Sir Frederick Lugard was appointed the High Commissioner of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria in 1900. In the military parade in Lokoja in the same year, Lugard declared the protectorate of Northern Nigeria and subsequently embarked on the conquest of major areas of Northern Nigeria such as Zaria, Kano, Sokoto, part of Tivland and Borno. Lugard ensured that by 1905, most parts of Northern Nigeria were under the effective rule of the British.
Lugard embarked on establishing an effective colonial administration. He adopted the indirect rule system of administration. This was strategic because of inadequate manpower, finance, transport and communication as well as other logistics. It was convenient for Lugard to adopt the indirect rule due to the long standing and highly developed centralised political system in the defunct Sokoto Caliphate under the effective leadership of the Sultan and Emirs. Lugard then adopted this political system in the administration of Northern Nigeria. In the new political system of Indirect Rule, the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria was divided into provinces, which were further divided into divisions. A District Officer (D.O.) headed a Division. A Resident headed a Province. The District Officer supervised the activities and administrative functions of the Emir. He reported to the Resident. The Resident was responsible to the High Commissioner. The High Commissioner was in charge of the entire Protectorate of Northern Nigeria and responsible to the Secretary of States for Colonies in London. He had the right to appoint and depose Emirs and Chiefs.
Native Authorities, Native Courts and Native Revenue Proclamations (later Ordinances) were put in place. Native Authorities Proclamation recognized the old line of authority and status of chiefs. There were five grades of chiefs in Northern Nigeria. At the top of the hierarchy were the Sultan of Sokoto, Shehu of Bornu, Emir of Gwandu and Emir of Kano who had judicial councils and personal police. At the lower level were the district heads of the non-Muslim communities.
The introduction of Indirect Rule brought radical administrative changes to Northern Nigeria. The Emirs became answerable to the British District Officers, Residents and of course, the High Commissioner. Under the new political arrangement each Emir was designated the Native Authority. He was the Chief Executive and Supreme Judicial Authority of his emirate or division.
The Emir collected taxes. The taxes were shared between the colonial government and the native authority. Nevertheless, it was difficult to enforce indirect rule system in the non-Muslim areas. For example, an effective method of administering the Tiv was not formulated until 1937 when a Native Authority based on a council of elders was formed. In order to enforce indirect rule by force, Lugard established indirect rule in the Middle Belt region of Nigeria. Chiefs were appointed in areas like Tivland and Ebiraland. The newly appointed chiefs were imposed by the British colonial administration.