HistoryOCT 19 EDITIONTrending


By Uwemedimo Essien Esq.

”Of all the targets of European empire-builders, Africa was nearest; and ‘black Africa’ among the least advanced. Yet, save for its far south, it was the last to be grabbed. Its coast had been known to Europeans for centuries and dotted with their trading posts. But until around 1860 the interior was protected. Fevers killed off intruding white men , roads were few  and cataracts blocked access by river”.

As at the 1880s only a small part of Africa was under the control of the Europeans and that was restricted to the coast and along major rivers of the Niger and the Congo. The Brish had Freetown in Sierra Leone and a presence in Gambia and Lagos in 1877. France had settlement in Dakar and in Senegal and begun colonisation of Algeria as early as 1830. The Portuguese had long established relationship in Angola and Mozambique creating trading posts by 1505. Spain also had small  presence in Ceuta and Melilla in northwest Africa. ”The Europeans called Africa the ‘Dark Continent’ because it was unknown to them”.

However, within 20 years, the political face of Africa changed with only Liberia (a colony run by African- American returnee slaves) and Ethiopia were free of European control. The colonisation and the scramble for Africa by the European powers was a consequence of several factors including economic, social and military that happened in Europe. Although the end of slave trade had successes in halting the trade around the shores of Africa.

The story was different in the inland as local traders from the north of Sahara and East Coast sll traded in humans. Some local chiefs were reluctant to  The reports of slave trading and slave markets were received in Europe by various explorers including David Livingstone thus the abolitionists called for more efforts aimed at ending the slave business. Also the boom in exploration to Africa during the 19th century triggered the creation of African Association by wealthy Europeans in 1788, who wanted explorers to  chart a course to Niger River.

Those explorers who were financed by these wealthy philanthropists later brought to them details of markets, goods and resources in those African coasts. Added to this was the activity of Henry Morton Stanley, a naturalised American (born in Wales) explorer who crossed the continent and located missing Livingstone. His exploration was funded by King Leopold II of Belgium along the course of River Congo with the aim of creating a colony. Stanley’s effort triggered a rush of European explorers like Carl Peters a journalist to do same for other European countries.

The European capitalists having left trading in slaves needed commerce so as to exploit Africa using the new legitimate trade. The explorers had located vast reserves o f raw materials hence they plotted trade routes, navigated rivers and saw population centres that could serve as markets for manufactured goods from Europe. They considered the benefits enticing and of greater benefit if a colony was set up. This eventually gave the European nations the monopoly.

Added to these was the first British ocean- going iron warship called Nemesis which arrived at Macao, South China. This changed the face of international relations between Europe and the rest of the world. For instance, David Livingstone used a steamer to travel up to Zambezi river in 1858 while Morton Stanley explored  up to river Congo. ”The Europeans were slow to seize black Africa, ruthless in doing so, harsh when they had done it, but by no means doers only of harm”.

Also Africa was known as the ‘What Man’s Grave due to the danger of malaria and yellow fever in which six of every 10 died in their first year. In 1817, French scientists, Pierre-Joseph Pelleer and Joseph Bienaime Cavento extracted quinine from the bark of South American cinchona tree which proved to be solution to malaria. This made the Europeans to survive the ravages of the disease in Africa . Notwithstanding, yellow continued to be a problem even today. Struggle for supremacy among the colonial masters was another. After the creation of a unified Germany and Italy, there was no room left in Europe for expansion with Britain, France and Germany trying to maintain their dominance.

France that had lost two provinces to Germany in 1870 looked to Africa to gain more territories. Britain looked toward Egypt and the control of the Suez Canal and the territories in the gold-rich southern Africa. Military innovation was another factor that fueled the colonisation of Africa. At the beginning of the 19th Century, Europe was a lile ahead of Africa in terms of available weapons as traders had long supplied them to local chiefs and many had stockpiles of guns and gunpowder. However in 1860s the innovations in weapons with increase in round and faster  firing power gave advantage to Europe, and with the eye on colonisation of Africa , they restricted the sale of the new weaponry to Africa thus maintaining military superiority.

”The principle of effective occupation stated that powers could acquire rights over colonial lands if they possessed them or had ”effective occupation”, in other words, if they had treaties with local leaders, if they flew their flag there, and if they established and administration in the territory to govern it with a police force to keep order”.

The Berlin Conference of 1884- 1885, otherwise known as Congo Conference or West Africa Conference stamp the seal of the European colonisation and trading in Africa. The Conference produced the General Act of the Berlin Conference which formalised the scramble for Africa. The primary aim of the conference was to end slave trade. But suffice it to say, that before European colonisation of Africa, there was even colonisation o f Africa by Africans . This conference brought the international prohibition of the slave trade and also introduced the ‘Principle of Effective Occupation’ which stated that the European powers could acquire rights over colonial lands only if they possessed them or had effective occupation such as signing treaties with the local chiefs, flying their flag or establish an administration in the territory to govern it with a police force to keep order.

The colour coded map of Africa taken from 1917 atlas showing what each European power owns. The partitioning was arbitrarily decided international prohibition of the slave trade and also introduced the ‘Principle of Effective Occupation’ which stated that the European powers could acquire rights over colonial lands only if they possessed them or had effective occupation such as signing treaties with the local chiefs, flying their flag or establish an administration in the territory to govern it with a police force to keep order.

The colour coded map of Africa taken from 1917 atlas showing what each European power owns. The partitioning was arbitrarily decided by colonialists, not based on existing tribal or geographical boundaries. (St Johns UK library online study site). This became important for acquisition of territories and for limiting their powers of overseas possessions. However, this principle was heavily contested between Germany, Britain and France, giving room for them to conquer Africa without doing much to administer or control it. The Portuguese government presented a project known as the ”Pink Map” in which the colonies of Angola and Mozambique were united by co-option of the intervening territory which later became Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

The colonisation was not only the whites colonising Africans, there was the colonisation of Africa by Africans long before the whites colonisation. For instance in 16th century, the Oyo Empire colonised many states, towns and cities including Dahomey Republic known as Benin Republic today. Also the colony and protectorates were captured independently after capturing towns, cities and villages that they were all put together to form province, colony and protectorates that were later amalgamated.

Both the Northern and the Southern parts of today Nigeria were victims of colonisation. Before this time the two sections had been two political entities with numerous diversities. The Southern Protectorate, the Northern Protectorate and the Colony of Lagos all had their own separate styles of government. This regional structure meant different laws were applicable in the Protectorates and in the Colony of Lagos. Before amalgamation and in1862, Lagos Island annex became a colony of Britain with Mr H.S. Freeman as the governor. In 1893 the Oil River protectorate was renamed Niger Coast Protectorate with capital at Calabar.

In 1890 a British reporter (Flora Shaw) who later married Lord Lugard suggested that the country be named Nigeria, after the Niger River. Then in 1897, British overthrew Oba Oronkawen of Benin, one of the last independent West African kings. In 1900, Niger Coast formerly Oil river protectorate was merged with the colony of Lagos and the protectorate of Lagos was named the protectorate of Southern Nigeria. The Yorubas and Igbos and close to over 200 other ethnic groups were of different ethnic groups having different cultural norms and values. These were merged into the southern protectorate by the British in their own understanding and discretion to form the southern protectorate. The merging of the Niger Coast and Lagos Colony was a clear merger of different culture and value with each tolerating and living harmoniously.

Nigerian Indigenes at a local ceremony prior to Independence

Furthermore, in 1885 the Niger District Protectorate was under African company and the Niger Delta protectorate was under royal Niger Company. In 1990, both protectorates were added to some part of Niger territory to form the northern protectorate. When the British took over the northern protectorate from the royal Niger Company, they divided the area into provinces of Bauchi, Bida, Bornu, Kabba, Kotangora, Lower Benue, Ilorin, Muri, Sokoto, Upper Berma, and Zaria. This number increased as more provinces were captured. Worthy of note is the fact that the colonisation of Nigeria was strictly for business purpose and was carried out by companies like Royal Niger Company, African company working with countries to sell their products, owning lands and claiming ownership over towns and people after they were captured and deciding their use as deemed fit.

In 1914 the Southern and Northern protectorates were merged together to form the today’s Nigeria. The naming of Nigeria and the Amalgamation of 1914 were the significant moments for British administration in Africa and pivotal for colonial Nigeria. The Southern Protectorate, the Northern Protectorate and the Colony of Lagos were self autonomous with their separate styles of government. This however made governance difficult for the colonial masters hence the merger to make governance easier.

Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe on a make-make-shift podium during a Political rally in 1959

It is important to note that the amalgamation was not spontaneous but a result of years of deliberations and consultations. This is because Sir Fredrick Lugard first thought of merging different parts of the country about ten years before he became the Governor General of Nigeria. As the High Commissioner of the Northern Nigeria, Lugard noticed the tribal acrimony that existed between the different parts of the country and how some policies got delayed. Sir William Macgregor, the Governor of Lagos Colony and Ralph Moore, High Commissioner of Southern Nigeria also agreed though the British government saw no reason yet.

“You are all aware that His Majesty’s Government, after long and mature consideration, arrived some time ago at the conclusion that it would be to the great advantage of the countries known as Southern and Northern Nigeria that they should be amalgamated into one Government, conforming to one policy and mutually co-operating for the moral and material advancement of Nigeria as a whole”. (Opening speech by the Governor-General (Sir F. Lugard) on the occasion of the declaration of the Constitution of the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, January 1st, 1914.) Quoted from The Nigeria Constitutions Since 1914 by Olajide Olakanmi & Oladimeji Olakanmi, Law Lords Publications (2014).

When Lugard became the Governor of the Southern Protectorate in 1912, the then Secretary of State for colonies Mr Lewis Vernon Harcourt agreed with Mr Lugard that the different regions be merged for effective governance. In 1913 Harcourt assigned Lugard to conduct a field work to determine the desirability or otherwise of the union. The proposal was submitted on May 9th, 1913. The proposal was taken leading to the amalgamation of the Southern and the Northern Protectorate on 1st January, 1914. Among the changes that took place after amalgamation was that the Colony and the Protectorates came under one government which was the main objective of the advocates of the amalgamation so as to consolidate the railway policy of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in order to facilitate quick transportation of goods.

The Northern and Southern Protectorates were changed to the Northern and Southern Provinces. The newly established Provinces (formerly Protectorates) were headed by Lieutenant-General. (formerly Governors) who reported directly to Governor Generals. Mr A.G. Boyle was the Lt. General of Southern Provinces, while C.L. Temple was Lt General of Northern Provinces. The central headquarters of the unified government was in Lagos. The Lagos Colony however remained an entity with With the system of indirect rule in the North and direct rule in the South economic links among the regions increased but with no pressure for greater unity among the regions until after the end of world War II. The legislative council, initially with limited African representation was created in 1922.

A scene from a meeting between representatives of the British Empire Colonial administration and some local chiefs

Traditional native rulers however administered various territories under the supervision of the colonial authorities. In 1947 a federal system of government was established under, ‘The Nigeria (Legislative Council) Order in Council 1946, otherwise known as the, ‘Richard Constitution’. The constitution was suspended in 1950 due to the call for greater autonomy. The inter parliamentary conference held in Ibadan in 1950 saw to the drafting of the terms of the new constitution which came into effect in 1951. The 1951 Constitution also known as Macpherson Constitution, allowed regional autonomy, council of ministers and federal union. This gave a renewed impetus to party activity for political participation at the national level and regionalism. The subsequent 1954 Constitution (Lyttleton Constitution) firmly established the federal principle and paved way for the independence.

The Constitutional Conference for the Independence of Nigeria was held in London in 1957 -1958 with the Premiers of the Northern Region, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, of the West, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and of the Eastern Region, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. The Conference gave birth to the promulgation of the 1960 (Independence Constitution). Nigeria gained Independence through a British Act of Parliament on 1st October, 1960 with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe installed as Governor General of the federation while Alhaji Tafawa Balewa remained the Head of the elected Parliament. The government was responsible to the Parliament composed of the elected 312 member House of Representatives and 44 member Senate chosen by the regional legislatures.

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