Reasons For Introducing Indirect Rule In British West Africa

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Following the weakness and failure of the policy of assimilation, France conceived the idea of the policy of association to replace assimilation. Association was the policy by which Africans associated with France in the political and economic realms, not as Frenchified Africans, but as a people with their own distinct culture and traditions. It was the French form of indirect rule.

The policy of association preserved the culture, religion, customs and political units of the various colonies. It accorded traditional rulers necessary regarded in the affairs of the colonial government.

Reasons For Indirect Rule System

The British colonial government introduced the indirect rule system for a number of reasons.

  1. Lack of funds
  2. Shortage of personnel
  3. Existence of effective local administration
  4. Existence of a taxation system
  5. Respect for traditional institutions
  6. Consistent policy of using African chiefs
  7. Poor knowledge of the territory
  8. Ideological considerations
  9. Experiences in other countries
  • Lack of Funds

The British colonial government might have introduced direct rule if funds were available to operate the policy. But the Northern Protectorate where the indirect rule policy was first adopted did not have the resources with which to run such a system.

The economic position of the area at that time could not sustain the heavy cost of running a direct administration and since the British adventure to Nigeria had economic motives, it was unthinkable that the colonial government would spend British taxpayers money or all the financial profits made in the country on local administration. It was, therefore, important that a cheap system such as the indirect rule be adopted.

  • Shortage of Personnel

Another reason that accounted for the introduction of indirect rule policy was the shortage of personnel required to run an effective local administration. There was shortage of personnel due to the following factors.

  1. The colonial government did not have the resources with which to recruit competent local and foreign staff.
  2. There were few educated indigenous people suitable fof appointment into the colonial service because of the low level of educational development in the protectorate of Northem Nigeria.
  3. The climate and the presence of mosquitoes made the area unattractive to prospective European staff.
  • Existence Of Effective Local Administration

The British found, on the ground, in the Northern Protectorate an effective administrative machinery which had been in existence since the early 19th century. It was a highly centralized and well-organized hierarchical system built around the Emir and his officials.

Besides, there was a court system, which applied quranic laws. The system was attractive to Lord Lugard and he saw no need to disturb the system, which was said to be working well.

  • Taxation System

The Fulani emirates had an efficient taxation system, which provided funds for running the administration. Lugard did not discard the tax system but simply put in place a single tax system imposed on each village.

The revenue collected was divided between the central government and the Emirs and the share of the government revenue was spent on development of railways, roads, water supply and public health. The Emirs portion was used to provide essential services in their communities.

  • Respect for Traditional Institutions

The British people themselves had a monarchical system of government. They had respect for the traditional institution, which had worked well for them for several centuries. It was therefore not a surprise that the colonial government decided to build the structure of colonial administration on the traditional institutions. Although the primary motive for colonialism and the indirect rule, for that matter, was economic, the emotional attachment of the British to the monarchy might have influenced the retention of the system in Nigeria.

  • Consistent Policy of Using African Chiefs

Before the formal imposition of British rule after the Berlin Conference, the European companies, such as the Royal Niger Company had adopted what was popularly called ‘company rule’. This policy involved the use of African chiefs in the implementation of company policies, as the companies were not prepared to spend their profits on administration.

Thus, there had always been a good relationship between European firms and the local chiefs because they had similar economic interests.

Lord Lugard who had experienced company rule during his posting to Uganda by the Imperial British East African Company in 1899, simply built on the traditional leadership system in Northern Nigeria to achieve the objectives of the colonial government.

  • Knowledge of the Territory

Another reason for the adoption of indirect rule was that the British officials had little or inadequate knowledge of the vast territory they had acquired. The Protectorate of Northern Nigeria was vast in size and population. As such, it would have been obvious folly for the British to attempt to rule directly a people about whom not much was known.

So the wise thing to do, and which was actually done, was to retain the existing institutions as the basis for colonial government.

  • Ideological Consideration

The laissez-faire or free enterprise system was the dominant economic ideology in Britain at the end of the 19th century. This ideology emphasized limited government intervention in economic and social activities. It would have been a contradiction of policy for the British to adopt the free enterprise at home and unpose a different economic system abroad.

  • Experiences in other Countries

Lugard’s previous experience of indirect rule in Uganda, Malaya and Singapore also contributed to the adoption of the indirect rule policy. This rich experience was exploited to the full in the administration of Northern Nigeria.

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