The question of how Nigeria became an independent country, which in recent times has been regarded as the “Giant of Africa,” is a long walk, as it has transformed from being a centre for slave trade to becoming a conglomerate of many ethnic groups, which birthed 36 states from six geo-political regions.
Many Nigerians are only exposed to the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates but are unaware of how the country evolved into a British Colony, as well as how it became an asset for colonialists, sold at a discounted amount of £865K.
In this piece, Naijabiography not only narrates the untold story behind the independence of Nigeria but also examines how Nigeria was auctioned for sale in the early 19th century by traditional rulers.
The traditional slave trade in Southern Nigeria preceded the arrival of European influence. European slave trading began in west Africa before 1650, with people taken at the rate of 3,000 per year by the Europeans. At first, the trade centered around West Central Africa, now the Congo.
However, the Slave Coast, also known as the Bight of Benin, rose to become the second-most significant hub in the 1700s. The two main ports on the oast were Ouidah (which is now a part of Benin) and Lagos. Between 1783 – 1792, about 76,000 people are taken from Africa each year. From 1790 to 1807, primarily British slave traders purchased 1,000–2,000 slaves each year in Lagos alone.
With the arrival of the transatlantic slave trade (The Atlantic slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, or Euro-American slave trade is the transporting of enslaved African peoples to the Americas by slave traders), traditional slave traders in southeastern Nigeria became suppliers of slaves to European slave traders. In 1807 the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the Slave Trade Act, forbidding British subjects from participating in the Atlantic slave trade. Britain gradually lobbied other European authorities to stop the slave trade too.
It signed anti-slavery treaties with West African nations, which it then militarily enforced through an African blockade. Some of the treaties stipulated restrictions on diplomacy carried out without British permission or other commitments to uphold British rule. This situation allowed for naval expeditions and reconnaissance operations throughout the region. Although many smuggling of slaves to the Americas continued for years afterward.
Oba Kosoko and Oba Akitoye
British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston abhorred slavery, in 1851 he took advantage of divisions in native politics, the presence of Christian missionaries, and the maneuvers of British consul John Beecroft to encourage the overthrow of the regime.
Before the intervention of the British, Oba Oluwole (King of Lagos) was killed in 1841 and Prince Kosoko was to become the new Oba but they couldn’t find him. His uncle, prince Akitoye was installed as the new oba of Lagos which was supported by The influential dealer and slave trader Madam Tinubu, who had previously been married to Adele. Kosoko Returned to Lagos and a war of words occurred between Oba Akitoye and Prince Kosoko. Kosoko sent his crier around Lagos singing “Tell that little child at court yonder to be careful; for if he is not careful he will be punished“. Akitoye, in turn, deployed his crier singing “I am like a pin firmly driven into the ground, which is always hard to root out but ever remains firm”. Kosoko retorted “I am the digger who always roots out a pin“.
The Kosoko faction’s Ogun Olomiro (Salt Water War) insurrection occurred in July 1845 as a result of the tensions. Eventually, Akitoye conceded defeat, made his way northward through the lagoon, and was given safe passage across the Agboyi Creek by Oshodi Tapa, the war captain of Kosoko.
The deposed king, Oba Akitoye seek for the help of Britain in restoring to the throne as king of Lagos. In 1851, British consul John Beecroft decided to help him on condition that the slave trade will be abolished and British merchants have a monopoly in commodities which he agreed with. On November 1851, The Royal Navy bombarded Lagos (or Reduction of Lagos,) and deposed the pro-slavery Oba Kosoko, enthroned Oba Akitoye. He signed the Great Britain-Lagos treaty that made slavery illegal in Lagos on January 1, 1852. Lagos was annexed as a Crown Colony in August 1861 via the Lagos Treaty of Cession.
By 1870, Oil had replaced slaves as the main export of the Niger Delta, the area which was once known as the Slave Coast. In 1879, George Taubman Goldie established the United African Company (UAC), which was modeled on the former East India Company. He began amalgamating companies into the United African Company. 30 trading stations were operated by his company throughout Lower Niger. In the 1884 Berlin Conference, (also known as the Congo Conference or West Africa Conference, which was a conference to regulate European colonisation and trade in Africa), the monopoly gave the British a strong hand against the French and Germans.
Britain was the first industrialized country in the world, they needed resources like oil to maintain that. In 1884, after the berlin conference, the British Consulate General was moved from Fernando Po to Calabar after Britain declared the creation of the Oil Rivers Protectorate, which included the Niger Delta. It was expanded to cover the region from Calabar to Lagos Colony and Protectorate, including the hinterland, and northward up the Niger River as far as Lokoja, the headquarters of the Royal Niger Company and it was changed from Oil Rivers Protectorate to Niger Coast Protectorate.
The company name was changed from United African Company (UAC) to The National Africa Company and was granted a royal charter (incorporated) by 1886. The name was later renamed to Royal Niger company (known as Unilever today) with its headquarters far inland at Lokoja, It served as the company’s primary trading port and from where it started to take over administration of the regions along the Niger and Benue rivers where it had depots. It eventually achieved a virtual monopoly over trade along the River.
To local chiefs, the Royal Niger Company negotiators had pledged free trade in the region. On their conditions, they engaged in private agreements. The British government upheld the (deceitful) private contracts since they were usually written in English and were signed by the local leaders (they cannot read). Read the agreement
We, the undersigned King and Chiefs […] with the view to the bettering of the condition of our country and people, do this day cede to the National Africa Company (Limited), their heirs and assigns, forever, the whole of our territory […] We also give the said National African Company (Limited) full power to settle all native disputes arising from any cause whatever, and we pledge ourselves not to enter into any war with other tribes without the sanction of the said National Africa Company (Limited).
We also understand that the said National African Company (limited) has full power to mine, farm, and build in any portion of our territory. We bind ourselves not to have any intercourse with any strangers or foreigners except through the said national African Company (Limited), and we give the said National African Company (Limited) full power to exclude all other strangers and foreigners from their territory at their discretion.
In consideration of the foregoing, the said National African Company (Limited) bind themselves not to interfere with any of the native laws or customs of the country, consistently with the maintenance of order and good government … [and] agree to pay native owners of land a reasonable amount for any portion they may require.
The said National African Company (Limited) bind themselves to protect the said King and Chiefs from the attacks of any neighbouring tribes (Ibid.)
With this unknowing agreement, the British have power over them. Jaja of Opobo, who is a chief unsuccessfully attempted to export oil on his own and was exiled for “obstructing commerce.” As a side note, Jaja was “forgiven” in 1891 and permitted to return home, but he passed away on the journey because of tea poisoning.
When other native rulers see what happened to Jaja, they began to be suspicious of a problem coming. They started looking closely at the contact between them and the Royal Nigeria Company. King Koko Mingi VIII (also known as King Koko) of Nembe became a king in 1889 after being a Christian schoolteacher. He and other rules faced the Royal Nigeria Company’s trespasses. King Koko despised the Royal Nigeria Company’s monopoly and made an effort to negotiate favorable business agreements, particularly with the Germans in Kamerun (Cameroon).
The Royal Nigeria Company saw the attempt and started dictating whom the natives should be trading with and refused them direct access to their former markets. At the end of 1895, King Koko who was a former Christian schoolteacher renounced Christianity and attempted to take back the trade by joining forces with Bonny and Okpoma against the Royal Nigeria Company. Okpoma joined Koko but Bonny refused to show interest. a sign of the effective “divide and rule” strategy.
King Koko led an invasion on the Royal Niger Company’s headquarters, which were located at Akassa in what is now Bayelsa state, on January 29, 1895. Over a thousand troops took part in the dawn raid. King Koko’s attack was successful in taking the base. King Koko lost 40 of his soldiers while capturing 60 white men as hostages, along with plenty of supplies, ammo, and a Maxim rifle. Then Koko tried to bargain for the release of the hostages in exchange for the right to select his trading partners. They refused.
Koko ordered the murder of forty of the prisoners since the British refused to negotiate with him. According to a British source, the Nembe people ate them (found to be a lie). Brass was attacked by the British Royal Navy on February 20 and completely burned, under the command of Admiral Bedford. People of Nembe died and smallpox killed a lot of others.
How Nigeria Was Sold to the British
In April 1895, Business was back to “normal,” with the British-desired conditions, and King Koko was on the run. The British imposed a £500 punishment on Brass, £62,494 (30, 000,000) in today’s money, and the plundered weapons and alive prisoners were restored. King Koko was presented with offers of settlement by the British when a British Parliamentary Commission met; however, he refused them and disappeared. He was immediately branded an outlaw by the British, who also offered a reward of £200 (£26,000; NGN12 million in today’s money) for his capture. In exile, he committed suicide in 1898.
The Oba of Benin, another “recalcitrant King,” was driven from power at that time. The Lower Niger was beginning to be pacified in earnest. The Royal Nigeria Company’s charter was revoked in 1899 as a result of the immediate impact of the Brass Oil War, which saw a change in British public sentiment against the company. The Royal Niger Company transferred its assets to the British government for £865,000 (equivalent to £108 million today) after having its charter revoked. In actuality, Britain paid that sum, £46,407,250 (NGN 22,901,142, at the current exchange rate), to purchase the region that is now known as Nigeria. 22, 918, 438, 197.08.
Queen Elizabeth Reign: The independence of 1960
She was crowned queen on June 2, 1953. Under Queen Elizabeth’s reign, as the sovereign ruler of the United Kingdom, the queen handed sovereignty to ten African countries across the sub-regions of the continent including Ghana, Nigeria, and others.
The Federation of Nigeria was established by the British Empire on October 1, 1954, but it remained a quasi-federal British colony until it became independent as a member of the Commonwealth of Nations on October 1, 1960.
Princess Alexandra of Kent represented the Queen at the independence celebrations. She flew to Lagos on 26 September 1960 and was welcomed in Nigeria by a crowd of tens of thousands of people
On the 26th of September, 1960, Princess Alexandra of Kent came to Lagos, Nigeria to represent Queen Elizabeth and was welcomed in Nigeria by over tens of thousands of people. Queen Elizabeth sent a letter, that said:
My husband and I return the happiest of memories of our visit to Nigeria, and our thoughts are with you on this memorable day. As you assume the heavy responsibility of independence, I send my good wish for a great and noble future. It is with special pleasure that I welcome you to our Commonwealth family of Nations. … May God bless and guide your country through the years to come.
Nigeria’s independence was pronounced by the Parliament of the United Kingdom’s Nigeria Independence Act 1960. By this virtue, Nigeria was one of the realms of the Commonwealth that shared the same person as Sovereign and Head of State.
As prescribed in the Nigeria Independence Act 1960, no British government minister could advise the sovereign on any matters pertaining to Nigeria, meaning that on all matters of Nigeria, the monarch was advised solely by Nigerian ministers.
Nigeria got her independence when the Queen was age 34, She appointed Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, as President of the Nigerian senate and Governor-General and the latter represented Her Majesty in the Federation following the advice from the then prime minister, Tafawa-Balewa.
All Nigerian bills required Royal assent which would be sought by the Governor-General. The monarch, the Senate, and the House of Representatives constituted the Parliament of Nigeria but all executive powers of Nigeria rested with the sovereign.
The monarch held her sovereignty in virtue of her “Nigerian Crown“, and acted on the advice of the Nigerian Government, and she was named Queen of Nigeria until the country became a republic in 1963.
From the above story, there is no gainsaying that Nigeria’s walk to freedom is like the journey of a sojourner who has trekked a thousand miles, only to be unrecognized for his efforts. Thus, after many attempts to redeem itself and be an independent nation, to date, Nigeria still perceives itself as a slave to westernization.
However, the question that should pop into the minds of every Nigerian is “are they truly free from the shackles of imperialism and slavery?”
Furthermore, the essence of telling Nigeria’s untold story is to remind its citizens of the need to withdraw themselves from the illusion of freedom of 1960 to date and focus on rehabilitation to claim true independence.