THE EVOLUTION OF NIGERIA, 1849 -1960

  • Saturday, July 24, 2004 - A. E. Afigbo and O. E. Uya
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The evolution of Nigeria from about 1849 until it attained independence in 1960 is largely the story of the transformational impact of the British on the peoples and cultures of the Niger-Benue area.

The colonial authorities sought to define, protect and realise their imperial interest in this portion of West Africa in the hundred or so years between 1862 and 1960. The British were in the Niger-Benue area to pursue their interests, which were largely economic and strategic. In the process of seeking to realise those interests, there were many unplanned-for by-products, one of which was the socio-political aggregation which is known today in international law as the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The first critical step in this uncertain path was taken in 1849 when, as part of an effort to 'sanitise' the Bights of Benin and Biafra, which were notori- ous for the slave trade, the British created a con- sulate for the two Bights. From here, one thing led to another for the British, especially to deeper involvement in the political and economic life of the city states of the Bights and to rivalry with the French who also began showing imperial ambitions in the area. The result, in time, was that the British converted the coastal consulate and its immediate hinterland into the Oil Rivers Protectorate in 1885, which, in 1893, transformed into the Niger Coast Protectorate. The apparently irreversible logic of this development led to deeper and closer involve- ment in the administration of the peoples and soci- eties of this segment of Nigeria which, by the mid- dle of the twentieth century, came to be known as Eastern Nigeria.

The second step, along the same path, was taken about 1862 when the British annexed the Lagos Lagoon area and its immediate environs and converted same into a crown colony. According to the British, they did this in order to be better able to abolish the slave trade which used that area as export point. According to Nigerian historians, on the other hand, they did so to be better able to pro- tect their interest in the vital trade route that ran from Lagos, through Ikorodu, lbadan and similar communities, to the Niger waterway in the north and beyond into Hausaland. Be that as it may, by 1897, British influence and power had overflowed the frontiers of Lagos and affected all of Yorubaland which was subsequently attached to Lagos as a Protectorate. The political and administrative unit which came to be known as Western Nigeria in the 1950s came as the end of this second step.



The third and final step in this uncharted path came in 1888. The British administered political 'baptism' on Grenye Goldie's National African Company which had successfully squeezed out rivals, British and non-British, from the trade in the lower Niger, following a trade war of almost unprecedented ferocity. As a result of the 'baptism', Goldie's company became the Royal Niger Company, chartered and limited. It also acquired political and administrative powers over a narrow belt of territory on both sides of the river from the sea to Lokoj'a, as well as over the vast area which, in the 20th century, came to be known as Northern Nigeria.

Thus, by about 1897, the three blocks of territory had emerged, as British colonial possessions, from moves made during the period of the scramble for Nigeria, best characterised as having been marked by fits and starts. The emergence of Nigeria is simply the story of how these three neigh- bouring and interlocked possessions were brought together by the British, first administratively and then politically, as discussed below.

The move towards administrative union or amalgamation (a term that was later to occupy a place of disproportionate importance in Nigerian history) began in 1898 with the appointment, by the British Government, of the so-called Niger Committee chairmanned by Lord Selborne. Its main term of reference was to look into and advise on the future management of the affairs of the three territories, i.e. on the form of administration that would best promote efficiency and economy in the pursuit of British interests in the region. The com- mittee recommended that the administrative goal to be aimed at for the three territories was amalgama- tion, but that for the time being, such a course of action was premature and inadvisable because the experienced colonial administration to preside over the affairs of the large territory that would arise from the union did not then exist. It also felt that the infrastructure for communication, which alone would conduce to efficient administration, did not also exist.

It thus recommended the creation, for the meantime, of two independent provinces, a Maritime Province to be brought into being through the merger of the Lagos Colony and Protectorate with the Niger Coast Protectorate; and then a Sudan Province made-up of territories under the Royal Niger Company. But, before this report could be considered and accepted by the Imperial Government, a vanguard action started by Henry McCallum of Lagos, who was also a member of the Committee, led to a decision to go it easy with the amalgamation of the two Southern administrations.



In the event, 1900 saw only very minor changes in the ways and means the British administered these three blocks of territories. One change, per- haps the major one, was that the charter of the Royal Niger Company was withdrawn and the terri- tory under its shadowy control was declared the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria and brought under the Colonial Secretary. Similarly, the Niger Coast Protectorate, which had been under the Foreign Secretary, was renamed the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria and brought under the Colonial Secretary. In addition, the narrow "strip of Royal Niger Company from Lokoja to the sea", which had divided the Niger Coast Protectorate into two, was united with it, thus bringing the western and eastern halves of that administration together territorially.

The Lagos Colony and Protectorate underwent no change while continuing under the controlling authority of the Colonial Office. With these three units then brought under the Colonial Office, the sit- uation was created in which the management of their affairs came to be informed by the same theo- ry and practice of administration.

In spite of the futility that marked the work of the Niger Committee, the policy in favour of administra- tive unity and rationalisation was preserved. The first evidence of this was the amalgamation, in 1906, of the two Southern Protectorates as origi- nally proposed. The resulting unit was called the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria instead of the Maritime Provinces. Significantly, what took place was substantially the absorption of the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria by the Colony and Protectorate of Lagos.


The next evidence for the continued search for unity and rationalisation in the administration of these territories was also the most important, that is, the appointment of Sir Frederick Lugard, the first High Commissioner of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria (1900-1906), as the man to implement the amalgamation of the two protectorates. He, thus, became the first head of a unified Nigerian administration.

This development impacted on the future Nigerian state in many ways. Firstly, the move was informed not by a desire or a quest on the part of the British to create a Nigerian nation-state. The concern was still with the old quest for efficiency and rationality in colonial administration. It was meant to tackle the problem of the inability of the Northern Protectorate to balance its budget at a time its southern neighbours had a comfortable sur- plus. It was also meant to settle/or side-track cer- tain areas of annovino conflict between the two administrations.

Secondly, the amalgamation was a colossal administrative hoodwink as it existed mainly on paper and in Lugard's person, rather than in an interlocking bureaucracy and political system. Lugard refused to create a central secretariat, for that would eat into his personal power and bring the two protectorates together to an extent he did not consider healthy for the Northern Protectorate, which in his view, needed protection from the bliz- zard of Westernisation which was sweeping through the South. The result was that, under him, a central bureaucracy did not emerge. Also, he made sure there was minimal contact between the technical departments in the north and the south, as well as between them and the local administration so close to his heart. The central co-ordination of the work of these departments rested with him.

Thirdly, Lugard wanted the amalgamation to take place at the level of the local government where his favourite Indirect Rule was applied. And by amalgamation at the local level, he meant an arrangement by which the practice of local govern- ment and Indirect Rule in the southern protectorate was assimilated into what obtained in the northern protectorate which, in his view, and in the view of his doting admirers, was the most glorious achieve- ment of the Second British Empire in the manage- ment of the aflairs of dependent and colonial peoples.

Fourthly, Lugard had no programme of political amalgamation, that is, a system seeking to bring together the forces of the future, the new class of men produced by the impact of Western influence on Nigerian society and population.

Fifthly, this Lugardian approach to amalgama- tion converted Nigeria into a battle field for two British tribal cohorts, the Southern and the Northern cohorts, for the remaining period of British colonial rule in Nigeria. While the North wanted to incorpo- rate the South on the basis of indirect rule, the South wanted to incorporate the North through the expansion and extension of the power of the mod- ern bureaucracy, Western education, Western com- merce and Western legal system and practice. Thus, amalgamated Nigeria remained a ram- shackle affair until 1960, the year of independence. Hitherto, it was merely an arrangement in which fierce unwilling rams looking in different directions were shackled together. Howbeit, after Lugard's second coming, Nigeria became, for good or ill, and in law, an administrative unit.


We now come to Nigeria's political evolution, by which we mean the processes and motions by which the incipient political forces of the future were brought together and, thus, induced to begin the actual construction of Nigeria; that is, the making of her organic law and constitution, the creation of her nationalist ideology as well as the evolution of a political system and culture.

If a Nigerian nation was going to emerge, the goal of administrative amalgamation pursued by the British since about 1899 had to be matched by a similar goal at the political level so that the leaders of the people and their opinion moulders would have a regular forum where they could meet to plan and execute development programmes for their people. But, on this plan of advance, the British were not too anxious to take clear, definite steps.

Thus, until 1914, only the Lagos Colony had a Legislative Council which offered any scope what- ever for discussing the affairs of the government of the colony. And then, the majority of the members were top colonial officials, the same persons who originated the policies and schemes supposed to be discussed in the Council.

The amalgamation of 1914 offered an opportu- nity for making changes in the unsatisfactory arrangement, but Lugard was not the man to initiate noteworthy changes in this area. All he did was to create a body known as the Nigerian Council which met once a year to listen to what may be called his address on the state of the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. The body had no legislative powers whatsoever.

The same ambivalence based on imperial self- interest that characterised the Lugardian approach to seeing and treating Nigeria as one political entity and Nigerians as members of one political family, was also evidenced in the constitutional develop- ment efforts of his successors.

For example, while the Sir Hugh Clifford Constitution of 1922 introduced the elective princi- ple for legislative houses for the first time, the Legislative Council which replaced Lugard's Nigerian Council legislated only for the Colony and Southern Provinces while the Governor continued to legislate for the Northern Provinces through proclamations. The forty-six-member Council, presided over by the Governor, was dominated by ex-official and nominated members. The Legislative Council system thus implied a division of responsi- bility to govern Nigeria between the United Kingdom-based British Government and the gov- ernment established in the Colony. Besides, Nigerians were excluded from membership of the Executive Council.

The Richards Constitution of 1946, though it had among its objectives the promotion of the unity of Nigeria and securing greater participation by Nigerians in discussing their affairs, deliberately set out to cater for the diverse elements within the country. Significant provisions of this new constitu- tion included the establishment of a re-constituted Legislative Council whose competence covered the whole country; the abolition of the official majority in the Council; the creation of Regional Councils consisting of a House of Assembly in each of the Northern, Eastern and Western Provinces, and cre- ation of House of Chiefs in the North, whose roles were purely advisory rather than legislative. Significantly, however, the Richards Constitution was designed without full consultation with Nigerians which explains the hostility with which it was greeted, especially in the South.


Although the Richards Constitution was expected to last for nine years, opposition to it, especially from the political leaders, was so strong that a new constitution, the so-called Mepherson Constitution, was promulgated in 1951. Unlike its predecessors, there was significant participation of Nigerians in its making from the village level up to the lbadan General Conference of 1950. The major provisions of the Constitution were as follows: the establishment of a 145-member House of Representatives, 136 of them elected, to replace the Legislative Council; a bicameral legislature for both the North and West, one being the House of Chiefs while the East retained the unicameral House of Assembly; the establishment of a Public Service Commission to advise the Governor on the appointment and control of public officers; the competence of the Regional Legislatures to legislate on a range of pre- scribed subjects while the central legislature was empowered to legislate on all matters including those on the Regional Legislative lists. Substan- tially, therefore, the 1951 Constitution was more or less a half-way house between regionalisation and federation.

Between 1951 and 1954, two important consti- tutional conferences were held in London and Lagos between Nigerian political leaders and the British government. These resulted in a new 1954 Federal Constitution whose main features were: the separation of Lagos, the nation's capital, from the Western Region; the establishment of a Federal Government for Nigeria comprising three regions, namely, North, West and East with a Governor- General at the centre and three Regional Governors; the introduction of an exclusive Federal Legislative List as well as a Concurrent List of responsibilities for both the Federal and Regional Governments, thus resulting in a strong central gov- ernment and weak regions; regionalisation of the Judiciary and of the public service through the establishment of Regional Public Service Commis- sions, in addition to the Federal one.

From the point of view of the evolution of the Nigerian state, the most significant thing about the 1954 Constitution, which remained in force until Independence in 1960, was that the Lugardian prin- ciple of centralisation was replaced by the formula of decentralisation as a matter of policy in the administration of the Nigerian state. Another signif- icant aspect of that Constitution, which was to cast a long shadow on the development of independent Nigeria, was that the federation it established was unique since one region, the North, was larger than the other two regions, East and West, combined. Thus, at Independence in 1960, the main fea- tures of the Nigerian state that had evolved since 1900 were: weak constitutional and institutional basis for development politics; an unbalanced federation; regionalism which engendered mutual jealously and fear; and regionally-based political constituencies.

Indeed, the Nigerian colonial state was perceived by Nigerians, especially the emerging political elite, as an illegitimate foreign system operated according to unfamiliar rules and norms which could not function to promote a sense of common national identity among the diverse ethnic groups or even the three Regions that then made up the country. These legacies of colonialism have remained the bedrock of the many problems of nation building in Nigeria since 1960.

FURTHER READING

Afigbo, A. E. (1998) History As Statecraft. Dike, K.O. ( 1957)
100 Years of British Rule in Nigeria, 1851-1957. lkime, Obaro, (ed.), (1980) Groundwork of Nigerian History, (lbadan, Heinneman). Tamuno, T.N. (1972) Evolution of the Nigerian State: The Southern Phase. Uya, Okon, E. (1992). Contemporary Nigeria: Essays in Society, Politics and Economy, Buenos Aires; Edipubli S. A.





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