100 years after: Zungeru and the relics of Lord Lugard
By Alkasim Abdulkadir
Lord Lugard returned to Nigeria from Hong Kong in 1912, his major mission was to amalgamate the two protectorates in Nigeria; this he succeeded in 1914. Until he moved the capital of Northern Nigeria to Kaduna in 1916, the town of Zungeru had effectively been the capital of the vast Northern region since 1902.
As Nigeria prepares to celebrate the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates, it is pertinent to relive the history of its once upon glory.
As you veer off the macadam to take the fork that would take you into the town, you are a bit disappointed by the dusty outlook of the town, your guide sensing this quickly reminds you that Nigeria was once ruled from here. He adds the Amalgamation of Nigeria took place here in 1914. You appear not to be convinced about the town’s tourist appeal. Then your guide adds, there are also the houses of personages born in Zungeru town, like Ojukwu’s father and Zik. The latter piece of information gets your attention and you relax to be taken on a tour of Nigeria’s forgotten capital –Zungeru town in Niger State, North Central Nigeria.
The cache of history in the ambit of Zungeru town is enormous, ironically it has become one of those town cut off from the centre. Our tour on the trail of Lord Frederick Lugard’s Zungeru starts at the Kilaki Kotas, it is a Hausa corruption of Clerk Quarters, the native colonial staff were housed in the quarters originally a block of a hundred and fifty houses. Amongst the ruin of red bricks is a discernible building foundation. ‘Thats where Zik was born, yes there, that room.’ I looked over once again at the humbling piece of stones and red brick, today marked by a drying and dying tree the symbol of the beginning of the Owelle of Onitsha, Nigeria’s first indigenous Governor General Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Not far from the site is the giagantic Zik Centre an ambitious tribute to him by the State, uncompleted several years after it was conceptualised. We crossed the road to the school attended by the foremost nationalist; still standing, though in a state of disrepair -is the block of class room attended by Zik. The foundation of the native church is still struck in the earth on the premises, not far is the church attended by the colonialists. An engraving on the side of the building reads – ‘This Church was commissioned by W.Walace ESQ 1905.’ We walked to the back of the school and a heap of bricks with signs of earlier elevated platforms now represents the house Ojukwu’s father was born. As we digested this piece of history and the guide’s explication of the cosmopolitan nature of Zungeru in the early days we also decided to the trek to the locations of Lugard’s bridges. The bridges divided the town into the native quarters and the Colonial Quarters. The first bridge we came across was the Gadan Tukunya or Pot Bridge, called so because of molded and modeled styled pots at the foot and head of the bridges.
The other part contains several interesting features like the railway terminus, the Water and Electricity Steam generators that provided a twenty four hour a day transmission of light and water, and the Officers Mess. Since it was also the era of pioneer multinationals the ruins of John Holt, Royal Niger Company and UAC are also visible amongst the relics around this side of Zungeru town.
There are two very interesting pieces of history here; first it is the famous Zungeru folding bridge which our guide told us was built circa 1901. It derives its name from a foldable extension that is laid out anytime Lugard wanted to cross to and from his lodgings. The extension is laid out for him to pass, after wards the custodians of the bridge folded it and kept it aside until another crossing. Though the riverbed is dry now, we even went to the foot of the columns that once held the bridge. ‘It is for security purpose, because when the fordable extension is removed how can you cross the bridge, our guide asked rhetorically. We moved away marveling at the ingenuity of the colonialists.
Lugard’s rest house came next on our itinerary. ‘Here is where the bar used to be, this is a garden table’. The guide pointed to an obelisk like ruin, the garden stoned path is still visible, and a mark of the opulence that once inhabited the grounds. But it was the still intact deep concrete gorge that was once a swimming pool of the Governor-general and his guests that fascinated us the most. Our guide who is a native of Zungeru remarks almost pitifully ‘You see Lugard did not want to live Zungeru because he liked it here, he was directed to relocate to Kaduna after the amalgamation, Zungeru was highly central to his operations he could access all parts of the country from here. The ships came from Lokoja to Gwarji, the steam trains also came. So he didn’t want to live.’ ‘Lugard was asked by his aides -how about the houses we have built, in anger he retorted let them rot away’. While some have indeed rotted away, the rest- house is fast crumbling, after being battered by the elements for over a hundred years. ‘The Lander Brothers Foundation came here; they requested to preserve the place we don’t know what happened perhaps the government didn’t agree.’
Crestfallen at our history crumbling away, we move on to our last stop; the Executioner’s gallows, known to the locals as the ‘cutting place’. ‘It was here that offenders were executed. The disloyal Obas, Emirs and other difficult subjects were brought here to be executed if you walk through here, you will never come out.’ The guide said pointing to a concreted footpath. The method was simple and gruesome. The offender was tied to a column via two strong chains to the legs and one strand to the neck, and then a blade mechanically guillotined the head off. The head is then held through the window to satisfy the Governor-General or any senior ranking officer that indeed the execution had taken place. ‘The slab is where the executioner washes of the jet of blood that splashes on them’. In the same breath he says we are yet to visit the armory, the colonial burial ground, and the bridge at Gwarji.
However, the bite of sun was becoming unbearable. We drive away imagining how Zungeru was in it’s hey days. Perhaps the same roads we were travelling on were once for horse drawn carriages and palanquins. The porches we passed must have held moustachioed tanned District officers battling malaria and heat or perhaps ladies in brown bodice and blue bonnets. The phrase Zungeru once upon a capital broke into my reverie as we veered onto the macadam that brought us into Zungeru, a town in a shadow if its once upon grandeur, 100 years has made the difference.
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