British Colonial Policy


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In today’s class, we will be talking about the British colonial policy. Enjoy the class!

British Colonial Policy

British Colonial Policy |


  • Meaning and Reasons
  • Indirect Rule System in Nigeria-North West and East
  • Merits and Demerits of Indirect rule.

An indirect rule may be defined as a British system of ruling her colonies with the use of local chiefs and other intermediaries and traditional laws and customs with British officials merely supervising the administration. Indirect rule was first introduced in Nigeria by Sir, Lord Frederick Luggard who described the system as a child of necessity. Lord Luggard is also referred to as the ‘father of indirect rule’.


  1. An indirect rule used the existing traditional system of administration.
  2. It recognized the status of traditional rulers.
  3. Traditional laws and customs were used in the administration.
  4. It was supervised by British officials.
  5. It was not an expensive system of administration.
  6. Taxes were collected.
  7. Native courts were used for the administration of justice.
  8. Native police and prisons were utilized in the system.


  1. Lack of personnel: Few Europeans were prepared to come to West Africa which was described as a white man’s grave due to the poor climate and presence of deadly insects and tsetse flies.
  2. Inadequate Fund: Britain’s reluctance to involve heavily in the financing of her colonies forced Luggard to adopt the system.
  3. In countries like Indian and Uganda, the system worked effectively. Luggard felt it could work in Nigeria.
  4. It was economically cheap as Britain as Britain was saved the huge cost of maintaining officials in Nigeria.
  5. To preserve existing traditions and customs.
  6. Due to the vast areas involved.
  7. Language difficulty.
  8. Poor transportation and communication.


Northern Nigeria at this point was made up of the centralized Sokoto caliphate and Borno Empire in addition to smaller pagan areas.

  1. The system preserved their existing culture.
  2. Centralization of power: Most of the Emirs were authoritarian as nobody challenged their authority.
  3. Illiteracy: Most of them were illiterates and this explained why they could not challenge the imposition of the foreign culture.
  4. Religion: They believe that their rulers are divinely sent and so obedience to rulers is necessary as true believers.
  5. Taxation system: They already practised tax payment before colonial administration. The system was only improved
  6. The British officials promoted the position of traditional rulers.


The Obas were used in Western Nigeria. The system did not prove 100 percent successful but it was a partial success.

  1. The Limited Powers of Obas: The Obas unlike the emirs had limited powers and did not command total respect like the emirs in Northern Nigeria.
  2. Education: The majority of the Yoruba’s were highly educated and that put them in the position to question indirect rule. They kicked against the system because there was no morality in colonialism.
  3. Religion: Majority of the Yorubas were Christians and Christianity is not as conservative as Islam. They questioned the reasons for the introduction of the indirect rule system.
  4. Absence of Highly Centralized Administration: The Yorubas did not have a centralized system of administration like the Hausas. This caused the partial success of the indirect rule.
  5. Boycott by Educated Elite: The educated elites in the Western region rejected the system because they were not allowed to participate in the administration. This got them angry as they were not valued.
  6. Restoring Authority in the Alaafin of Oyo: Lord Luggard tried to restore authority in Yoruba land to the Alafin of Oyo instead of the Ooni of Ife, and this led to his failure. The Yoruba’s believed that IIe-Ife was their ancestral home and the Ooni was their head.
  7. The imposition of Tax: A new system of taxation that was introduced sparked off riots in every part of Yoruba land like Abeokuta, Ikire, Iseyin, etc.


The indirect rule system succeeded in the north met partial success in the west and failed completely in eastern Nigeria. This was because the easterners never developed monarchies and the people appointed by Luggard as warrant chiefs were rejected. Also, the system of taxation in an effort to raise funds to sustain the indirect rule led to a series of disturbances like the famous Aba women riot of 1929.

  1. Absence of Traditional Rulers: The Igbos never developed a monarchical system. The absence of chiefs made the system impracticable as the people they imposed were rejected by the people.
  2. Appointment of Warrant Chiefs: The British were forced to appoint warrant chiefs, not minding their characters and family background. They were outrightly rejected by the people and this was a cause of the 1929 Aba women’s riot.
  3. The Type of Political Administration Practiced: The Igbo political system of administration was decentralized without a central authority and decision-making body. This led to the failure of the indirect rule system.
  4. Absence of a System of Taxation: The Igbo unlike the Hausa did not pay tax and this made the system to fail woefully as there was no generation of funds. To make matter worse, the British government refused to get involved financially.
  5. Religion: the Igbos were mainly Christians and they were not conservative and submissive like the northerners. Their lack of submissiveness was caused by the absence of chiefs and their decentralized system.
  6. Education: During this period, the majority of the Igbos were educated and this put them in the position to protest against the system.
  7. Boycott of the Educated Elites: The British preferred half-educated people or illiterates as warrant chiefs. The educated ones, therefore, rejected the system.
  1. The indirect rule system was less expensive.
  2. It preserved native laws, customs and cultures.
  3. It developed political activities.
  4. It reduced the administrative cost on the part of the colonial government.
  5. It made the collection of taxes, rates and levies very easy.
  6. It trained traditional rulers in the act of government and infused in the rulers’ personal responsibility, self-reliance and probity.
  7. It helped to put a stop to some evil practices like human sacrifice and killing of twins that were before now going before the advent of the Europeans.
  1. The native rulers were puppets of the British officers. They were used for the selfish ends of the white masters.
  2. The system alienated educated elites.
  3. Most of the traditional rulers were involved in evil practices and the system could not prosecute them.
  4. There were bribery and corruption because of the poor condition of service for the native rulers.
  5. Democratic rights of the people were abused
  6. The system encouraged tribalism and sectionalism.
  7. The system was an imposition.
  1. Indirect rule was a partial success in the West; discuss.
  2. Highlight the features of indirect rule.
  3. Differentiate between written and unwritten constitution.
  4. State 5 reasons for the adoption of federalism.


In our next class, we will be talking about French Colonial Policy.  We hope you enjoyed the class.

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