Zaria. This important work will, I am convinced, enormously add to the wealth and prosperity of Nigeria.

   Already the benefits of the partial Amalgamation, which has been in operation for the past year, have resulted in increased prosperity. The estimated Revenue of 1914 is almost exactly a million sterling greater than the estimated Revenue for 1912. When my predecessor from this chair in 1906 announced the Amalgamation of Southern Nigeria and Lagos he stated that the Revenue of Southern Nigeria was just over a millions. The estimated revenue of Nigeria this year stands at 31 millions, and Trade has increased from 5 millions to nearly 15 millions in this period of under 8 years.

If we remember that it is only fourteen years to-day since the King’s Government assumed control of the greater part of the Interior from the Royal Niger Company, the progress which has been made is astonishing.

   In maintaining and increasing that progress I look to the co-operation of the European and Native races, who must work together for the good of the country. It is and always has been my policy to support the Native Chiefs, and to work through them. I have not invited any of them from the Interior to be present here because the announcement f the new changes which take place to-day is being made in the capitals of the various Provinces throughout Nigeria.

   Today Nigeria enters on a new stage of its progress and we all join in the earnest hope that the era now inaugurated will prove, not only a new departure in material prosperity, but also that the coming years will increase the individual happiness and freedom from oppression and raise the standard of civilization and of comfort of the many millions who inhabit this large country. To these sole ends the effort of my colleagues and myself, with God’s help, will be devoted.


*This document is culled from The Constitution, journal of constitutional development, a publication of the Centre for Constitutionalism and Demilitarisation, Vol. 13, No. 4, 2013, pp. 106-114.