Journal logo

What Britain Did To Nigeria

by Adebayo Adeniran about a year ago in book review
Report Story

A review of another phenomenal book on pre-colonial Nigeria, this time by Max Siollun

Captured by the author at Jazzhole Ikoyi.

Books on pre-colonial Nigerian history by Nigerian authors are a bit reminiscent of London buses; you wait for one for a very long time, and guess what? two buses turn up at the same time. This is exactly what we have got with the brilliant work by the great historian of the Nigerian military era - Max Siollun and Formation by Messrs. Fagbule and Fawehinmi.

The need to write these books, which tell the story of British colonialism, largely from a Nigerian perspective, while taking account of global dynamics reflect a number of things:

The degree to which the heavily skewed British narrative has remained the dominant and unchallenged view, despite the wealth of resources at our disposal to eviscerate the numerous historical inaccuracies in works of literature from the likes of H.H. Johnston, Mockler Ferryman and their ilk.

The unacceptably poor standard of history that was taught in Nigerian primary, secondary and tertiary institutions throughout the 1960s till its recent banning altogether, a few years ago.

The existing ban on the teaching of history in Nigerian schools.

The inexorable rise of the generation, who are far more literate, intellectually rigorous and certainly more questioning than their forebears; This generation of players have also taken it upon themselves to disabuse the notion of the benign, benevolent and perfectly civilized British colonialists - These writers - of which the likes of Max Siollun, Fola Fagbule and Feyi Fawehinmi are paid up members - are doing what should have been done a very long time ago.

Given the numbers of podcasts that the authors of formation had online over the course of 2019 and 2020, the writing of this book comes as no surprise - Indeed there are striking similarities, which suggest that the recently released book from Messrs. Fagbule and Fawehinmi may have in a way shaped the work undertaken here. That not withstanding, 'what the British did to Nigeria' is an outstanding book, which captures reams of detail that we may not have encountered in the previously released book. Max Siollun's unrivaled historiography stalks every sentence of every page, paragraph and chapter.

The level of detail in 'what Britain did to Nigeria' required several re-reads on my part and this article is produced from mainly from memory. I must preemptively apologize to the readers and author, if the review simply doesn't match up in anyway shape or form, to the extraordinary brilliance of 'WBDTN'.

Chapters 1–3: Trading, Curiosity & Exploration and Kings and Queens

What the British did to Nigeria starts off in the 15th century with the Portuguese explorers who had built up quite a relationship with the monarchs in Benin, South west Nigeria. The direct line that the Portuguese had with Benin simply meant that they had a head start in the business of slave trading long before the British got in on the act - 65 years to be precise. The island, Sao Tome, off the west African coast was set up for the express purpose of using the serfs from Benin to work on the sugar cane plantations.

By the time Captain Wyndham arrives in Benin in 1553, he was astounded to see the Oba conversing in Portuguese with his interlocutors. The author points out that between 1680–1700, The British had traded over 300,000 slaves from Benin; Between 1676–1730, well over 730,000 slaves were traded. By 1713, the treaty of Utrecht, further enshrined British monopoly's in the trade for 30 years.

Prior to now, the coastal areas(Benin and Lagos)were the prime location for business and trade between Africans and Europeans. Very little was known about the hinterlands and the Brits, who had heard so much about the Hausas, Yaribas (Yorubas), were keen to make some headway. Mungo Park, features as expected and we encounter the Scotchman, travelling from West Africa, gets to know about the existence of the great river, travels 300 miles, returned to England and published his findings.

Off the work of the first expedition, Mungo Park would be sent on a second trip in March 1805 and yet by August of the same year, 39 out of the 44 team members had died. The last correspondence from the young Scotchman would be on the 17th of November 1805. His African helper, would help get the contents through to the right channels. His son, Thomas, would setting off from Accra, would seek carry on where his father left off, in 1827, but he was never seen nor heard from again.

We meet Hugh Clapperton and Major Dixon Denham and Dr. Walter Oudney, all of whom are Scotchmen, embarking on the journey in 1820, this time, travelling from Tripoli, avoiding the death traps that had consumed their predecessors. Among the contingent was a mixed race gentleman from the west indies, by the name of Adolphus Simpkins but was also known as 'Columbus'. Mr. Simpkins spoke three European languages and Arabic. The team arrived in Kukawa, Borno state in February 1823.

On meeting Mohammed El Kanemi, who was engaged in a war with the Fulanis, Major Denham asked to accompany to his forces on a slave raiding expedition, which El Kanemi was reluctant in approving despite Major Denham's military background. The Borno monarch eventually accedes and the resulting offensive by the kanemi warriors turns out to be a disaster and Denham survives, but not without facial injuries, the clothes on his back taken off and his horse killed.

El Kanemi, as gracious a host, as can be, writes to his foe across the other end - Sultan Bello, in order to ensure the safe passage of his guests, gives them Arabic names (Rayes Abdullah and Rayes Khaleel)and the men travel west. Sultan Bello on receiving notice, sends a contingent to bring the travelling team to Sokoto. We also learn that on the demise of another Brit, by the name of Tyrwhit in 1824, great care is taken to alert the British Consul in Tripoli, with a carefully detailed inventory of the Brits belongings.

Shaped by the presuppositions and prejudices of his time in acquiescing white racial superiority and African racial inferiority, Hugh Clapperton is shocked to see the resplendently attired Sultan Bello, slightly portlier than he would have been in his all conquering peak, in commanding form. Sultan Bello condoled Clapperton on the loss of Oudney, returned Mungo Park's clothing and remonstrated with the Scotchman on Denham's stupidity. The conversation between the men touched on the Scotchmen's inquiries regarding river Niger and more importantly, theology. Clapperton's intellectual inadequacies are brought to the fore in his inability to answer Sultan's questions, on theology coherently.

The very next day, on the 18th of March 1824, Sultan Bello carried on where he left off, peppering Clapperton from dawn to dusk on the reasons for their presence in Sokoto. Clapperton's answers were unsatisfactory due to the Sultan's knowledge of Britain's actions in India and Algeria. 

In 'WBDTN', just as in formation, we get to see Messrs. Clapperton and Denham meticulously capture information on every male they met - slave and freemen, the area - climate and topology, flora and fauna. but as the authors of formation pointed out, the nature of the gender segregated societies of the caliphate meant that they never got the chance to encounter the first hand brilliance of Nana Asma'u - Sultan Bello's polyglot (spoke four languages and wrote in three) and a prolific poet.

Neither Denham nor Clapperton are successful in completely navigating the river and the surrounding areas and it would fall to his servant - Richard Lander and his younger brother, working unpaid, to fully navigate the near entirety of the geographical area called Nigeria. The revelation in Lander's account of another great connecting river, the fertile ground surrounding the Niger changed the narrative of exploration to one of economic opportunities.

In the Chapter titled 'Kings and Queens', the author delves deep into the various empires that were prominent in pre-colonial Nigeria. Examined in forensic detail are the Kanem Borno, Oyo, the seven northern city states, which eventually become the Islamic Caliphate and the Benin empire. We are educated on the decentralized system that obtains in Igbo land. Interestingly omitted, was the Nupe empire, not least because of the extraordinary cast of characters there - Etsu Masaba, Mallam Dendo et al.

Of all the empires, the Islamic Caliphate, is without question, the one which has had the greatest effect on its surrounding areas. A migrant group of tall, fair complexioned people travelling west whom the French referred to as 'peul', Hausas 'Fulani' and themselves as 'fulbe'.

The political structure of the once great Oyo Empire is given due attention; We learn that the Alaafin isn't an absolute monarch. His powers are akin to a constitutional royal, who appoints a premier to carry out his policies, in this case, known as the Oyo mesi. There is the reference of Alaafin Abiodun, who reigned from 1774–1789, as the most powerful ever, in his position. The devastating actions of Afonja (who isn't mentioned once), which leads to the secession of Ouidah, internecine warfare between the Owu and Ijebu and the displacement of the Egbas and several other Yoruba sub groups. The author is meticulous in pointing out that the various sub groups in the Oyo empire, certainly didn't see themselves as Yoruba and the composition of citizens reflect the diversity of modern day Nigeria.

As earlier indicated, the kingdom of Benin were the first set of people now known as Nigerians to have any form of contact with Europeans and it's from the Portuguese, who capture the detail of the wall and the sculptures currently resident at the British museum.

The archaeological wall of Benin - much more vast in every sense, when compared to the great wall of China, gets a mention here. I initially encountered this in an article I read in the British guardian back in 2016. The great wall, we are told, is extended for 16,000km in all, in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlements. The walls covered 6,500 square kilometres and were dug entirely by Edo people and it's calculated that this must have taken 150 million man hours. Another important point of note is the fact that Benin was the among the very first cities in the world to have street lighting.

That places like the great wall and the city of Ijaiye (featured in formation) are forever lost to history, sums up the profound tragedy of the business of slave trading, the resulting loss of human capital and the consequences of the presence of the Europeans in Africa.

Extraction and Trade: Palm oil Ruffians

West Africa, back in the 19th century was something of a graveyard, a hostile territory for the Europeans, who came to explore and conquer - in stark contrast to East Africa, where settler colonies were created. The harsh weather, the anopheles mosquito and the unwelcoming natives certainly played their part. Despite this, they kept sending coming back to this part of the world.

Exactly why was this the case?

The end of the slave trade and the genesis of the industrial revolution led to the need for raw materials, which the Niger area had in spades - this in turn gave rise to the race for control of where these commodities could be found and sent back to their respective countries. of these commodities, by far the most popular was palm oil, which was used in powering equipment, manufacturing of soap and other essentials. This discovery led to the area, we know today, as the Niger delta, known back in the nineteenth century as the oil rivers.

The oil rivers also attracted a fair number of unsavory characters, not least of whom, were the palm oil ruffians.

The palm oil ruffians, more often than not were usually ex convicts and undesirable elements. There was the account of one ruffian in 1854, who whipped a young boy who had climbed aboard their ship. Once the boy's father got wind of this, he had the ruffian tied for 12 hours and only relented, for fear of British military reprisals.

Worthy of mention was the degree to which the British businesses operating in and around the oil rivers were prepared to pay bribes to further their agenda. Back then it was called 'boy's dash or gentleman's dash' but it certainly didn't disguise the fact, that it was corruption.

One of the more extraordinary characters that we meet in 'WBDTN' was one by the name of Mbanaso Okwara-Ozurumba, born around 1821 in modern day Imo state and not too long afterwards was captured into slavery. Max Siollun points out here, that the status of slaves was fluid - they themselves, usually rose to become slave holders themselves and this is especially true of a great number of Northern rulers, whose mothers were slaves.

Back to the story of Ozurumba, whose insubordination and all round recalcitrance led his first boss to move him on the next, from whom he learns a great deal about the business. upon the demise of his boss' son, Chief Alali, he steps into the breach, inherits his debt, which he works to pay.

Mbanaso Okwara-Ozurumba

Mbanaso Okwara-Ozurumba, known by his honorific name - Jubo Jugboha or Jojo, among locals and with Europeans 'Jaja', by sheer force of will, his charisma and a reputation for keeping his word, rises to being the premier 'middleman' on the bonny coast.

His cosmopolitanism - marriage to women of various tribes -Andoni, Ijaw and Ibibio, educating several local children in Bonny, abroad, including his and the careful cultivation of the British mission, should have insulated him from difficulty and potential internecine wars, but it certainly didn't. His brilliance in keeping the palm oil producers apart from the buyers was a move of strategic genius - when the six British firms operating at the Niger Delta chose to form a cartel to determine the price of palm oil themselves, Jaja, simply circumvented their efforts by simply supplying directly to Britain himself.

In dealing with Edward Hewett, the Consul on the bonny coast, Jaja was always very careful to get the Brit to spell out the fine detail of treaties, to his advantage, often claiming not to be literate. But by the time Hewett went on sick leave in 1887, his deputy, Harry Johnston, had made it his mission to get rid of Jaja. And Johnstons's methods were as underhanded as expected - misrepresentation of the facts to his paymasters in London, misinterpretation of telegrams from London, all contributed to Jaja being forced out of Opobo.

By the time a kangaroo court was convened in Accra, on the 29th of November 1887, it was clear that Rear Admiral Walter James Hunt-Grubbe, the presiding judge had made his decision and the efforts of Edmund Bannerman, Jaja's counsel was entirely futile. Our hero was deported to the Caribbean Island of St Vincent, where he became depressed and ill. By the time his return was approved, Jaja would never see his home land again - he died mysteriously in Tenerife.

George Taubman Goldie and the Royal Niger Company

George Taubman Goldie in 'WBDTN' gets to have an entire chapter written on him and another on his exploits of his company. 

For those currently reading or have fully read Messrs. Fagbule and Fawehinmi's book might ask the question: Is this all necessary? What more do we need to learn?

This is absolutely necessary, if we are to fully understand the historical underpinnings of the country that we call the federal republic of Nigeria.

We get to learn that Taubman Goldie was born to a family of wealthy Scots of who had served in the British army- his paternal grandfather, great uncle and great grandfather were all Generals. Before his fifth birthday, he had become an orphan and was something of a lost youth - sitting for his exams at military school, blind drunk. Upon inheriting a large family inheritance, he promptly leaves Britain, travels to Egypt, meets and shacks up with a lady who teaches him Arabic. 

On his lover's demise from tuberculosis, Goldie returns to Britain and this time, elopes to Paris with the family nanny, Matilda. To prevent the matter from becoming an even greater scandal, Goldie marries Matilda in 1871. His older half brother, who is married into a family involved in Africa, gives him, his intro into what would be, a life defining experience. on his first expedition to the Niger area, his brother, Alexander falls very badly ill and the trip is aborted, but not before taking measure of his next steps and action plan.

Our protagonist very quickly understands that what's required is a company that is vertically and horizontally integrated - a monopoly. of which United African Company is created (UAC). Off the back of this a three pronged strategy is pursued: Elimination of all competitors; British, French, German and all natives, in the first three, by buying them out, wherever necessary. Getting the natives to sign binding treaties (that they couldn't read or write English, was wholly immaterial) and seeking the royal seal of approval by way of a charter.

The request for a royal charter was turned down in 1881, owing to the view that UAC couldn't be entrusted with the responsibilities of having the all-important seal of approval. Undaunted, Goldie got round this by carefully studying the parliamentary papers of the British North Borneo( modern day Malaysia) royal charter and set up the Niger African Company, buying out UAC and increasing the share capital eight fold, from 125,000 to 1,000,000, opened the shares to the public and made the most of his contacts by having Lord Abedare, a friend of the leading political player of the day - William Ewart Gladstone - on board as the Governor of his company.

It must be pointed out that Goldie's moves were made at a time when British interests in expanding its imperial reach wasn't at its zenith; The anti french arguments did help move things in the direction that he wanted.

Next up was the acquisition of Compagnie Francais De L'afrique Equitoriale (CFAO) and this was done by offering shares in NAC.

Once NAC was granted its royal charter on the 10th of July 1886, The Royal Niger Company, as it now became, began to act like a government, issuing 13 edicts, created an army (Royal Niger Constabulary) to enforce the terms and conditions of the treaties signed by the local chiefs, throughout the Nigerian space.

It is at this point in WBDTN that the guns of the author are pointed strictly at the Royal Niger Company, its leadership and its actions in creating and maintaining a monopoly, culminating in the events of Nembe.

Owing to nature of the CEO of the Royal Niger Company, George Taubman Goldie, there's very little by way of historical material on his organization; This is simply due to the destruction of every relevant papers on his orders. His daughters were expressly forbidden from publishing his papers and this miasma of secrecy undoubtedly pervaded the RNC.


RNC engaged in what the author termed 'corporate terrorism' and it's hard to disagree; There were a number of incidences, in which, wanton violence was visited upon the natives of the oil rivers, by the European employees of RNC, strict licensing and taxation of local citizens and major documents forgery, of which the latter did cause a bit of international outrage.

Perhaps out of a need to please his boss and justify his salary with a few quick wins, Frederick Lugard, oversaw the forgery of the treaty of Borgu and then tried to clean up his mess with the ensuing outrage from the French. There were instances of the murder of the locals by members of the constabulary and these crimes were never taken seriously enough to ensure that justice was served.

The events leading up to the Nembe massacre is given the full treatment and rightly so. Based on the terms of the RNC treaties, the people of Nembe didn't qualify as natives and as such were subjected to strict licensing and taxation. The King of the area, Amanyanabo William Koko, had written to the British officials, complaining bitterly about the punitive taxes and their exclusion from an area, they had done business in for the longest time and nothing was done. Not wanting to lose face in the eyes of his people, King Koko's forces carried out a surprise attack at Akassa, which led to the confiscation of files, the killing of at least 60 RNC staff.

This led to a massive reprisal attack, in which the entire village of Brass (where the Nembe people resided) being razed to the ground with over 2,000 dead. This was a water shed moment in the history of RNC and just as the reprisal attacks of the Indian mutiny in 1857, led to the revocation of the royal charter of the British East India company and the British Raj (government) taking over, it spelled the end for George Taubman Goldie.

Glover's Hausas

In 1858, while on an expedition in and around the Niger, a ship called 'dayspring' carrying a number of people including Samuel Ajayi Crowther and William Baikie, hit a rock, thus leading to the evacuation to safety of its passengers to safety. The team had in its ranks a cartographer by the name of Lt. John Hawley Glover, who was tasked with going to Lagos, overland, to get supplies for the team stuck in Jebba.

There are conflicting accounts of what happened next; one states that Glover en route to Lagos, picked up a number of run away slaves and had them come back up north, while another states that from Lagos, Glover went to Sierra Leone, where he picked up a number of former Hausa slaves, who were homesick and took them back with him to Jebba. 

There were fugitive Hausa slaves, who were emboldened by the presence of Glover in Lagos and decided take their chances and attach themselves to him. Unhappy with this, Efunroye Tinubu and Oba Dosunmu sought to recapture their men and the fugitives fought back, using a circular formation to win the battle. Glover, we are told, was extremely impressed by the fearlessness and courage of the Hausas.

By the time Captain John Glover became administrator of the colony of Lagos, when a great number of the west Indian regiment were off sick or guard elsewhere, the recruitment of the Hausas went into top gear. They were seen as the martial race, just as the Sikhs and Gurkhas were seen as the martial race in India and Nepal, respectively.

This policy of largely exclusive Hausa recruitment was adopted across board by the RNC and subsequently,the West African Frontier Force. Owing to the huge linguistic diversity, the Brits decided to make Hausa, the lingua franca of the force. This undoubtedly gave the army an exclusively northern Muslim colour, which gave rise to a degree of concerns.

These concerns led to a two pronged strategy, which made the learning of Hausa compulsory for British officers and the recruitment of neighbouring tribes, who spoke Hausa. This meant that the Tivs, who had repelled the Hausas and gone head to head with the RNC, as well as the likes of the Taroks, Jukuns, Bachama, Idoma, Igalas, were drafted in huge numbers in ways in which the 'insubordinate, intellectual and untrustworthy' Igbos weren't. 

The chapter on Glover's Hausas, provides the perfect historical context for the seismic events of post-independence Nigeria. But as the author points out, the story of the army is indeed the story of Nigeria and this is quite true, given the strength of the institutional memory of the Nigerian army in revisiting violence and destruction upon their fellow citizens - something that Fela Anikulapo-kuti, had sung about so powerfully, in 'confusion break bone and sorrow, tears and blood'.

South West and Benin Invasion

This leads us to the next section where the invasion of Lagos falls under the radar of the author. We learn about the lobbying of the crown by the Clergymen of the 'Clapham sect' - a term creatively used in Formation to describe the forward thinking and not imperially minded Brits in the mid nineteenth century. The initial conquest of Lagos is less than successful in November 1851 and by the time the second offensive was launched on Christmas eve 1851, the errors of first had become a distant memory. On surveying the area, once the fighting had ended, the British were taken aback by the quality of trenches that the natives had dug.

Late nineteenth century Benin, the one place that has suffered more than anywhere else in pre-colonial Nigeria - when putting three centuries of slave trading and the destruction of the great wall into context, comes into sharp focus here. And we have the actions of one man - James Robert Phillips - to thank for this. 

The extraordinarily poor decision of young James Phillips to enter Benin was captured in my 'formation' review, however, there are extra bits of detail in Siollun's book, where we see the likes of Copeland-Crawford, Ralph Locke, Alan Boisragon and Chief Dore do their best in reining in the over exuberant acting consul, who was supremely pertinacious and intent on entering Benin to capture this great ancient civilization for the crown.

The Bini militia had lain in wait for the British invaders and promptly fired without warning. Of the British team, which went on the expedition, only Ralph Locke and Alan Boisragon survived. The reprisal attack, as expected was elaborate with forces being drawn from all over the globe. Nothing was spared, Benin was completely razed to the ground and Oba Overami and Ologbosere escaped. Overami eventually turned himself in and was tried and exiled to Calabar. Ologbosere, on the other hand, wouldn't be so lucky - he was hanged for his efforts.

The legacy of the Benin massacre would be in the plunder of thousands of artefacts from the Oba's palace. There was incredulity that these 'barbarous savages were incapable of pulling off these intricate designs - conveniently forgetting that the Portuguese had written about them centuries prior.

These elaborately designed works of art currently sit in the British museum.

Founders of Nigeria

This is probably the most important section of the book and the reasons for this are entirely obvious - to shed clear light on a vast number of misconceptions that people have - myself included, on the events leading to the amalgamation of the various areas known today as Nigeria.

When Flora Shaw used the term 'Nigeria' in an anonymous article printed on the 8th of January 1897 in the Times, It was, according to the author, the first time, being used in an official capacity, and since no one really knows who came up with the term, in the first place, partial credit may be given to her for using it.

Back then, the term 'Nigeria' referred only to the northern hemisphere, Colony of Lagos was used to describe the area, where the Oba of Lagos ruled over and the oil rivers and the surrounding areas was known as the 'Niger coast protectorate'. 

It wasn't until when the committee of commissioners including the likes of Taubman-Goldie, Ralph Moor, Henry McCullum, Reginald Antrobus and Lord Selborne met in June 1898, that the merger of these separate areas became a distinct possibility.

At the same meeting of these commissioners, a number of recommendations were made. Taubman Goldie had advised that each reigning emir should be picked off one after another, before going head to head with the sultan of Sokoto. Amalgamation of the territories was the second point and the final one was the a single military for the entire space, that would become Nigeria.

Goldie Taubman had expressly rejected the term 'Goldesia' in the way Zambia and Zimbabwe were termed 'Northern and Southern Rhodesia' after Cecil Rhodes. Goldie also had suggested Upper and Lower Nigeria, which sounded euphonious to Joseph Chamberlain, who plumbed for Nigeria.

Goldie's charter was revoked and the assets of RNC was bought by the British government and on the 1st of January 1900, at 7:20 am in Lokoja, the flag of the Royal Niger Company was lowered and the Union Jack was raised.

Northern Invasion

Once decisions were signed off by the British political overlords, it is clear that the paper protectorate needs to fall under British control. How this happens is captured in the paragraphs below.

The stand off between Sarkin Musulmi, Abdurahman and Lugard, is given air time, not least because of the profound consequences that it would have for the century old caliphate. Letters had been exchanged between both men on the subject of impending change, but it seemed that one of the Sarkin's letters had been deliberately misinterpreted by Captain Abadie, (akin to the dodgy dossier of a hundred years later in Iraq), This, allied to the killing of Captain Moloney, the British resident at Keffi and refuge granted to the alleged killer, gave the British, under Lugard the pretext to invade.

Sultan Abdurahman, under whose watch, the killing happened, died a few days later, but it seemed that Lugard's policy of regime change was set in stone. Abdurahman's nephew, Attahiru I who succeeded him, was as inflexible as British opponents, soon lost ground and fled east to Borno.

Contrary to Lugard's view, who stated that Attahiru I, had no support, while on the run from Sokoto, had entire villages supporting his fight against the colonizers, a trend which carried on as fighting carried on in Burmi.

32,710 rounds of ammunition was fired and the numbers killed were between 700–1,000. Attahiru and two of his sons were killed in battle and their heads were decapitated by the British forces.

Burmi, a place situated on the outskirts of Borno, was where the great battle and the fate of the Islamic caliphate, would be sealed, not in the stronghold of Sokoto or Kano. This victory effected the annexation of 500,000 square miles and 20 million people to the British empire.

The South East Invasion

Contrary to the popular that the Aros, were the easiest to conquer, in the quest to bring the Igbo people under British rule, would be highly disappointed reading this section of 'WBDTN'. Instead we are treated to a master piece of trench warfare and concerted resistance of the Igbo people of the south east.

When a British Major went to Bende to address the locals and requested that their hats be removed as a sign of respect, the natives stood their ground. Expecting formidable opposition, the team led by Ralph Moor went in fully armed, but they encountered an adversary, against whom, the 'square formation' made no sense, given the numbers of snipers hidden in the bushes. once this strategy was countered, the people of Aro, used the carefully dug trenches from where, the native troops could take aim at the British led fighters.

This clever strategy meant that the British army had to find natives who were skilled tree climbers with knives in the mouths to skill snakes and also point to where the snipers were in the trenches, which gave them a competitive edge. On locating the oracle, it was blown up with a dynamite.

The commanding British officer of the expedition, Colonel Arthur Forbes Montanaro, was suitably impressed by the quality of the trenches dug by their opponents. Another highlight was the number and range of rifles confiscated (Brown-Bess, Minie, Enfield, Winchester, Martinie Henry) which were displayed in London.

The blowing up of the oracle, certainly didn't spell the end of the Aro resistance; It was only the beginning, for them. We learn that from 1900–1920, 300 battles were fought, 100,000 guns were seized and 10,000 people were killed. The casualties on the British, were the Hausa fighters.

The pursuit of a local juju man called Bibi Kalu from one village to the next, is given quite a bit of attention in 'WBDTN'. In their bid to capture this somewhat influential player, villages were burnt to the ground and people's livelihoods were completely destroyed. Upon his capture, he was tried and executed.

Northern Resistance and the Satiru massacre

In the Northern resistance, we see how a blind cleric, Dan Makafo,in a bid to fulfill the oral prediction of the Usman Dan Fodio, who said that " the caliphate would last for a hundred years and a Mahdi would rise to fight the enemy", enlisted the help of chap called "Isa", to help make this happen. 

The author describes their movements of the mahdists as "resembling modern day outbursts of religious dissidence in Northern Nigeria". 

Dan Makafo, prior to taking on the mantle of the Mahdi, had previously killed two Frenchmen and fled his base. The cleric took a few scalps and his charge did send jitters down the British end, who were concerned that newly installed Sultan, Attahiru II may have been prevaricating on providing support. They need not have worried for Attahiru II was as keen as they were in ensuring that the Mahdists were crushed. 

The sultan's forces helped encircled the dissidents, thus allowing the Brits to mete out full reprisals. What happened next has never made it to any history book: the use of 350,000 rounds of gun fire and 54,000 cannon shells in massacring 2,000 people. People were impaled and women breasts were cut off and the entire village was burnt to the ground, leading the Attahiru to place a curse on the Satiru. 

You would think that Frederick Lugard would be tried and jailed for his deception and act of wanton violence? No such thing happened, he got no more than a slap on the wrist, sent to Hong Kong and once amalgamation was effected, was brought back in an even bigger capacity by Lewis Harcourt, a known paedophile.

Satiru, the scene of perhaps the very worst massacre under the British still stands today, covered by bush and completely uninhabited.

Ekwumekwu and The women's wars

Such is the complexity of the term 'Ekumeku or spelled Ekwumekwu', that a number of interpretations were given to describe the meaning of the formidable, Western Igbo secret society. According to some, the term denotes a 'whirlwind' or a 'hurricane' and according to others the term simply means 'silence'.

What's of utmost importance here, is the studied discipline and the profound commitment of all its members to secrecy, the use of codes, the means of identification and the willingness to set aside their mutual antagonisms. These steps made the secret society utterly impenetrable, for a while in its concerted resistance against the British. 

Also important was the secret society's commitment to misinformation, psychological warfare, manipulation and spiritual protection against an opponent who was better armed. A British officer named Frank Hives, wrote of his encounter with 15 snakes, when an Efik woman, whose son was arrested, placed a curse on him.

The targets of British resistance were British Soldiers, the missionaries, the RNC and the colonial administrator and a number of schools were destroyed in the process and for a while, Ekwumekwu were quite successful but what led to their collapse was the banning of nocturnal movements, the mass arrests of the players and errors on the part of the Ekwumekwu leadership. The resistance lasted through the late nineteenth century through to the 1910s.

The heroes of the Ekwumekwu resistance - King Nzekwe of Ogwashi-Uku, Elumelu and Chiejina of Onitsha-Olona, Idegwu and Nwoko from Ubulu-Uku are venerated and rightly so for their concerted efforts and ingenuity.

The women's wars is another part of our history, of which we should rightly be proud; Whether in Aba, Opobo or in Egba, we get to see the women stand up to the colonial authorities on the issue of punitively high taxation. In Opobo, 25 women were killed, In Aba, 18 were killed and 1,000 in Egbaland. 

Chapters 17–22: Crescent and Cross, People of this Book, Indirect Rule, Colonial Life, Mistake of 1914 and Conclusion

In the nineteenth century, Islam was quite successful in a way that Christianity wasn't - even though both religions were foreign, there was the perception that Islam was seemed more native and Christianity was the white man's religion.

The ratio of people who embraced Islam to Christianity was 10:1. Christianity had several disadvantages, not least of which was its inflexibility - the requirement that potential converts had to divorce their wives, before being accepted as a christian. There was also the restriction of their activities in northern Nigeria and usually, permission had to be sought from the Emir, before proselytizing could take place.

For the British missionaries, there was the headache of the massive linguistic diversity of the Nigerian people, In Igbo land, there was 19 dialects alone of the language and the thinking was that, although the Igbo man was a natural orator, the rules of Igbo grammar was weak, hence the need for union Igbo. As for Yoruba, the linguistic diversity was just as pronounced, the man who wrote the Yoruba bible - Bishop Ajayi Crowther, gave prominence to Oyo Yoruba.

This said, the multi-lingualism of the likes of John Taylor and Ajayi Crowther helped reconstruct the Igbo and Yoruba languages.

Even though western education did help revolutionize Nigeria in a multiplicity of ways, it must be pointed out, that Yorubas, Hausa, Fulanis, Kanuris and Efiks did have written forms of their language and the notions of illiteracy was certainly overstated.

Pre colonial northern Nigeria, it must be stated was way ahead of the South and yet once these areas were annexed, it fell back precipitously; In 1914, 97% of enrolled students were from the south, yet the likes of Hugh Clifford, said, it was simply a case of quantity over quality and the education the southerners received wasn't necessarily fit for purpose; There is some element of truth to this - owing to the lack of a unified curriculum and syllabus, in southern schools.

With the North, due to the absence of missionary schools and Lugard's restriction of missionaries, who doubled as teachers and preachers, the numbers were non-existent, prompting Hugh Clifford to set up Katsina College, known today, as Barewa college, modelled on the likes of Eton and Epsom, British public schools. Children of Emirs were required to send two of progeny. The results, needless to say, were phenomenal - The premier of the northern region, the prime minister, the minister of finance during the first republic were all alumni of Katsina college.

With the growing preponderance of western education and boarding schools, there were legitimate concerns that students were cut off from their culture and producing a poor man's version of the white man too.

Once the disparate territories administered by the colonial office (Colony of Lagos), Foreign office (oil rivers and the Niger coast protectorate) and the Royal Niger Company(parts of the oil river and Northern Nigeria) became one entity - Nigeria - the means of administering this became the next point of concern.

How this was handled was called 'Indirect rule'. This was the notion of having the Emirs handle the day to day business, collecting taxes and having a British district officer to watch over things. The south east, which never really had an all powerful monarch, in the way that Bini, the Islamic caliphate, Nupeland and the Yorubas had, saw the introduction of warrant chiefs, upend its societies, irrevocably.

The local warrant chief, once seen as a position to be dreaded, became one of demand, once it was understood that the position was a conduit for amassing riches and privilege. The numbers of warrant chiefs simply exploded and this also became a way of creating titles that never existed before. 

Although Nigeria was never a settler colony in the way that Kenya and Uganda possibly were, De facto segregation was the order of life. The Brits were active practitioners of keeping the races apart. But on the question of inter racial dalliances, We are beneficiaries of the author's forensic eye.

George Taubman Goldie, we are told fathered at least three children with a woman from the Niger Delta and this was by no means a one-off. Numbers of British workers are recorded as having had under aged girls as partners, in some cases, having their under aged partners disguised as boys. Unlike the French, whose policy was one of approved dalliances with the locals, the British frowned on miscegenation.

Ralph Moor forced the resignation of one of his servicemen, on finding out about a liaison with a lady from the oil rivers. Miscegenation - the mixing of the races, did happen, but the product of the liaison - the bi racial babies, more often than not, were never taken back to Britain.

Despite the history of trade among the various tribes which make up the Federal Republic of Nigeria for hundreds of years, it's fair to question the logic and rationale of amalgamating these territories as one vast entity - This is the great mistake of 1914. Amalgamation was a strategic and commercial decision, which took no account of the cultural dissimilarities, staffing the military with mostly people from one part of the country, thus setting the descendants of these people with a mess so complex and near impossible to untangle.

Final Conclusion

In a very long review, that I am highly convinced that no more than a handful will read, I have come away from reading the books by Messrs. Fagbule, Fawehinmi and Siollun, a man completely born again - reading each book at least six times - in 'WBDTN''s case, six times, in a space of a week.

It's quite painful and indeed profoundly tragic that millions of Nigerians have been poorly and deliberately 'miseducated' on the subject matter of their history. This hasn't been helped by years of successive military regimes from the 1960s till the 1990s, where there was no clear policy on nation building and the education of school children.

Since 1999, we have had over twenty years of unbroken elected governments and guess what? things are much, much worse than they were in the 1980s and early 1990s, when I completed my secondary education. What we have, at the moment, is an illiterate, corrupt political class, who are in absolutely no position to recommend any solutions, to our problems, of which they are a huge part.

In Britain, the collective amnesia is extraordinary; No British child, in state schools or in the fee paying ones, will have any idea of the degree to which the British empire, in its pomp, was a racist, violent, genocidal, fascist and corrupt enterprise. The level of detail of carnage will come as a huge surprise to the great public - young and old - Black, White or Brown.

With these first rate books on pre-colonial history dissecting the origins of our problems, I sincerely hope that we can have the much needed debate and the long overdue collective national awakening.

It suffices to say that we owe these writers, a massive debt of gratitude for the painstaking work of scholarship in putting together, what must be, a labour of love.

Thanks very much for reading.

book review

About the author

Adebayo Adeniran

A lifelong bibliophile, who seeks to unleash his energy on a number of subjects

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2022 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.