The People’s Republic: How they came

CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK

JUST as the British were getting thoroughly fed up with Kosoko’s uncompromising encouragement of the slave-trade, Akintoye addressed a beautifully-worded petition to Beecroft in 1851 in which, among other things, he prayed the British Government to restore hini to his throne, promised ‘to abolish the slave-trade at Lagos, and to establish, and carry on lawful trade, especially with the English merchants.’ Akintoye’s prayer was strongly backed by the Egbas.

In view of all these, and the intransigence of Kosoko, Beecroft visited Lagos in 1851 with a ‘naval force of four hundred men.’ He drove King Kosoko from Lagos and restored the exiled Akintoye as the King of Lagos. On January 1, 1852, the latter signed a treaty in which he undertook to abolish the slave-trade in his territories, and to afford protection to ‘Missionaries or Ministers of the Gospel, of whatever nation or country.’

After the execution of this treaty, a Vice-Consul was appointed for Lagos to assist Beecroft In 1855, Akintoye died and was succeeded by his son, Dosumu, a man of weak character who soon proved his incompetence for the office. In the absence of any head possessed of sufficient ability to control the unruly element which composed the society of Lagos at the time, the greatest disorder prevailed: there was no effective protection for property; there was no effective machinery for enforcing the payment of debts; traders were maltreated and plundered; and no redress of grievances could be obtained without bribing the officers and retainers in Dosumu’s court. Besides, human sacrifices were committed even in sight of the town, whilst clandestine traffic in slaves continued in its immediate neighbourhood. As a result, the Treaty of 1852 became, to all intents and purposes, a nullity, as Dosumu’s control over his people was little more than nominal.

Moved by the necessity of interposing some checks to these evils, which were yearly becoming worse, and satisfied that the permanent occupation of Lagos was indispensable to the total suppression of the slave-trade in the Bight of Benin, Her Majesty’s Government took the view that the only way by which order and effective administration could be maintained in Lagos was to change its consular status to that of a British Colony. Accordingly, in 1861, Lagos was ceded to Her Britannic Majesty; and in 1862, H. S. Freeman was appointed the first British Governor of Lagos. Thus, Lagos became the first part of Nigeria to come under British rule, and Mr. Freeman the first British official to preside over a colonial regime on Nigerian soil. The Anglo- Nigerian link was now becoming stronger.

Because of our climate, and the high mortality rate among the early European visitors to our land, Nigeria, as well as other countries of West Africa for that matter, was regarded as unsuitable for permanent white settlement.

From 1808 to the early sixties of that century, two things appeared to have sustained the interests of the British Government in Nigeria. They were: (1) the campaign for the suppression of slave-trade; and (2) the need to give protection to, and regulate the activities of British merchants trading with West African countries. Even these self-imposed assignments were almost abdicated by Britain in 1865. On June 26 of that year, the House of Commons adopted the recommendation of a Committee to the following effect:

That all further extension of territory or assumption of government, or new treaties offering any protection to native tribes, would be inexpedient, and that the object of our policy should be to encourage in the natives the exercise of those qualities which may render it possible for us to transfer to them the administration of all the governments, with a view to our ultimate withdrawal from all, except, probably, Sierra Leone.

But whilst Britain was contemplating ‘ultimate withdrawal’ from West Africa, France was frantically busy trying to extend the spheres of her influence there. The Germans too were beginning to think that they also had a rendezvous with imperial destiny in West Africa. Furthermore, by 1880, the scramble for Africa had begun in real earnest. Britain lost no time in steeling her wavering will. In 1884, the rival European powers assembled at a conference in Berlin under the chairmanship of Otto von Bismarck. At that conference, the imperial powers reached a settlement about the final demarcation of their respective spheres of influence in Africa.

It would appear, however, that the settlement was an uneasy one. For, in spite of it, the French, the British and the Germans continued to intrigue against one another for an extension of their spheres of influence. In particular, the Germans felt that their great leader, Von Bismarck had not pressed their claim sufficiently at the Berlin Conference. As a result, there were treaty-making offensives all over the place. Different methods were employed to induce or coerce our people to agree to place themselves and their territories under British protection. Bribery, cajolery, intimidation, military aggression, any of these, was used as occasion demanded, and without the slightest compunction.

CONTINUES NEXT WEEK

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