Mr. Asanbe G.O.

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The indirect rule system which the British introduced in most of the Africa colonies was a policy dictated by circumstances and designed to secure the maximum cooperation of Africans in the task of administering large territories. To what extent did this statement explain why the indirect rule was introduced in Nigeria?


Dr. A.F. Usman
Department of History
Faculty of Arts and Islamic Studies
Usmanu Danfidiyo University, Sokoto

By 1898, the British government sought to establish and maintain a colonial state in Nigeria.1 This long process involved a number of important measures including the removal of all visible African opposition to the imposition, expansion and consolidation of British central authority over the territory later known as Nigeria. A succession of British officials used coercion and diplomacy in the Northern and Southern Nigeria to reduce African opposition to minimum.2 In terms of administering the vast territory, the British governed Nigeria through indirect rule. In principle, indirect rule was one of the non-violent measures adopted by Britain in ruling her Africa colonies.3 Indirect rule in theory was a concept of local government in which it was believed that the British were to rule Nigeria and other colonies through indigenous rulers and institutions but in practice, the system laid heavy emphasis on the role of the chiefs in the government of African peoples, even for those peoples who traditionally did not have political as distinct from religious leaders.4 The system was based on the belief that British officials were to be advisers to indigenous rulers ruling their communities. British political officers were to have no direct dealing with the people. For instance, all instructions or directives had to reach the people through their rulers.5 The use of indigenous political institutions for the purpose of local administration was contingent on certain modifications to these institutions. These modifications fell into two categories: modifications of aspects of traditional government that were repugnant to European ideas of what constituted good government; and modifications that were designed to ensure the achievement of the main purpose of colonial rule: the exploitation of the colonized country. Examples of the former include the abolition of human sacrifice, or the abandonment of certain methods of treating criminals, while examples of the latter can be seen in the introduction of taxes and policies to stimulate production of cash crops for exportation.6 It is worth noting that the length of British rule in Nigeria varied. In places like Lagos, the rule lasted for almost one hundred years, from 1861-1960. In other places like Eastern Nigeria, British rule was not imposed until after 1885 and, therefore lasted seventy-five years. Lastly in most parts of Northern Nigeria, British rule was introduced only as from 1903 and lasted only fifty-seven years.7 Therefore, there is no uniformity in the period of British rule. Before the conquest, the British had in search of some justification, condemned the emirate type of government as corrupt, oppressive and grossly inefficient but after the British had defeated and subjugated the emirs and were faced with practical problems such as the perennial shortage of the necessary personnel and lack of adequate funds that their views suddenly changed.8 The once “corrupt and oppressive” aristocrats were hailed as born rulers whom the British had to maintain at all cost. Hence, the emirate system of Sokoto caliphate became, for the British, a good model for local government in the Northern provinces. In this circumstance, an intermediary organ of government was established in the British colony of Northern Nigeria in its bid to communicate with the subject population and so facilitated the peoples’ cooperation with government. This is further substantiated by Sa’ad Abubakar when he stated that “This...
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