Irredentism derives from the Italian word irredento which means ‘’unredeemed’’. The term gained currency in the late 19th century and early 20thcentury among Italians agitating for the reunification of the Italian speaking parts of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Since then irredentist claims have occurred all over the world usually between contiguous states with common ethnic affinities. Such claims have been the cause of wars between countries. For instance, India and Pakistan have fought many wars over Kashmir.
In Europe, irredentism was a driving force that led Nazi Germany to embark on an expansionist trajectory. In the run up to the Second World War, Hitler annexed his native Austria in what is called Anschluss and also the German speaking Sudetenland in the former Czechoslovakia in 1938, sending alarm bells ringing across the continent. Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea was partly based on the fact that it is populated mostly by Russian speaking people.
Not long after independence, the OAU saw the danger in allowing countries to revise colonial boundaries with the potential for instability on the continent. It is no surprise that respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each African country is one of the cardinal principles of the OAU and its successor, African Union.
The Lamido of Adamawa, His Royal Highness, AlhajiMuhammaduBarkindo Mustapha’s irredentist bombshell at the national conference came as a shock to many. He said if push came to shove, he would vote with his feet, carrying his people along to join their kith and kin, the Fulani, in northern Cameroon. He was quoted as saying that: “There is a state in Cameroon called Adamawa and if I run to that place, I can easily be assimilated…The larger part of my kingdom is in Cameroun” Those ethnic champions who had dominated the airwaves for so long threatening brimstone and fire if they weren’t allowed to go their separate ways, now know that they don’t have a monopoly over ‘’jingoism’’ as the Lamido put it.
I believe that the Lamido’s outburst was not premeditated but was made on the spur of the moment in a fit of pique. Not surprisingly critics have accused him of having a hidden agenda. In a country obsessed with hidden agenda, wherever those agendas are hidden must be bursting at the seams by now.
I don’t intend to join issues with the Lamido, I am more interested in the historical import of the monarch’ statement. As a member of a royal family myself, I cannot commit lese majeste against an exalted traditional ruler of the Lamido’s standing. For me, the Lamido’s statement provided a rare but timely glimpse into Nigeria’s history, a subject that is tragically no longer on the curriculum of our schools.
This year Nigeria celebrated the centenary of the amalgamation of the north and south in 1914. At a time when a national conference is underway with a view to charting a brighter future for the country, it is necessary to remind ourselves of what was there before the advent of colonial rule. It is a welcome reminder of the history of the ancient kingdoms, found mainly in the north and south western parts of Nigeria.
Of particular interest is the impact of colonial boundaries in partitioning various ethnic groups especially the ubiquitous Fulani who are all over west and central Africa.
Two of Nigeria’s eminent historians, Professor Anthony Asiwaju and Professor BawuroBarkindo have carried out studies and published widely on the impact of colonial boundaries. Nigeria’s boundaries were delimited and demarcated between the late 19th century and early 20th century.
Cameroon is unique among Nigeria’s immediate neighbours as having a triple colonial heritage. Initially colonized by Germany, it was later split into two administered by Britain and France as a League of Nations mandate territories after the First World War and later under UN trusteeship after the Second World War. Southern Cameroon was a province of the former Eastern Region of Nigeria while northern Cameroon was a province of the former Northern Region until the plebiscite of February 1961 when northern Cameroon voted to remain in Nigeria while southern Cameroon voted to join the republic of Cameroon.
In demarcating Nigeria’s northern boundary with Niger, Cameroon and Chad, Adamawa and Borno kingdoms and the Sokoto Caliphate lost some of their territories to the neighbouring countries.
In the case of Adamawa, the Lamido at the time the boundary was demarcated in 1904 lamented that the ‘’Europeans had cut off the body of his kingdom and left him with only the head’’ a fact which the reigning Lamido alluded to in his statement. Today Fulani rulers of Cameroonian towns such as Ngaoundere, capital of Adamawa region, are also known as Lamido.
In the South-west, the Oyo empire was the preeminent entity holding sway over most of the kingdoms in Yorubaland. Oyo lost some of its territory to the kingdom of Dahomey as Benin was then called, following the Anglo-French demarcation of the boundary and the partition of the Yoruba. Ketu and Sabe were two Yoruba kingdoms that ended up in Benin Republic. Today their traditional rulers Alaketu of Ketu and Onisabe of Sabe are known to make occasional visits across the border to commune with their kith and kin in Nigeria.
As an official policy, Nigeria has never made territorial or irredentist claims against anyone of its immediate neighbours. Instead of being a source of conflict, the common ethnic affinities have helped in fostering good neighbourly relations between them since independence. Moreover, given their porous nature, the boundaries have proved to be no serious barriers to freedom of movement of persons and goods. The advent of the insurgency in the north east has however complicated matters necessitating the need for tighter control of our borders with Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
The Lamido’s words would have been music to the ears of the Cameroonian authorities. The irony of his threat to be ‘’assimilated’’ back into the Adamawa region of northern Cameroon would not have been lost on those who remember the UN-sponsored plebiscite of February 1961 in which northern Cameroon voted to remain part of Nigeria while southern Cameroon opted to join the republic of Cameroon.
Dr Oyewumi wrote from Abuja, Email: [email protected]