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lesson Note
Subject: Government
Topic: Indirect Rule.
Lesson Objectives: by the end of the Lesson, the learners should be able to:

  1. Say the meaning of indirect Rule;
  2. Discuss the success and failure of indircet rule in Northern, Eastern and Western part of Nigera;
  3. State the merits and demerits of Indirect rule.

Lesson Summary / Discussion

Indirect Rule
Indirect rule is a system of government adopted by the British Colonialists by which the colonial territories were ruled through their traditional chiefs with the supervision of British colonial officials. Indirect rule was first introduced in northern Nigeria by Fredrick Lord Lugard in 1906. He was the Commissioner of the protectorate of northern Nigeria and the first Governor-General of Nigeria Indirect rule was later introduced in the southern part of Nigeria after the amalgamation of the southern and Northern protectorates in 1914. In implementation, indirect rule was a huge success in Northern Nigeria,
partial success in Western Nigera and a failure in the eastern part of Nigeria.

Reasons for the Introduction of Indirect Rule
1. Shortage of personnel: There was acute shortage of trained European
personnel to help in running the administration of vast area which they had conquered. The shortage of personnel was aggravated by high mortality rate caused by the tropical climate and diseases which adversely affected the Europeans. The Europeans in the case of this shortage was compelled to use traditional rulers.

2. Lack of funds: The funds at the disposal of Lord Lugard in particular were too meagre to finance large Scale direct administration, hence he embarked on indirect system of administration.
3. The system of administration on the ground: In northern Nigeria, for
instance, the traditional political set-up was well established and could be described as self-sustaining. There was a means of taxation and the people respected their local rulers (emirs). The British had no option but to resort the use of this traditional system.

4. Language problem: To facilitate easy communication with the people, the British decided to make use of raditional rulers.

5. Absence of transport and communication syslems: The Brntish officials could not control the day-to-day running of the areas because there were no roads, railways and regular postal systems. Hence, the use of traditional rulers became a child of necessity.
6. Success recorded in other parts of Africa and the world: Lord Lugard had introduced indirect rule in other places such as India and parts of East Africa. The success of its implementation in those parts of the world motivated him to introduce it in Nigeria.
7. Cost effectiveness: The system of indirect rule was less expensive to operate. Since the colonizers were not ready to spend recklessly on administration, indirect rule became the best alternative.
8. Lack of adequate knowledge of the area: The British were not familiar with the geographical, social and cultural terrain of the conquered territories. The phobia made them adopt indirect rule system.

Indirect rule was first introduced by Sir Fredrick Lord Lugard in 1906
when he was the High Commissioner of the territory from 1900-1912. It was
successful in northern Nigeria and the success could be attributed to the
following factors:

I. Centralized Administration: The Hausa/Fulani had a well centralized system of administration in the form of emirate system which made the subjects submissive to the emirs. This provided a good political landscape for indirect rule to succeed.

2. Organized system of taxation: The centralized administration was also supported by good taxation system which facilitated the generation of fund for the implementation of indircet rule.
3. The powerful nature of emirs: The emirs in northern part of Nigeria were very powerful during the pre-colonial period and enjoyed unlimited influences. The emirs then had it easy to influence and convince their subjects of the relevance of indirect rule.
4. Religion: Islam was a religion that dominated Northern Nigeria. It united the people of the region as they accepted the introduction of indirect rule through their emirs.

5. Low level of education: When indirect rule was introduced in northern Nigeria, most of the people were not well educated to question the rationale behind the system and this made them to accept the system without reservation.
6. Preservation of people’s Culture and tradition: The fact that the system of indirect rule did not alter the existing custom and tradition of the people, made the system to be successful.
7. Military threat: Military threat was used to silence any opposition to white domination. This made many emirs surrender themselves to superior white power. Thus, they became effective human resource that enhanced the success of indirect rule in Northern Nigeria.

After the amalgamation of northern and southern Nigeria in 1914, Lord
Lugard proceeded to introduce the system of indircet rule to other parts of the country. He thought what was good for the goose is also good for the gander. In Western Nigeria, the system of indirect rule was a partial success. It was partially successful due to the following factors:
1. Non possession of autocratic powers by the Obas: These traditional rulers did not possess autocratic powers as the emirs in the north. There were checks and balances. When indirect rule was introduced, the Obas did not
find it easy to implement it.

2. The level of literacy: There were many people who were educated in the western Nigeria. The education stuff placed the elites on a platform to questioned and even rejected the adoption of indirect rule in the region with the protectorate government in 1914 was regarded as a violation of the earlier treaty. This action made most westerners to hate indirect rule with passion.

3. Non-inclusion of the educated elite: The educated elite were eliminated from the mainstream of indirect rule as traditional rulers were dominantly used.
This angered the elite as they withdrew their support of the system thereby resulting in its partial success. Unlike the Northern part of Nigeria. indirect rule was a partial success in the western part of Nigeria.


In the eastern part of Nigeria, the system of indirect rule was a failure.
The factors that contributed to the failure are discussed below:
1. Absence of traditional rulers: The system of indirect rule was designed to make use of traditional rulers to govern their people. The absence of
recognized traditional rulers made it difficult for the system to be practised.
2. Appointment of warrant chiefs: In an attempt to achieve the goal of
Successful implementation of indirect rule, the Europeans appointed
“warrant chiefs” but such appointment met stiff opposition from the subject and it was such decision along with other factors that led to Aba women Riot of 1929.

3. Decentralized administration: The lgbo society in the pre-colonial era was administered as a republic. Since there was no central decision-making body, there was no well organized administrative channel for the adoption of indirect rule. This contributed significantly to the failure of the system.
4. Absence of organized system of collecting taxes: In lgbo pre-colonial
society, people were not used to paying taxes like the Hausa/Fulanis. There was difficulty in generating fund for the execution of indirect rule and this led to the failure of the system.
of indircet rule.

5. Education: The lgbos were highly educated even when the system of indirect rule was introduced. The educated elite led others in the protest against such strange system of administration.
6. Alteration of lgbo customs and traditions: The execution of indirect rule to all intents and purposes negated the culture and tradition of the people. The system of administration was alienated and this made many people dissociated from it.
7. Lack of regard for the educated elite: The educated elite were sidelined in the execution of indirect rule. In the appointment of warrant chiefs, there

were also left out. The elite rejected and criticized the system of indirect
8. Aba Women Riot of l929: The Aba women riot of 1929 was the last straw
that broke the indirect rule camel’s
appointment of warrant chiefs which were hitherto alien to the people along with other factors led to the outbreak of riot in the famous city of Aba in 1929. The riot contributed immensely to the collapse and failure of indirect rule in the colonial eastern Nigeria.

Causes of Aba Women Riot of 1929
I. Imposition of tax: The direct form of taxation was imposed on men in 1928 when there was economic recession and general hardship. This made many families to react negatively to the imposition through violence.
2. Speculation of women taxation: It was widely speculated that women would be asked to pay tax like their male counterparts. The speculation was due to census exercise conducted by the Europeans through the traditional rulers.
The women therefore reacted violently to frustrate the intention of the Europeans.
3. Lack of cheeks and balances: The appointed “warrant chiefs” had unlimited powers as there was no means for the people to check the excesses of the appointed chiets.The riot was a demonstration of dissatistaction with the system and the appointed chiets and Europeans.
4. Competition in trading activities: The major occupation of the easterners was trading and as such the Europeans who also came with the mission of trading goods went into cut-throat competition that nearly terminated the source of livelihood of the easterners and women in particular. This intense struggle
resulted in violent protests and riot.
5. Trade depression: There was world trade depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s which resulted in the fall of the prices of goods especially palm oil which was one of the major commodities for transaction in the lgbo society. The depression brought untold hardship on the people. The unbearable hardship was blamed on the Europeans and their pattern of

Merits of Indirect Rule
1. Indirect rule helped to groom traditional rulers in the art of modern politics and administration.

2. The system of indircct rule paved way for the evelopment of some parts of the colony. Such development include; construction of roads, railways and houses.

3. The system brought the Europeans close to their subjects through the
traditional rulers.

4. Indirect rule ensured smooth administration as comirontations and revolts were reduced to the barest minimum.
5. The system was cost-effective as it helped the colonizers to spend less

6. The system of indirect rule preserved the customs and traditions of the people hence the people could still be proud of their culture after

7. Indirect rule brought civilization and abolition of evil practices such as
infanticide and human sacrifice.
8. The system of indirect rule prepared ground for development of political activities.

Demerits of Indirect Rule
1. Indirect rule was tailored to ultimately achieve the exploitative interests of the colonizers against the interest of Africans.

2. The system sidelined the educated elite who were also part of the society.

3. The traditional rulers became autocratic as the system did not provide any means for the subjects to check abuse of power by those chiefs.
4. The system generated pockets of violence that led to loss of lives and
property. The Isenyin riot of 1916, Abeokuta riot of 1918 and Aba women riot of 1929 were examples.

5. The traditional rulers lost their autonomy and were reduced to stooges and puppets in the hands of the colonizers.
6. Indirect rule led to alteration of people’s culture and tradition especially when it was not compatible with British interest.
7. The system failed to raise leaders that could have taken over from the
8. Military threats were used to silence opposing traditional rulers and groups.
9. Indirect rule was unafrican and therefore alien to the entire people.

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Take a quick test for this lesson!

  1. What is indirect Rule?
  2. Discuss the success and failure of indircet rule in Northern, Eastern and Western part of Nigera.
  3. What are the merits and demerits of Indirect rule?

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