Evolution of the Nigerian State, Part 2

Towards the end of the 1800’s it became customary to regard Nigeria as separated into the Colony of Lagos managed by the Colonial Office, the Niger Coast Protectorate to the east under the supervision of the British Foreign Office and the Royal Niger Territories to the North administered by the Royal Niger Company, all supposedly with contiguous borders even if major parts remained effectively unknown. At about this same time the concept of colonial possessions was attractive in Europe and naturally attended to by the full attention of the parent state. Britain, on its part, intended to set an example in the managing of its foreign territories, often flogged rising issues with the best tools of state. One of these was the possible future of the administration of the Niger territories about which the then Foreign Secretary, Lord Salisbury, formed the Niger Committee in 1898 to provide advice on. Though there had been subtle inclinations from administration officials regarding possible amalgamation of these territories, the committee’s report formed one of the first official dispatches which made reference to combining all of these territories into one. It was also in its final reports that suggestions were made to constitute different provinces under individual heads as soon followed after 1900. Chiefly significant among its recommendations was the suggestion to not let the Niger River, which so conveniently divides these possessions into quasi-independent regions, define the dividing line for subordinate administrations, but to instead separate the country using the 9th parallel latitude into a “Sudan Province” and a “Maritime Province”.

Selborne’s report of 1898, without doubt, set the stage for some of the most defining changes in Nigeria’s history

The transfer of the territories under the concern of the Royal Niger Company to the Colonial Office effectively became the first step in defining the future of modern Nigeria. The company’s charter was revoked and its concern in the north was acquired by the Colonial Office in 1900. Regarded as the most pleasant of its Niger territories, this concern was renamed Northern Nigeria and put under the supervision of Frederick Lugard, an astute administrator whose future would remained eternally tied to the creation of the Nigerian state. Similarly, a Southern Nigeria was created out of the Niger Coast protectorate and some other areas below Selborne’s 9th parallel latitude. Therefore, after 1900, English possessions in the Niger now comprised Lagos, Southern Nigeria and Northern Nigeria, three territories sharing a common British heritage, a history of 19th century exploration and initial interaction with the Royal Niger Company. While they were at this time independent of the other, amalgamation of the three had moved out of momentary consideration into future reality. Even Colonial Office staff threw the word about more often than not, the “amalgamation” which gave birth to Southern Nigeria providing juice for discussions.

By 1906, it became customary to regard Nigeria as separated into the Colony of Lagos, the protectorate of Southern Nigeria and Northern Nigeria

In 1906, in the next amalgamation steps, Southern Nigeria was fused with the independent Lagos Colony to birth the Southern Nigeria Protectorate, an action which in the spirits of previous and future amalgamations was carried out more for economic reasons than for political ones. Seeing how a combined Southern Nigeria would make greater revenue to enable it sustain the lagging Northern part of its possession, the Colonial Office set in motion steps to combine the two southern territories as early as 1900. Walter Egerton, the Lagos Governor, was assigned to administer Southern Nigeria and charged with the task of submitting a proposal for the amalgamation of the two areas under his command. As soon as this was completed, the larger goal of a greater amalgamation came into better view and it took no more than a few years to have this in the bag.

After his 6-year stint in Nigeria lasting until 1906, Lugard returned in 1912 to lead one of the most transformative processes in the country’s history. Though he had tendered an amalgamation plan to the Colonial Office in 1905 while he was still administrator of the Northern region, his bosses did not consider the time right. In his plan, the whole country would become one entity while Lagos, the Northern region and the Southern half would each have its own overseer. By his return in second decade of the 20th century, Nigeria was well on its way to amalgamation after the very format Lugard had presented years earlier. Entrusted with this task, the able administrator set about it quite astutely.

In 1914, the Northern and Southern halves were amalgamated in a bid to render the Niger territories economically independent of colonial treasury. The country took the name Nigeria and remained under Lugard’s administration. This marked one of the early steps in the transition from colony to state. Thus, from an invasion to annex the small city of Lagos in 1861 to a rounded and larger country by 1914, it took  a mere 53 years for the British to realize a domain around the Niger after initial faltering attempts. And what started as original moves to merely subdue a King ended in the subjugation of a people and the creation of a country.

Lugard began his pivotal role in the creation of the Nigerian state as early as 1905 when he submitted a plan for the amalgamation of British protectorates in the Niger

The middle half of the 20th century ushered in a wave of nationalism in Africa which saw Ghana becoming the first to become liberated from colonial rule in 1956. In 1960, Nigeria joined the growing list of independent African countries. Since then, the country has remained self-governing with no more than its little vestiges of colonial inheritance tying it to its parent British country. From three early “colonial” economic polities: the colony of Lagos, the Niger Coast protectorate & the Royal Niger Territories in both the southern and northern areas around the Niger, the country has grown into a giant West African power. Hard as it may be to imagine, all of this started out with the tiny colonial settlement called Lagos.

The evolution of the Nigerian state (Click to enlarge).




  1. Robert Sydney Smith; The Lagos consulate, 1851-1861; London : Macmillan, 1978
  2. Colonial Nigeria; Wikipedia article; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonial_Nigeria
  3. Niger Coast Protectorate; Wikipedia article; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niger_Coast_Protectorate
  4. Sir William Nevill Montgomerie Geary; Nigeria Under British Rule; Barnes & Noble, 1965
  5. Niger Coast Protectorate; crwflags article; http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/ng_ncp.html
  6. N. Uzoigwe; The Niger Committee of 1898: Lord Selborne’s Report; Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, Vol. 4, No. 3 (December 1968), pp. 467-476; Historical Society of Nigeria; http://www.jstor.org/stable/41856767
  7. John M. Carland; The Colonial Office and Nigeria, 1898-1914; London, Macmillan, 1985

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