A territory in West Africa that became a formal British colony in 1906. British colonization of Nigeria was a gradual process, which involved a combination of local British economic activity and metropolitan impulses stimulated by strategic concerns during the “Scramble for Africa.” British control in Nigeria was exercised through a system of indirect rule, usually associated with the first governor-general, Frederick Lugard. Nigeria is a large territory - distinguished by social, economic, and cultural differences between the coast and the interior - and it therefore proceeded to independence as a federation to accommodate these differences. During the early nineteenth century British missionaries were active on the Yoruba coast, but the major British presence in the region that would later become Nigeria was the Royal Niger Company. The company expanded its operations through a combination of trade in palm oil, alliances with local chiefs, and military conquest. By the 1890s, the company had established a trade monopoly and tried to push down the price paid to Africans for their palm oil, which stimulated a native rebellion in 1894. Although the company was strong enough to suppress the rebellion it caught the attention of the British government. The government was concerned about the activities of the company because it was operating in an area in which British and French imperial ambitions clashed. To minimize the risk that the company might drag Britain into a war with France, the government extended its formal control by purchasing the company’s rights as the administering power. Company officials continued to act as the agents of the government, expanding British influence in the disputed areas, and in 1897 they were authorized to use force against French patrols. Meanwhile the British government negotiated with the French to demarcate their respective spheres of influence in the region, upon which they agreed in the Anglo-French Convention of June 14, 1898. Frederick Lugard, who had served as the Royal Niger Company’s military leader, was instrumental in the development of British rule in Nigeria over the next 25 years. He first served as high commissioner of the Northern Nigerian Protectorate from 1900 to 1906, during which time he imposed British overlordship on the Muslim emirs of that region. After serving as governor of Hong Kong, Lugard returned to Nigeria as governor-general in 1912, and by the outbreak of World War I he had successfully united the administration of North and South Nigeria. Lugard has often been credited with establishing the principles of indirect rule, by which the British governed at minimal expense through the extant authority of African tribal leaders. In fact the British had used such techniques for a long time in India. Lugard’s rule brought a number of positive developments in Nigeria, not the least of which was the gradual abolition of slavery. However, Lugard and several other British colonial administrators who served under him and went on to become governors in other African colonies tended to resist the development of an educated indigenous elite, which caused friction and resentment. In Nigeria and other West African colonies, the culture of the prosperous southern coastal regions was very different from the northern interior. Africans along the coast had been exposed to contact with Europeans for a much longer period. They had become Christian, were relatively wealthy and literate, and had therefore developed expectations that they would play a greater role in British administration. In the longer term, the distinction between the partially westernized African elite in the south and the majority of the African tribal population in the north had significant implications for independence. The British fully recognized this fact and during the 1950s, Nigeria was ushered along a path to independence as a federal state, which it achieved in 1960 under the leadership of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
   See also <>; <>.
    Flint, John E. “Frederick Lugard: The Making of an Autocrat, 1858–1943.” In L. H. Gann and P. Duigan, eds. African Proconsuls: European Governors in Africa. New York: Free Press, 1978;
    Hargreaves, John D. West Africa Partitioned. 2 vols. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985;
    Lugard, Sir Frederick. The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa. London: W. Blackwood & Sons, 1922;
    Perham, Margery. Lugard. 2 vols. Hamden: Archon, 1968.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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