Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
Colonial rule by the United Kingdom brought many changes to the societies of Nigeria. Charged with the tasks of governing the territories of Nigeria, expanding the commerce of the country, and promoting “progress” and “civilization” for peoples they considered inferior and backward, British colonial officers went about restructuring Nigerian societies in the years after their colonial conquest. The purpose of colonial rule was, theoretically, to alter only those customs, traditions, and institutions that the British deemed harmful to Nigerian progress, leaving existing political and social institutions intact to the greatest degree possible. In practice, however, colonial policies made transformative changes to Nigerian societies in many ways, particularly in southern Nigeria, which saw the most significant alterations to political institutions and economic orientation. The purpose of this chapter is to examine the structure of colonial society and the response of Nigerians to the British regime from the beginning of colonial rule up to 1929.
During this period the British colonial administration utilized the concept of “indirect rule” – rule through traditional kings and chiefs – to govern local areas in each of the British protectorates. Originally, indirect rule operated differently in different regions, as determined in large part by the administrative outlook of the British authorities in each protectorate and by the diversity of indigenous political institutions throughout the protectorates.