Summarizing Indirect Rule in Nigeria

Defining Indirect Rule

Indirect Rule is a system of administration in which the British colonial master adopted and utilised the traditional political institutions of the people (the chiefs) to govern the people under the guidance and control of the British government officials.

Indirect rule was the basic principle of British colonial administration which was first introduced in Nigeria by Lord Fredrick Lugard.

Reasons for Introducing Indirect Rule in Nigeria

  1. Large size of the country.
  2. Lack of personnel.
  3. Lack of finance.
  4. Language barrier.
  5. Preservation of traditional institutions.
  6. Fierce resistance by Africans.

The Principle and Structure of Indirect Rule

The principle of indirect rule administered by traditional rulers was applied throughout Nigeria and colonial officers were instructed to interfere as little as possible with the existing order. In 1916, Lugard formed a Nigerian council, a consultative body that brought together six (6) traditional leaders including the Sultan of Sokoto, the Emir of Kano, and the King of Oyo to represent all parts of the colony.

Lugard used the annual session to inform the traditional leaders of British policies, leaving them with no functions at the council meeting except to listen and assent.

Unification meant only the loose affiliation of three (3) district regional administration into which Nigeria was sub-divided (into Northern, Western and Eastern regions). Each was under lieutenant governance and provided independent government services.

Indirect Rule in Northern Nigeria

One of the reasons for the adoption of indirect rule was for the purpose of local government, along traditional lines. The system rested upon native courts and native authority ordinances.

The protectorate of the Northern Nigeria was divided into six (6) provinces and each was under a British official known as “resident”. Each province was then sub-divided into districts and placed under district commissioners.

The system of indirect rule was first introduced in the Northern Nigeria around 1906 by Sir Lord Fredrick Lugard when he was a high commissioner of the protectorate of the Northern Nigeria. The system was a huge success in the Northern Nigeria mainly because of the highly developed traditional system of administration of the area. The Emirs were made use of in the administration including a new admiral, who was appointed by Lord Lugard himself.

Reasons for the Success of Indirect Rule in the Northern Part of Nigeria

1. The Use of Traditional Administration:

One of the factors that contributed to the success of indirect rule in Northern Nigeria was the use of the existing traditional system of administration. Lord Lugard recorded a huge success mainly because he used the highly developed traditional system of administration that was already in existence in the Northern Nigeria.

2. The Submissiveness of the People:

The people of Northern Nigeria accepted the indirect rule system happily and whole-heartedly since there was no tampering with their norms, values and traditions.

3. Religion:

Islam was the dominant religion the people of Northern Nigeria practiced. Islam, by nature, is a conservative religion, and as a result, helped greatly to make the people of the area more obedient. This created room for the success of the system of indirect rule.

4. Well Organised System of Taxation:

A lot of money was generated from the taxation system of the Northerners and it was used in the running of the government of the area. Since the British government was not ready to involve itself in any heavy financial responsibility, they retained this system.

5. Autocratic Nature of the Emir:

Since the indirect rule was a continuity of the Emirs’ administration which was autocratic (influential and brutal sometimes) in nature, the citizens still feared and respected them, thereby, making the new system of indirect rule to succeed greatly.

Why Indirect Rule Was Not Successful in the West

Indirect rule in the West was not successful because of the following:

  1. There was no centralised administration like in the North. The imposition of tax led to riots in the Isieyin and Ikare.
  2. Early emergence of educated elite who strongly criticised the indirect rule.
  3. Influence of Christianity that eroded the powers of the Obas.

Why Indirect Rule Failed in Eastern Nigeria

Indirect rule in the East was a total failure due to the following reasons:

  1. There was no centralised authority or chief.
  2. System of taxation was not practiced in the East. An attempt to introduce it by warrant chiefs led to the famous Aba women riot of 1929 during which thirty-two (32) people were killed.
  3. The influence of Christianity and educated elite.

Advantages of Indirect Rule

  1. It preserved native laws and traditional institutions.
  2. It was very economical.
  3. It maintained law and order.
  4. It gave citizens a sense of belonging.
  5. It eliminated unwholesome traditional practices such as human sacrifice.

Disadvantages of Indirect Rule

  1. It excluded the educated elite.
  2. It encouraged bribery and corruption.
  3. It slowed down constitutional development.
  4. Exploitation of economic resources of Africans.
  5. It did not train future leaders.
  6. It prolonged colonial rule.

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