The People’s Republic: How they rule


LUGARD clearly comprehended the complex problems with which he was confronted, and lost no time in devising realistic and effective solutions for them. He divided the territory under his charge into Provinces, with a British Resident at the head of each. Every Province was, in turn, organised into administrative Divisions with a District Officer in charge of each. The Resident was directly responsible to Lugard; whilst the District Officer was answerable to the Resident. The actual day-to-day administration of the areas under a Resident was entrusted wholly to the Paramount Chiefs, or Natural Rulers as they are sometimes called, assisted by their traditional chiefs and councillors. Such legislative and executive bodies, as well as such Courts and other political and civil institutions as they had evolved for themselves, were allowed to continue to function, subject to such supervision and guidance as the Resident or the District Officer considered absolutely necessary. Their laws and customary usages, in so far as they were not repugnant to good conscience and the principles of justice and equity, were to be administered and upheld in all cases within their respective domains. Within all these limits, and so long as a Natural Ruler was amenable to official guidance and restraint and remained indubitably loyal to the British Government, he was to be given the fullest backing for all his actions by the Resident, to whom alone he was responsible in the discharge of his civil and public duties. This governmental set-up is popularly known as the ‘Indirect Rule’ system. Whatever may be our criticisms of it, we are bound to admit that the system was an ingenious product of an agile, fertile, and penetrating mind.

Lugard also pursued a closed-door policy against Christian missionaries in the North. In 1903, the reigning Sultan of Sokoto had been deposed after severe fighting, and another person had been appointed in his place. At the installation ceremony of the new Sultan, Lugard had made a pledge to him and his people that their religion would be respected, and would not be interfered with. This pledge became a fundamental principle of policy with Lugard and successive British administrations in the North. In pursuance of this policy, Christian missionaries were consistently and inflexibly forbidden to propagate the Gospel, or engage in any activity in any part of the region, including the predominantly pagan areas. At the same time, Moslem teachers were free to spread their religion to all parts of the North, and to win new converts.

This policy was obviously discriminatory and uncharitable. Many people in Britain and Southern Nigeria had criticised it on those grounds, as well as on the ground that respect for and non-interference with the religion of Islam did not preclude the evangelisation of non-Moslems. But Lugard remained faithful to his policy, and had once defended it in the following words: The difficulty lies in the fact that, if the advent of missions is authorised by the government, it is extremely difficult to avoid the conclusion in the minds of the people that they are under the special aegis of Government. The missions would not withdraw at the behest of the paramount chief, as they would have been compelled to do before the advent ofthe British Administration, and would look to the government for protection. In a country where it is of vital importance to maintain the prestige of Europeans, insults to missionaries must of necessity be resented by the Government. I

In 1906, Lugard resigned his appointment as High Commissioner of Northern Nigeria, to take appointment as Governor of Hong Kong in 1907. It was from the latter place that he returned to Nigeria in 1912 as Governor, simultaneously, of both the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, and the Protectorate of Northern


During the six years from 1900 to 1906, when Lugard was busy subduing and pacifying the North with astonishing efficiency, other servants of the British Crown, less outstanding but equally faithful to their trust, were also busy strengthening, British sovereignty over the southern parts of the country. Sir W. McGregor, Sir R. D. R. Moor and Sir W. Egerton were Lugard’s contemporaries in Southern Nigeria.

The problems which confronted these men were not as intractable as those with which Lugard had to grapple. The area of the South was much smaller; and access to many parts of it was provided by the Bights of Benin and Biafra, the lagoons, the Niger and its creeks, and a number of inland waterways like Ogun River, Benin River, Qua Iboe River, and Cross River. The population of the South was also much more concentrated. By 1900, a number of roads had been constructed chiefly by forced labour, and sometimes through voluntary communal efforts. In the same year, the construction of the railway from Ebute-Metta to Ibadan had been completed, and the Carter and Denton Bridges, respectively linking Lagos with Iddo, and the latter with Ebute-Metta, had been opened to traffic. Even the streets of Lagos had been electrically lit in 1898.

There were other factors which helped to lighten the burdens of the British officials in the South. A good many emancipated slaves had returned to Nigeria, and had taken residence mainly in and near the coastal areas where life was comparatively more congenial. Practically, all of them were literate in English.


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