Merits & Demerits of Indirect Rule

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Indirect Rule System In Africa – Advantages and Disadvantages

The Indirect Rule System
The Indirect Rule System

Indirect rule is the system of government in which a colonial power makes use of the traditional institutions of the local people in the administration of a territory.

Margery Perham in 1934 defined the policy as “a system by which the tutelary power recognizes existing African societies and assists them to adapt themselves to the functions of local government”. The indirect rule policy permits the traditional ruler to continue to exercise executive and judicial powers under the guidance and supervision of colonial officials.

Lord Lugard was the architect of the indirect rule policy in Nigeria having previously tested it in Burma and Uganda.

Advantages of Indirect Rule

  • The system was less expensive because the colonial masters used the machinery of traditional rulers to run the affairs of government. It would have cost the British more, in terms of resources, to engage their nationals and direct rule.
  • The system largely reserved the customs and traditions of the people. It retained the people’s languages, culture and religion.
  • The colonies witnessed rapid social economic development since part of the revenue collected from taxes and rates was used in building schools, markets, hospitals, roads, bridges, etc.
  • The system brought government closer to the people to their traditional rulers. The people were provided the opportunity of participating in the affairs of the government that catered for them in their various localities.
  • Indirect rule guaranteed peace and stability for the Emirs and chiefs who were used to run the affairs of government in the localities.
  • It was the earliest attempt at introducing a uniform system of local government throughout the country.
  • Indirect rule contributed to the training of traditional rulers in the modern art of running the administration of local government. They were given periodic training to enable them to adapt to the latest local government reforms in the country.
  • The system modernized traditional institutions like traditional courts, laws and customs. Even though traditional rulers presided over the courts in their localities, the Colonial Masters preceded over the appeal courts.
  • The spirit of nationalism was developed as a result of the alienation of the educated elite in the administration of indirect rule throughout the country. The elite been outside the system, criticized and rejected the governmental system which affected political authority in the largely illiterate traditional rulers. They therefore went ahead to champion the struggle for self-governance.

Disadvantages of Indirect Rule

  • Indirect rule straightened the policy of divide-and-rule strategy, putting into opposing camps the traditional rulers and educated elite. These remained divided throughout the period of the system of government. Likewise were the differences between the North, the East and the West exploited to prevent the emergence of a common front against British Colonial rule.
  • Educated members of African societies were excluded from participating in colonial governmental activities in preference for the traditional rulers. This hindered early constitutional and economic development of the colonies.
  • Indirect rule failed to provide qualitative leadership to educated Nigerians. So, even after independence, many leaders had no good grasp of what government or their position entailed. This has contributed to the political instability of the West African countries.
  • Britain reduced the illiterate African chiefs some of whom had absolute powers to puppets or stooges in the hands of the colonial government.
  • A conflict of responsibility was also created for the rulers who had to be accountable both to their people and to the colonial government – two groups with conflicting demands. In effect, some traditional rulers became alienated from their people.
  • Indirect rule delayed constitutional development and early independence because the conservative chiefs were not prepared to surrender their cherished powers for early independence.
  • The system consecrated powers in the hands of a few traditional rulers, eventually marginalized the vast majority of the people in disregard of their customs and tradition.
  • The appointment of warrant chiefs in the eastern region of Nigeria, for example, created political, social and economic crisis which resulted in the failure of the system.
  • The system deprived the people of some sections of the colonies of the advantages of checks and balances on their leaders, which had existed in their traditional political institutions.
  • The system denied traditional rulers the much-needed freedom they required for themselves and for the defence of the collective interests of their subjects. They were treated just as employees of the colonial government and required to implement colonial policies and programs without resistance.
  • As a result of the great powers enjoyed by incumbents, the post of traditional rulers became highly contentious, an succession disputes increased.
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