Zungeru: Crumbling Capital Of Colonial Nigeria


As the country prepares to celebrate the centenary of its amalgamation, we go back in time to Zungeru where it all began. AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE, Abuja reports 

You don’t need to be told of what lies at the end of the 56-kilometre federal road.  A foreboding of rot, rust and the relics ahead is palpably foisted on you by the barely there, crater-ridden road your vehicle groans on as it labours towards your subject of interest.  The sense of history that its recollection usually elicits in you immediately fizzles out as the town suddenly happens on you in the onrushing landscape. Is this the town so much beloved by colonialists? This is where a country was created?

Although the youths of the town are watching in ramshackle, roadside shacks, not even a live football match going well for the country’s soccer team – the Golden Eaglets – could light up the rustic town. The disquiet was underwhelming: Welcome to Zungeru, the crumbling capital of colonial Nigeria!

After the colonialists packed their luggage into the locomotive train and left for Kaduna in 1916, Zungeru inevitably slipped out of reckoning in official quarters and remains so till this day. To be sure, not many in this town are in the know of the centenary celebration and the significant role Zungeru played in the nation’s history.

The imperative of a central location suitable for the transportation of vital resources to the ports in the Niger Area in the Southern Protectorate brought Dunguru – that was the original name of the town – under the gaze of colonialists. Driven by this need, Lord Frederick Lugard, the then Governor-General, first made Lokoja, Kogi state his administrative base after lowering the Royal Niger Company flag in 1900 and hoisting the Union Jack in that town. He soon moved to Jebba and later Dunguru in 1902.

Dunguru is a traditional guitar used by the Nupe and Gwari of Niger state. NdaDunguru means the man who plays the Hausa guitar. NdaDunguru is said to have given prominence to the sweet melodies of the guitar, after his day-time job of fishing, to attract customers. The spot where he did his trading became known by the locals as Dunguru.

Interestingly, the difficulties encountered by the British in pronouncing Dunguru gave rise to the corrupted version – Zungeru - the name by which this town is known today. The colonial town is located 55 kilometres north of Minna, the Niger State capital in Wushishi Local Government Area. While its central location brought it into reckoning, the ferocious mosquitoes of Zungeru soon had the colonialists on the move again, which they did – to Kaduna – in 1916. Thereafter, Zungeru became a major transit railway station for colonial trade. The town’s fortunes grew with the railways and nosedived with it, post-independence, as the rail system collapsed.

Except for the military cemetery maintained by the Nigerian Army, the vestiges of colonialism are in ruins in Zungeru today. The old Government House and Lugard’s residence are in a shambles. A local Tour Guide, Mohammed Jubril, struggled to show the few tourists who hanker after historical structures in the ancient town.

The colonial water supply system in Zungeru collapsed in the 1962 and that was the last time residents saw pipe-borne water. All roads in the town are in a state of disrepair. There is no hotel in Zungeru and residents order their newspapers from Minna.

Zungeru has three public primary schools, including Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe Primary School, where Nigeria’s first post-independence president and governor-general, who was born in the town, started his education. It also has two post-primary schools. The Niger State Polytechnic is in the outskirts of the town. Apart from Dr. Azikiwe, former Biafran leader, Dim Chukwuemeka  Odumegwu-Ojukwu (1933) and Senate President David Mark (1948) were born in Zungeru.   

Some teachers confided in LEADERSHIP Weekend that schools in Zungeru witness low turnout of pupils on Wednesdays because they all go to the fortnightly market to help their parents sell farm produce.
There was only one dilapidated rural health centre in the town until the Federal Ministry of Health collaborated with the Wushishi local government to turn it into a Federal Medical Centre. Even this hospital lacks basic equipment and personnel.

A major source of bother for Zungeru residents is the state of the Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe Centre. Abandoned by its promoters – the federal government - the entire project site has been overtaken by weeds and is now a haven for hoodlums and drug addicts. Mooted in 1991 by a group called the Friends of Zik, the project was planned as a research centre in honour of Dr. Azikiwe.

Hakimin Kaduna-Zungeru, Salisu Abubakar expressed disappointment over the long delay in completing the project. He said: “Zik is for Africa and Nigeria. The monument is for all Nigerians. We have never denied anybody the right to live and make a living in Zungeru. Both Azikiwe and Odumegwu-Ojukwu were born here in Zungeru. Although they have left here, we still see them as our own. But then everybody has abandoned Zungeru.”

Deputy Rector, Niger State Polytechnic, Zungeru, Mohammed Gana, said: “The Zik centre should boost research and attract intellectuals to Zungeru. It will  make the town more popular and create employment for the people here, which will enhance their purchasing power and aggregate demand for goods and services in the town. We urge government to look into the project with a view to completing it. ”

Culture Officer,  Wushishi Local Government, Abubakar Sadauki, said Zungeru regularly receives visitors who come to see the relics of colonialism and the birthplaces Azikiwe and Odumegwu-Ojukwu. However, he stressed the importance of completing the Zik centre, saying:  “The project is very important to the people of Zungeru but the delay in  its completion is a setback to tourism and places of interest in the town.”

Niger State Commissioner of Tourism and Culture, Susan Gana told LEADERSHIP Weekend: “Zungeru is not only for the people of Niger state but for the entire nation. The Federal Government should partner the Niger state government and bring Zungeru to life. We should all be proud of that city as Nigerians.”
She disclosed that the state centenary committee had visited Zungeru to look at the state of things in the colonial town. “We aware that the state centenary committee has visited Zungeru to see things for themselves. They should be moved enough to do something about the town,” she added.

Niger State may go by the sobriquet ‘The power state" but this has not translated to regular electricity supply for Zungeru, which is usually in darkness. Residents hope that that the construction of the 700 megawatts hydro dam project recently launched by President Goodluck Jonathan would change the situation for them when completed.

LEADERSHIP Weekend sought out Alhaji Gwamna Salihu, 120, who, as an 11-year-old boy, witnessed Nigeria’s amalgamation treaty on January 1, 1914. However, he was too ill to speak.  But his son Mohammed Ndagi Salihu recalled some of the tales his father had told him, especially of the beauty of Zungeru just after the amalgamation.

“My father told us that he worked for the British railway engineers, loading charcoal and wood for the locomotive trains. People were happy to receive Lugard in Zungeru and when the northern and southern protectorates were amalgamated, there was peace all over the country,” Ndagi said.

But Ndagi lamented the poor state of infrastructure in Zungeru today: “There is no water or regular electricity in Zungeru and the roads are very bad. As the former capital of Nigeria, at least we are supposed to be more developed than this,” he stated.

With is current state, look no further than Zungeru if you seek answers to how Nigeria poorly handles its historical heritage.