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Prior to the colonisation of Nigeria by Britain, the Nigeria nation was a mere geographical expression, containing a number of distinct empires and kingdoms (e.g. Oyo Empire, Benin, the Hausa States, Kanem Bornu kingdom etc) each of which enjoyed its own sovereignty and was in absolute control of its internal and external affairs. The situation allowed each empire or kingdom to have its own unique system of social, economic and political organisations with well defined ways of law-making, law implementation and dispensation of justice. (This, though may not have been highly developed and organized like the modern day legislative, executive and judiciary structures).

However, in 1861 the British annexed Lagos and thereafter accorded it a crown colony status. Hence, Lagos became part of the British Empire. And from Lagos, the British gradually expanded inlands. The Niger Delta and the district east and west of it were acquired and administered as under the name of Oil River Protectorate from 1885. In 1893, the territory which was under the administration of the Royal Niger Company was further expanded and renamed Niger Coast Protectorate. Initially, the Royal Niger Company operating in the Northern part of Nigeria then was given a charter, by the British, to administer the territories in which it was operating. In January 1900, the British assumed direct authority over the whole of Nigeria.By the dawn of the 20th century, the British had completed the subjugation of the hitherto sovereign and independent territories in Nigeria and succeeded in imposing colonialism on them through the use of both diplomatic approach and military methods.


Colonialism can be defined as a forceful acquisition or absorption of a nation’s sovereignty and independence by a foreign power. Many schools of thought have tried to explain the major motives behind the colonisation of African continent by the European powers. One school of thought shows the idea that colonialism was undertaken by European powers in order to achieve balance of power in Europe Another view believes that the western powers ventured into colonialism because they saw it as the only means by which they could stop the slave trade which was prevalent in Africa then and to bring European civilization to the continent which they derogatorily referred to as a Dark Continent’ or ‘Inferior Race’. Hence, to this school of thought, humanitarian consideration was the major motive behind colonialism. Moreover, some other people attribute the reason for colonialism to the search for glory or prestige by European powers who believed that acquisition of colonial territories was an index of first class power.

It is however evident that the central motive behind colonisation Africa was economic considerations, informed by European powers search for raw materials, need for overseas market and quest for investment of surplus capital. The industrial revolution which began in Britain spread to other countries in Europe. Consequently, quantities of raw materials were needed to feed the growing industry and keep production going /The raw materials needed (eg. cotton ivory, rubber, cocoa, coffee, palm oil) could be procured in Africa/ in a bid to secure steady supply of these raw materials, each Europe power decided to acquire territories in Africa which would enable t enjoy the monopoly of the supply of the needed raw materials, coming from its area of control.

Furthermore, the industries engaged in large scale production of goods even in excess of the home consumption capacity, hence, overseas market was needed for the sale of the excess goods.In that,Africa served as the overseas market for the surplus goods. Moreover, the industrialists wanted to invest their surplus capital somewhere outside Europe.The above points spurred the European industrialists and traders to encourage their home governments to acquire colonies in Africa since their economic interest could only be protected where they had the presence of their home governments. Suffice it to emphasise here again that these reasons which encouraged other European powers to colonise Africa were the same reasons which made the British to colonise Nigeria.


The question one may want to ask is how the British succeeded in bringing all the hitherto sovereign territories in Nigeria under its control. This was done through the use of both diplomatic and military methods. The diplomatic method which was also referred to as persuasive means involved the British officials deceiving some Nigerian traditional rulers and chiefs into signing treaties of friendship, protection and commercial agreement with them. The local rulers and chiefs who signed such treaties were not aware that they were inadvertently ceding their territories to the British.

On the other hand, the use of military method meant the deployment of the British police and military forces to suppress opposition any where they met one. The British spuriously interpreted the use of force as “pacification policy”. They claimed that opposition movements (in some Nigerian communities which resisted their penetration and occupation) indicated a lack of lack of law and order, and so it was their (British) duty to pacify the communities and bring about law and order there. The use of force was also brought to bear on the communities which wanted to renege on the agreement earlier signed with the British.
The above point highlights the fact that the whole of Nigeria did not just fall like a pack of cards to British domination. On the contrary, leaders of some communities in Nigeria displayed bravery by confronting the British in order to prevent them from the conquest or domination of their territories.


There were some community rulers like King Joja of Opobo, King Kosoko of Lagos, Awujale of Ijebuland, Atahiru II of Sokoto Caliphate, Nana of Itshekri etc, who stood up to the challenge of preventing the British conquest of their territories. Some of them refused to sign treaties of any sort with the British. In his own case, King Kosoko of Lagos did not find any ground of compromise with the British. He told them frankly that he did not need their friendship and this cost him his throne. He was dethroned while Akintoye, who accepted to be the British stooge, became his successor King Jaja of Opobo too refused to sign commercial agreement with the British. He decided to be in control of the exportation of palm oil in his territory. This earned him abduction by the British and he was exiled to the West Indies. Nana of Itshekiri(though not a king, but a wealthy and influential person in his community) used his influence to stop the Royal Niger Company from gaining control of the trade in Itshekiri land. This also led to his exile to the Gold Coast. The British, at a time suffered a serious defeat from the troop of Satiru, a town located 14 miles north of Sokoto. However, this victory over the British forces could not be sustained over a long period due to lack of cooperation in the emirate.
In some Igbo communities, a secret society known as Ekumeku was formed. Through this, the people carried out covert devastating attacks against the white missionaries, travellers and administrators. Ambush tactics were adopted in some other communities. At Arochukwu, the people employed diplomacy and war tactics to deal with the British At Akassa, the people of Brass constantly carried out raids around the base of the Royal Niger Company (RNC) which was initially fronting for the British government.
In spite of all these resistant efforts, the British still succeeded in suppressing them and imposing colonialism on them.


Some reasons were responsible for the failure of
the resistant movements. First and foremost, some of the communities resisting British penetration and occupation were facing serious internal political conflicts at the same time. The conflicts prevented stability and unity. For instance, after the demise of old Oyo Empire, Yorubaland was enveloped by a long period of civil war. This weakened the military strength of the Yoruba communities, hence the inability of the people to pose any serious challenge to the British.
Moreover, lack of unity made some community leaders to betray their kinsmen. Such leaders preferred being under the British control rather than remain under the suzerainty of their fellow Nigerian rulers. In addition to the above, the British had access to superior weapons and better military tactics which they used to bombard any recalcitrant community. Moreso, the British possessed the economic power which enabled them to embark on prolonged battle with Nigerian communities. It should also be mentioned that the spirit of nationalism among the people of Nigeria then was not as strong as was it during the struggle for independence.

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