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A Century In The Development Of Nigeria History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The period 1860 – 1960 was crucial in Nigeria’s economic development. In order to examine the major changes Nigeria experienced throughout these years one must identify the factors that gave rise to these changes, and in Nigeria they were related largely to British expansionism and colonialism. An analysis of the causes and consequences of developments that occurred is also key. The century chosen is particularly relevant to Nigeria’s development as the British administration in Nigeria formally began in 1861, when Lagos became a crown colony, a step taken in response to factors such as the now-illegal activities of slave traders, the disruption of trade by the Yoruba civil wars, and fears that the French would take over Lagos. Through a series of steps designed to facilitate trade, by 1906 present-day Nigeria was under British control, and it gained its independence on the 1st October 1960. The British came to Africa in order to ensure an efficient and unchallenged exploitation of Nigeria’s resources in order to benefit the British Finance industry. And in order to achieve those goals the British employed colonial policies.

The pre-colonial period in Nigeria (pre 1860) consisted of the slave trade which wasn’t abolished until 1834. This period of contact with Europeans prior to colonialism contributed elements to the underdevelopment of the area. The slave trade took a deadly toll on the Nigerian capacity for a rapid economic transformation and development. The regular slave raids disrupted production in parts of Nigeria, particularly on the coast, and the resulting depopulation disrupted production relations and crippled the domestic labour force. This led to a huge loss of potential surplus, and therefore partially stagmented development in Nigeria in the early 19th Century. Okwudiba Nnoli best sums up the effects of the slave trade in his book ‘Path to Nigerian Development’ (1981, P.95), the slave trade “diverted attention away from local creative potentials and resources by focussing on the procurement of slaves or the production of primary resources needed by Europeans. More particularly, the slave trade caused the loss of many able bodied men from the local economies, with a consequent lowering of economic activities and potential.” Therefore Britain had a tall order in developing Nigeria economically from 1860 and bringing it up to speed with the industrialising nations of Europe. Some believe Britain had little interest in developing Nigeria but rather intended to simply exploit her for the benefit of the Empire (Nnoli 1981). Others hold a different opinion in believing that material progress was especially pronounced and extensive in Nigeria (Peter Duignan, L. H. Gann, 1975). However economic progress during the colonial period differed from region to region like with, say, parts of Southern Nigeria compared with the Tiv in the North. The economic experience of many and varied societies in colonial Nigeria ranged from comparatively little change to large scale transformations of conditions.

The slave trade was a source for underdevelopment in Nigeria in the pre-colonial and early colonial periods. The British colonial administration of Nigeria had to develop the nation in order to extract the maximum surplus out of her exploitation. Therefore the first steps taken were to stamp out slavery, establish ‘legitimate trade’, introduce technology and develop exports. In examining the extent to which Nigeria developed in the colonial period, one must explore the causes of its development. These mainly centre around the dominant motives and mechanisms of British colonialism on specific sectors of the economy. “Colonies such as Nigeria became part of British imperial expansion that focused on exploiting raw materials, minerals, and foodstuffs important to Western industrial development. Britain tried to encourage tropical export crops in Nigeria and to stimulate demand there for British manufactured goods.” (http://countrystudies.us/nigeria/53.htm, Source: U.S. Library of Congress) Indeed the extraction of raw materials was at the heart of British motivation for colonisation and expansion in Nigeria. This was because Nigeria was so rich in resources such as cotton, which Britain needed for its textile factories, and rubber, palm oil, kernel, hides and skins, timber, tin and coal. The mechanisms of colonialism used by the British included military conquest and political coercion through a British dominance of the colonial state apparatus. This political power was utilised to create a situation of unequal trade.

Firstly, Nigeria’s economic surplus was centralized through the imposition and collection of taxes, and the “canalization of agricultural surplus into Marketing Board surpluses, the control of banking through the West African Currency Board, the monopoly of commercial banking and appropriation of profits by British enterprises such as the United African Company” (Nnoli 1981, p. 81). The British attempted to integrate the economy of Nigeria with that of Britain. Therefore Nigeria’s import-export trade was completely monopolized. Nigerian products were exported at British prices, and primarily sold to British subjects. Furthermore, Nigeria’s imports were British produced and sold at prices determined by the British. This exploitative system of trade was devastating on development, and created a huge need for cheap primary products. Nigerian agriculture then lost any internal stimulus for development. This was because the opening of Nigerian agriculture to the imperialist market insured stagnation as unequal trade meant produce was exported cheaply and thus little money could be made by the productive classes. Therefore the physical and social base of this colonial economy developed into becoming fragile and export orientated, and one could argue that this form of trade contributed more to the underdevelopment of Nigeria.

Another key economic development in colonial Nigeria was the impact that was made on the production system. It was altered to become dominated by foreign private capital, and therefore this new colonial system of production served the needs of this external capital rather than those of the local population. Productive ventures were altered to serve the interest of the colonialists that dominated the economy, and the local population lost control of its production process. “Export crop production, mining minerals for export and the importation of manufactured goods from Europe predominated.” (Nnoli, 1981, p. 98) The colonial period saw a huge amount of development in agricultural industry, and the British colonial government worked hard to ensure the survival and efficiency of other sectors. For example, the tin mining industry was close to collapse until the extension of railways to tin mining areas ensured its survival. The palm oil industry was also developed extensively with palm oil research stations being built in Benin and Onitsha in 1939. Between 1866 and 1945 palm oil and groundnut oil was vital to Europe’s industry due to the manufacture of items like soap and candles. Other agricultural products were promoted by the colonial government such as groundnuts, rice and citrus fruits. However, the colonialists system of production was primarily developed to benefit Britain and her Empire, and not the local population, through the rewards of cheap export material. An example is that efforts with rice and citrus production were abandoned in the late 19th Century because only local needs were served. Nigeria’s economy became reliant on its colonial rulers as its production system took shape as subservient and export orientated. Therefore, when Nigeria was connected to the world market it had adverse effects on productivity as the nation had not developed the internal capacity to deal with the fluctuations of external market conditions. (Nnoli, 1981) This meant she became a weak primary producer.

Whether colonial rule promoted or stagnated development cannot be shown so conclusively, as one cannot say what would have happened without it. The colonisation of Nigeria allowed for the influx of external ideas, financial and physical capital that initiated material progress. The external contact of the British opened up large markets for local products. “By improving communications and increasing public security they were instrumental not only in linking Africa to the outside world, but also in establishing links within Africa.” (Peter Duignan, L. H. Gann, 1975, p.637) Arguably the most positive economic development that took place in colonial Nigeria was the construction of an extensive rail network between the 1890s and World War II, and increasingly more roads after the 1930s. It allowed peasants to deliver their crops far more efficiently to the global market, rather than being restricted to transporting marketable surpluses via small river canoes or human porterage. “Perhaps the greatest stimulus to export production arose from strategic government investments in infrastructure.” (James M. Cypher, James L. Dietz, 1997, p.210) The new colonial system of production was made more efficient through the construction of modern infrastructure. A railway system was constructed from the South-East and South-West coasts to the major colonial economic centres in 1911, allowing easy export of products, the transport of goods and services and better communications. Furthermore, telegraph and postal services were added to this expanding web of infrastructure. These developments, along with the introduction of the pound sterling as the universal medium of exchange, encouraged export trade in tin, cotton, cocoa, groundnuts, and palm oil. Britain maintained its economic hegemony over the colonies through military power, strategic alliances, and the collaboration of indigenous rulers.

The establishment of an efficient transport system was vital in Nigeria’s economic development. A further development in this period saw indigenous currencies being replaced by new coins and paper money. Through the paying of tax and the purchasing of imports the market expanded, and the use of new currencies and banking facilities gained an increasing popularity. “Agriclulture was commercialized, as crops and rural areas were connected to the international economy” (Falola, 2004). The new economic developments that emerged during the colonial period stayed concrete for most of the 20th Century. Nigeria was integrated into an international system, as colonial rule altered traditional economies to create what can be called a ‘new economy’ based on the production of cash crops and dependence on external markets. From the turn of the 20th Century the Nigerian economy was adapted to meet the demands of export-import trade. Nigeria was connected to the International system as a supplier of raw materials and a market for finished products. One can argue that without colonisation Nigeria would not have advanced quickly enough to become an important player in world trade. The resultant development of the indigenous economy enhanced the Nigerian participation in International Trade and the consumption of imported items. A massive expansion in Nigeria’s economic production took place. Agriculture brought the largest share of revenues, and in the first half of the 20th Century, “the export of palm oil increased fourfold, that of palm kernels from 85,000 tons in 1900 to over 400,000 tons in 1950, and the combined value of palm produce exports increased from £1.3 million in 1900 to £28.7 million by 1950. By 1960, the country had realized £40 million in sales.” (Falola, 2004, p.71/72) The success of agriculture within the colonial economy was a result of the existence of millions of farmers, the reasonable prices offered to producers and the need for workers to earn money in order to pay tax. Agriculture by the end of the colonial period was certainly the bedrock of the economy. We have discussed areas of industry but the majority of the population survived within the agricultural sector. “The value of agricultural exports rose from £78.6 million in 1950 to £139.4 million in 1959.” (Falola, 2004, p. 86) The colonial period saw notable increases in agricultural production output and similarly with mining.

Another economic development that was vital to the British colonial occupiers was the organised taxation of the Nigerian people. Taxation was regarded as an important strategy as it essentially forced people into work so that they could finance themselves as well as help fund the economy and make the British more pronounced as rulers in Nigeria. Frederick Lugard, who assumed the position of high commissioner of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria in 1900, linked taxation to the stimulation of industry and productivity (Falola, 2004). He said that, “there is no civilised State in the world where direct taxation has not been found to be a necessity, and African communities which aspire to be regarded as civilised must share the common burden of civilisation”. What Lugard believed is partially true. The taxation that people would pay to the government provided the funding for the construction of a modern infrastructure, schools, hospitals and a judiciary system etc, many of which still exist to the present day. Economic development could not have advanced without the collection of some form of revenue. However, it is debatable whether the revenue collected form Nigerian tax was actually spent for the benefit of the people. Money simply was funnelled into creating a more efficient production system from which the Nigerian people did not really benefit as excess capital was siphoned abroad and there was still a heavy reliance on imports.

In conclusion, the foundations of modern economic life were laid during the colonial period: Public security and law and order, wheeled traffic, mechanized transport, railways, roads and large man made ports; modern forms of money instead of barter or commodity money, such as bars of iron, bottles of gin or cowrie shells, the application of science and technology to agriculture, water control, forestry and mining, modern commerce, towns with substantial buildings, water and sewerage, hospitals, public health measures and the control of endemic or epidemic diseases, formal education and the idea of material progress. British colonial policy determined positive economic results and development to a certain extent. However, “The West African situation left the indigenous population dependant on foreign manufactured goods, since colonial rule had precluded industrialization.” (Cypher, 1997) Indeed Britain helped develop Nigeria economically and this can be illustrated by the increase in production for export that occurred, but Nigeria also became heavily reliant on the importing of European materials. The colonial period saw the improvement of Nigeria’s agriculture and mining industry but as her manufacturing industry was barely developed Nigeria was reliant on importing European goods. This meant fluctuations in the world market left the economy vulnerable to damages. The most notable developments throughout this period were the creation of an efficient infrastructure and the adoption of a production system that increased produce for export hugely, for example with palm oil. Much of the colonial legacy lasts today and I am in no doubt that the century of colonial rule in Nigeria did benefit her to a considerable extent. In terms of modernization, the economic development that took place certainly advanced Nigeria’s position on the world stage. She became a major exporter of important raw materials and food stuffs. However, much recent research into this field reveals that colonial rule may have contributed more to the economic underdevelopment of Nigeria as she became totally reliant on the colonial administrators and on importing European manufactured goods. Nigeria emerged as a nation-state by 1960 and after the economic strife that followed World War II for Britain, a rapid economic development of Nigeria was not in their interests. The beginning of this period saw Nigeria’s economy devastated by the slave trade, and then her people further exploited through the British colonial introduction of unfair trade. However by the 1930s Nigeria was a major world exporter of vital raw materials and had an infrastructure allowing for efficient communication and transport of goods and services. Indeed Nigeria did develop economically over this period but the colonial administrators exploited the Nigerian people terribly as well. The occupation of Nigeria first and foremost benefitted the Empire. However, the process of getting Nigeria into a position where she could produce positive results in terms of agriculture, mining and industrial output meant that there was huge economic development over time, although the Nigerian people did not benefit nearly enough from this development.


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