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

This original article, titled “Lugard And Colonial Nigeria – Towards An Identity?” was written by the great historian, Michael Crowder – History Today, February 1986, Vol. 36, pp 23 – 29. I am again merely reproducing this fine piece that throws more light on the feud and rivalry between our colonial administrators and which seem to have been passed down to us, and is the causative of most of the ethnic distrust and problems that still exist in Nigeria today. I am sure many Nigerians, especially historians, have read this article, but then, most of us who are not students of history might not have come across it. Certainly, I had not, until quite recently, and it was a fascinating read and knowledge. It is a rather long historical article, but I do hope you enjoy it and find it interesting as well as learn from it.

Here we go:

(“More like sovereign heads of state than servants of the same British Crown” – the rivalry and ‘diplomacy’ of imperial proconsuls hampered the creation of Nigeria between 1900 and 1914)

Photo: Lugard’s arrival at Calabar on a tour of the Central and Eastern Provinces, Dec. 1912

DIPLOMACY IS NOT AN ACTIVITY usually associated with colonies or colonial officials. By definition colonies were not sovereign states and where relations with other countries were concerned, these were conducted for them by their imperial governments. Likewise, the colonial official did not ‘represent’ his country in his colony, even when he bore a diplomatic title like that of ‘Resident’ in Northern Nigeria, but rather exercised power on its behalf over people who had lost their sovereignty.

Given this, a special problem arose as to how to conduct relations between colonies occupied by the same metropolitan power that were territorially contiguous but administered as separate entities. To take Africa as an example, Britain after the First World war had nine contiguous colonies in East, Central and Southern Africa, while France had seventeen in Northern, Western and Equatorial Africa. How were conflicts of interest between neighbouring countries administered by the same colonial power to be solved, or projects of mutual economic interest to be advanced? The French partially solved this problem by placing their West African colonies under a Governor-General in Dakar, and their Equatorial African colonies under a Governor-General in Brazzaville, thus reducing the potential areas of inter-colonial conflict to those between the French Equatorial Federation and the French West African Federation, and between the latter and the French North African possessions of Morocco and Algeria, with which it had common borders. The British, who delegated more power to their proconsuls in Africa than did the French, expected them to settle any disputes that might arise between them on the spot, keeping the overworked and understaffed Colonial Office informed of results, but only in the last resort referring to it for arbitration.

The three contiguous British territories of the Niger – the Lagos Colony and Protectorate, and the Protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria – provide a fascinating case study of the way in which these contiguous British administrations conducted relations with each other very much as would friendly (and sometimes not so friendly) sovereign states with particular concerns, boundaries and ways of life to defend. Before the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria was formally proclaimed in 1900, it was declared British policy to amalgamate it with its southern neighbours. The fact it took fourteen years to amalgamate them, was in large part due to often bitter ‘diplomatic’ wrangles between their respective officials, and the way these officials perceived their colonies as ‘countries’ with special interests which it was their business to protect. Sir Frederick Lugard, as High Commissioner of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria, highlighted the anomalies of this situation when he wrote to Sir William MacGregor, Governor of the Lagos Colony and Protectorate, over the boundary between the two British territories in March, 1902:

I venture to remind Your Excellency that though, in my opinion, it matters little where the exact frontier is placed, since both Protectorates are British, since before long it is your hope and mine that they will become still more closely connected, and since I have the good fortune to have succeeded in working in co-operation and harmony with Your Excellency, still I have an obligation no less than that which you so strongly feel yourself to safeguard the traditional and just rights of the chiefs within my administration.

The three British colonial possessions of the Niger that were amalgamated between 1906 and 1914 each had a different origin which helped determine the specific character they quickly developed under their British administrators. The oldest of the three was the Lagos Colony and Protectorate, dating back to 1861 when the British occupied the island-port of Lagos to put an end to its involvement in the slave trade and to protect British commercial and evangelical interests in the hinterland. The subsequent occupation of its hinterland was accomplished in the last decade of the nineteenth century, mainly peacefully through treaties with the kings of the Yoruba states who made up this largely ethnically homogenous, though politically fragmented, territory. A substantial group of Yoruba-speaking people were, however, included in the Northern Protectorate since in the early nineteenth century they had incorporated into Ilorin, one of the constituent emirates of the great Sokoto Caliphate, whose lands comprised nearly two-thirds of that Protectorate. A small group of Yoruba were to be found in the extreme western areas of the Southern Nigerian Protectorate. Lagos island itself and a small part of the mainland had the status of a Crown Colony with its own Executive and Legislative Council established at the time of the British occupation in 1861, while the larger hinterland was a British Protectorate.

Photo: Top Left: Sir William MacGregor, Governor of the Lagos Colony and Protectorate

Right: Sir Frederick Lugard, High Commissioner for the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria

Bottom Left: Sir Percy Girouard, Lugard’s successor in the North

To the east of the Lagos Colony and Protectorate lay the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, much of which in 1900 still had to be conquered or, in British colonial parlance, ‘pacified’. This Protectorate, formed from the old Niger Coast Protectorate and part of the lands of the Royal Niger Company, whose status as a Charter Company with the right to administer territory on behalf of the Crown had been withdrawn the year before, comprised a multitude of different ethnic groups. Its origins went back to the mid-nineteenth century when British consular officials began to exercise authority over certain coastal states in an attempt to suppress the slave trade and protect the interests of British palm-oil merchants. It was ruled from Old Calabar in the far south-eastern corner of the territory by Sir Ralph Moor.

The Protectorate of Northern Nigeria, proclaimed on January 1st, 1900, when the British flag was hoisted at Lokoja at the confluence of the Benue and the Niger, was formed from lands claimed, and to a much lesser extent administered, by the Royal Niger Company along the Niger and Benue river valleys and to the north of them. Sir Frederick Lugard, who had earlier secured some of these territories for the Company, now became the Protectorate’s founding High Commissioner. As Margery Perham, his biographer wrote:

A colonial governor can seldom have been appointed to a territory so much of which had never even been viewed by himself or any other European.

It may seem curious that so soon after their conquest, and given the arbitrary nature of their boundaries and the heterogeneity of the peoples and polities enclosed within them, these British-created colonies could even be thought of in terms of countries. Yet, within a short space of time, their respective colonial administrations had imposed on them a separate, albeit British-derived identity, in terms of differing legal systems, administrative organisation and patterns of economic development. The administrators of these three territories saw them as having the attributes of countries and, if they were to be amalgamated, as all were agreed they eventually should, this should be done on terms that were in no way disadvantageous to their individual interests.

The actual decision to amalgamate the British territories on the Niger had been taken as early as 1898 by a six member Niger Committee. The Colonial Office was represented by the Earl of Selbourne and Mr Reginald Antrobus; the Foreign Office, which was still responsible for the Niger Coast Protectorate, by Sir Clement Hill; while the Niger Territories themselves were represented by Sir Henry McCallum, Governor of Lagos, Sir Ralph Moor, Consul-General of the Niger Coast Protectorate, and Sir George Goldie, head of the Royal Niger Company, part of whose territories were to make up the future Protectorate of Northern Nigeria.

All were agreed that the long term goal should be the amalgamation of the three territories. For the present this was impractical because of lack of communications and the problem of the climate which dictated the appointment of younger men as senior administrators and would make it difficult to find a man with sufficient seniority to oversee all three territories. At this early stage, differences of opinion began to emerge between the British officials on the spot as to what form the organisation should take. Moor favoured the immediate amalgamation of Lagos and the Niger Coast Protectorate under one administration as the Maritime Province. McCallum, who had initially favoured the idea, subsequently formed the ‘decided opinion’ that it would be impossible under the present conditions for one man to rule effectively over the whole of the suggested Maritime Province. Antrobus agreed with McCallum that it would be difficult to put the two southern administrations under one government, ‘although if communications were easier there would no doubt be advantages in doing so’.

Chamberlain, as Secretary of State for Colonies, accepted that for the time being there should be three territories, so in 1900, with the declaration of the British protectorate of Northern Nigeria, the renaming of the Niger Coast Protectorate as the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria and the retention of the Lagos Colony and Protectorate as a separate administrative entity, there were established three British administrations on the Niger whose long-term goal was amalgamation. But as the Nigerian historian and administrator, Isaac N Okonjo, so shrewdly observed:

Not for the last time were British political officers to identify themselves too closely with the interests of the region of Nigeria in which they served and which they had grown to love at the expense of the wider interest of the country as a whole.

The principle source of friction between the three territories on the Niger was the demarcation of their boundaries with each other. Indeed sometimes negotiations over these were more difficult of settlement than those over their frontiers with their French and German neighbours. Certainly the latter sets of boundaries were more speedily determined. Indeed some stretches of boundary between the northern and southern protectorates had not been fixed by the time of their amalgamation in 1914.

The principal source of friction lay on the boundary between Northern Nigeria on the one hand and the Lagos and Southern Protectorate on the other. The acrimony that developed between MacGregor of Lagos and Lugard of the North over the towns of Kishi and Saki underlines the fact that these British officials acted as though they were representing separate states, not colonies belonging to the same colonial power. Kishi and Saki were Yoruba towns with which Lugard, when an official of the Royal Niger Company, had made treaties. Now, as High Commissioner of Northern Nigeria, which had inherited the northern territories of the RNC, he considered these two towns properly belonged to him. Furthermore, he considered these relatively populous towns essential as bases for the opening-up of the less populous non-Yoruba country to their north, known as Borgu, which was clearly part of his domain. MacGregor argued that both Saki and Kishi traditionally paid allegiance to the Yoruba ruler of Oyo, which clearly lay in his domain, and therefore, they should come under his jurisdiction.

As early as April 1900, with Lugard’s agreement, Macgregor set off on journeys into parts of Yorubaland claimed by the North. Not only did MacGregor pass on to the Colonial Office complaints made by Yoruba towns he claimed for Lagos about ‘forcible and harmful interference by officers of Northern Nigeria, of whom our boundary natives stand in unreasonable and unreasoning dread’, but he alleged that these border towns had also a ‘great dread of being transferred to Northern Nigeria’. MacGregor also wrote that he considered that he had already ‘shown that it is impossible for Lagos to cede Kishi’ (The author’s italics).

Lugard, who considered MacGregor over-solicitous of, and deferential to, his ‘native chiefs’. Was particularly annoyed at the charges laid against his officers. Indeed he wrote to MacGregor that apart from not feeling it necessary to represent to the Secretary of state complaints against or adverse reports upon Lagos officials: ‘….I deprecate allowing natives to practice their traditional policy of playing off the officials of one Administration against that of the other’. Even so, Lugard has MacGregor’s charges investigated and one of the border officials, Pierce M Dwyer, Assistant Resident in Ilorin, assured him ‘that during my period of service in Illorin [sic] I have been most careful to refrain from any act that might be considered by the Lagos Government as interference’.

The boundary disputes between Moor and Lugard were no less acrimonious. The basic differences between the t were summed up by Captain Woodruffe, one of the Southern Boundary Commissioners, who held that they:

Arose from the fact that from the Northern Nigerian point of view, geographical considerations were of little or no importance….further….the Political Officer, Northern Nigeria, stated that he did not see what race, Native Custom and tradition had to do with the question as he, personally, did not consider the natives had any feelings of sentiment or cling to customs and laws they and the people before them were used to, and further, in his opinion that if any natives were ordered by one Government or the other to go either North of South they would do so.

The Southern Boundary Commissioner, by contrast, considered that ‘natives were very much in the habit of maintaining their old allegiance, however slight’.

Although Moor and Lugard signed an agreement with regard to their boundary west of the Niger, they were unable to settle that east of the Niger. They did, however, come to an understanding as to what was for the time-being workable, and agreed joint patrols along their undefined borders because the ‘natives’ in the area were not yet ‘pacified’. But the divisions between them were too deep. In the event Lugard appealed to the Secretary of State for a ruling, talking about the question of transfer of lands in terms of ‘cession’. Meanwhile he assured Moor that he had not been ‘activated by hunger for land’.

Matters were easier on the Lagos-Southern Nigerian Protectorate frontier. But even though disputes concerned matters of much less moment, such as the position of a marker point in a river, they were sometimes referred home. As Bull minuted to Antrobus on Moor’s despatch about the markers:

It is merely a question of words, and it is a little surprising that a man of Sir R Moor’s capacity should have referred home on such a point, when he has been told that Mr Chamberlain is prepared to agree to anything he may settle with OAG (Officer Administering the Government) Lagos in this matter. But these internal boundary questions, though trivial, have a knack of bringing out the most businesslike characteristics of all three administrators of Nigeria.

While the objective of amalgamating the three Nigerian territories had been established by the Niger Committee from the outset, no time limit had been set for its achievement. The Committee did, however, recommend that the three territories form a Customs Union pending amalgamation, and Lugard, before assuming duties in the North, had proposed in 1899 that he would adopt the same ‘customs, regulations and management’ as Southern Nigeria and Lagos ‘in so far as they are applicable to an inland territory’. But once out in Northern Nigeria, Lugard established a customs policy of his own. Tolls were imposed on goods entering the Northern Protectorate by road from the Southern Protectorate, though goods shipped along the rivers Niger and Benue went free. The African merchants of Lagos were particularly resentful of these tolls and of their status as ‘aliens’ in Northern Nigeria. Indeed by the terms of the Land Proclamation of 1900, no-one who was not a native of the Northern Protectorate could directly or indirectly acquire interest in and rights over land within the Protectorate from a ‘native’ without the consent, in writing, of the High Commissioner.

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!