Extension of British Control

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British expansion accelerated in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The early history of Lagos Colony was one of repeated attempts to end the Yoruba wars. In the face of threats to the divided Yoruba states from Dahomey and the Sokoto Caliphate, as represented by the emirate of Ilorin, the British governor--assisted by the CMS--succeeded in imposing peace settlements on the interior.

Colonial Lagos was a busy, cosmopolitan port, reflecting Victorian and distinctively Brazilian architecture and the varied backgrounds of a black elite, composed of English-speakers from Sierra Leone and of emancipated slaves repatriated from Brazil and Cuba. Its residents were employed in official capacities and were active in business. Africans also were represented on the Lagos Legislative Council, a largely appointed assembly.

After the Berlin Conference, Britain announced formation of the Oil Rivers Protectorate, which included the Niger Delta and extended eastward to Calabar, where the British consulate general was relocated from Fernando Po. The essential purpose of the protectorate was to control trade coming down the Niger. Vice consuls were assigned to ports that already had concluded treaties of cooperation with the Foreign Office. Local rulers continued to administer their territories, but consular authorities assumed jurisdiction for the equity courts established earlier by the foreign mercantile communities. A constabulary force was raised and used to pacify the coastal area. In 1894 the territory was redesignated the Niger Coast Protectorate and was expanded to include the region from Calabar to Lagos Colony and Protectorate, including the hinterland, and northward up the Niger River as far as Lokoja, the headquarters of the Royal Niger Company. As a protectorate, it did not have the status of a colony but remained under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Office.

Continued expansion of the protectorate was accomplished largely by diplomatic means, although military force was employed to bring Ijebu, Oyo, and Benin into compliance with dictated treaty obligations. The conquest of Benin in 1897 completed the British occupation of southwestern Nigeria. The incident that sparked the expedition was the massacre of a British consul and his party, which was on its way to investigate reports of ritual human sacrifice in the city of Benin. In reprisal a marine detachment promptly stormed the city and destroyed the oba's palace. The reigning oba was sent into exile, and Benin was administered indirectly under the protectorate through a council of chiefs.

Although treaties were signed with rulers as far north as Sokoto by 1885, actual British control was confined to the coastal area and the immediate vicinity of Lokoja until 1900. The Royal Niger Company had access to the territory from Lokoja extending along the Niger and Benue rivers above their confluence, but there was no effective control, even after punitive expeditions against Bida and Ilorin in 1897. The clear intent was to occupy the Sokoto Caliphate, but for that purpose the Royal Niger Company was not deemed to be a sufficient instrument of imperialism. Consequently, on December 31, 1899, Britain terminated the charter of the company, providing compensation and retention of valuable mineral rights.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress