Many of this generation’s young ones know little or nothing about the popular town of Lokoja in Kogi State. They know neither the role this beautiful city played in the history and development of the beautiful nation called Nigeria, nor are they aware of the abundant historical relics it has spawned, especially before and during the Colonial era.
The primary goal of this piece is to expose the significance of the historical town of Lokoja as a means of appreciating its ancient freedom fighters, educators, emancipators and liberators.
Lokoja, like many other cities in Nigeria, belongs to Nigeria. It is located in the heart of Nigeria, in the present North-central region of the country. The town was a former capital of the British northern protectorate and it also remained a convenient administrative town for the British colonial government after the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates into one nation called Nigeria in 1914.
Lokoja is the first settlement of British in Nigeria. In fact, the name ‘Nigeria’ was coined by British journalist, Flora Shaw, who lived in Lokoja, when she got married to the governor-general of Nigeria, Lord Fredrick Lugard. It is said that Shaw coined the name ‘Nigeria’ while gazing out at the river as it stretched before her.
After the amalgamation of the protectorates in 1914, the new governor-general, Lugard, ruled Nigeria from Lokoja.
Today, Lokoja is the capital of Kogi State, a state carved out from Kwara and Benue states in 1991.
According to European historical records, Lokoja was said to have been founded by one William Balfour Baikie. Realistically, though, there were natives living in the area for thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans.
Atabor Julius wrote that, “the magnificent Niger and Benue rivers meet in Lokoja, forming the famous confluence from which Kogi derives its official sobriquet, ‘The Confluence State’. Kogi shares a common border with nine states in Nigeria and is essentially a transit route to 16 other states, including the FCT. Lokoja, on the other hand, also saddles some strategic roads to, at least, five geo-political zones out of the six geo-political zones in Nigeria”.
History has it that, there the town is a special place for many reasons. First, Lokoja was the first administrative and commercial capital of Nigeria when Lugard became governor-general of Nigeria after Mungo Park and Richard and John Landers explored the River Niger in the 1830s.
This opened the town to all Nigerians and allowed all and sundry to draw from the fountain of the Niger with insatiable quest for the knowledge which comes with discovery.
Second, Lokoja was said to be a prominent centre for slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, due to its strategic location. Later, it served as a centre for freedom. The late Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther spear-headed anti-slavery crusade in Nigeria and erected the ‘Iron of Liberty’ at a spot where slaves were set free in Lokoja. Around the same spot, he erected the first primary school in Northern Nigeria for all Nigerians who wanted to seek freedom from ignorance.
The third and most significant place of Lokoja was its crucial purpose as a practice ground for distance education by many Northern Nigerian emirs in the 1800s. During the colonial era, a number of Northern feudal lords who vehemently opposed colonial rule and domination of their territories by the European imperialists were banished to Lokoja as punishment by the colonialists. What the colonialists did not realise was that, these Emirs used distance education method to keep in constant touch with their subjects and were continually a step ahead of the colonialists who never ceased to be amazed at how informed and intelligent the people they sought to colonise were.
Notable among the deposed emirs who perfected the traditional form of distance-learning included the Late Emir of Bida Mallam Mohammed Baashir, deposed in 1901; the late Emir of Zaria Mallam Aliyu Dansidi and the late Emir of Kano, Mallam Aliyu Abdullahi, deposed in 1903.
These forerunners of the Nigeria style of open, distance learning have were buried in Lokoja and should constitute an interesting tourist attraction.
Fourth, the first course writing and instructional material development of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) meeting took place in Lokoja in 2002. This means that the government, owners of the National Open University of Nigeria, realised that they will be bringing open and distance-learning to its home and its origin in Nigeria.
According to Professor Jegede, there in Lokoja, they defied the intense heat at that time of the year to write 183 courses and adapt 235 others in 54 programmes carefully chosen to kick-start the re-establishment of the NOUN in Lagos.
Besides all these, historical relics such as the Lugard House, the first primary school in northern Nigeria, the first cantonment church, the first hospital in northern Nigeria, iron of liberty, graveyards of the deposed emirs and Europeans commentaries are major tourist attractions which attracts people from all walks of life to the town.
Till date, many relations of the European workers of the United African Trading Company (UTC), soldiers, as well as missionaries buried in the European commentaries in Lokoja are trooping to the state to see the tombs of their departed ones, in order to pay tribute to them. The commentaries which are located in three different places within Lokoja Township hold six to eight hundred graves of Africans and Europeans. The gravesite is said to have the largest contraption of European graveyards in Nigeria.
With all these historical references, Lokoja is, no doubt, a city of historical importance located strategically.
According to Ad Ali, Lokoja rose to fame due to its location at the confluence of two of West Africa’s great waterways, the Niger and Benue rivers which take their root from the Futa Jallon highlands in Guinea. These natural waterways served as the major means of communication and transportation, especially for the riverside dwellers during the colonial period.
As a result of its location, Lokoja served as a commercial rendezvous during the East-west kolanut Trade in West Africa. Lokoja was also the trade distribution centre for an agricultural (chiefly cotton) region and has food processing industries. With the arrival of the Europeans, the city rose to international fame when it served as the first British settlement in Nigeria and as a major inland port for European companies. The town grew to become a cosmopolitan settlement peopled mostly by different ethnic groups from the Middle-belt and Hausa from Northern Nigeria. This cosmopolitan nature has since remained to date.
The dilemma of Lokoja is that various ethnic groups, notably the Oworo, Nupe, Igbirra, Hausa and Igala claim to be the true natives. These claims and counterclaims are said to have hampered the development of the town since Nigeria’s independence.
Although, Lokoja is a major historical trading city, it is not as relevant as it once was. It was said that the city was supposed to accommodate a steel industry, but only the Ajaokuta Steel Mill which was served by the abundant iron ore deposits later cropped up.
More recently, the Dangote Cement Factory berthed there. The steel revolution may yet still happen, as the Nigerian government has recently began plans to bring the steel mill and other government industries back to life. If this happens, perhaps, the much-talked about revolution will come in the near and cause the city to strive again.