Thursday, October 17, 2019 3:55 pm
On Thursday, 15 October 2019, the Metropolitan Club of Lagos held its 60th Anniversary with a lecture, entitled “Elites and the Enlightenment: Reflections on the Question of Progress in Contemporary Nigeria.” It was delivered by Professor Wale Adebanwi, the Rhodes Professor of Race Relations, Director of the African Studies Centre and Fellow of St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, UK.
Adebanwi argued that indeed, Nigeria faces immense challenges. However, as members of the elite, he said they have a choice either to be paralysed by the immensity of these challenges or to be catalysed into concerted and progressive action.
The Professor acknowledged the contributions of the elite class in laying the foundation of the Colony of Lagos and, by extension, the Nigeria. Adebanwi told the audience: “Why he hated your predecessors is what has been unnecessarily debated by those who still have a problem with the positive career of modernity in Nigeria’s history. When he arrived Lagos to resume duties in 1912, that is, two years before formal amalgamation, Lugard described the Lagos elites in a letter to his wife, Flora, in these terms: ‘I am somewhat baffled as to how to get in touch with the educated native….To start with, I am not in sympathy with him. His loud and arrogant conceit are distasteful to me, the lack of natural dignity and courtesy antagonise me.’”
Adebanwi argued that could anyone who was open to the Enlightenment project in such a city as Lagos say this of the likes of Richard Beale Blaize of the Lagos Times, J. Blackall Benjamin of Lagos Observer, Owen Emerick Macaulay of the Eagle and Lagos Critic, John Payne Jackson, his son, Thomas Horatio Jackson, both of the Lagos Weekly Record, George Alfred Williams of the Lagos Standard, James Bright Davies of the Nigerian Times, Ernest Ikoli of the African Messenger, and Herbert Macaulay, of the Lagos Daily News?
The educated elite in early 20th century Lagos so dismissed by Lugard were, according to Adebanwi, the same people whom his predecessor, that is, the Governor of the Colony of Lagos and the hinterland Protectorate, Sir William MacGregor (1899-1904), had described in these terms: “The great majority of the civil servants are natives of the country, some of whom have been educated in the Colony, others in England and elsewhere.” Also, as mentioned earlier, Lugard’s successor, Hugh Clifford, as Adebanwi put it, described these same people as responsible for ensuring “the most active life and thought of the country,” and ensuring that government was exposed to the “closest scrutiny and criticism.” Contrary to the “enlightened” position of his predecessor, MacGregor, upon resumption of duties in Lagos, Lugard told his wife that “My policy…was the very opposite of MacGregor’s…”
In other words, the members of the elite class in Lagos were so confident and independent minded that Sir Frederick Lugard developed a complex in relating with them!
In the words of Adebanwi: “If Frederick Lugard were to return to Nigeria today, he will still recognise the country in its essential parts. The weak structure that he built ironically endures in that, more than a century after he laid the devastating foundation, millions more Nigerians are still trapped in human misery, while the illogic which he inscribed into the working of what was pejoratively described as the “Nigerian system,” as a persistent negation of the core logic of the Enlightenment, remains dominant. However, what we have done with and about that weak foundation is our own fault, not his. In fact, it is principally the fault of the elites. This is why your role in remaking Nigeria is crucial.”