History Lesson 101: “Lugard And Colonial Nigeria – Towards An Identity?”

But this did not mean that Lugard was against amalgamation, indeed, for Lugard, ruling over the newest and largest of the three territories, amalgamation was, curiously, the most urgent. In the first place, Northern Nigeria was landlocked and could therefore; earn no direct revenue from duties on imports or exports. Instead the Southern Nigeria Protectorate made an annual grant of £34,000 in respect of the duties it was estimated it would be able to raise if it had its own port; but the Southern administration protested that effectively only £12,000 would in reality have been raised on the volume of external trade emanating from the North. In the second place much of the North was still outside administrative control and Lugard required an Imperial Grant-in-Aide to complete its conquest and establish his administration. This subjected him to a degree of metropolitan control that the two Southern Protectorates did not suffer. If he could amalgamate with a southern territory with sufficient a surplus in its revenue to cover his deficit, he would be relieved of irksome control by an Imperial Treasury that held that all colonial dependencies should pay their own way. MacGregor and Moor were equally anxious to amalgamate with the North so the railway that they both planned to extend from their seaboard to the interior could thus penetrate and open up their natural hinterlands without hindrance.

Map of Nigeria before amalgamation showing the three Protectorates and Provinces

(Akintokunbo Adejumo: Please note the Cameroon border and relate to Bakassi)

As far as the Colonial Office was concerned, the main stumbling block on the road to amalgamation was ‘the personalities of the administrators of the three provinces’. Nevertheless in 1903 a major step towards amalgamation of the two coastal protectorates was taken when Sir Ralph Moor was replaced by Sir Walter Egerton, who was appointed simultaneously Governor of the Lagos Colony and Protectorate and of the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. Even so it took some three years to bring the two territories together because Egerton seemed to take the sides of both parties to the proposed union and wrote in 1905 to Lyttleton at the Colonial Office that the future amalgamation of Northern Nigeria and Southern Nigeria would be:

Much simpler than that between Lagos and Southern Nigeria, for the different systems of government, laws, and methods adopted in the latter two administrations forbid a complete union for some time to come.

Thus he proposed to the Colonial Office a form of amalgamation of Lagos and Southern Nigeria that approximated to a confederation with separate institutions.

The two Southern protectorates were finally and, at Colonial Office insistence, fully amalgamated on February 26th, 1906, to become the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria with its capital at Lagos. Meanwhile disputes between the Northern and Southern Protectorates continued unabated particularly in matters of railway policy and boundaries. Indeed these two areas of potential conflict became inextricably bound up as the Lagos line began to cross the frontier into Northern Nigeria.

Lugard’s successor, Sir Percy Girouard, was first and foremost a railway engineer and administrator, with experience in the Sudan, Egypt and South Africa. His appointment was a temporary one and had been made with a view to bringing some rationale into plans to join up the Lagos line with the Northern line.

By the time he took up his appointment Girouard found that the two Nigerias had rival railway projects. From the port of Lagos the Southern Nigerian administration was building a 3’ 6” gauge line northwards to the Niger at Jebba in Northern territory. Meanwhile Lugard had been planning a 2’ 6” line from Kano to Baro on the Niger which would enable him to ship produce without passing through Southern Nigerian territory since under the terms of the Berlin Convention of 1885 the Niger was an international waterway.

The Southern Nigerian Government did not want its railway to be subject to Northern control even when it passed through the latter’s territory. Egerton therefore urged that the area of Northern Nigeria southwest of the Niger be transferred to his administration. But Girouard would have none of this, being as protective of Northern interests as his predecessor (Lugard). Almost as if to add insult to injury, the Colonial Office ruled that the rich Southern Protectorate should provide the deficit-ridden Northern Protectorate with the funds to finance its Baro line, since in any case the two protectorates were destined shortly to be amalgamated. But he did gain two major concessions: there was to be no hold-up in the construction of his own line to meet up with the Northern line near Zungeru, the northern capital, and more important still, the Northern line should be of similar gauge to his own so there would be no difficulty in transferring good from one line to the other. Otherwise had the Northern line remained at 2’ 6” gauge, it would have favoured onward carriage of northern goods from Zungeru to Baro rather than Lagos even at the time of the year when only shallow draft steamers could operate on the Niger. But Egerton was to lose his other argument that at least he should have control of the land on either side of his railway as it passed through Northern territory.

Right up to the eve of amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates wrangles between their respective administrations over control of the northern sector of the Lagos line continued with the North accusing the South of refusing to book goods bound for Jebba and shipment down the Niger and the South accusing the North of giving preferential treatment to those who chose to export goods via Baro and the Niger rather than through Lagos.

Photo: Construction of the Kano-Lagos railway in progress near Kaduna in 1910

Apart from the major territorial claim made by Egerton to the Kabba and Ilorin provinces, disputes over the demarcation of the existing boundary between the North and the South continued. However, they never reached the acrimony that had existed between Lugard and MacGregor, and then his successor Egerton, which culminated in Lugard writing to the Under Secretary of State for Colonies when he was on leave in Abinger before taking up his post in Hong Kong:

If Sir Walter Egerton intends forthwith to carry out his own view [with regard to the frontier] and will send his own officer to lay out a line in accordance with them [it will compel] the Government of Northern Nigeria to oppose such a course of action by force or refer the matter to the Secretary of State for a decision.

The most bitter dispute was along the boundary eastward from the Niger to the border with German Kamerun. Once again we see that the administrations of the two Protectorates had come to regard themselves as representing separate countries with distinct identities. One sector of the boundary divided the Tiv people, one of Nigeria’s largest ‘minority’ groups. Girouard urged that the whole of Tiv country should be brought under his administration. To this Egerton replied that, since they were a ‘pagan’ people, ‘very similar to other pagan races in Southern Nigeria, the reverse should be the case. ‘Southern Nigeria Officers have infinitely greater experience in the treatment of the Pagan peoples, in their habits and methods of government than Northern Nigeria officials …’ In urging the Colonial Office to transfer Tiv country to Southern Nigeria he added a number of other claims, notably Ilorin:

Sir Percy Girouard and myself, however, hold very opposite views regarding the development of Northern Nigeria. Sir Percy is content to develop the country without assistance from outside and demurs to the entry of Southern Nigeria natives. I, on the other hand, think that equilibrium between revenue and expenditure can be best effected by encouraging intercourse between the North and South…

At this time, the Tiv were still resisting the imposition of British rule. Since they were divided between the two administrations both were engaged in ‘punitive expeditions’ against them. Here Egerton stipulated that he did not wish Southern Nigeria troops to be involved in operations in Northern Tivland. Tiredly, Bull in the Colonial Office minuted to a colleague: ‘As one expected, he (Egerton) is very jealous of the boundary between Southern and Northern Nigeria.’

Particularly galling to Egerton and his Southern Nigerian subjects were the taxes that continued to be imposed on them when trading in the Northern Protectorate. They resented being treated as though they were foreigners there. Their alien status in that territory was re-emphasised in 1910 by the Land and Native Rights Proclamation which gave the Northern administration control over immigration from the south by with-holding the grant of a certificate of occupancy or by attaching restrictive conditions to a grant, or by threatening to revoke it.

In the Colonial Office the principle of eventual amalgamation had never been in question: the real problem was to find the man capable of undertaking it. The matter had achieved an urgency in recent years because of what Okonjo has called, somewhat melodramatically, the collapse of the Southern Nigerian Administration in the face of activities of lawyers. Egerton put the position as seen by his administration succinctly in a letter to Lord Crewe, the Colonial Secretary. Although the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court extended throughout the Southern Protectorate he considered that its most backward parts were:

Quite unfitted for so highly organised jurisdiction, little inconvenience and liaison resulted from its introduction until the advent within the last few years of native barristers from Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast who have adopted the habit of sending their agents through the country touting for cases and inducing towns, which before the advent of civil control, would have fought over matters, to pay them extortionate fees to bring suits in the Supreme Court…..Naked savages are now, through the agency of lawyers, bringing cases before the Supreme Court.

These lawyers, Okonjo convincingly argues, succeeded in hamstringing the administration to such an extent that in places it came to a standstill. The Northern Nigerian Government had taken powers from the beginning to exclude barristers from the Provincial Courts of the Protectorate. Thus, when Lugard, coming to the end of his term as Governor of Hong Kong in 1911, indicated that he would be willing to undertake the task of amalgamating the two Nigerias, he seemed the ideal choice. Matured by years, and with direct experience of administering Northern Nigeria, which he had done so much to build and which ran so smoothly compared with the disarray in which its southern counterpart found itself, he appeared to be as likely as anyone to be able to join the two parts into an effective whole.

The consequences for Nigeria’s long-term political development of the formula Lugard chose need not concern us here except in two respects. The first is that not surprisingly Lugard’s amalgamation largely involved imposing on Southern Nigeria the administrative and judicial systems of the North. The second was that the amalgamation was only a partial one. Whereas the Colonial Office has overruled Egerton’s scheme for partial amalgamation of the two southern territories in 1906, they allowed Lugard’s scheme to go ahead. He received a number of suggestions as to how the huge Northern Protectorate might be broken up to give the constituent units of the new Nigeria greater balance. But Lugard had created Northern Nigeria and he was clearly not prepared to see his ‘country’ lose its identity. The farthest he was prepared to go was to suggest a return to the pre-1906 situation by re-establishing the former Lagos Colony and Protectorate as a separate constituent unit of amalgamated Nigeria.

As it was, Lugard’s amalgamation was more like a loose federation of two countries, each of which retained its own administration, headed by a Lieutenant-Governor with his own Secretariat, budget and departments. Only Posts and Telegraphs, Survey, Audit, Judiciary and Military were centralised under Lugard as Governor-General. Southerners continued to be treated as aliens in the north. The consequences of this partial amalgamation were to haunt Nigeria for the next fifty years and many would argue that the Nigerian civil war had its roots in the form of amalgamation Lugard imposed on the country.

* * *

The amalgamation of the three British territories on the Niger, agreed in principle in 1898, took nearly sixteen years to achieve because the administrators of these territories often behaved more like sovereign heads of state than servants of the same British Crown. They and their subordinate officials conducted relations with each other as though they were dealing with foreign governments rather than neighbouring British administrations whose frontiers had been largely arbitrarily delimited and were soon to be joined together as one unit.

From a rational point of view these frontiers should have been of as little consequences as those between British counties. As it was the most disputes between the three administrators on the Niger were over borders, the very stuff of diplomacy. Rational economic co-operation between them was bedevilled not by irredentism on the part of the inhabitants who had been unwillingly enclosed by the colonial frontiers, but of their colonial overloads. British officials identified fiercely with the colonies they had been sent out to govern and serve in, as fiercely as they had with their public schools or universities. Thus Sylvia Leith-Ross, sailing out to Nigeria for the first time in 1907 with her husband who was the Chief Transport Officer in the Northern Protectorate, was surprised to find that the Purser would never dream of placing Northern and Southern officials at the same table. The ‘Northerners’ looked down on the ‘Southerners’ who they considered flabby and who began drinking at 6pm, whereas they did not start until 6.30pm.

What is so remarkable about these ‘national identities’ is that they took root so quickly, feeding of course on existing ethnic and religious differences, and were used as we have seen to defend one British territory against encroachment – territorial or economic – by the other, even though they were soon to be joined together. By giving so much autonomy to their proconsuls, the British Colonial Office made amalgamation most difficult of realisation and brought about a situation in which in their conduct of relations with each other, they were bound to act more like heads of state than civil servants of the same government department – which of course, they were.

Photo: The doctor starting his morning rounds by railroad, Ilorin, October 1912


This article is based primarily on the relevant papers of the Colonial Office held in the Public Records Office at Kew. Margery Perham, Lugard: The Years of Authority 1899-1945 (Collins, 1960); Isaac M Okonjo, Administration in Nigeria 1900-1950 (New York, 1974); T K Tamuno, The Evolution of the Nigerian State: The Southern Phase, 1898-1914 (Longman, 1972); Robert Heussler, The British in Northern Nigeria (Oxford University Press, 1968); A.H.M. Kirk-Greene ed., Lugard and the Amalgamation of Nigeria: a documentary record, London, 1968.

This article is reproduced from Lugard And Colonial Nigeria – Towards An Identity?

By Michael Crowder – History Today, February 1986, Vol. 36, pp 23 – 29

Michael Crowder was born in London on 9 June 1934 and educated at Mill Hill School. During his national service he was seconded to the Nigeria Regiment (1953-1954). He gained a 1st class honours degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) at Hertford College, Oxford University in 1957. He returned to Lagos to become first Editor of Nigeria Magazine, 1959-1962, and then Secretary at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ibadan. In 1964-1965 he was Visiting Lecturer in African History at the University of California, Berkeley, and in 1965-1967 was Director of the Institute of African Studies at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone.

From 1968 to 1978 he was based in Nigeria again, first as Research Professor and Director of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ife, then from 1971 as Professor of History at the Ahmadu Bello University (also becoming Director of its Centre for Nigerian Cultural Studies, 1972-1975) and finally as Research Professor in History at the Centre for Cultural Studies at the University of Lagos, 1975-1978. He returned to London in 1979 to become editor of the British magazine History Today and is credited with making a significant contribution to the survival and then success of the magazine as it now is. He remained a Consultant Editor up to his death.

He returned to the academic world as Visiting Fellow at the Centre for International Studies at the LSE, 1981-82, and then as Professor of History at the University of Botswana, 1982-85. From 1985 until his death he was Joint Editor of the Journal of African History. In 1986 he became Visiting Professor in Black Studies at Amherst College, Massachusetts, USA and Honorary Professorial Fellow and General Editor of the British Documents on the End of Empire Project at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICS). His death on 14 August 1988 was marked by obituaries in the four major daily London newspapers and in many academic journals.

For a bibliography [incomplete] of Crowder’s works, see J.F. Ade Ajayi & John D.Y. Peel (eds.), People and Empires in African History: Essays in Memory of Michael Crowder (London, Longman 1992) pp.x-xiv. His major publications include: The Story of Nigeria (1962, 4ed. 1977); West Africa under Colonial Rule (London, Hutchinson 1968); jt.ed., The History of West Africa (London, Longman 2 vols 1971-74, 2 ed. 1985-87); West African Resistance (London, Hutchinson 1971); Nigeria: an Introduction to its History (London, Longman 1979); ed. Cambridge History of Africa, vol. VIII (CUP 1984);‘I want to be taught how to govern, not to be taught how to be governed’: Tshekedi Khama and the opposition to the British administration in the Bechuanaland Protectorate, 1926-30 (University of Malawi 1984); The Flogging of Phinehas McIntosh: a tale of colonial folly and injustice – Bechuanaland, 1933 (New Haven, Yale University Press 1988); with N. Parsons, eds., Monarch of All I Survey: Bechuanaland Diaries, 1929-37 by Sir Charles Rey (Gaborone and New York 1988).

Written by
Akintokunbo A Adejumo
Join the discussion

  • nice article,though theres something i’d like you to clarify,was the tive under southern or northern protectorate?

  • This article is quite instructive and illuminating especially in an era where our collective national basic academic currcular are bereft of history lessons. Be that as it may I am of the opinion that historical mistakes will continue to be repeated when the lessons therein are not applied. Simply put, people like Akintokunbo should consider ploughing thier vast knowledge towards charting the new path of rebirth for our beleaguered nation. I look forward to tapping from from your knowledge as I make my contribution to saving my country. thanks once again.

  • This is in line with the scriptures. Since slavery was the last curse in Deuteronomy 28 and since GOD had said that in the latter days he would gather our people back to himself. He brought an end to slavery and started the process of reconciling us all over sub Saharan Africa to himself. Because of the stubbornness of our people, he allowed the Europeans to trample upon our land. As our people started to turn back and receive our Messiah, he set us free and gave us independence. This narrative is a summary. There were many parts including GOD using the former slave Samuel Ajaiyi Crowther to translate the Bible to Yoruba so our people could see themselves in the scriptures and turn back to their GOD. The missionaries were preaching GOD out of their imagination not the scriptures. They either did not want to acknowledge or did not know that our people were Jews and Jesus a black man because they were bent on keeping the land of promise and were not interested in the Jews getting back Palestine (Europeans have always generally known that Jesus was a black man and the people in sub Saharan Africa are the really Jews. Remember the black Madonna and child. A Greek friend of mine confirmed to me that this is so but that it is not publicly acknowledged because of fear that the real Jews will now take over and treat them as they treated us in the past. So they lie to deceive us). That is why Europeans are called Jews and have been settled in the land. This is also in scriptures. Jesus told us that Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the gentiles i.e. Europeans (Genesis tells us who the gentiles are – the descendants of Japheth i.e. Europeans) until the times of the gentiles is fulfilled i.e. until western civilization as defined by Europeans comes to an end. That is the feet of the statue that GOD showed to Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel also told us so too. Anyway GOD says in the end times, he himself will

    remove the Europeans by himself and restore us not by our own strength but he will orchestrate a series of events that will fulfill his plan. The story is more detailed than I have presented it. I will probably write a book on it if it is the LORD’S will for me to write such a book.

  • Thanks for this Akin.

    I had the privilege of studying Nigerian history at an early age so, the article you forwarded is quite refreshing.

    There is still a great deal that is yet to be documented about Nigerian history. The MD of the Royal Niger Company (Sir Goldie) was treated as a Governor even though he was only the equivalent of today’s UAC). The Royal Niger Company was later renamed UAC and this is why some people still feel that the colonial image still attaches to the company!

    But when you look at the partitioning of India to create Pakistan and the millions that died in crossing from one side to the other, the mess created in Rwanda by the Belgians when they gave admin and military power to the 15% Tutsis to lord it over the 85% Hutus (I have visited many African countries) you will thank God that the seeds of Biafran rebellion that we had to endure was a small price for our colonial heritage. I went back to Nigeria in the middle of the Civil War in 1968 after completing PG studies in Public Admin at Exeter University).

    As in Rwanda, the Hausa/Fulani people were the “chosen” ones and even today, the Emir of Ilorin is selected by the Sultan of Sokoto. The last Yoruba King (Afonja) was deposed and Fulanis have ruled Ilorin since the 1880s. My Afonja Descendant friends are still hoping that one day Ilorin will return to them (maybe after the current Zulu Gambari dynasty?)

    Plenty of room for research, dear boy!