Indirect Rule in Nigeria

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Lord Lugard

Let us begin with the definition of the indirect rule system. What is indirect rule? It 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 to Nigeria by Lord Fredrick 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 who claimed that since their cultures and traditions were not tampered with, they have no problem dealing with the British officials, but this was to some extent.

Indirect rule in northern Nigeria was highly successful due to the structure of their pre-colonial political administration which was highly centralized and the existence of taxation system before the advent of the British. The Northern protectorate of Nigeria was divided into six provinces under a British official known as ‘Resident’. The provinces were then sub-divided into districts which was also headed by an official known as the district commissioner. The system was indeed a huge success in the north unlike the eastern part of Nigeria where it failed woefully. This was mainly because of their decentralized pre-colonial political administration and the introduction of the warrant chiefs who met the wrath of the easterners. The warrant chiefs were ruthless and high-handed in the process of executing their duties. When the taxation system was introduced into eastern Nigeria, the way it was man-handled by the warrant chiefs brought about the fear of women paying tax which later culminated in the Aba women riot of 1929.
It should be noted that the Indirect rule system was partially successful in the western part of Nigeria due to the check and balance system that existed in their political administration.

Later on, the Nigerian educated elites began to oppose the indirect rule for some reasons. They claimed that the British administration purposely used the uneducated traditional rulers who cannot question or oppose any decision of the British officials while the educated elites were not recognized and therefore can’t be involved in the administration.
As a result of this, nationalism sprang up among Nigerians and the demand for the liberation of the country was accelerated. Prominent figures like Herbert Macaulay, known as the father of nationalism, led campaigns against the British colonial government demanding the independence of the country which was later granted on the 1st of October 1960.

In the first place, what were the factors that facilitated the introduction of the indirect rule system into Nigeria?

The British colonial government adopted this system due to the dearth of British personnel and insufficient funds. And also did the success of this system in other countries like India triggered its introduction into Nigeria.
Other reasons are: Language barrier, poor climate, selfish interest, i.e satisfaction of Britain’s economic needs, and so on.

The system was considered by some Nigerians as the path to political freedom and stability of Nigeria while others see it as a means of exploiting the nation.


129 thoughts on “Indirect Rule in Nigeria

  1. Thanks for your question, Teemah.
    The British system of administration in Nigeria can be said to be successful and not successful in the sense that the system of administration the British adopted (indirect rule) was totally successful only in one (north) of the then three Regions of Nigeria. The reason for this had been explained in the original article above. Kindly check it. The indirect rule system was unsuccessful in other Regions (east and west).
    So therefore, the British system of administration in Nigeria can be said to be partially successful.


  2. If you look at the system i.e indirect rule there are certain reasons that make it succeed in the north which invariably make the system fail inthe east, I Suggest that writter of this article should raise such a reasons thanks


    1. There where so many reasons dat led 2 de system of indirect rule in Nigeria,some of the reasons are;lack of british personnel:The system had few Europeans to control effectively areas under their control. Insufficient fund:There was no sufficient fund from british government to engage british officials 4 direct admministration. Poor climate,& Language barrier. e.t.c.


    2. in response to your question the answer here is that due to the less number of colonial administration in Nigeria, so they will make use of the African rulers to governed the populace.


  3. Thanks for your question, Mr. Erikefe Collins. Here is the answer to your question:

    • Pre-colonial system in western Nigeria was not centralised but decentralised.
    • Opposition of the Educated elites
    • Inadequate British personel

    Thanks for your visit!


  4. They failed due to the existing pre-colonial system of the easterners which was totally decentralised and not suitable for British administration.

    Their high handness in executing policies also made them face the wrath of the easterners. Also, the last straw that broke the camel’s back was the introduction of tax. Men and women were marked to pay exorbitant tax. The easterners could not take this. It was one of the main factors that led to the Aba women riot of 1829 and subsequently the failure of the British in the Eastern part of Nigeria.

    Thank you for your visit, Mr. Clinton Onyeabor. We hope wehave answered your question. Please visit often.


  5. in response to your question the answer here is that due to the less number of colonial administration in Nigeria, so they will make use of the African rulers to governed the populace.


  6. No, they were not educated. That is why they couldn’t oppose any of the policies the British authorities formulated and implemented through them. Only a fraction of the elites then were educated. Thank you for your visit, Mr. Adekunle Isaiah Oluwaseun. Please visit often.


    1. The French policy of assimilation was not introduced to Nigeria because Nigeria was then a British colony and Britain employed the indirect rule system and allow Nigeria to develop with her own cultures and systems. The policy of assimilation was only introduced in French colonies like Senegal (Dakar, Goree, Saint-Louis and Rofisque).


      1. The policy of assimilation was one of the French ideologies to impose French cultures on the people of their colonies. In other words, it can be said to be “the idea of expanding French culture to the colonies outside France that is to ‘civilize’ Africans”.


  7. Qn: how did indirect rule became a direct rule in southern Nigeria?


    To what extent was indirect rule a direct rule in southern Nigeria?


  8. They helped the British formulate and implement policies, and also presented them (British) acceptable to their people even though it was against the wills of some the traditional rulers. Check other roles in the post. Thanks for your visit, Emmanuel. Kindly do check back.


  9. Indirect rule was successful in Northern Nigeria, partially successful in Western Nigeria and not successful (failed) in Eastern Nigeria. Read the post for more explanation. Thanks for your visit, Dumnoi Mary. kindly do check back.


  10. Explain the adverse effect of the early nationalist agitation in Africa taking Nigeria as a case study with reference to jaja of opobo and Nana of itsekiri


  11. Thank you for this post. Pls I have a question I have been arguing with my friends, the question is: before the coming of the British, which of the three regions of Nigeria has best organized form of governance.


  12. wow, I really love this post and how questions are being answered here.
    we were asked to briefly read on indirect rule in Northern Nigeria and this post has given me enough insight..thanks all my Niger brothers


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