Many youths of this generation knew little or nothing about the popular Lokoja city of today. They didn’t know the role this beautiful city played in the history and developments of the beautiful Nigeria neither were they aware of the abundant historical relic it contained, especially before and during the colonial era. This prompts the writing of this piece to expose the significance of the historical city of Lokoja as a means of appreciating this ancient city of freedom fighters, educators, emancipators and liberators.
Lokoja like many other cities in Nigeria belong to Nigeria, it is located in the heart of Nigeria, in the present North Central of the federal republic, 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 flora Shaw in Lokoja, a British journalist who later married Fredrick Lugard, and as it was said, Flora coined the name Nigeria while gazing out at the River that stretched before her in the late 19th century.
After the amalgamation of Southern and Northern protectorate in 1914, the new Governor General, Lord Lugard ruled Nigeria from Lokoja. Today, Lokoja is the state capital of Kogi State, a state carved out from kwara and Benue State in 1991.
According to European historical records, Lokoja was said to have been founded by one William Balfour Baikie, but in reality, there have been indigenous people living in the area for thousands of years before the arrival of the europeans.
Atabor Julius wrote that, the magnificent river Niger and river Benue meet in Lokoja, forming the famous confluence from which Kogi derives its official sobriquet (The confluence state). Kogi is contiguous to nine(9) states in Nigeria and is essentially a transit route to sixteen 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 are many reasons why Lokoja is a special place in Nigerian history. First, Lokoja was the first administrative and commercial capital of Nigeria when Lord Lugard became the Governor General of Nigeria after Mungo Park and Richard and John Landers explored the River Niger in 1830’s. It opened up the city to all Nigerians and allowed all and sundry to draw from the fountain of the Niger with insatiable quest for knowledge of discovery.
Second, Lokoja was said to be a prominent centre for slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries due to its strategic location and later served as a centre for freedom. The late Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther spearheaded 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 also significant place of Lokoja was the crucial role it served as a practice ground for distance education by many Northern Nigerian Emirs in the 1800’s. 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 subject and were continually a step ahead of the colonialists who never seized to be amazed at how informed and intelligent the people they sought to colonize 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 and distance learning have their graves 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 meeting took place in Lokoja in 2002. These means that, the founder of the National Open University of Nigeria realize that, they would be bringing open and distance learning to its home and its origin in Nigeria. According to professor Jegede, There in Lokoja, they defy 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 National Open University of Nigeria in Lagos. (Prog Olugbemiro Jegede)
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 tourism potentials which continue to attract people from all works 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 tomb of their departed great grandparents and 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 tomb which was said to have largest contraption of European graveyard 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 the two great waterways in West Africa, the Niger and Benue Rivers. These natural waterways served as the major means of communication and transportation especially for the riverside dwellers during the colonial period. Because 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 cosmopolitan settlement peopled mostly by different ethnic groups from the middle belt and Hausa from the northern Nigeria. This cosmopolitan nature have remains to date, the dilemma of Lokoja as various ethnic groups-notably the Oworo, Nupe, Igbirra, Hausa, Igala-lay claim to the ownership of the town. These claim and counterclaim is said to have affected the development of the town since Nigeria’s independence.
Although, Lokoja is a major historical trading city, but it is not as relevant as it used to be now. It was said that the city was supposed to accommodate born steel industry, but only the Ajaokuta steel mill which was served by the abundant Iron Ore deposite later find its presence in the city and more recently, the Dangote cement factory. The steel revolution may yet still happen as the Nigerian Government have recently talked about bringing the steel mill and other government industries back to life. If this happens, May be the rival of steel industry revolution will come in the near future for the city to strive again.