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The Romance of the Black River
The Story of the C.M.S. Nigeria Mission

By F. Deaville Walker

London: Church Missionary Society, 1930.

Chapter XVI. Nigeria in Transition

THE "scramble for Africa" in the 'eighties and 'nineties may in some ways have been an unseemly business; but in its results it has been more than justified, for it has worked out for the redemption of West Africa. The whole of that vast stretch of country from the Gambia to beyond the Cameroons (with the solitary exception of the Black Republic of Liberia), a distance of more than 2000 miles as the crow flies, passed under the rule of Great Britain, Germany, or France. With surprisingly little trouble the great protectorates were effectively occupied and brought under control. In most instances it was enough for a small force, or even a mere patrol, to march through a stretch of country, and by pacific means, or by the harmless display of the power of guns or shells, to induce the tribal chiefs to accept the overlordship of the white man and agree to his very mild terms. Tribal wars and slave raiding were prohibited and soon absolutely ceased. Troublesome rulers who would not observe the new conditions were deposed and in some cases exiled. In this way the King of Dahomey was deposed by the French, and the King of Ashanti, the Sultan of Sokoto, and the Emir of Kano by the British. Many chiefs of smaller calibre had also to be dealt with; and by such steps the pax euro-pea was established throughout West Africa.

These far-reaching changes, that transformed the whole of West Africa in general, affected Nigeria in particular; for the word "Nigeria" was now coming into use to describe all the lands that fall within the immediate scope of this book. [For a time this vast protectorate was divided into Southern and Northern Provinces; but in 1914 the two sections were united under one central government with its head-quarters at Lagos.]

The fact that this great region was adopted as a protectorate, rather than annexed as a possession, led quite naturally to the policy of ruling through the African chiefs instead of directly through British officials. As we have already seen, Nigeria is the home of a great assortment of tribes, mainly of the Negro race, but extraordinarily different from one another in physique, in language, in dress, in customs, and in tribal life and organization. There are underlying resemblances, due to their common stock, but in many details they differ from one another. Take for example the great Egba, Yoruba, Ibo, Nupé, Hausa, and Fula peoples; they differ as widely as a similar number of European nations. In addition to these large and organized tribes there are numerous smaller ones, each with its own chief and code of laws, unwritten, but very precise.

It is entirely wrong to suppose that the Africans are a people without law and ruled solely by the whim or caprice of their chiefs. Every tribe has its organized life and definite laws that cover every department of social and individual conduct. These laws have been transmitted orally from one generation to another by that marvellous memory that the Africans have so wonderfully cultivated. The chief himself is bound by these laws and is expected to administer them; in consultation with his council of chiefs, he hears disputes, tries offenders, and generally attends to the public business. These laws are essentially African, the outcome of African conditions and African ideas. To Europeans they may seem strange or even unjust, as, for example, in cases where descent is reckoned on the female side, and where a man's heir-at-law is his sister's son instead of his own son. It is extremely difficult for an Englishman to administer justice for such people, for a decision he may regard as strictly just and equitable might seem to the people a most flagrant injustice. The African naturally understands his tribal laws far better than he can possibly understand the (to him) revolutionary laws and customs of the white man. To impose British law upon Nigeria would have been to create chaos and to court trouble for generations.

A wiser policy has prevailed. Wherever a chief or king accepted the new allegiance, he was confirmed in his position as the lawful ruler, he on his part promising to rule justly according to the laws of the tribe, to hold human life sacred, to abolish human sacrifice and cannibalism (where they existed), and to refrain from slave raiding or making war upon his neighbours. The Government undertook to support and maintain him in his office so long as he remained faithful to his contract. Nominally each tribe continues to be governed by its own laws, administered by its own chief in council. Each chief is held responsible for law and order and for the raising of taxes in his chiefdom. A certain portion of the revenue he retains to meet the cost of his government and a fixed sum for his personal salary, and the salaries for his officials, police, and other services. The remainder of the revenue he hands over to the Government for the overhead costs of administration. The system of taxation is usually along the lines of a head-tax on men and youths; it has to a very large extent reduced the possibility of the people being unjustly squeezed or plundered by a rapacious chief or his underlings. While each chief is semi-independent in his own dominions, the government supervision is maintained by a system of district officers, each of whom is responsible for the oversight of a large area that may contain several chiefdoms. [Some Europeans have a strange habit of applying the word "king" to every African chief or village headman they come across. There is no sense in this practice, and it should be dropped. Every African language has separate words to describe each grade, and they are never confused, i.e. headmen, chiefs, paramount chiefs, and kings (or emirs).] The district officers in turn are responsible to the Resident who has charge of a still larger political area known as a province. The political officials, district and provincial, are the steel framework of the whole administration. Southern Nigeria is divided into twelve provinces, and Northern Nigeria into fifteen. Southern and Northern Nigeria have each a Lieutenant-Governor, both of whom are responsible to the Governor of the whole of Nigeria. This system of government through African chiefs, supervised by British officials, has now been in use for more than thirty years and has, on the whole, proved remarkably successful. No one so much as contemplates departure from it, or even any very serious revision of its main features. With all its weaknesses it has proved to be better than the systems of government in South Africa, under which many millions of Africans live under laws they have no share in making and which 'are contrary to their nature and instincts.

One of the advantages of the West African system is that it enables the political officers to have the chiefs under their care in a sort of friendly tutelage, advising and sometimes cautioning them (or even threatening them, should need arise), and all the time helping them to understand the sound principles of enlightened government. Of course, the tendency is for the African tribal organization to become more and more impregnated with British methods and ideas. The present stage is manifestly one of transition.

An excellent example is that of Kano. Prior to British occupation it was a typical, old-style Moslem city and kingdom. Injustice and oppression were rampant. The rulers raised revenue by tyranny and bribes; the judges were corrupt and sold justice to the highest bidder. Slave raiding and slave trading went on unchecked. It is estimated that one-third of the population were slaves. While Canon Robinson was in Kano in 1894 a thousand slaves were brought into the city on a single occasion as a result of one raiding expedition. Robinson found the slave market in full swing, and that the prices ranged from £7 to £10 for a girl of about fourteen, while a young man of eighteen would fetch about £6, and a man of thirty £4. Kano at that time was sending one hundred slaves per year (in addition to large supplies of cloth) as tribute to the Sultan of Sokoto. The change came with the capture of the city by Colonel Morland in 1903. The emir, who by his folly had brought himself to ruin, fled. Whereupon Sir Frederick Lugard summoned the waziri and the Fulani chiefs, explained to them the policy and desires of the British Government, and invited them to elect a new emir. They chose a brother of the late ruler. War and slave raiding immediately ceased, and rulers and people soon found that the white men had come to be their friends and helpers, not their oppressors. The Moslem Koranic law was confirmed; the judicial system was overhauled, and alkalis (judges) were appointed at a fixed salary, the chief alkali receiving a salary of about £500 a year, while the emir himself receives a salary of £5000, the waziri £1000, and other officials in proportion. The system of taxation was revised and put on a sound footing, a force of Hausa police was organized, and a public works department was created to improve or construct roads, and other developments of public importance were undertaken.

In all these things the Fulani rulers have cooperated with the British Resident and his officers. They have, on the whole, proved apt pupils, and the transformation has been little short of marvellous. One experienced observer writes:--

Still more to admire--for, after all, conquering is only a feat of arms--is the sagacity which produced the policy in full operation to-day, that of a people ruled by those whom they have selected, and rulers and people thoroughly co-operating with the governing Power in administering the affairs of the country. History furnishes no example where that has been done with anything like the same material in a similar period. [John Raphael, the travel editor of The African World.]

The Emir of Kano, with the aid of his waziri and other officials, rules not only the great city, but the whole emirate of 12,000 square miles with a population of 1,760,000; the chiefs of the towns and the headmen of the villages are responsible to him. Thus, "we rule through the native rulers and leaders of the people." No doubt, in some parts of Nigeria, bribery and corruption and some oppression still exist, but the benefit of the British system of administration is deep and wide. Constant vigilance, however, is needed, lest through slackness things slip back into bad ways.

British territorial interests in Nigeria are the outcome of the development of commercial enterprise, and it is only natural that the policy of "opening up the country" should be dictated very largely by commercial or industrial considerations.

In the early days, such Africans as desired to trade with the white man brought their produce to the trading depots in dug-out canoes, or tramped weary miles along the narrow forest paths carrying loads on their heads. In this manner the people of Abeokuta and the Yoruba Country brought their goods to Lagos, and returned home carrying the white man's goods in the same way. In the delta region, the people brought their palm oil in casks by canoe to the traders whose vessels lay anchored in the lagoons and estuaries. Then, as the main stream of the Niger was opened up, small river steamers carried cargoes to and from the riverside stations. But such methods of transport only touched comparatively small areas of the country, and in the interests of trade, as well as of efficient administration, other means became necessary.

A great step forward was taken in 1893 when the first railway line began to be constructed from Lagos into the interior of the Yoruba Country. With amazing skill and patience the surveyors and engineers worked steadily forward, through dense forests and across swamps. Rivers and streams (many of them subject to sudden floods), had to be bridged, and many superstitions and prejudices had to be overcome.

In 1901 the first section of that railway, from Lagos, past Abeokuta, to Ibadan (a distance of 120 miles) was opened to traffic. From the stations en route feeder roads were cut into the forest, so that goods could be brought from remote towns and villages to the line, to be carried thence by the iron horse to Lagos. Slowly, year by year, that line stretched out, mile after mile, still further into the interior. In 1909 it reached Jebba on the Upper Niger, over 300 miles from Lagos. But it did not stop even there. On the opposite side of the river the engineers resumed their labours, and the railway was extended across those scorching plains that Bishop Tugwell and his companions had traversed so wearily only a few years earlier, until, in 1912, the sound of the steam whistle was heard in Kano itself, and a station was built on the plain two miles outside the ancient walls. For several years the trains were taken across the broad stream of the Niger on a large steam ferry; but soon the skill of the engineers overcame even that formidable obstacle, and by making use of Jebba Island in midstream, two great bridges were thrown across, the one 1295 feet and the other of 500 feet in length, and to-day passengers may travel from Lagos to Kano in a comfortable train with dining saloon and sleeping cars, in about forty-eight hours, the journey that took Bishop Tugwell three months! [For some years the station was at Iddo across the lagoon to the north of Lagos itself. Now the trains start from Apapa (opposite Lagos) where a fine new wharf has been constructed.] To-day, down that line come the products of the land: cotton, ground nuts, cattle skins and hides (tanned and untanned), palm oil and palm kernels, salt, dates, and cocoa; while up that line go all the hundred-and-one things that Europe manufactures and Africa buys. In Kano markets one may purchase anything and everything that can be seen at a Woolworth's bazaar, and a good deal more. Moreover, down that line came granite from the hills around Abeokuta for the building of the harbour wharfs and the breakwater at Lagos, which have converted it into a deep-water port into which the largest liners on the West African service can safely enter.

Another railway has been constructed from Port Harcourt, on the Bonny River, right through the heart of the Ibo Country, and in 1924 it reached Makurdi on the Benué. Thence it runs across the Sudan until it joins the Kano line at Kaduna, the seat of government for Northern Nigeria. Thus it is now easy to get to Kano by two lines running east and west of the Niger; and from both of them branch lines are being extended to tap country still undeveloped. The Eastern Railway serves the coal and tin fields of the areas it touches and is thus developing the mining possibilities of Nigeria.

Useful as railways are, there is another factor that seems destined to play an equally important part in the opening of Africa to western commerce and civilization, the petrol engine. We have spoken of "feeder roads." At first they were used mainly by carriers who marched one behind the other in single file, following the custom acquired by centuries of tramping along the narrow paths of the forest. We have seen men and boys, reeking with perspiration in the tropical heat and dust, rolling great casks of palm oil along the road to a railway station that was possibly thirty or forty miles away. But gradually the motor lorry is providing easier transport. To-day the amount of motor traffic is amazing, and the lorries are used almost as much for carrying passengers as for conveying goods. Many of them are virtually motor 'buses. They tear along the forest roads at a dangerous speed, and accidents are becoming frequent. The new facilities provided by the motor traffic has led to a rapid increase in the number of roads. Already Nigeria has some 4000 miles of roads properly surfaced and bridged for motor traffic, and several thousands of miles of rough pioneer roads.

It is possible to go by motor car from Lagos, via Ibadan and Benin, to Calabar--a distance of 600 miles. A 250 miles motor road runs from Zaria to Sokoto, and another from the railhead at Kano to Katsina, 100 miles further north. New roads are under construction all the time, and what thirty years ago was a land of footpaths is becoming a land of highways. The forests ring with the shrill sound of motor hooters, and here and there one comes across the wrecked remains of a lorry that has upset into a deep ditch and has been abandoned. African chiefs and well-to-do men as well as Europeans, are now the owners of cars. The great mud gateway to the palace at Kano has been widened to admit the emir's car. In the Yoruba Country, too, such rulers as the Alafin of Oyo, the AlAké of Abeokuta, the Owa of Ilesha, and the Oni of Ife have first-class private motor cars, usually a Rolls-Royce or a Daimler.

The railways and roads are transforming Nigeria and profoundly influencing the life of the people. They are highways of European civilization, along which new ideas and new influences are penetrating almost every part of the country. They simplify the task of administration, for by them the representatives of Government can travel swiftly to remote places. They greatly aid in the suppression of the old, cruel practices. So long as the dark rites of fetishism could be carried on in the depths of the bush without fear of detection there was little hope of their being overthrown. But every new road that is cut through the primeval forest lets in the light of the new day, and makes it easier to insure that the laws against cruelty and bloodshed are obeyed. The Government is not a mysterious force far away in Lagos, too distant from the villages to seem real, but a living and vital factor at their very door.

The strong arm of Government reaches far; and if we cannot say that cannibalism, human sacrifice, and infanticide have absolutely gone, we can at least say with confidence that they are rapidly disappearing.

The railways and roads are highways for commerce by which goods from Europe are distributed to the people. Along them African traders, as well as the representatives of the great European firms, are pressing forward and opening wayside shops and more important depots in places hitherto unreached. Some energetic trader, possibly a Sierra Leonian, a Lagos man, or perhaps a Syrian, in his eagerness, will press on and open a little shop several miles ahead of his rivals. 'It may be a mere shanty composed of branches of trees and palm-leaf matting, but it is an outpost of commerce, and sells to the forest-village folk a hundred and one things they had never before seen.

In a few weeks that pioneer trader is outstripped by a rival who opens a similar shop a few miles further on, and it is a very simple matter for the motor lorries to come the few additional miles to bring him supplies of goods for sale. In this way people in remote villages are buying, almost at their own doors, such things as their fathers never dreamed of. In thousands of village homes, as well as in the towns, the old domestic utensils are giving place to new ones, and strange innovations are finding their way into the most primitive dwellings. White enamelled bowls, plates, and cups are superseding calabashes; hurricane lanterns with glass shades are taking the place of clay lamps and torches; and knives, scissors, needles, sewing cotton, tools, mirrors, oil stoves, sewing machines, tinned foods, Lancashire cotton goods, bicycles, and many other useful articles are being bought eagerly by the people. Many African villagers can well afford such luxuries, for the whole country is feeling the stimulus of the increase of trade.

To us, as missionary workers, these wonderful roads and railways have yet another significance: they may become highways for our God. Along them the messengers of Christ may travel swiftly to the people they seek to reach. Little more than thirty years ago it took three or four days to journey from Lagos to Abeokuta; to-day one may get there in less than five hours by train. A missionary in Ibadan can now go by car in less than two hours to St. Andrew's College at Oyo; it used to take two days. We have seen that slow transport was one of the chief difficulties that Bishop Crowther had to contend with in working his huge diocese; today, in many parts of the country, such difficulty if it has not ceased to exist, is at any rate greatly reduced.

But we must not close our eyes to the fact that the railways and roads bring new perils. They are carrying our civilization to the very doors of villagers who have had no preparation for it. People brought up in most primitive conditions are being plumped into the very vortex of our mechanical and materialistic age. One keen observer has written thus:--

Imagine Boadicea driving her chariot over a gorse-grown heath to a tarred macadamized road, and following that road to a city of concrete buildings, lit with electric light, supplied with water from a reservoir many miles away, with motor 'buses running along the streets, and a railway train panting a welcome to her. She would have to make some swift mental readjustments to keep her sanity. Either she must flee back to her heath andjtry to forget what she had seen, or attempt the still more difficult task of adapting herself at once to a world as strange to her as the planet Mars would be to us. Yet that is what is happening to-day to millions of Africans, and it is a rare thing for a white man to pause and ask if we are justified in thrusting so much upon the black man.

By the facilities for easy and cheap travel, we are drawing multitudes of people from their homes; the land is set a-moving; simple folk are whirled from place to place. Having worked for a few years at Lagos, Port Harcourt, or the coal fields, the villager returns home, if he returns at all, detribalized, and too often to be detribalized is to be demoralized. In West Africa, tribal customs and fetish taboos take the place of moral laws; remove or discredit them and you at once take away such restraints as had hitherto been recognized.

In some parts of the West African forests the traveller may come to a place where two footpaths cross, and there see the grass and creepers cut away for a yard or two and a number of articles for sale laid out on the ground, yams, bananas, oranges, calabashes, dried fish, and so on, a shop without a shopkeeper. There is a small calabash into which the passer-by must put the price of the article he takes away. What is the secret of it? Look more closely and you will see, tied perhaps to a piece of bamboo, a little bundle of utter rubbish, a couple of chicken bones perhaps, with a feather, a tuft of grass, smeared with clay or congealed blood. It is a fetish, set as a policeman to guard that bush shop. The fear of the spirit that is believed to dwell in the fetish will deter the passer-by from stealing so much as a banana. Destroy the fear of that spirit and you remove the moral restraint that it exercises. Every European in Nigeria, whether trader or political officer, Public Works Department man or missionary, is by his daily life and conduct destroying fetishism whether he knows it or not. The African "boy" who waits upon his master, and brings him his whisky and soda, soon discovers that the white man despises the fetish, and he himself, as a result, begins to lose his fear of it. Unless some new law, some new "fear" comes to take possession of that "boy's" heart his last state may be worse than his first.

By the swift introduction of our western civilization we are destroying the old spiritual conceptions of the pagan African, and unless we give him something better, we inevitably open the door to materialism and secularism. As the fear of the fetish wanes, it is our task to implant the love of God.

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