Lokoja’s importance in Nigerian history

(By Abdulrazaq O Hamzat)

The magnificent River Niger and River Benue meet in Lokoja, forming the famous confluence from which Kogi derives its official sobriquet (The confluence state). Kogi is contiguous to nine states in Nigeria and is essentially a transit route to 16 other states including the Federal Capital, Abuja.   Lokoja on the other hand also straddles some strategic roads to, at least, five geo- political zones out of the six such zones in Nigeria.

MANY youths of this generation know little or nothing about Lokoja city of today. They may also not know the role this beautiful city played in the history and developments of beautiful Nigeria nor are they aware of the abundant historical relics she boasts of today, especially those that existed before and during the colonial era. Lokoja is a historical ancient city of freedom fighters, educators, emancipators and liberators.

  Lokoja is located in the heart of Nigeria, in the present North-Central. She was capital of the British northern protectorate and, by extension, remained a convenient administrative town for the British colonial government after the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates into one country called Nigeria in 1914.

  Lokoja is the first settlement of the British in Nigeria, In fact, the name Nigeria was coined by Flora Shaw in Lokoja, a British journalist who was later to marry Fredrick Lugard, and as it was said, she coined the name Nigeria while, enraptured, she gazed at the River that stretched before her.

   After the amalgamation of Southern and Northern protectorates in 1914, the new Governor General, Lord Lugard ruled Nigeria from Lokoja. Today, Lokoja is the capital of Kogi State, a state carved out of Kwara and Benue State in 1991.

   According to European historical records, Lokoja is said to have been founded by William Balfour Baikie, although in reality, there had been indigenous people who had been living in the area for thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans.

   Atabor Julius wrote that the magnificent River Niger and River Benue meet in Lokoja, forming the famous confluence from which Kogi derives its official sobriquet (The confluence state). Kogi is contiguous to nine states in Nigeria and is essentially a transit route to 16 other states including the Federal Capital, Abuja.   Lokoja on the other hand also straddles some strategic roads to, at least, five geo- political zones out of the six such zones in Nigeria.

   History has it that, there are many reasons why Lokoja is a special place in Nigerian history. First, Lokoja was the first administrative and commercial capital of Nigeria when Lord Lugard became the Governor General of Nigeria after Mungo Park, Richard and John Landers explored the River Niger in 1830’s. Being of such strategic importance, opened up Lokoja to all Nigerians, thus allowing all and sundry to draw from the fountain of the Niger with insatiable quest for knowledge and discovery.

   Second, Lokoja is said to be a prominent centre for slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries as a result of her location; it later served as a centre for freedom. The late Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther spearheaded anti-slavery crusade in Nigeria and erected the Iron of liberty at a spot where slaves were set free in Lokoja. At the same spot, he established the first primary school in Northern Nigeria for all Nigerians who wanted to seek freedom from ignorance.

   The third and also significant place of Lokoja was the crucial role she served as a practice ground for distance education by many Northern Nigerian Emirs in the 1800’s. During the colonial era, several Northern feudal lords who vehemently opposed colonial rule and domination of their territories by the European imperialists were banished to Lokoja as punishment by the colonial overlords.    What the colonialists did not realise was that, what the Emirs lost at the bend they gained at the roundabout. The Emirs used distance education method to keep in constant touch with their subjects. Consequently they were continually a step ahead of the colonialists who never ceased to be amazed at how informed and intelligent the people they sought to colonise were.

   Notable among the deposed Emirs who perfected the traditional form of distance learning included the Late Emir of Bida, Mallam Mohammed Bashir, deposed in 1901, the late Emir of Zaria, Mallam Aliyu Dansidi and the late Emir of Kano, Mallam Aliyu Abdullahi deposed in 1903. These forerunners of open and distance learning in Nigeria have their graves in Lokoja and should constitute an interesting tourist attraction.

   Fourth, as if to rekindle memories, the first course writing and instructional material development of the National Open University of Nigeria meeting took place in Lokoja in 2002. This means that, the protagonists of the National Open University of Nigeria must have realised that, by so doing, they would be bringing open and distance learning to its home and its origin in Nigeria. As Prof. Jegede was to say, there in Lokoja, they defied the usual intense heat at the time of the year to write 183 courses and adapt 235 others in 54 programmes carefully chosen to kick start the re-establishment of the National Open University of Nigeria in Lagos. (Prof. Olugbemiro Jegede)

   Besides all these, historical relics such as the Lugard House, the first primary school in northern Nigeria, the first cantonment church, the first hospital in northern Nigeria, iron of liberty, graveyards of the deposed emirs and Europeans commentaries are major tourism potentials which attract people from all works of life to the Lokoja.

  Till date, relations of the European workers of the United African Trading Company (UTC), soldiers as well as missionaries buried in the European cemeteries in Lokoja literally troop to the state to see the tombs of their departed great grandparents and pay tribute to them. The cemeteries which are located in three different areas within Lokoja township hold six to eight hundred graves of Africans and Europeans. These are said to constitute the largest contraption of European graveyard in Nigeria.

   With these historical references, Lokoja is no doubt a city of historical importance located strategically.

   According to Ad Ali, Lokoja rose to fame as a result of her location at the confluence of the two great waterways in West Africa, the Niger and Benue Rivers. These natural waterways served as the major means of communication and transportation especially for the riverside dwellers in the colonial days. Lokoja also served as a commercial rendezvous during the east west kola nut trade in West Africa. Lokoja was distribution centre for agricultural products, chiefly cotton. Expectedly, she had food processing industries as well.

   With the arrival of the Europeans, the city rose to international fame when she served as the first British settlement in Nigeria and as a major inland port for European companies. The town grew to become a cosmopolitan settlement peopled mostly by different ethnic groups from the Middle Belt and the far North. This cosmopolitan nature has remained to date, but not with its own ripple effects, different ethnic groups, for example, notably the Oworo, Nupe, Igbirra, Hausa, Igala, are laying claim to the ownership of the town. These claims and counterclaims have posed a dilemma and a clog in the wheel of the town’s development since Nigeria’s independence.

   Although, Lokoja is a major historical trading city, unfortunately, her national stature has diminished. Here is a city which was supposed to accommodate a steel industry, but only the Ajaokuta steel mill, which is to be served by the abundant Iron Ore deposits, has found its presence in the city and, more recently, the Dangote cement factory. The steel revolution may still happen as the Nigerian government has recently rekindled interest in bringing the steel mill there and revive some of its other industries which are no longer in production. It is hoped the government will walk its talk and ignite the promised steel industry revolution in the very near future for the city to thrive once again.

Abdulrazaq O Hamzat.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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