The Berlin Treaty

There were two major events that served as the prelude to the conference where the treaty took place. Firstly, King Leopold was interested in the Congo Basin, and the second was the Germans’ acquisition of Colonies in West Africa. The above mentioned events sprang-up rivalry among the European nations for acquisition of territories in Africa.


Major reasons for the treaty

The Conference was held between November 1884 and February 1885. This was called by Germany and France in order to discuss the following issues:

  1. The freedom of commerce in Basin and Mouth of the River Congo.
  2. Freedom of navigation on the River Congo and Niger.
  3. Formalities to be observed and fulfilled before a new occupation of territories on the African Coast should be internationally recognised.


Attendance at Berlin Conference

These were the European powers who attended the conference. Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Turkey, United States of America, Germany, Britain and France.


Decisions and agreement at Berlin Conference of 1884/1885

The Berlin Conference of 1884/1885 was chaired by Chancellor Bismark of Germany. A lot of diplomatic manoeuvres were employed by Britain, France and Germany to ensure that the European powers would not resort to war among themselves in their race for colonial acquisition in Africa.

  1. The Conference recognised King Leopold II of Belgium International Association as a Sovereign power in Congo. This eventually gave birth to the Congo free states.
  2. The river Congo was declared an International river whereby freedom of commerce and navigation were to exist on the river for all the European powers.
  3. Codes of Conduct for acquisition of territories in Africa were spelt out:
  • Any European power acquiring territories on the coast of Africa should immediately inform all other signatory powers (European powers that attended the Conference and signed the Communique).
  • Occupation of any African territory by any European power would only be valid if it had effective Control over the area in matters of trade and military establishment.
  • Any European power possessing a coastal area in Africa was entitled to its hinterland.


Importance of Berlin Conference of 1884/1885

  1. The decisions reached at the Conference were compromises among the European powers to ensure peaceful partition of African territories.
  2. The Conference did not partition Africa, but it succeeded in providing general principles and definition of formula in order to minimise inter-European disputes in their struggle for territorial acquisition.
  3. The Conference also gave International recognition to the possession of some African territories that had been occupied before the Conference.
  4. The Conference fastened the conquest and partition of Africa.


The roles of Royal Niger Company in Nigerian territories

The Royal Niger Company was formed by Sir George Taubman Goldie. He was a former officer of the British army who had interest in one of the British companies trading on the lower Niger. In 1877, he visited the lower Niger River and in 1879 persuaded the British companies trading along the Niger to come together in order to withstand the competition of their French and German rivals. The principal British companies joined together in a company known as the United African Company; and changed its name in 1882 to the National African Company.

Sir George Goldie’s Company was financially buoyant and was able to buy the French companies. This made Goldie on the eve of Berlin Conference to obtain treaties from African rulers on the lower Niger. Thus, Britain secured the lower Niger valley and its territories.

The British gave the National African Company a Royal charter which conferred political rights on it. The company changed its name to Royal Niger Company with its administrative headquarters at Asaba. The company set up a military (constabulary force), a High Court and several agencies to take care of its trading posts.

Through its constabulary force, it declared and demonstrated effective control on the area. In 1897, its forces defeated Bida and Ilorin, thus began the process of the conquest of northern Nigeria. By 1899, the British government decided that the Royal Niger Company had outlived its usefulness. By 1900, as a result of the French challenge, the Royal Niger Company charter was abrogated and its area of operation was taken over by the British government.


Colonial conquest and administration of Nigerian territories

The Europeans employed two major methods to invade Africa. These methods were Diplomacy and Force.

Diplomacy means the tactics used by the Europeans to make African rulers surrender their states and kingdoms to Europeans without the foreigner’s use of forceful means. The tactics used by the Europeans included the signing of treaties with African Kings. These treaties were called Treaties of commerce and friendship. The implication of this means the establishment of diplomatic relations that is having political representatives, such as ambassadors. There were also trading activities between the Countries that signed the treaties. Some of the contents of the treaty included pledges to stop slave trade and to allow European missionaries to preach Christian religion.

Force was used to take up African territories in some areas where diplomacy did not work with the African rulers. Such African rulers were those who refused to sign treaties and insisted on asserting their political authority over the European firms and traders, missionaries and imperial agents in their territories. African rulers in this context included King Kosoko of Lagos, Attahiru II of the Sokoto Caliphate and a host of others. This action cost King Kosoko of Lagos to be bombarded and he was forced out of the throne. Also, Attahiru, the Caliph of the Sokoto Caliphate, was attacked in the early 20m Century because he refused to accept British friendship.

These facts showed that the British clearly used force where diplomacy failed to impose their political control on African State.

The Europeans were able to secure control of the territories on which they had spheres of influence by making use of their Chartered Companies. In Nigeria, the Royal Niger Company was used to secure the Northern Nigeria and administer it till 1900 when its area of operation was taken over by the British government.

The indirect rule system of government was adopted by the British for the administration of Nigeria. This extends the use of traditional rulers in governance.

Sir Lord Lugard amalgamated the Northern and Southern protectorates under a political entity called Nigeria. As the first colonial Governor General, he initiated the Nigerian Council of 1914. In spite of the 1914 amalgamation, the Northern Province was separately administered from the South.

The Nigeria Council of 1914 was replaced by Clifford Constitution in 1922. Sir Hugh Clifford introduced an elective principle which allowed Nigerians to be elected into the Legislative Council. This gave rise to the first political party in Nigeria Nigerian National Democratic Party in 1923 by Herbert Macaulay. The elective principle granted three and one elected representatives to Lagos and Calabar respectively.

The Richard Constitution of 1946 was directed towards the promotion of Nigerian unity and enhanced greater participation of Nigerians in their own affairs. The Constitution equally introduced regionalism, each of the three regions was dominated by one ethnic group: the Hausa Fulani in the North, the Yoruba in the West and the Igbo in the East.

The Macpherson Constitution of 1951 and Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 improved on the British administration and Nigerian participation in the affairs of their country.

It must be stressed that the British Colonial Constitutions ensured that the North had many seats in the Central legislature than the West and East. This means that the North had inherited power at independence through British colonial machinery.

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