- Friday, 24 January 2014
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 realize 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 realize those interests, there were many unplanned-for by-products.
The first critical step in this uncertain path was taken in 1849 when, as part of an effort to ‘sanitize’ the Bights of Benin and Biafra, which were notorious for the slave trade, the British created a consulate for the two Bights. From here, one thing led to another for the British, especially to deepen 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 involvement in the administration of the peoples and societies of this segment of Nigeria which, by the middle 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 protect their interest in the vital trade route that ran from Lagos, through Ikorodu, Ibadan 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 Greyne 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 Lokoja, as well as over the vast area which, in the 20th century, came to be known as Northern Nigeria.