Crown Colony System | Structures & Features

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Structure of the Crown Colony System

Indirect rule is a system of administration used by the British colonial government to govern the people through the use of traditional rulers and traditional political institutions.

The indirect rule system was introduced into Nigeria by Lord Frederick Lugard who was known to be the father of indirect rule in Nigeria.

The British officials in Nigeria formulated and enforced policies and laws through the traditional rulers who only served as intermediaries between the people and the British government.

However, the cultures and traditions of the people were respected and retained by the British authorities in order to make them more acceptable and welcomed by the people.

This system worked out well due to the cooperation of the traditional chiefs. The traditional chiefs claimed that since their cultures and traditions were not tampered with, they had no problem dealing with the British officials, but this was to some extent.

The following institutions constituted the Crown Colony Government which was responsible for the administration of British colonial territories.

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Functions of the Crown Colony Government

  • The Monarch

The Queen or King was at the apex of the Crown Colony Government. All political activities in the, territory were carried out in the name of the monarch.

  • Secretary of State for the Colonies

The Secretary of State for the Colonies was a member of the cabinet and coordinated the governments of the colonies on behalf of the Crown. He advised the Queen on the appointment and discipline of the governors, approved laws made by the local legislative councils and issued directives to the governors who reported to him in the discharge of their duties.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies was responsible to the British government and parliament for the peace and good administration of the territories.

  • The Governor Governor-General

The Governor was appointed and posted by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. He was usually a senior civil servant or an experienced politician or a retired military officer. Lord Lugard, for example, was a discharged captain.

The Governor performed the following functions in a colonial territory.

  1. He administered the territory on behalf of the Queen.
  2. He served as the chief executive of the colony and, in this capacity, he appointed and disciplined public servants.
  3. He allocated public lands.
  4. He exercised the prerogative of mercy.
  5. He presided over the legislative and executive councils.
  • The Legislative Council

In theory, the legislative council made laws for a colonial territory but, in practice, it was not more than a mere policy advisory body or a debating society. The ineffectiveness of the body was largely due to its composition. Most of the members were either appointed by the governor or represented metropolitan interests.

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The legislative council comprised official and non-official members. The official members were usually appointed from the ranks of senior British colonial ofiicials, European merchants, white settlers and traditional rulers. They were privileged members of the society. The unofficial members of the legislative council were usually Africans, and they had little voice in the council. The ratio of the official to unofficial members decreased as the countries progressed towards political independence.

  • The Executive Council

The executive council was like a council of ministers. It was however largely a policy advisory body. The governor presided over the council whose members included the most senior public servants. They served as heads of departments (e.g. head of public works, head of marine, head of public health, etc).

  • The Regional Governor

The regional governors administered the regions on behalf of the governor. At various times during the colonial era, the regional governor was called High Commissioner, Lieutenant Governor or even Governor. The governor approved the major policies of the regional government.

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He was appointed by the Governor-General. He presided over the regional legislative council and executive council.

Lugard was the High Commissioner of the Northern Protectorate before his elevation to the office of Governor of Nigeria in 1914.

  • The Resident

The Resident or Provincial Commissioner was the most senior British official in a province. He administered a province on behalf of the regional governor.

The role of the Resident was supposed to be that of a sympathetic adviser and counselor to the traditional ruler (Emir or Oba). He was not supposed to interfere with the ruler’s responsibilities in such a way as to lose prestige or interest in his work. He established general policy guidelines but this was usually issued through the traditional ruler who in turn passed them as his own. The effect of this was that the traditional ruler had considerable iniiuenee although real power lied with the Resident.

  • The District Officer

The District Officer was the lowest ranked British colonial official in the hierarchy. He presided over the affairs of a district. Laws made by district heads had to be approved by the District Officer who acted on behalf of the Governor.


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