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Date Published: 07/19/10

Niger-ia along the Niger (part One) By Osita Chiadika


    Apart from the French colonized republic of Haiti, the colony of Niger, a river that was once known as the black Nile by the ancient historians and scientists is more than four times the size of great Britain, existed in isolation for thousands of years because of physical barriers set by nature a waterless desert by the north and impenetrable forest and swamp by the south.

      This area is home to numerous African heroes, scholars, noble men and women, Inventors, warriors, outstanding leaders like, Usman Dan-Fodio a dedicated sheik that went on a pilgrimage in Mecca in the nineteenth century,

         Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther the first learned black Anglican bishop, a linguist that took the task of translating the King James Bible into the first locally spoken language.

Also worthy of mentioning is the mighty El-kanemi of Bornu who at one time displaced the much glorified sultan of Sokoto.

        King jaja 1 of Opobo kingdom an ex slave from imo state and king boy of brass are also heroes from the southern swampy area of the great river Niger delta.

       The controversial king Kosoko of Lagos with his uncle king Akitoye who succeeded the throne in 1841, king obi Akata, Oba Ovaramwen of Benin, Queen Omu Wanuka, Obi Rapu Okosa of Onicha , king obi osadebe of the ancient Asaba kingdom, Sultan Umoru Leader of the Muslims of in the caliphate, Captain Uranta, king Osokalu the Alake of Egba kingdom, the Alafin of the ancient Oyo empire.

   Even though there were all these leaders, the hinterlands is yet to be explored, although the Portuguese explorers had reached Benin river by 1480, and the slave ships of all nations has being visiting the Niger river tributaries from Lagos to Calabar  for over 300 years yet little was known about the interior of these vast areas inhabited by the indigenous blacks at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

      The existence of the Niger had been known vaguely to the ancients philosophers like, Herodotus who records that at  a time  an expedition of some nasamodian youths who travelled in a westerly direction from Egypt, came at length to a large river flowing eastwards and made attempts to identify the river, Mela (AD 47 de situ Orbis)  asserts  that it flows from west to east but acknowledge the ignorance of its destination, depreciating the suggestions of early writers that it flowed under the sands of deserts, Ptolemy (AD 150) broke away from the Arabs believes that the Niger flows through the sands of the deserts, El-Edrisi (circa 1153) states that the Niger which he calls “the Nile of the blacks” flowed west, Abulfeda 1274-1331 follows the publication of El Bekri a Spanish Arab who mention Niger in his writing and referred to Kanem as the country of idolaters, also in the prime of Bornu empire’s stronghold In about 1237 an embassy from the king of Bornu visited Tunis, about 1300 Ibn Batuta who was sent by the king of morocco on a mission of discovery did not reach the Niger but mentioned the existence of the river and states that it flows east, the same for traveler Leo Africanus.

         Although the true direction of the Niger has been known by nineteen century its termination formed the subjects of the most fanciful conjectures, the mythical kong mountains forming an apparent impassible barrier, but in 1788 a decision was made to create African Association in great Britain, that decision rewrote our history from primitive Blacks of more than 300 ethnic groups scattered in an area approximately 357,000 square miles along and beyond the Niger to one unified country called Niger-ia.     

      John Ledyard was the first that intended to cross Africa from Egypt to the Niger but died in Cairo in 1788 before his expedition could start, in 1789 a party left Tripoli led by Mr. Lucas was driven back by the Arabs , in 1791 major Houghton traveled with some Moorish merchants from Gambia but was plundered and deserted by the merchants after wandering alone for some days died in the desert,

     These failures motivated Mungo park a Scottish doctor born 1771 who has travelled to the east with the east India trading company as a surgeon to offer his service to the association, he started his first expedition in 1795 following the leads of major Houghton he ascended the Gambia passing Jarra where the major was killed, Dr Park pushed onto his objectives  despite ill treatment by negro chiefs, insulted by Moorish chieftains the intrepid explorer did not lose heart, despite entreaties from his African servants was rewarded on 20th day of July 1796 with sight of  on quote ‘the majestic Niger glittering to the morning sun, as broad as the Thames of west minister and flowing eastward slowly and after following the eastward direction he turned back and headed back home,

       Although he was stripped by bandits he said in his journal that at a time he found himself in the midst of vast wilderness in the depth of rainy season, naked, alone and surrounded by savage animals and men still more savage, he quote ‘i was five hundred miles from the next European post, i was with out followers and even his horse has gone’ but he took it by foot until he reached a less hostile village that showed him the right course of his homeward mission, with fever troubling him for which he has no medicine but persevered  and was able to  attached himself to a slave caravan traveling to Gambia, finally on 10th June he landed in Gambia from where he left 18 months ago, and once again left Gambia in a slave ship to west indies and in December reached England.

      Two Germans Freedenberg and horneman were sent out by the association in 1798 the former died before the journey could start , horneman wrote in 1800 that he is about to start for Bornu and nothing more was heard of him, but it was recorded that he crossed the desert and died in the Nupe country, Roentgen another German was sent out but was murdered by his slaves, but when great Britain decided to send a complete expedition that will lack nothing, Dr park emerged as the best candidate and in January 1805 he sailed to Goree’ with a small party of officers, and selected more 34 officers that started the fated journey on 27th of April, accompanying park was his brother –in- law Anderson,mr Scout, Lt martyn, and forty  other European they also hired a Mandingo priest and merchant as a guide, they left so late in the rainy season coupled with large number of European and not much African slaves to carry out the arduous duty under the rainy condition, but not withstanding in 19th Aug the remnants of the European reached the Niger among them was only Anderson, park, martyn, with seven more Europeans the rest has died or murdered by robbers.

       On 17 November 1805 he wrote ‘i am sorry to say that of the forty men that i left with, only five are at present alive….. but i assure you that I will never be discouraged on my mission ,,,,,,i shall set sail to the east or perish in determining the termination of Niger, although am half dead i shall be the last to die on the Niger, replacing Isaaco with another guide Amadi and sending Isaaco home with his journals, park set sail and the last was heard of him but not for his son Thomas park that tried to look for his father through Accra but was murdered before he could get to Lokoja,

       In 1821 the British Government  at that time in good terms with the Basha of Tripoli determine to send a party across  the desert and an Arab escort was arranged for major Denham, Lt Claperton, Dr Oudney and a carpenter Hillman formed the party that arrived Tripoli in November 1821, the normal procedure took them  a year before they could embark on there journey but on 22nd Dec 1821 major Denham wrote in his journal that during the last two days they have passed an average of sixty to eighty skeletons each day excluding the countless numbers that lay at the well of El hammer, after intense scorching of the sun, unquenchable thirst and wild winds, they reached on the 4th February 1823 first lake Chad and on the 17th they arrived at kuka, the capital of Bornu and was received by Mohammed El-kanemi, from where they set out in teams Dr Oudney and Lt. Clapperton are to explore the Hausa land this lands spread along a very large of area covering Sokoto, Kano, Zaria and Bauchi. are the Hausa speaking tribes, with other little tribe that speak Hausa as there mother tongue although the states are independent they a times engage in expansion wars either to conquer pagan states or to raid for slaves, while Kano always fight without success at Bornu, While Bornu army overran Hausa land many times, while about the year 1513 Askia the great, king of Songhay conquered kastina ,zaria ,and kano,   these part of the colony has known Islam for centuries but pagan worshiping is practiced widely among the populations,

       The less advanced but organized communities are what Capt j. welsh who visited the  Benin river as far back as 1588 writes that the blacks are people of beastly living with out a god, laws, religion or commonwealth also Mr. Bosman who was in coast around 1680 writes that the blacks are all without exception crafty ,villainous and fraudulent and very seldom to be trusted among these men are the Igbo tribe ,the Yoruba’s, the Kwas the Ikweres, the Ibibios, the Ogonis, the Efiks, the Ijaws, the Itsekiris ,the Igalas whose language is akin to Yoruba and so many more tribes and dialects to mention, these tribes live in total independent from others, encountering each other on either slave raid or tribal wars, the Itsekiris has always been the middle men between the white slave merchants and the hinterlands since (1300 AD) eastward of them are the Okpotos the Tivs and small scattered tribes of Jukon or Kororofo tribes which was at one time paramount race in this part of the colony they are supposed to have come from Arabia and to have settled first at the bank of lake Chad moving southwards and westwards they over ran and conquered most of Hausa land including Kano and Zaria and a great deal of the colony south of Benue before the 18th century, north of the river Benue in the mountainous region of the Bauchi plateau are large number of primitive tribes addicted to cannibalism, and wearing the scantiest of attires in spite of the cold that besiege them, they are good agriculturist and their chief weapon is the bow, some are head hunters some eat there own people while some exchange with neighboring villages, these tribe are known as the Angas and the Tangale.

       West of Bauchi are the Gwaris, who were never conquered by the Fulanis but suffered terribly from slaves raids, south of the Gwaris are the Nupes whose kingdom was a very ancient one with the people of Borgu who claimed to be from Coptic origin these Borgu people believed that their fore fathers was Christians, in addition to these few tribes mentioned above are numerous others speaking different languages and dialects and giving proofs of distinct origins lay the land mass that has never been colonized or have communication with the developing worlds for centuries, efforts by the Italian born[1778] Egyptologist and explorer Giovanni Belzoni that tried to reach Timbuktu from guinea coast but was cut short at Gwato in the Benin country, or major Laing who had attempted to reach Niger from the Gold coast and the attempts made by Mr. Nicholas to ascend the Calabar river to prove that is an estuaries of the Niger was not repeated, General Rufane Donkin’s attempt in 1829 to prove that the river flowed north and passed through the sands of the Sahara desert to the Mediterranean was abortive.

      Left to try was Richard Lander dedicateted to solve mystery of the Niger for ever, but Lander possessed no educational qualification but his imaginations was trigged during an accompanying trip with Lt Clapperton, During the trip Clapperton took him as a servant, he undertook the second journey with his brother john, the document provided by the British Authority proved that the Government had no idea the course of Niger below Bussa he was to follow it to Funda if it changes its course, but on 25th of October, they passed the confluence with Benue at Lokoja but near Asaba they fell in with a large number of natives dressed and flying an imitation of the British flag. these men are called the Igbos, the Landers were captured after some unfruitful efforts to resist and was taken to the obi of Asaba and here also they met men from the brass river who told them that there is an English ship named brig. Thomas from Liverpool docking at brass and a few days later they was ransomed by king boy of brass who took them to brass town and detained john, after a series of ill treatments by the captain of the brig, and after an almost ship wreck Lander was able to land in ferander po and after a tedious voyage they arrived England in 9th June 1831, with them came a solution to a question that had puzzled the world for centuries, the first person to put the discovery of the Landers to practical use was Laird Mac Gregor a Liverpool merchant. he used two small steamers to enter the delta to commence trading but was unable to ascend beyond Lokoja though very ill he managed to visit Funda at the banks of Benue, his journey yielded little or nothing in terms of economic importance.

       In 1835 Mr. john Beecroft  ascended the Niger  as far as Lokoja and again in 1840 he got within 40 miles of Bussa in the Ethiope, in another expedition in 1845 he reached Rabba Mr. Beecroft also explored Benin, Rivers, old Calabar river in 1842 and that marked  the emergence of a country Niger-ia who has suffered politically, economically and religiously in the hands of its leaders, endured tribal wars, civil war ,migration, famine, near Annihilation, slavery since our existence in the most blessed part of the earth, we have suffered more than any part of the world firstly termed savage animals, secondly doubted our identity as humans and thirdly robbed us a deserved history, just for the records it is a fact that it was reported in Sunday times of 1st April 1832,” that these ships namely black joke and fair Rosamond tender in the river bonny captured the Regulus and Rapido two Spanish ships, they were chased from the sea with 400 slaves each trying to come clean of slave trading threw hundreds of our brothers ands sisters into the water only two survived before the ships was captured in brass river, we should also know that between 1700- 1847 a total of 3 million slaves was exported from the colony but only about a million made it to Europe and America because of the atrocities committed by slave traders, it was also noted that a memorandum attached to the report of the house of common committee on slave trading in 1848 states that the following slaves was received from our colony, 

  • 1788 …………………….           100, 000
  • 1798-1810………………………85,000
  • 1810-1815………………………93,000
  • 1815-1819………………………106,000
  • 1819-1825………………………103,000
  • 1825-1830………………………125,000
  • 1830-1835………………………78,000
  • 1835-1840………………………135,800
  • 1841-1847…………………….   500, 000 slaves

Bryan Edwards noted that between 1680 and 1786 almost 200,000 slaves were imported in to the west Indies[British America], and a notorious act by slave merchants to throw sick slaves over board before entering Brazilian port as mandated by the port authority that no sick slave will be allowed into the port cannot be undermined, the act of exchanging slaves with pirates for easy passage by the Portuguese slave merchant wasn’t un-noticed either, Dr madden that was sent down to the colony in 1841 states that for every ship that leaves bonny, a virgin girl is taken on board and sacrificed on the sea to appease the gods, and also in 1900s a serious famine occurred in the greater part of the colony and it was recorded that around Bauchi and Yola some pagan  inhabitants sold their children in large numbers to secure food for themselves, our fate has been destined by the almighty to succed against all odds but we are our greatest enemy because of one political intrerst or religious believes less we forget it should be noted that at the Berlin conference of 1884-1885 during which the west African colony was partitioned by the Europeans did not have one single representative of black origin.

       For we are victims of Circumstances but we can still differentiate between horrors committed by slave merchants and the divine intervention of missionaries Muslim and Christians inclusive, but that does not deny the fact that we need to learn from our fore fathers mistake and ignorance, and make amends to avoid the division of our beloved fragile country that has been on the brink of annihilation and disintegration since the early days of exploitation around 900AD by the Europeans, we were robbed of a deserved historical artifact,

      These and many other reasons are behind the museum in Liverpool England, a city that was built by the direct profits made on slavery for a period of 800yrs. the museum is called the international slavery museum in the heart of Liverpool, names that beautify the walls includes Gasper Yanga born 1550,created a slave colony that lasted for 30yrs, Malcom X born 1925 a major campaigner of black power, Philis wheatley born 1753, became the first female author that published a book in America, sang for George Washington, Author Wharthon born 1865 became British fastest man in 1886, Harriet Tubman born 1820, fought in American civil war and  help of hundreds slaves escape, Sojourner Truth born 1797 she gave a memorable speech ‘Aint i a woman?’ Toussaint L’ouverture born 1743 lead a slave revolt in Haiti, Mary Seacole born 1805 a nurse that opened a hospital during Crimean wars in turkey, John Sentamu born 1949 rose to become first black archbishop, Haile Selassie born 1892 emperor of Ethiopia and a known anti fascist during ww2, Ignatius Sancho born 1729 become the first black man to vote in Britain, Rosa parks born 1913 became popular when she refused to give up her bus seat for a white, and the fallout launched Martin Luther king born 1929 to fame after the famous bus boycott ,Jesse Owen born 1913, defied Nazi propaganda to win 4 gold in Berlin Olympics, Queen Nanny of Jamaica born 1720 a maroon leader that freed many slaves, Lewis Howard Latimer born 1848 son of escaped slaves considered one of the greatest black inventor due to his improvement of carbon filaments in light bulbs he worked with Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, Dr. Mae Carol Jemison an astronaut, chemical engineer, physician and educator that became the first black woman in space, Olaudah Equiano born 1745 released one of the first written work by a black man ,Prof Chukwurah Philip. Emeagwali born 1954, the father of internet, Web Du Bois born 1868 the first black to receive PhD from Harvard, Charles Drew born 1904 revolutionaries the science of blood transfusion  the list should be endless considering the tens of million slaves shipped out of Africa and should be a reason why we must reinvent ourselves or perish, why we should know that intellectual capital not money alleviates poverty why Nigerians and in deed Africa should know that technological information widens the gap between the rich and the poor, we should emulate countries like Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and South Africa to mention but a few, our children will feed on the seeds that we sow today. 

Osita chiadika writes from Abuja Is a histo-political analyst and An Industrial Chemist, email add. Ositaability@gmail.com phone  +2348038683512. 

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