Unification of Nigeria

Nigeria Table of Contents

After having been assigned for six years as governor of Hong Kong, Lugard returned to Nigeria in 1912 to set in motion the merger of the northern and southern protectorates. The task of unification was achieved two years later on the eve of World War I. The principle of indirect rule administered by traditional rulers was applied throughout Nigeria, and colonial officers were instructed to interfere as little as possible with the existing order. In 1916 Lugard formed the Nigerian Council, a consultative body that brought together six traditional leaders--including the sultan of Sokoto, the emir of Kano, and the king of Oyo--to represent all parts of the colony. The council was promoted as a device for allowing the expression of opinions that could instruct the governor. In practice Lugard used the annual sessions to inform the traditional leaders of British policy, leaving them with no functions at the council's meetings except to listen and to assent.

Unification meant only the loose affiliation of three distinct regional administrations into which Nigeria was subdivided--northern, western, and eastern regions. Each was under a lieutenant governor and provided independent government services. The governor was, in effect, the coordinator for virtually autonomous entities that had overlapping economic interests but little in common politically or socially. In the Northern Region, the colonial government took careful account of Islam and avoided any appearance of a challenge to traditional values that might incite resistance to British rule. This system, in which the structure of authority focused on the emir to whom obedience was a mark of religious devotion, did not welcome change. As the emirs settled more and more into their role as reliable agents of indirect rule, colonial authorities were content to maintain the status quo, particularly in religious matters. Christian missionaries were barred, and the limited government efforts in education were harmonized with Islamic institutions.

In the south, by contrast, traditional leaders were employed as vehicles of indirect rule in Yorubaland, but Christianity and Western education undermined their sacerdotal functions. In some instances, however, a double allegiance--to the idea of sacred monarchy for its symbolic value and to modern concepts of law and administration--was maintained. Out of reverence for traditional kingship, for instance, the oni of Ife, whose office was closely identified with Yoruba religion, was accepted as the sponsor of a Yoruba political movement. In the Eastern Region, appointed officials who were given "warrants" and hence called warrant chiefs, were vehemently resisted because they had no claims on tradition.

In practice, however, British administrative procedures under indirect rule entailed constant interaction between colonial authorities and local rulers--the system was modified to fit the needs of each region. In the north, for instance, legislation took the form of a decree cosigned by the governor and the emir, while in the south, the governor sought the approval of the Legislative Council. Hausa was recognized as an official language in the north, and knowledge of it was expected of colonial officers serving there, whereas only English had official status in the south. Regional administrations also varied widely in the quality of local personnel and in the scope of the operations they were willing to undertake. British staffs in each region continued to operate according to procedures developed before unification. Economic links among the regions increased, but indirect rule tended to discourage political interchange. There was virtually no pressure for fuller unity until the end of World War II.

Public works, such as harbor dredging and road and railroad construction, opened Nigeria to economic development. British soap and cosmetics manufacturers tried to obtain land concessions for growing oil palms, but these were refused. Instead, the companies had to be content with a monopoly of the export trade in these products. Other commercial crops such as cocoa and rubber also were encouraged, and tin was mined on the Jos Plateau. The only significant interruption in economic development arose from natural disaster--the great drought of 1913-14. Recovery came quickly, however, and improvements in port facilities and the transportation infrastructure during World War I furthered economic development. Nigerian recruits participated in the war effort as laborers and soldiers. The Nigeria Regiment of the RWAFF, integrating troops from the north and south, saw action against German colonial forces in Cameroon and in German East Africa. During the war, the colonial government earmarked a large portion of the Nigerian budget as a contribution to imperial defense. To raise additional revenues, Lugard took steps to institute a uniform tax structure patterned on the traditional system that he had adopted in the north during his tenure there. Taxes became a source of discontent in the south, however, and contributed to disturbances protesting British policy. In 1920 portions of former German Cameroon were mandated to Britain by the League of Nations and were administered as part of Nigeria.

Until he stepped down as governor general in 1918, Lugard primarily was concerned with consolidating British sovereignty and with assuring local administration through traditional leaders. He was contemptuous of the educated and Westernized African elite, and he even recommended transferring the capital from Lagos, the cosmopolitan city where the influence of these people was most pronounced, to Kaduna in the north. Although the capital was not moved, Lugard's bias in favor of the Muslim north was clear at the time. Nevertheless, Lugard was able to bequeath to his successor a prosperous colony when his term as governor general expired.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress