Imperialists added Ado Ekiti to the British protectorate in 1899
In this 1899 photo collection, Ewi of Ado’s kingdom was added to the British Lagos Protectorate under imperial authority. Source: King’s College London Archive

Imperialism, also called colonialism, refers to the subjugation of a territory under another, especially through military force, hence the political and economic dependence of the subject. Colonialism originally refers to the transfer of a population from one territory to another without a shift in allegiance. As it is in the case of many subject nations at the height of British imperialism, political theorists justify this hardly moral phenomenon of imperialism by what is usually the proclaimed mission of the modern imperialist- to civilize societies and advance them towards self-government. This was the view of Otonba-Payne, in his account of the 1861 British expedition of his own country.

Following the fall of Lagos, many interior kingdoms was conquered; Badagry in 1863, Ijebu in 1892. One of the last to be subsumed under the British Empire, the Egba government, was added in 1914 in the same year the Southern and Northern provinces of Nigeria was amalgamated. The provinces had come under British power in 1900 with the cession by the Royal Niger Company, the mercantile company chartered in Britain, which controlled them. In the exercise of its influence, the British powers employed either the direct or indirect rule system.

There is a great difference between direct and indirect rule. In the former, the government engages cultured natives for administration and in the latter, the paramount chiefs. One is administration by the government and the other is administration by the natives with government supervision to ensure order and peace, and the natives are left to follow their own laws and custom. It is often mentioned in the colonial times in Nigeria that the system of indirect rule works capitally among the Northern Nigerians. Relative ineptness of the southerners in their pre-colonial administration, evident from the slave trade, is given as a reason for this.

Nigerians in London advocating for independence from imperial rule.
Nigerians in London advocating for independence from imperial rule. Photo: Historical Image

In the indirect rule system, the province is under competent and active officers, with ten to fifteen towns and villages under the paramount chief. He, with the aid of some sub-chiefs administers justice in native courts and there may be appeals to “magistrate” courts where permissible. Automatically, the paramount chief- who is the district head, who is the president of the native court, to whom it is given to translate, correct, delete, amend and adapt the customary laws- becomes the almighty. There are chances he would look down on the head chiefs and natives of the outlying districts with much formidableness.

It is not to be thought that there were no resistance against foreign rule. While there were pockets of rebellion in parts of the country, the Igbo people of the east, as reported to have been said to a London audience by a British soldier in a journal of the Royal United Service Institution of 1910, were the most troublesome of any section of Nigeria.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer