7 Reasons Why Indirect Rule Succeeded in Northern Nigeria

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So why did the British colonial policy of Indirect Rule succeed in Northern Nigeria?

Below is a detailed outline of the points needed to answer this frequently occurring WASSCE question.


Indirect Rule was introduced into Northern Nigeria by Lord Frederick Lugard between 1900 and 1906. It was a system of administration adopted by the British to rule their West African territories.

In the Indirect Rule system, the British recognized the cultural differences between Europeans and Africans and, therefore, relied on the already existing native political institutions to implement their policies.

Reasons for the success of Indirect Rule in Northern Nigeria

1. In Northern Nigeria, there was already in existence an efficient centralized system of traditional administration headed by the Emir.

The Emir had wide-ranging administrative authority. His orders were obeyed without question.

Lord Lugard, therefore, capitalized on the administrative skills and powers of the Emirs and allowed them a free hand to continue to govern their subjects.

The British, however, introduced slight modifications where necessary.

2. Another factor responsible for the success of indirect rule in Northern Nigeria is the existence of a native judicial system which applied Islamic law in the administration of justice.

These courts were allowed to operate as traditional courts. The British complemented the traditional judicial system by establishing provincial courts.


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The provincial courts adjudicated cases that were beyond the ability or powers of the traditional courts.

3. Also responsible for the relative success of the indirect rule system in Northern Nigeria is the existence of an efficient tax system long before the introduction of Indirect Rule.

The people were already used to the culture of paying taxes hence Lord Lugard found it easy to modify the system to generate revenue to pay the colonial staff and other administrators.


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4. Furthermore, the Indirect Rule system succeeded in Northern Nigeria because it did not threaten, interfere with or erode the traditional authority of the emirs. Instead, it boosted their prestige and made them become more influential.

5. Lord Lugard also did not interfere with the Islamic religion. This made it possible for the natives to support or at least tolerate the British colonial administrators.

6. There was little opposition to Indirect Rule from the people of Northern Nigeria. In fact, in other places where the people violently opposed the system, indirect rule had limited success, if at all.

For example in Eastern Nigeria, the actions and inactions of the so-called Warrant Chiefs provoked the Aba Women’s Riots.


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7. Finally, the practice of the Indirect Rule system was economical for the British government.

This was because comparatively, little money was expended due to the fact that very few expatriate officials were used.


It is clear, therefore, that the cultural, political and social environment in Northern Nigeria at the time played a major role in the successful implementation of the policy of Indirect Rule in that part of British West Africa.

Do you know of any other factor accounting for the relative success of Indirect Rule in Northern Nigeria? Please share it in a comment below.

Thank you!

Ralph spends his day working as an online entrepreneur and e-learning strategist. He is an expert SEO-content writer and WordPress trainer/consultant. He will gladly set up and launch your website for you on any day. Ralph is the CEO of RN Digital Media Enterprise - a digital publishing and content marketing services platform he founded in 2017.

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