British Colonial Rule 1900-1960
History of Nigeria

The sixty years of Britain’s colonial rule in Nigeria are characterized by frequent reclassifying of different regions for administrative purposes. They are symptomatic of the problem of uniting the country as a single state.

In the early years the Niger Coast Protectorate is expanded to become Southern Nigeria, with its seat of government at Lagos. At this time the rulers in the north (the emir of Kano and the sultan of Sokoto) are very far from accepting British rule. To deal with the situation Frederick Lugard is appointed high commissioner and commander-in-chief of the protectorate of northern Nigeria.

Lugard has already been much involved in the colony, commanding troops from 1894 on behalf of the Royal Niger Company to oppose French claims on Borgu (a border region, divided in 1898 between Nigeria and Dahomey). Between 1903 and 1906 he subdues Kano and Sokoto and finally puts an end to their rulers’ slave-raiding expeditions.

Lugard pacifies northern Nigeria by ensuring that in each territory, however small, the throne is won and retained by a chief willing to cooperate. Lugard then allows these client rulers considerable power – in the technique, soon to be known as ‘indirect rule’, which in Africa is particularly associated with his name (though it has been a familiar aspect of British colonial policy in India).

In 1912 Lugard is appointed governor of both northern and southern Nigeria and is given the task of merging them. He does so by 1914, when the entire region becomes the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.

The First World War brings a combined British and French invasion of German Cameroon (a campaign not completed until early in 1916). In 1922 the League of Nations grants mandates to the two nations to administer the former German colony. The British mandate consists of two thin strips on the eastern border of Nigeria.

The rival claims of Nigeria’s various regions become most evident after World War II when Britain is attempting to find a structure to meet African demands for political power. By 1951 the country has been divided into Northern, Eastern and Western regions, each with its own house of assembly. In addition there is a separate house of chiefs for the Northern province, to reflect the strong tradition there of tribal authority. And there is an overall legislative council for the whole of Nigeria.

But even this is not enough to reflect the complexity of the situation. In 1954 a new constitution (the third in eight years) establishes the Federation of Nigeria and adds the Federal Territory of Lagos.

During the later 1950s an African political structure is gradually achieved. From 1957 there is a federal prime minister. In the same year the Western and Eastern regions are granted internal self-government, to be followed by the Northern region in 1959.

Full independence follows rapidly, in October 1960. The tensions between the country’s communities now become Nigeria’s own concern.


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