Two M16 agents marshaled me into this exquisite country-styled villa in East London. The lawns leading to the family building was carefully trimmed. Along the path were wild exotic flowers from various remote parts of the world. Inside the living room were pictures that revealed everything foreign to England. I looked at paintings on the wall and saw assorted paintings of African wild animals. I saw sculptures of African gods and goddesses, some with droplets of blood still on their foreheads. The carpet was inviting but obscure in origin. The smell of tropical spices overwhelmed my nostrils. That was where I had my first meeting with Lord Frederick Lugard in between cups of tea and coffee.
Below is an excerpt from our discussion.
Question: How have you been all these years?
Lugard: I’m doing pretty well. Old age makes one reflect. Sometimes, events humble me, you know. The English men of my time used to think we had a monopoly of knowledge, but events have proved us wrong.
Question: You must have had enough time to reflect on British adventures in Africa. Is there anything you wish to share?
Lugard: You know, our initial goal apart from serving the Crown was to create a world in our own image. We had wanted to bring light to the Dark Continent but it did not look like we achieved that.
Question: Could it be that you are regretting the adventure?
Lugard: Not really. For one, we integrated Africa into the world setting, even though it is lagging behind once again.
Question: Was the whole Imperial project in Africa a Whitehall design to react to the challenge the British Empire faced from France and Germany? Was it all an attempt to save India, which was the biggest money making colony for Britain?
Lugard: It is easy to say so in hindsight. But for those of us who were involved, there was something nationalistic, something evangelical, and something romantic in all that happened.
Question: Was it true that you were deprived of fund by the Treasury in London, which made it impossible for you to undertake necessary development projects? That in your effort to meet profit margin expected of you, you ran an inefficient government structure that encouraged corruption?
Lugard: I do not know what books you have been reading, but I know that we did all we could if you consider the resources at our disposal to embark on our noble goal of civilizing the natives for their own good.
Question: Africa, you know, never asked to be integrated. Africans were in harmony with their natural environment before you guys came…
Lugard: To some extent, that may be true, but it was inevitable that if Africa refused to meet the world, the world was bound to meet Africa. That was just what happened. That was what we accomplished. It was divine.
Question: But must you cause so much destruction in the process? Must you destroy so many things; bring down so many fences, fences you knew nothing about why they were up in the first place?
Lugard: You do not blame us in this absolute way. If you look at historical realities, you will understand that explorers who delved into unknown territories when faced with the unexpected must enforce their reality on the new society. That is the survival instinct of man.
Question: So does it mean that you regret the destruction of Africa’s innocence by the Europeans?
Lugard: No! Africa was not that innocent when we met her. Remember that the Arabs got there before us and in some parts of Africa, the Romans and the Greek had come and gone, leaving behind their footprints.
Question: Now, let me go to Nigeria, which you had a lot to do with including the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates and getting your girlfriend to name the territory Nigeria. Based on what is going on in Nigeria today, do you have any regrets?
Lugard: No! I do not feel any guilt at all. Don’t assume that we were gods. Even though we were English, we were not exactly gods. We did not envisage all the events that took place from 1914 to 1960. First of all, we never knew the empire would not last forever. Secondly, we never knew you guys would chase the Europeans out too early.
Question: We chased the Europeans out too early? Is it not more like too late?
Lugard: I said too early. Without the surprises of the 20th century, all of Africa would have been like South Africa. There would have been a significant population of Europeans all over Africa. I do think you guys need us to maintain an equilibrium, which I agree we disrupted in the first place.
Question: You brought your system of government to Nigeria with no attempt to incorporate indigenous political arrangements. Wasn’t that dumb?
Lugard: We could not integrate something we did not understand. Remember that in places like Northern Nigeria, we did little disruption of the prominent order we met. We left it virtually intact, you could even say that we strengthened it – which shows that our interest was not necessarily to cause any upset. We only embarked on such rearrangement when the existing order is in conflict with the interest of the Imperial Majesty.
Question: You belonged to what they called the Sandhurst School of Thought. In fact, you were a product of Sandhurst. So obviously, you have something to do with the establishment of this tradition of Nigeria held captive by Sandhurst graduates. What do they teach you guys in that school?
Lugard: Sandhurst is a fine institution of higher learning in the best of all military traditions. It has consistently produced courageous men who had influenced the course of world history in no small ways.
Question: You were born in Madras, India in 1858. You served in the military before you went to Uganda where you practiced your own style of colonialism. You arrived in the protectorates of Northern Nigeria and pressured the emirates to accept British protection. You introduced your signature policy of “indirect rule”. And you lobbied the colonial office to amalgamate the Southern and Northern protectorates into one country. What was you primary source of motivation?
Lugard: What answer will I give that will satisfy you? Do we say “evil genius” in me?
Question: That is not funny at all. Anyway, how do you view the current Boko Haram crises in Nigeria? Why should the blame not be brought squarely to your feet?
Lugard: Like I said before, you all chased us out too early that we could not finish the Nigerian project. And there you are, for 52 years, totally at a loss as to what to do.
Question: So what will you do if you were still there?
Lugard: Are you asking us to come back?
Question: Hell, No!
Lugard: I thought as much. African men and their pride. I bet 100 years from now; you guys will still be blaming colonialism for your problems. I wonder when you will begin to take personal responsibility. You don’t see England blaming the Romans for our problem. You don’t see America blaming the British. But all you cry babies will continue to point accusing fingers on England. Believe me, we were just a force of nature. We did all we could to fulfill what was written. As for you guys, you just have to go and finish the job.
Question: We are preparing for a Sovereign National Conference to let all ethnic groups in Nigeria to come together and decide the kind of country we want. Something you guys should have done first before dumping us all into one nation.
Lugard: Good luck to you all.
Question: If we succeed, we shall get all of Africa to copy our example. By so doing, we shall reverse what your people did during the Scramble for Africa.
Lugard: I like that attitude. I tell you one thing though; the Western world is tired. That fowl has gushed out all the blood it has. We have virtually exhausted all we can give to the world. So it is over to you guys. It will be nice if you can pull that off. I see more Redeemed Christian Church of God pastors in America than all the Irish priest that came to Africa yet they have not had the kind of impact in America that the Irish priests had in Africa. Doesn’t that tell you something? If you look at it, there are more Africans in Europe at present than all the English men and women who went to Africa. Also in America, there are more Africans than all the Britons who were in Africa at any given time. So you guys can do it if you really want. You guys can take over the world and show us what you have got.
Question: That is so gracious of you.
Lugard: One thing I have learnt over the years is the ability to gladly listen to any fool. It is an indispensable skill in politics. If I had it in me 100 years ago, I would have done a better job in Nigeria. Honestly, I thought you guys were just fools who shouldn’t be listened to. Now I know better.
Question: So will you recommend reparation to Africa for all those years of abuse and exploitation?
Lugard: There you go again. Looking backward rather than looking forward.
Question: Didn’t our elders ever tell you that those who did not know where the rain began to fall on them would never know where it stopped?
Lugard: You guys pretend as if whatever is it that we did to Africa was the worst thing that ever happened to a people. Obviously, you are unaware of what the Romans did around the world. Ever had about the Crusades? If you want to talk about massacre, people were massacred. If you want to talk about cultural destruction, forced conversion to foreign religion, it all happened during the Crusades. Ever asked yourself how English people became Christians? Or do you think Christ was an English man? Europe you must know has had its own share of barbarism. The world changes. Forces come and exert their impact on the world and leave the stage for others. It has been like this all through the ages. The job of a people is to cast their spell while they can. That way they must have contributed their own quota to humanity.
Question: If you believe what you just said, why then are you all in the West putting us down, putting chains round our ankles?
Lugard: The goal is for you to free yourselves and soar. No power on earth ever relinquished its authority without a fight. The English fought the French to the last, remember? And we are doing all we can to resist the Americans and the Chinese. In this competitive life, nobody will just hand over the touch to another without a fight. You have to go and get it.
Question: The generic colonialism you helped create has moved from palm oil to crude oil. What is next?
Lugard: Brain oil. In fact, that is already taking place. And you are a living proof of that. Instead of you to go home and change your society, you are here looking for Lord Lugard, hoping to pick on his brain and see what he’s got. You cannot stand your own people but you are eager to blame an English man who crossed many rivers and seas to come and bring light to a Dark Continent. You guys have always wanted the ball in your court. The ball is now in your court and you are all running away in doves. Running to stadiums all over the world where the game is over and the celebration is taking place. What a show of courage! What a shame! It is a shame that you follow Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and all the English football teams but none of your teams. You wear our designer clothes, drive our cars, send your best kids to our schools, speak our language, come to our hospitals to die and yet have the audacity to complain.
Question: Lookia man, I don’t want to hear any more of this. I didn’t come here for a lecture from you.
Lugard: Sorry sir. What else do you want me to say? Oh, I remember, Happy Independence Day.
(A version of this piece was first published in 2000.)