Asaba as Nigeria’s first capital

It is baffling that in the face of Asaba serving as Nigeria’s first ever capital, Calabar and Lokoja are laying claims to the same historical position in Nigeria. Calabar’s claim especially is as a result of its thorough determination to boost its eco tourism profiles to attract local and international tourist lovers from around the world. But it is wrong to arrogate to itself what never occurred in history, particularly as records are there to buttress what truly transpired.

Claiming that Calabar was Nigeria’s first seat of power is non-recognition of Asaba in the colonial administration of the country. The British started the administration of Nigeria from the area called Asaba and propitiously that Asaba is still a part of the same Nigeria today. Therefore there was Calabar because there was Asaba administratively. The British cannot write the history of its first colonial headquarters in the area now called ‘Niger-Area’ (Nigeria) without Asaba. Any such history that neglects Asaba will be indistinguishable to the neglect of the colonial activities of the Royal Niger Company before Calabar.

Before Calabar, Asaba was the preferred choice of the British Royal Niger Company and Royal Niger Company was the incorporated institution of the British colonialists with which the British entered into treaties with locals and also conquered territories which they in due course annexed to the British Empire. It was on the potency of the Royal Niger Company that the British derived authority as well as imperial influence to present and support arguments on claims of territories at the Berlin conference. It was on the claim of Royal Niger Company that Great Britain’s claims were so recognized by other world leaders. In fact, the Royal Niger Company was Britain and

Britain was Royal Niger Company, since the company was its extended agent.

For proper comprehension of the discourse at hand, Sir George Goldie formed the National African Company in 1879, a mercantile company that operated in the lower valley of the River Niger in West Africa. He then persuasively encouraged other traders with similar economic aims to join him in the ownership of the company. This company then became an amalgamated British company. The company later translated to Royal Niger Company. Following the Berlin Conference of 1885 which made the partition of Africa possible, the Royal Niger Company in 1886 received a charter of incorporation authorized to engage in administration on behalf of the British.

It was the Royal Niger Company that extended the British influence in what later became Nigeria including Calabar and Lokoja, two other two claimants. The Royal Niger Company played significant role in the making of the country. For instance, it was the Royal Niger Company that signed treaties with the emirs of Sokoto and Gondo in 1885, an arrangement that effectively secured the areas of the Benue River and Lake Chad, thus blocking the advancing Germans. If Royal Niger

Company’s activities extended to far away Sokoto and Lake Chad, it is historically deceptive to conclude that Asaba never served as Nigeria’s first capital. The argument here is that Asaba was the headquarters of colonial administration of the British in Nigeria and that Asaba is still a part of Nigeria.

Royal Niger Company did not manage to subdue the Fulanis but it acquired for the British several northern emirates and forced them to recognize its suzerainty. It is historically correct to state that Asaba served Nigeria as its first capital from 1886-1900. There were a number of factors that ensured the relocation of the headquarters from Asaba to Calabar. In 1899, the Royal Niger Company became locked with territorial dispute with the French and added to this was the near perpetual complaints from the people of Brass which bothered on commercial interest but one must not fail to recall the stiffest Ekumeku resistance that the British faced in the hands of the Anioma people. The Ekumeku movement which spanned from 1898 to 1914 historically remains the longest resistance put up by any group against colonial imperialism in Nigeria and this forced the British to relocate to Calabar.

The argument in some quarters that the British never ruled Nigeria directly with Asaba as its capital but the Royal Niger Company did is no more than historical mendacity, perverted submission, and confusing argument. But if this must be accepted as factual, Calabar cannot also be said to be the capital of Nigeria but capital of Oil River Protectorate established in 1891 since the British never also ruled Nigeria directly from Calabar but with Oil Rivers Protectorate. Again, there was Oil River protectorate because there was Royal Niger Company just as administratively there was Calabar because there was Asaba.

There cannot be difference with Royal Niger Company and Oil Rivers Protectorate.

A history of Sir Goldie shows that he was a colonial administrator who worked for the British colonial interest, developing British rule on the River Niger and also responsible for bringing northern Nigeria under the British protectorate and finally part of independent

Nigeria. His company governed the area obtained by him for the British crown. It was on the strength of Royal Niger Company’s activities with Asaba as its capital that the British successfully claimed at the Berlin West Africa Conference of 1884 -1885, the areas that would later extend to Calabar. It was also the transference of the company’s charter to the imperial British government on December 31, 1899 that made possible the relocation of the nation’s capital to Calabar.

That the British colonial activities began first in Asaba but later extended to Calabar as its headquarters; that the same colonial power being Britain was involved; that the British operated with charter first with Asaba as its headquarters then Calabar; that the British concealed its interest using Royal Niger Company as a tool in Asaba, later Oil River Protectorate in Calabar and for the fact that Asaba from which the British first operated remains a part of Nigeria, Asaba remains Nigeria’s first capital.

The claim that the British never ruled Nigeria directly from Asaba therefore cannot lay claim to being the nation’s first capital is not only unsound to historians but obnoxious to true sense of judgment.

Granted that the making of Nigeria was at its decisive stage at the time the British made Asaba its capital but as it turned out, Asaba became favoured as the first ever headquarters of the British colonial administration. Asaba was the first capital of Nigeria, not Calabar or Lokoja that assumed the position in 1914.

By Emeka Esogbue

Esogbue, is a Lagos based journalist

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