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Indirect Rule in Nigeria


Indirect Rule in Nigeria

Indirect rule was a British system of administration where African chiefs who were in power before the coming of the British were allowed to continue ruling under the British District Commissioners.

Frederick Lugard, who assumed the position of high commissioner of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria in 1900, often has been regarded as the model British colonial administrator.

Trained as an army officer, he had served in India, Egypt, and East Africa, where he expelled Arab slave traders from Nyasaland and established the British presence in Uganda.

Joining the Royal Niger Company in 1894, Lugard was sent to Borgu to counter inroads made by the French, and in 1897 he was made responsible for raising the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) from local levies to serve under British officers.

Indirect Rule in Nigeria

During his six-year tenure as high commissioner, Lugard was occupied with transforming the commercial sphere of influence inherited from the Royal Niger Company into a viable territorial unit under effective British political control.

His objective was to conquer the entire region and to obtain recognition of the British protectorate by its indigenous rulers, especially the Fulani emirs of the Sokoto Caliphate. Lugard’s campaign systematically subdued local resistance, using armed force when diplomatic measures failed.

Borno capitulated without a fight, but in 1903 Lugard’s RWAFF mounted assaults on Kano and Sokoto. From Lugard’s point of view, clear-cut military victories were necessary because their surrenders weakened resistance elsewhere.

Lugard’s success in northern Nigeria has been attributed to his policy of indirect rule, which called for governing the protectorate through the rulers who had been defeated.

Indirect Rule in Nigeria

If the emirs accepted British authority, abandoned the slave trade, and cooperated with British officials in modernizing their administrations, the colonial power was willing to confirm them in office. The emirs retained their caliphate titles but were responsible to British district officers, who had final authority. The British high commissiones could depose emirs and other officials if necessary.

Lugard reduced sharply the number of titled fief holders in the emirates, weakening the rulers’ patronage. Under indirect rule, caliphate officials were transformed into salaried district heads and became, in effect, agents of the British authorities, responsible for peacekeeping and tax collection. The old chain of command merely was capped with a new overlord, the British high commissiones.

The protectorate required only a limited number of colonial officers scattered throughout the territory as overseers. Depending on local conditions, they exercised discretion in advising the emirs and local officials, but all orders from the high commissiones were transmitted through the emir.

Although the high commissiones possessed unlimited executive and legislative powers in the protectorate, most of the activities of government were undertaken by the emirs and their local administrations, subject to British approval. A dual system of law functioned–the sharia (Islamic law) court continued to deal with matters affecting the personal status of Muslims, including land disputes, divorce, debt, and slave emancipation.

Indirect Rule in Nigeria

As a consequence of indirect rule, Hausa-Fulani domination was confirmed–and in some instances imposed–on diverse ethnic groups, some of them non-Muslim, in the so-called middle belt.

The accomplishments of Lugard and his successors in economic development were limited by the revenues available to the colonial government. One of Lugard’s initial acts was to separate the general treasury of each emirate from the emir’s privy purse.

From taxes collected by local officials, first one-quarter and later one-half was taken to support services of the colonial regime, which were meager because of the protectorate’s lack of public resources. In the south, missionaries made up for the lack of government expenditure on services; in the north, Lugard and his successors limited the activities of missionaries in order to maintain Muslim domination.

Consequently, educational and medical services in the north lagged behind those in the south. Progress was made in economic development, however, as railroad lines were constructed to transport tin from Jos Plateau and northern-grown peanuts and cotton to ports on the coast.

Efforts to apply indirect rule to the south, which was formally a protectorate from 1906, in emulation of Lugard’s successful policy in the north set off a search for legitimate indigenous authorities through whom the policy could be implemented. The task proved relatively easy in Yorubaland, where the governments and boundaries of traditional kingdoms were retained or, in some instances, revived.

Indirect Rule in Nigeria

In the southeast, where Aro hegemony had been crushed, the search for acceptable local administrators met with frustration. As a result, the tasks of government initially were left in the hands of colonial officials, who antagonized many Igbo.

The Igbo therefore stressed traditional egalitarian principles as a justification for their early opposition to colonial rule; in Yorubaland and in the north, the devolution of administrative duties to the indigenous ruling elites contained much of the early opposition. Resistance to colonial rule was mitigated to the extent that local authorities and courts were able to manage affairs.

Indirect Rule in Nigeria

The British prohibited the enslavement of free persons and suppressed slave trading. All children in the north who were born to persons in bondage on or after April 1, 1900, were declared free. The relations between existing slaves and their owners, however, were allowed to continue indefinitely, on the assumption that wholesale liberation would cause more harm than good by disrupting the agricultural economy.

As a consequence, at least several hundred thousand slaves deserted their masters in the early years of colonial rule. In 1906 a radical, allegedly Mahdist, Muslim uprising that received the support of many fugitive slaves was brutally crushed. In the south, slaves legally could be forced to return to their owners until 1914.

In the north, vagrancy laws and the enforcement of proprietary rights to land were used to tax to check the flight of slaves. Slaves in the northern emirates could secure their freedom upon application to an Islamic court, but comparatively few used this option. Throughout the colonial period in the Muslim north, many slaves and their descendants continued to work for their masters or former masters and often received periodic payments leading to emancipation.

Indirect Rule in Nigeria

How Indirect Rule was used in Northern Nigeria

i. Northern Nigeria was divided into Emirates headed by Emirs.

ii. Emirs were left to rule their own people.

iii. Fredrick Lugard assured the Emirs that the British did not intend to replace them hence they cooperated.

iv. Lugard allowed the Emirs to impose and collect taxes as before.

v. They were also allowed to judge cases in their courts.

vi. The Emirs retained their powers to appoint officials in charge of villages.

vii. In each Province, Lugard created a protectorate court to serve as a Court of Appeal presided over by Africans.

Indirect Rule in Nigeria

Challenges of Indirect Rule in Southern Nigeria

i. Southern Nigeria had many different ethnic groups with diverse political and religious systems.

ii. The attempt by Fredrick Lugard to give more powers to the Yoruba traditional leaders proved futile.

iii. Egba Community resisted paying taxes.

iv. Among the Ibo Community Lugard had appointed Young Mission Educated men to the position of Emirs were opposed by the elders.

v. There was no common language in the South because Elite used English while others used their local languages.

Indirect Rule in Nigeria

Effects of Indirect Rule in Southern Nigeria

i. The role of African traditional rulers was transformed.

ii. The indigenous systems of administration and justice was modernized by the British.

iii. African chiefs accumulated a lot of wealth at the expense of their people.

iv. Developments like introduction of Christianity, western education and technology took time before gaining root.

v. Indirect Rule created suspicion and mistrust between the educated elite and traditional chiefs.

vi. Indirect Rule helped to preserve African culture.


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