Beneath the frenzy of the coming Centenary Celebration of the Amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria in 1914 lies the derelict plight of Zungeru, which, for many reasons, would have qualified for a 21st century mega-city.
Zungeru prides itself as the first capital of the Northern Protectorate, the seat of colonial lords at the inception of the political configuration called Nigeria.
History has it that it hosted the ceremony that gave birth to the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates 100 years ago. It is from there the name of the country was first proclaimed.
Today the town is a sad reflection of its historical antecedents and archeological significance. It is a shadow of what should have been a monumental city that ought to be celebrated even as the country marks the centenary of its political existence.
Aside from being the birthplace of Nigeria, the town has the singular honour of hosting the birth of a former President of Nigeria, the great Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the former Biafrian warlord, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, a literary icon, Prof Cyprian Ekwensi and many other notable Nigerians.
Today the nation’s cradle is not just a shadow of itself but a forgotten town that could best go for a glorified village. The sleepy and serene linear settlement is in total disarray and rot despite its past glory. It has reverted to, if not worse than, its pre-colonial days.
The town which hosted the agents of Her Royal Majesty, the Queen of England, a replica of today’s Aso Rock Villa, has been reduced to one of the many neglected villages in the country, lacking in basic social amenities. Indeed one can hardly find any traces of glory or grandeur in what was the nation’s most powerful enclave. All the glory has sadly gone away.
About 85 years ago when the colonial administrators left the town for Kaduna, most of the legacies of the Queen’s agent who worked and lived in Zungeru were still on the ground. Now, however, most of these structures have become dust and ash.
Worse still is the complete vandalism of most of the infrastructure left behind by the British administration while the few remaining are left at the mercy of the elements. But for the recent intervention to renovate the colonial cemetery, it is practically evident that there is no deliberate effort to preserve all these legacies.
Apart from the renovated colonial cemetery, relics of dilapidated and weather-beaten African Officers Mess, Sir Lord Lugard’s Office, Swimming Pool, Flower Pots and ruins of the Amalgamation Hall where Nigeria was named, hardly can a visitor to this ancient heritage link Zungeru among the great settlements in the country.
Tucked in the heart of present-day Niger State in Wushishi Local Government Area, Zungeru, the glorious past of Northern Nigeria and indeed the country, is surrounded by Tegina to the Northwest, Kagara to the North, Minna to the Northeast and Wushishi to the South. River Kaduna remains its faithful neighbour for years.
With only one pothole-infested road running through the heart of the town, public schools, a dilapidated post office and the ruins of colonial structures, nothing material can link this town with the enviable role it played in the evolution of Nigeria.
Successive governments have abandoned the town to its fate to live or die naturally. Even when towns were made local government headquarters, Niger State Government relegated Zungeru to a ward level. Like the biblical Jacob, Wushishi was picked as the council headquarters, a development that further hurt the glory of Zungeru.
Today, aside from the 108-year old United Mission School, a joint project by the Anglican and Baptist churches in 1905 now named after Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, a former pupil of the school and the Ebenezer Anglican Church (both structures have been renovated over the years by the local education authority and the church), hardly can one find any trace of its glorious past in this rusty and dusty town.
But in 1991, many thought the book of remembrance had been opened concerning the town when the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida began the construction of a research centre in the town – the Nnamdi Azikwe International Centre -a project in honour of a “son of the soil”, the nation’s first African Governor-General and President, but alas, the project has since been abandoned.
Lamenting the dwindling fortunes of the town, Mallam Tanko Yusuf, a native and a tour guide in the town bemoaned the outright abandonment of the town by successive governments. He was especially hard on administrations since 1960.
“When the colonial masters were here, Zungeru was given its right share of attention; even when the capital moved to Kaduna, the town was not neglected but since independence, our leaders have forgotten, abandoned and neglected the birthplace of this country,” Yusuf said with nostalgia.
Tracing the history and the emergence of Zungeru, Yusuf recalled: “There has never been a place in Nigeria that was reverted to a village like Zungeru. Though the colonial capital started in Lokoja for a year before it was moved to Zungeru, where the colonial lords called the shots for 14 years and then it was taken to Kaduna. Today, Lokoja and Kaduna are very much developed but Zungeru has been reverted back to a village status. It has been left to rot.
“In those days of the colonial administration up to 1960, there was nothing you wanted from Zungeru that you could not get. The place was a beautiful place to behold but now, it is a shadow of itself.
“This place should be a renowned place, a place of global attraction but we cannot bring the world here to see the town where Nigeria was given birth to.”
Yusuf complained that despite spirited efforts by the residents, no government has shown concern about the town. According to him, “it is only when an event is to be held and important personalities are expected that emergency patch works are done to mask the monumental corrosion in the place.”
If the natives are regretting the misfortune of the town, visitors who came to the town are devastated. Temisan Peters who visited from Warri, Delta State, regretted coming to Zungeru.
“My expectations of Zungeru were high, being the first Northern capital and the birthplace of Nigeria. I had been hearing about the place and have longed to be here but sadly when I came, what I saw was not what I expected it to be,” Peters said with resignation.
He added: “It is quite underdeveloped compared to the age of the community and the kind of people the community has produced and accommodated like the first President, late Ojukwu and others. I expected more and thought it would make a remarkable tourist centre but unfortunately, it is very under-developed.”
With the centenary celebration gathering momentum, Peters advised both the state and Federal Government to rescue the town.
“Zungeru remains the birthplace of this country. We have to give the town her rightful place and preserve all those monuments, all those colonial relics, and turn the town to a goldmine and a tourist destination. The history of Nigeria is incomplete without Zungeru,” Peters said.