Understanding The Structure of Colonial Nigeria: The Religion And Economic Power Play
A fully developed composition of colonial administration did not take a full character in what would become ‘Nigeria’ until after the 1851 Bombardment of Lagos. The principal basis for the Bombardment was to end slave trade, even though the abolishment had taken place in 1807, and British Naval blockages had taken a position on the Atlantic ocean to further stop and arrest slave ships bobbing in and out of West Africa Region. Notorious slave ports like Lagos and Sierra Leone had been on high alert. Even with these restrictions, slave traders, and slave hunters, still had a field day in Lagos, not to mention the human sacrifices.
But it was not all about slave trades and human sacrifice back in the time. Since the first white man arrived in West Africa, the need to get exotic raw materials, spices and discover the beauty that lies within the fibre of the land, has been the major aim of their mission.
Around 1472, when the Portuguese explorers sailed along the Gulf of Guinea, they came across the great Benin Empire, and what was discovered pleased them. Over the years, they returned for the gold, ivory, pepper, spices, and mostly the slaves. For the Portuguese, French, and Germans, it was trade, nothing more. Undeterred by malaria and the treacherous waterways, the lust for the fruits of the land had the explorers coming back.
After the traders came the missionaries. In 1486, King John II sent a few of his ‘Holy Advisers’ to the Oba of Benin to establish a religious relationship with the Monarch, asking him to forsake his old ways and accept Christianity as the new order. The Oba declined the offer.
Later, in 1514, King Manual of Portugal extended the arm of friendship to the Oba of Benin, but on a more tactical term. This time, it was not just about the religion but also of true friendship and service, that by the 1500s, the ancient Benin Kingdom had a diplomatic post (Embassy) in Lisbon and subsequent arrangements had the Oba of Benin send his sons and some Chiefs to Portugal to learn the new ways of the New World.
However, this was not the case for the British. On January 17th, 1845, missionaries from the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S) landed the shores of Badagry. The message they brought was that of peace, and the need to have the natives converted to Christianity in order to establish dominance. Badagry was the anchor point, and in a few years, they penetrated the hinterlands, Abeokuta and Ibadan.
Once the C.M.S had a grip of the situation on the ground, their true intent for trade, economic and political dominance was set in motion.
The essence of introducing religion was to have a good grip on the people and have them submissive to teachings and order. Once this was achieved, the economic angle was introduced and this, over the years, was followed by the establishment of a Colonial government.
10 years after the Bombardment of Lagos in 1851, Oba Docemo of Lagos was made to sign a treaty that had all the land in Lagos ceded to the British Crown. The need for that treaty was to own and control Lagos economically, and fully establish dominance over the people, their heritage, culture, and commerce.
With this done, a colonial administration was birthed and the entire land span of the country ‘Nigeria,’ under a colonial system.
Thus, the need to sustain the economic grip was more important than ever, as proceeds and funds were remitted to the British Treasury in London. Raw materials, Ivory, Gold, spices, and other produce were carted out of the country in large quantities. It was a period that saw a ‘deem fit’ system where whatever law or rule that was established was done to fit and favour the British and not the people.
At that stage, the ‘religion’ aspect had taken a back burner, and silently it was the oil that ran the colonial administration in the Colony.
A few individuals had the strength and valour to establish their domains and control the economics in that area. Once the British noticed the power these people had economically over their region, they struck and destabilised them by all means necessary.
A good example of this systematic clamp down were the cases of Nana Olomu of Itsekiri (1892), King Jaja of Opobo (1887), and the sadistic destruction of the Ancient Benin Kingdom (1897).
The introduction of Christianity no doubt had its good effect on the Colony of West Africa and Nigeria, to be precise, but it was used more as a weapon than the salvation it held in its other hand.
The silent effect and traces of colonisation can still be seen in Africa today. The looted treasures from the 1897 Invasion of Benin are still locked up in the British Museum, the British Treasury, and other public and private museums all around the world. The Amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorate to form a country called ‘Nigeria’ was done basically to further facilitate trade in the Colony, causing a staggering foundation for a country that they had little time to understand.