The New Imperialism and British Conquest of Southern Nigeria

The New Imperialism and British Conquest of Southern Nigeria
The New Imperialism and British Conquest of Southern Nigeria


New Imperialism is a period of colonial expansion by European powers, the United Sates, and the Empire of Japan during the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries. Europe had colonies scattered all over the world before that, but at that time the amount of influence Europe had on these regions was minimal. Things changed at the end of the 19 th century to a more aggressive and extensive form of imperialism. In this ‘New Imperialism,’ European countries took over most of the rest of the world between the years 1870 and 1914, and had formal political, economic and social control over the new territories.

In 1914, the British Government completed their assignment of conquest and came up with what they called the Amalgamation of Nigeria . it was on that faithful day, 1st January 1914 that the different autonomous units, finally lost their hitherto political and cultural rights and collapsed into the governance of the Governor General appointed by the British Government in the over Lordship of Lord Fredrick Lugard.


According to Tamuno T.N. (1980: 393) “by 1914 Britain had succeeded in making herself the new paramount ruler over most of Nigeria”. He also noted that there were still pockets of resistance after 1914, but “these and other instances of restlessness under increasing colonial role were forcibly suppressed with the assistance of the military and police resources at the disposal of the government. British rule in Nigeria was in the finally analyses buttressed by force or by threat of using it”.

Just as the British officials were making frantic efforts to subdue the people of the Yoruba land, other British Colonialists in the oil River Protectorate were also penetrating the people. They equally engaged in leveling accusations on “Stubborn” kings who fell apart with them. In the Bonny part of Nigeria the episode of Lagos in 1951 was replicated by BeeCroft. Just like king Kosoko of Lagos, king Pepple of Bonny so much valued his autonomy and sovereignty and did not want British interference of any sort. He was ready to resist any encroachment by any group or authority. He accused the British of violating the terms of Anti slave treaty of 1839 and 1841 in which the British authority promised to pay compensations.

Consequently, he organized anti-British activities that stopped trade with the merchants. This actually undermined the British commercial interests. He also attacked the Amakiri of Kalabari in 1853 and this brought trading in the oil River to a standstill. This prompted the British supercargoes at Bonny to invite John BeeCroft to come to their assistance. As a result of this, BeeCroft presided over a meeting of Court of Equity. In 1854, king Pepple was deported to Fenando Po. Although he was allowed to return in 1861, he remained a puppet until his death in 1866.

In Calabar, similar incident took place which brought about the invitation of British consul John BeeCroft to intervene. There arose in Efik a great presence of missionaries and liberated slaves. Some of the liberated slaves formed an association of “Blood Men” with the purpose of fighting for the course of the ex-slaves, especially against the activities of the Ekpe society. In 1851, when some ex-slaves were arrested in Duke Town by the Ekpe society, the Association of Blood Men revolted threatening to burn the town.

This generated a lot of tension and chaos in the area. British merchants were afraid that, this might cause the stoppage of trade. They therefore invited the British consul BeeCroft who eventually presided over the meeting that settled the matter. The outcome of the meeting was the reduction on the strength of the Ekpe society as some changes were made. In 1852, when king Archibong I died, BeeCroft presided over the election of the new king and so he had a tremendous influence on the selection of the new king. The implication is that the new king was afraid of the activities of the British agents and had no option than to act as a puppet.


As from the conclusions of scramble and partition of Africa agreement by the European powers in 1884 – 1885, in Berlin Conference in what is known as the scramble and partition of Africa, the British government made serious efforts at encroaching and acquiring Nigeria interiors especially the areas of economic potentials. Bonny and indeed Opobo was one of their areas of interest. Their encounter with Jaja of Opobo was one of their most difficult encounters. Before the coming of the British in Opobo, Jaja had grown to be regarded as one the richest African business man in the oil Rivers.

According to Onwubiko, (1983 : 236) “through sheer force of his own personality and rare business acumen, he became the wealthiest African trader in the oil rivers. In a treaty dated 4th January 1873, Jaja was recognized by the British as king of Opobo”. He was so much determined to protect his kingdom and sovereignty to the extent that he refused to sign treaty of protection. He demanded to know the full meaning of the word protection. He argued that protection may mean, losing his sovereignty . Onwubiko quoting J.C. Anene said that “ Jaja alone, out of all the coastal chiefs asked for a full explanation of what was meant by protection”. Jaja also rejected any section of the article referring to free trade. In a treaty with the British in 1884, he insisted that anything that has to do with free trade should be removed. In fact, he wanted to maintain the kind of monopoly that was enjoyed by the Royal Niger Company in Northern part of Nigeria.

Owing to Jaja’s difficulty in the wheel of the British colonization ambition, the then British Acting Consul Harry Johnston leveled serious accusations on Jaja. Harry Johnston employed character assassination, perfidy and treachery. Jaja was accused of making moves to sale his country to the French and of terrorizing the natives of the hinterland. Johnston’s several attempt to outsmart Jaja failed until he pleaded with Jaja to come for a peace deal. He invited him to come aboard the HMS Goshawk for discussions. Johnston wrote to Jaja that, “you will be free to come and go”.

Thinking that, it was an honest English man statement Jaja boarded the warship. Onwubiko noted that, in 1887, Johnston treasuriously lured Jaja into a warship and deported him to the West Indies in spite of the fact that he had promised not to detain him against his wish”. While in West Indies, Jaja continued to appeal to the British government to return him to Opobo. In 1891, when he eventually was allowed to return, he died on the voyage and his body was returned to Opobo and buried. His death in the voyage perhaps may not be unconnected with the British determination to remove him from the scene. With his death, the British government made further head way into the conquest of “stubborn” leaders of Nigerian descendants.

Asiwaju (1980:432) noted that, “In 1894, for reasons similar to the forceful removal of king Kosoko of Lagos in 1851, British political ambition in the Niger Delta led to the deportation of Nana, the Itsekiri, Headship of Ebrohimi and the resultant imposition of British rule over

Itsekiri land”. He quoted Salubi as saying that, it was the removal of Nana of Itsekiri and Oba Ovonramwew of Benin in 1894 and 1897 respectively that accelerated the pace of the extension of treaty of British autonomy over the Urhobo country which began in 1889 when the British concluded the treaty of protection with Abraka

It should be noted that owing to British interest to consolidate their authority on Benin kingdom, a prominent king of Benin, Oba Ovonramwew was deported and taken to exile in what is known as the British Expedition.

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