British colonial rule in West Africa started towards the end of 1898. Lagos was annexed and made a colony in 1861, Gold Coast in 1821, Freetown became a colony in 1808 etc. As from this period, the British government sought to establish and maintain a colonial state in Nigeria. In other words, Britain, decided to take over full colonial and administrative responsibility of Nigeria.

To achieve this therefore, a number of measures were to be taken, e.g. removal of all opposition to the imposition of colonial rule, expansion and consolidation of British authority over the territory that was later known as Nigeria.

The British were also, to gradually amalgamate the three different administrative units:

  • The colony of Lagos.
  • The Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.
  • The Protectorate of Northern Nigeria.

Each of the units, had its own government and administration. In May 1906, Lagos colony and protectorate of Southern Nigeria were joined together to form Lagos colony and protectorate of Southern Nigeria. Similarly, in 1914, Lagos colony and protectorate of Southern Nigeria were amalgamated with Northern protectorate to form a single colony known as the protectorate of Nigeria.

In Britain, the minister responsible to the parliament for administration of colonies was the Secretary of State for the colonies. He was equally responsible for administration of British colonial office. He appointed colonial governors on behalf of the home government.



This was a form of direct rule of British annexed territories in which the British established political institutions such as the executive council, legislative council and governor which were used in ruling the people who were regarded as British subjects. The crown colony system was headed by the governor.


Reasons Why The Crown Colony System Was Unpopular Among The Educated Elite

  1. Domination: The legislative councils were dominated by the British in the 1920s.
  2. Dictatorship: The governors were virtually colonial dictators as they had veto powers.
  3. Advisory bodies: Executive councils were mere advisory bodies to the governors.
  4. Unofficial members: The use of traditional rulers as unofficial members in the legislative councils.
  5. Casting votes: The governors had casting votes which were used to promote British colonial policies.
  6. Only British officials: The executive councils consisted of only British officials up to 1940s
  7. Exclusion of educated elites: The educated elites were excluded from the administration of the crown colony.
  8. Nomination: Africans who were members of the legislative councils were nominated instead of elected.



1) The Governor

  • The system of administration in the crown colonies of British West Africa was a direct administration headed by a governor.
  • The governor was appointed from London and was responsible only to the Secretary of State for the colonies who was based in London and also served as a British minister.
  • The governor had veto and certification powers. He exercised this power over bills and advice from members of the executive and legislative councils.
  • The governor was the chairman of the executive and legislative councils.


2) The Executive Council

  • The executive council was responsible to the crown colony. Each crown colony was made up of officials who were mostly whites.
  • The executive council were to advise the governor on administration but the governor had the power to accept or reject such advice.
  • All the official members of the executive council were departmental heads, e.g. governor, chief secretary or colonial secretary, attorney-general, financial secretary and lieutenant-governors or chief commissioners.


3) The Legislative Council

  • The legislative council had official majority, e.g. the governor, members of the executive council who were all European officials.
  • It had no legislative power, its role was purely advisory.
  • The unofficial and the official members, e.g. European merchants, African chiefs and educated Africans were appointed by the governor.


Functions of the Colonial Governor in British West Africa

  1. Appointment: The governor had the power to appoint, promote and discipline or dismiss any public servant in the colony.
  2. Policy formulation: He formulated economic and social policies for the colony.
  3. Assent: The governor signed all bills passed by the legislative council.
  4. Meetings: The governor presided over the meetings of both the executive and legislative councils.
  5. Allocation of land: Allocation of land acquired by the government were approved by him.
  6. Reserved powers: This was exercised by the governor in the area of law making, for example, power of veto and certification.
  7. Exercise powers of head of government: The governor did this on behalf of the British colonial government, e.g. declaration of a state of emergency, the exercise of the prerogative of mercy.
  8. Members of the executive and legislative councils: Including the ex-officio members were appointed by the governor.
  9. Ceremonial functions: He performed ceremonial functions, e.g. conferment of honours and receiving of dignitaries.
  10. Responsibility: The governor was responsible to the Crown through the secretary of state for the colonies.



The council was created in 1914 after the amalgamation by Lord Lugard. Membership was 24 official and 12 unofficial members. The unofficial members were; 6 Europeans representing commerce, shipping, banking, mining, chambers of commerce and 6 Africans, made up of Sultan of Sokoto, Alafin of Oyo, Emir of Kano, Chief Dogho Numa and a few educated Nigerians from Lagos and Calabar.

The officials included members of the executive council, first class residents, political secretaries and secretaries of Southern and Northern provinces. This council was purely an advisory body. It had no power of legislation nor of finance. It was a medium for public opinion and not even an effective one in this regard. Most of the traditional rulers in the council could not see themselves as part of the issues of the council.

Even the educated Nigerians who were in an unofficial capacity did not play any vital role either. So, in 1922, Sir Hugh Clifford succeeded Lord Lugard as the Governor of Nigeria. He abolished the Nigerian council and in its place a new legislative council was set up for the whole of Southern Protectorate. The North was to be governed by proclamation coming from the governor.



In 1920, the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA) was formed in Accra, Gold Coast (Ghana). Joseph Casely Hayford and Dr. Akinwande Savage of Nigeria were instrumental to its formation. One of the major demands of this body was the issue of granting elective principle. After the congress was constituted, it sent a delegation to London, to present a petition stating its demands to the then secretary of state, Lord Milner.

The journey to London was an exercise in futility. The members were accused of self. centredness and that they represented no one but the educated class. The colonial office also argued that West Africans are not yet ripe for representative institutions and it would amount to foolhardiness allowing them this. However, Clifford when setting up the legislative council made a recommendation for granting of elective representation and this was granted by the new secretary of state for the colonies, Winston Churchill. Nigeria, then became the first country to adopt this principle.

See also  FASCISM


Functions of the Secretary of State for the Colonies in the Colonial Period

  1. Supervision: The secretary of state was given the power to supervise the colonial administration.
  2. Responsibility: He was responsible to the British Parliament for colonial Affairs.
  3. Adviser to the governor: This was done when problem arose but he can as well issue orders to the governors on the British colonial policy.
  4. Legislation: He could declare null and void or disallow any controversial colonial legislation.
  5. Drafting of any new constitution: The approval for the drafting of any new constitution in the colonies comes from the secretary of state.
  6. Appointment of governors: The secretary of state recommended people to the crown to be appointed governors for the colonies.
  7. Control of finance: The control of the finance of the colonies was perfected through the approval of budgets and auditing of accounts.
  8. Petitions and Grievances: These were received by the secretary from the colonies on behalf of the British government.
  9. Annual reports: The annual reports of the colonies were submitted by the secretary of state to the British Crown through the parliament.
  10. Commission of inquiries: For example, the Aba riots of 1929, the Secretary of state set up commission of inquiries over such disturbances or any unusual occurrences in the colonies.

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