Zungeru, Niger State, was the town where the amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorates was signed on January 1, 1914, by Lord Frederick Lugard, the first Governor-General of Nigeria. The town was the capital of the vast Northern Region at the time, and had been since 1902. Lugard would eventually move the capital to Kaduna in 1916, effectively relegating it to a side note in the country’s history – where it remains today.
Zungeru Secretariat, former railway terminus during the colonial era.
Zungeru actually holds a great deal of significance to the Nigerian state as it was the birthplace of a number of prominent Nigerians such as Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria, Biafran warlord Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, and Senate President David Mark. Unfortunately, there is little in the town today to show that it had once served as the fulcrum of the nation’s history.
Government House at Zungeru, where Lugard once ran his government and which was declared one of Nigeria’s 65 National Monuments, is gone. Not even its foundation stones remain. What’s left of Lugard’s office and residence are ruins. Zungeru’s first church, the United Mission Church was built in 1905 but has been mostly washed away by erosion. Although the church’s original bell and furniture are still in use, the structure is sorely in need of repair.
Other historical sites such as the railway terminus, the steam generators that provided 24-hour transmission of electricity and water to colonists’ homes, and the Officers Mess are still existing, but are also badly damaged. The head offices of pioneer multinationals John Holt, the Royal Niger Company and UAC are also visible, but only as ruins.
Even the Executioner’s Gallows, where troublesome traditional rulers were tried and killed, is in danger of disappearing. Writer and journalist Alkassim Abdulkadir describes the site in a recent article:
…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’.
Zungeru is fountain of Nigeria’s history and a viable source of domestic tourism. However, its monuments and other attractions must be properly documented and rehabilitated. Too often we spend our money on the new and the shiny, distracted by the momentary allure of the modern. Yet, it is said that those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. Perhaps it is more than time for us to turn back and look again?