By 1880, the British had been well established along the coast of West Africa and began to advance into the interior. With the abolition of slave trade in Britain in 1807, the trade in palm oil was encouraged to replace that in slaves. It was also hoped that it would supply Britain with raw materials for her growing industries.

The discovery of the Niger by the Lander Brothers in 1830 opened the route to the interior for British trade. Since the mouth of Nigeria had been discovered, it was necessary to put the knowledge to commercial use. The British Naval supremacy on the coast opened up trade for the British.

Also, the British wanted to plant Christianity in Nigeria. They were determined to take the Christian religious message and European civilisation to Nigerian communities, most especially where it had not been heard.


British contact with Nigeria as Explorer

The British explorers were those who travelled through an unknown areas to find out about it. These were people like Mungo Park, Clapperton, Lander Brothers, Thomas Freeman, Oudney and the likes. The major aim of these men was to discover an inland highway for trade in West Africa and Nigeria in particular. Consequently in 1795, a young Scottish doctor, Mungo Park offered his service and later discovered the majesty of River Niger at Segu. He discovered that River Niger flowed eastwards and observed advanced civilisation in Nigeria.

In 1805, the British Government sponsored Mungo Park and about 45 Europeans on another exploration but, unfortunately, all of them died in Bussa.

The role of Clapperton, Denham and Oudney who left England in 1821 is worthy of note. They left for Nigeria across Sahara and, reached Bornu and Sokoto in the North West. He did not find out about the Niger, and he went back to England in 1825. Clapperton set out again in 1825. He sailed from Badagry, near Lagos, crossed the Niger near Bussa and visited Sokoto and died there in 1827.

In 1830, Richard Lander, John Lander and others were sent on another expedition in order to complete the task of Clapperton. They started from Badagry, and reached Bussa, where they got a boat to travel down the Niger. This party after so many efforts, discovered where River Niger entered the Atlantic Ocean. The discovery of the mouth of the Niger in 1830 by the Lander brothers opened the route to the interior for European traders. Once the mouth of the Niger had been discovered, it was necessary to put the new knowledge to commercial use.

One commercial expedition organised in 1832-1834 by a Liverpool ship owner, Mac-Gregor Laird, sailed up the Niger as far as the confluence and beyond. This expedition failed to achieve its desired objective.

Another expedition to penetrate the interior was made in 1841-1842 by the British government. This expedition was organised by Thomas Fowell Buxton who was a kind-hearted and religious man who believed that the condition of the people in Nigeria could only be improved upon by opening up the river to traders and missionaries. He influenced the British government to decide that the area should be explored not only for trading transaction, but also for converting the indigenous people to Christianity. This is to confirm the original aim of British penetration into the interior to promote legitimate trade between Nigeria and European, and to convert Nigerians to their (europeans) own religion of Christianity.

The heavy death toll from malaria discouraged further efforts until 1854 when Dr. William Baikie took over the command of another expedition. Dr. Baikie-led expedition was the most successful expedition on which he demonstrated that the use of quinine prevented fever. This expedition did not record any death of its members.


The National African Company

The penetration of the Niger and the exploration of the British on the oil Rivers was left in the hands of the individuals, among them was John Beecroft. In 1849, he became the consul for the bights of Benin and Biafra; his duty was to look after the interests of the British merchants trading along the coast of Dahomey to the Cameroons. By 1850s, some of these merchants were trading as far inland as Lokoja, Onitsha and Aboh.

Between 1855 and1856, the trade volume in the oil Rivers alone amounted to 25,060 tones which was almost half of the entire African production of palm oil for some years.

It is to be noted that between the 1830s and 1840s, the British policy on nonintervention in the domestic politics of the African states contributed greatly to the development of trade in the Oil Rivers. However, the period of John Beecroft consisting 1849-1854 marked the beginning of European involvement and empire building in Nigeria. This coincided with the period of African resistance to further European penetration into the interior.

George Taubman Goldie’s visit to the oil Rivers in 1877 made him to observe and conclude that only a strong organisation could combat local resistance and French rivalry in the area. This made him to persuade various British companies to form the United African Company in 1819. In 1882, the United African Company was incorporated as the National African Company.


British contact with Missionaries

In West Africa, the Portuguese were the first to introduce missionaries. They connected a Wolof King and had a bit of success in Temneland and Benin. The Roman Catholic priests ministered to the French officials in Senegal, and Portuguese in Caches and Bissau. The British missionaries also grew because of the religious revival of the period and their interest in the complete abolition of slave trade. The American Mission also made a meaningful impact, especially in Liberia. The Basel Missionary Society of Switzerland was known for her training school which provided recruits for other groups. German missionaries served British and other societies until she developed political interest in Africa in 1880. The work of these missionaries were limited because of the high death rate as a result of malaria. Because of the problem of communication and hostility in the Muslim areas by the 19th century, their attention was directed to Nigeria.

All these missionaries had the mind of planting the Christian religion in West Africa, Nigeria in particular. Along with this motive was their intention to establish trade with Nigeria in order to replace trade in human beings. The Europeans saw Africans as an uncivilised set of human beings. Therefore, they had prepared to introduce European culture and civilisation. They could not realise that Africa had her own unique culture and civilisation long before their coming.


Early Christian missions in Nigeria

The Portuguese were the first to introduce missionaries to West Africa as earlier stated.

This was towards the end of the 15th century when they had contacts with the people of Benin and Warri Kingdoms. The major aim of the Portuguese was to spread Christianity, and this was followed by commerce which was auxiliary to missionary work. The activities of the Portuguese missionaries in the 15 century to convert the people of Nigeria to Christianity failed. This was due to the fact that the Europeans placed economic interest above the mission work. Also, some traditional rulers who claimed to have support for Christianity did that for political and economic reason. For instance, the Olu of Warri had the intention of maintaining independence from Benin and thus sought the Portuguese support. The Oba of Benin wanted to acquire firearms in order to wage wars of conquest and expansion. The problem of communities and financial difficulties also posed a great threat to the success of Christianity in the 15th century. More importantly, the quality and quantity of the missionaries sent to Nigeria could not cope with the work.


Christian missions in Nigeria

The real and successful mission work started in Nigeria in the 19 century. It started among the Yoruba freed slaves who had already been converted to Christianity in Sierra Leone. These converts returned to their homes in Badagry, Lagos and Abeokuta.

The Wesleyans were among the earliest workers in Sierra Leone, having established there in 1811. The Wesleyan missionaries were later renamed the Methodists. They were the first to begin work in Nigeria under Thomas Birch Freeman who was the head of the Gold Coast Methodist Mission. He opened a station in Badagry in 1842. He established good relationship with the Egba, under Sodeke. He opened mission stations in Abeokuta, Ibadan, Ilesa and Lagos.

The activities of the Church Missionary Society was equally worthy of note. The CMS was formed in 1799 and began work in Sierra Leone in 1804. The Church Missionary Society was successful among the slaves who returned from America who had already been converted, and among the Africans rescued from the slave ships and settled there. The Yorubas rescued from slave ships were settled in Sierra Leone. These people later returned to Yorubaland and asked for missionaries to be sent to them. This led to the founding of the mission stations in Abeokuta in 1846, Lagos in 1851, Ibadan in 1853, Oyo in 1856 and Lokoja in 1865 and later spread to many places in Nigeria.

The Roman Catholic Mission returned to Nigeria in 1860 after they had worked extensively in Ivory Coast, Gambia and Sierra Leone. In 1860, the Roman Catholic Mission Station was led by Rev. Father Berghero who visited Abeokuta and Lagos. He opened mission stations in Lagos in 1868 and other places like Abeokuta, Ibadan and Lokoja. The Roman Catholic Mission activities equally spread to today’s eastern part of Nigeria like Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states.

Mention must be made of the Southern America Baptist who sent Thomas Jefferson Bowen in 1850 to commence mission work in Nigeria. Bowen established mission station in Ijaye, Ogbomoso in 1854, Oyo, Shaki and other towns in Yorubaland.

The Presbyterian Church equally worked in old Calabar under Hope Waddell in 1846. Mary Slessor who was known for stopping the killing of twins also worked with the mission.

The Christian missionaries also made several attempts in the northern part of Nigeria but could not succeed well because of hostility from the Muslims. Thus, little progress was made.


Effects of Christian missionary in Nigeria

The Christian missionary activities had far-reaching consequences on the people of Nigeria. There were two schools of thought on this. One believed that the missionary activities was beneficial to the people of Nigeria while the other school believed that it was harmful.

The missionaries introduced the Christian religion which was against the pagan practice which supported and encouraged various sacrifices even in human beings.

The christian religion was opposed to these sacrifices. Mary Slessor equally worked against the killing of twins in Calabar.

The missionaries worked relentlessly to bring trade in slave to an end. They were in the vanguard of campaign against the inhuman trade.

The missionaries embarked on the introduction and improvement of modern medical services. Hospitals, clinics and dispensaries were built by the missionaries in order to prevent spread of diseases and to improve people health services. Hospitals were built by the Catholics, Methodists, Anglican and Baptist missions all over Nigeria.

The introduction of Western education was another credit to the missionaries. The missionaries built schools and colleges in many towns with the aim of teaching the 3R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic). Rev. Thomas Birch Freeman, a Methodist missionary, established the first school in Badagry in 1842. The Church Missionary Society, The Roman Catholic Mission, The Southern American Baptist and the rest equally established schools. The CMS established two schools in Badagry. It also opened two schools in Abeokuta in 1846. The popular CMS Grammer School was established in 1859. Samuel Ajayi Crowther established the first school in Onitsha in 1859. Many schools were established: Abeokuta Grammar School 1908, Ijebu Ode Grammar School 1913, Ibadan Grammar School 1913 and a host of others. For the benefit of the Nigerian teachers, teacher training institutions were also established by the missionaries: St. Andrews College, Oyo 1896, Baptist College Iwo 1898 and Wesley College Ibadan 1905.

The Christian missionaries also made meaningful impact in the social life of the Nigerians. Roads were constructed to link towns for both evangelism and economic purposes. Modern houses were also built with materials like cement, iron sheets, etc. These Houses were the examples of what obtained in the European world. To boost increase in the construction of modern houses, West Africans were trained in the skill of carpentry, bricklaying, building construction and the likes.

The missionaries established Christian press. Reverend Henry Townsend published the first newspaper Iwe Irohin in 1859. Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther translated and published the Bible into Yoruba language. He also wrote the YorubaEnglish dictionary in 1864.

The missionaries, in their bid to outrightly discourage slave trade, introduced modern farming and commercial methods. The legitimate trade that was introduced was highly encouraged by the missionaries. This encouragement was demonstrated by the Church Missionary Society who founded the West African Company in 1863.

However, the missionaries in their urge to spread their religion, condemned and damaged Nigerian indigenous religion, customs and ways of life. They thought that Nigerian ways of life was barbaric and uncivilised. African songs, dances, dressings, and belief systems were condemned. They could not realise that Nigerians had their own unique customs, civilisation and ways of life before they came.

The Western education introduced by the Christian missionaries was limited to the 3R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic). The objective of this was to produce catechists, teachers and interpreters. This system of education introduced to Nigerians placed superiority of Western culture on the Nigerian culture and indigenous education. The result of this was European superiority over Nigerians. Furthermore, the Western education introduced did not encourage the study of science and technology in the curriculum. The aim of this perhaps was to make Nigerians second class citizens and they could not compete with their European counterparts.

The missionary activities in Nigeria as enumerated above had far reaching consequences on the people of Nigeria in particular, and Africa in general.


The British conquest of Nigeria

In 1849, the British government appointed John Beecroft consul of West Africa. The objective of his appointment was to protect the British commercial interest in the region. He was to be based in Fernando Po.

In 1851, the British established consulate in Lagos with the aim of stopping the slave trade and to consolidate their commercial ventures in the area. The British established her foothold in Lagos because of the dispute between Akintoye and Kosoko. Akintoye sought the support of the British by signing the anti-slavery agreement. After 10 years of consular presence in Lagos, the British decided to establish a colony instead.

It should be stated that between 1860-1881, the British established her political influence on Lagos and sometimes interfered in the internal affairs of the Niger Delta states. Also in 1885, the Oil Rivers Protectorate was proclaimed over the coastal states.

On the Nigerian axis, all the British companies were unified as the Royal Niger Company headed by Sir George Taubman Goldie. This company was granted a royal charter in order to govern it between 1886 and 1889. This was to keep other European powers away from the region. The company enjoyed monopoly of trade for a very long time without any financial implication to the British government. In response to this action (monopoly of trade), there was the destruction of the company’s depot at Akassa and Brass. By 1884, George Goldie had made about 37 treaties and established a strong fleet of gunboats.

In 1897, the Royal Niger Company forces invaded Nupe and Ilorin on the pretext of stopping slave raiding, but it was to keep off the French from invading the area. The Company used her well-equipped forces to suppress the Nupe cavalry units.

In Yorubaland, the role of Governor Molony in negotiating treaty with the Alaafin of Oyo must be mentioned. He did this when he learnt that the French had signed a treaty with Abeokuta. The British quickly negotiated with the French for an agreed Western boundary for Nigeria in which Abeokuta was regained, but Ketu went to the French.

In 1892, a British expedition was mounted against Ijebu Ode, a city that had refused to welcome the missionaries and foreign traders in its domain. The Ijebu put up a stiff resistance to the British but they were defeated as a result of superior tactics and equipment. It must be pointed out that the defeat of the Ijebus did not encourage other kingdoms to put up any resistance against the British.

Consequently, in 1893, Governor Carter signed treaties with Oyo-Abeokuta and Ibadan. The conquest of Yorubaland and imposition of British colonial rule was with ease because of the experience of Ijebu Ode expedition and the various Yoruba civil wars that had weakened its military strength.

The British conquest of south eastern Nigeria was not without exception. In 1893, the British proclaimed the Niger coast protectorate, and also wanted to extend their influence to the hinterland of the Niger Delta. Little wonder in 1896 Ralph Moor who succeeded MacDonald was ready for action against the hinterland people. The protectorate officials had Benin Kingdom in mind. This was due to Benin’s abundance in economic resources like palm oil, rubber, pepper and ivory which were believed to be another huge sources of revenue to the colonial coffers. Thus, in 1892, Oba of Benin, Ovonramwen was made to sign a treaty with the British. Unfortunately, this treaty made Benin to lose its sovereignty. By 1896, the acting Consul, J.R. Phillips’ attempt to further consult with the Oba provided the excuse for a military expedition against Benin Kingdom in 1897. The same year, Oba Ovonramwen was sent into exile and Benin Kingdom came under the British domination.

In Igboland, the east of the Niger, the Aro traders were also affected. The Aro was attacked on the allegation of engaging in slave trade and encouraging a fetish cult. The Aro oracle was destroyed.

In 1899, the British government abrogated the charter of the Royal Niger Company with the aim of occupying the Northern Nigeria. The reason for this decision was to prevent the French and the Germans from taking over the territory. Bida and Kotangora were attacked by Lugard on the excuse that their rulers were slave raiders who, despite the abolition of slave trade still terrorises the neighbouring communities thereby forcing them to flee to safer areas. The British defeated the Kotangora forces with ease: they were armed with bows and arrows which could not in any way be compared to the British equipment. The Emir of Kotagora fled, but was captured and exiled in 1902.

In 1901, Lugard forces equally went to Bida. The Emir had fled before Lugard forces arrived Bida. It was Chief Makum who submitted to the British and he was consequently made the new Emir of Bida.

The Emir of Yola was also accused of slave trading and obstruction of trade. The British attacked and subjugated Yola in 1901. The Emir fled at the sight of British forces, and his brother was appointed to succeed him.

Bauchi and Gombe were also attacked by theBritish forces. In Bauchi, the Emir escaped and a successor was installed. The expedition also moved to Gombe where it was welcomed as a saviour from Jubril Gaini who had been a terror to the populace. Thus, the Emir of Gombe was recognised. From Bauchi, fragmented societies like Dass, Jengre, Sura, Angass and a host of others were attacked and brought under British influence.

The British forces also went into action and defeated Zaria in 1902. Kano was also conquered in 1903 and Sokoto was defeated in 1903. In 1906, the Emir of Hadejia led his troops against the British forces. He was killed along with his followers. The Mahdist in Satiru, North of Sokoto also rose against the British expedition. The British forces moled the village and its populace down.

Various resistance moves against the British were a clear-cut indication for the people’s love for independence, religion and ways of life. However, their inability to come together as an entity to present a solid and formidable resistance contributed to their subjugation. The British forces were well equipped compared to Nigerian bows, arrows and dane guns which could not make meaningful impact.


British system of colonialism in Nigeria

The most important consequences of British conquest was the creation of a new political entity called Nigeria. This incorporated independent groups under different political authorities into a new whole under one umbrella controlled by the British.

The need for British personnel to govern such a vast area, inadequate fund from British and the type of administration which Lugard found in existence in various colonies compelled his government to accept the pre-existing traditional form of governmentforthe new administration. The emirate system of the Sokoto caliphate became a good model for local government in the region and beyond. This was the foundation of the indirect rule system of local administration.

British adoption of indirect rule system of colonial administration carried out certain changes in the emirate administration. This made the Emirs mere agents of the colonial government. At the period of British occupation, most of the Emirs were deposed, some deported and others forced to flee and the British officials replaced the traditional rulers with their own candidates. These newly appointed Emirs had to swear allegiance to the British monarch and his representatives, the High Commissioners.

The protectorate was divided into provinces which were headed by the British Resident Officers responsible to High Commissioners. The provinces were also split into divisions, each under a British District Officer who was responsible to the Resident Officers. The emirates also became divisions. The residents and district officers acted as watchdogs directing various reforms in their various areas. The residents made use of military forces based in the capitals while the indigenes were banned from holding arms. The British remained the custodian of political power.

There were new legislations which were enacted by the British concerning slavery, justice and taxation. In the judiciary, the British preserved the Alkali courts, but also created British type of courts for employees of the colonial government and non-indigenes, with the residents presiding. Various appeals were stopped by the British; appeals could only be made to the residents and ultimately to the commissioner.

In 1904, the land ordinance was introduced. Tax was levied on land with each district in the emirates being assigned specific amount to pay. The revenue realised from the tax was shared equally between the Emirs and the protectorate government. In 1911, a new proclamation created native authority with native treasuries. This meant that the revenue had to be paid into the treasuries which had to be budgeted for. The Emirs and the Officials became employees of the native authorities and were all placed on fixed salaries. Thus, they became the agents of the British.

In Yorubaland, the chiefs were supervised by the British residents and travelling commissioners based in the administrative district between 1877 and 1900. Many Councils were created in Ibadan, Oyo, Abeokuta, Ijebu-Ode, Ijebu-Remo, Ijesa, Ondo and Ekiti areas. These councils performed legislative and executive functions. The territories covered by these councils were too wide for the laws to be effectively carried out. Thus, Governor MacGregor devised native council ordinance of 1901. This provided for the creation of councils in different categories – provincial, district, town and village councils. The paramount chiefs became president of the councils.

The period between 1891 and 1912 equally witnessed the authority of the British on the coast and the hinterland. The British did not receive enough cooperation from the local people as expected. The British selected chiefs arbitrarily without considering the people’s opinion. In 1912, Fredrick Lugard initiated reforms that were targeted at making the local government in the eastern province uniform with that of northern Nigeria.


Indirect rule system

The indirect rule system of government in Nigeria was introduced by Sir Fredrick Lord Lugard. Indirect rule system of government means the art of governing a group of people through intermediaries, usually the traditional rulers in the North and West, and warrant chiefs in the eastern part of Nigeria. Thus, it was principally the use of traditional authorities by the British officials.


Reasons for the adoption of Indirect Rule in Nigeria

  1. Inadequate personnel: The British introduced indirect rule in Nigeria because there were no enough personnel, the British were not ready to serve as colonial administrative Officers and the presence of malaria fever made it impossible for the British to survive well in Africa, and Nigeria in particular.
  2. The British unwillingness to be financially involved: The British did not want these colonies to be a financial burden Equally, the colonial masters were not interested in getting involved in an administration that would cost them too much money, Indirect Rule was a cheap system. It was easy and cheaper to maintain the traditional rulers than to pay salaries and allowances to a large number of British colonial officers.
  3. Colonial masters’ limited geographical and socio-political knowledge of the local environment: The colonial masters had limited geographical, socio-political knowledge of the local environment. This dictated the need to make use of the local people for British administration.
  4. Colonial master’s opinion that west Africans had a great respect for their traditional: Similarly, the British Colonial masters had the opinion that the West Africans, most especially Nigerians, had a great respect for their traditional rulers. Thus, the colonial masters were in a better position to communicate with the people through their well respected traditional rulers.
  5. Existing type of administration in the colonies: Furthermore, the system of indirect rule was embraced by the British due to the type of administration which Lord Lugard found existing in the colonies. The same of this system which had been successfully used in India under the British colonial administration was found desirable in Nigeria.


The Features of Indirect Rule system of government

Indirect rule system of government was characterised by the following:

  1. British colonial orders passed through the local chiefs: British colonial orders were passed through the local chiefs to their subjects. The beauty of this showed that information flew directly to the people from their traditional rulers.
  2. Administration of native courts with native laws: Native courts were administered with native laws whereby courts were graded. There were native and customary courts – Grade A, Grade B and Grade C which were presided over by the chiefs according to their status and grades.
  3. Collection of taxes in the name of the British officials: Taxes were collected in the name of the British government. Treasury was equally introduced and proper accounts were kept.
  4. Supervision of the prisons by the British officials: The prisons were supervised by the British officials due to its sensitive nature. These British officials in all spheres of life at the colonial era became semi-dictators and were seen as being superior to the blacks.
  5. Exclusion of the Nigerian educated elites: The Nigerian educated elites were not made use of, in the British system of Indirect Rule since a lot of them could not compromise and could not serve as stooges.


Advantages of Indirect Rule

  1. Economical nature of Indirect Rule: The system of Indirect Rule was economical. Thus, it solved the problem of limited resources in money and personnel which were clearly observed in the administration.
  2. Preservation of African cultures and traditions: The system also preserved the cultures and traditions of Africans. The system gave the Native Authorities some freedom in the running of local affairs.
  3. Preservation of the good aspects of African indigenous institutions and traditions: The system of Indirect Rule preserved the good aspect of African indigenous institutions and traditions. The traditional rulers were recognized and some aspects of African culture were not tampered with.
  4. Bringing people of different background together: Indirect Rule also brought people of different background together under a single administrative unit called Nigeria.


Disadvantages of Indirect Rule

  1. Loss of confidence in traditional authority: The system of Indirect Rule caused loss of confidence in the traditional authority. The powers of the traditional rulers were increased in the eastern Nigeria, the warrant chiefs appointed were new and they were unacceptable to the people.
  2. Failure to prepare the people for the challenges ahead: The system failed to prepare the people for the challenges ahead. The educated Africans who were knowledgeable and were interested in contributing to the progress of their society were not allowed to do so because the British neglected them.
  3. Suppression of African culture: The system initially attempted to preserve the culture and tradition of the people through the native authority. Later, it introduced western culture and thus suppressed African culture.
  4. Non-functional nature of the native authority: The native authority which was almost the engine room of indirect rule could not function effectively. Legislation on land and appropriation of land for commercial purposes was left with the British officials for approval. Approval for appointments, recognition, rejection and deposition of traditional rulers were controlled by the British officials.

Moreso, all policies were formulated by the British officials and carried out by the African chiefs. Taxes and levies were levied by the British authority and permission to carry arms was granted by the British officials.

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