Colonialism in Nigeria: positive and negative impacts of Nigerian colonization

Colonialism in Nigeria: positive and negative impacts of Nigerian colonization

Like some other African countries, Nigeria underwent colonization by the British. In 1914, Lord Fredrick Lugard signed a document consolidating the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria and the Northern Nigeria Protectorate, effectively creating the Protectorate of Nigeria. 46 years later, the country attained independence from British rule. During this colonial era, the country underwent numerous changes, some of which have lasted to date. Colonialism in Nigeria had both positive and negative impacts.

Colonialism in Nigeria
Photo: (modified by author)
Source: UGC

The impacts of colonialism in Nigeria

Here is a look at the positive and negative effects of the British colonial rule in Nigeria.

Positive effects of British rule in Nigeria

While widely viewed in a negative light, colonialism did have some positive impacts. Here are some of the advantages that Nigeria accrued from the period of British rule.

Introduction of a modern idea of government

Before the colonial era, Nigeria was largely governed through a somewhat unstructured system of kingdoms and empires. However, with colonialism came a structured form of government. Like in other countries, the governance system Nigeria adopted was based on what the Britons used at the time.

For example, the post-colonial systems of governance in the country saw a clear separation of powers between different arms of government, a fact that played a significant role in conflict avoidance. Additionally, the idea of the country's written constitution arose from colonization.

As with other countries before colonization, Nigeria's system of governance relied on unwritten laws that posed a lot of problems.

Improved health care

British colonialism in Nigeria
A doctor's stethoscope. Photo:, @Darkostojanovic
Source: UGC

Before the entry of the British into Nigeria, the country experienced significantly high infant mortality rates. These were attributable to underdeveloped healthcare systems. At the time, some of the ailments could not be identified, making it tricky to come up with a remedy.

When the British came, the situation improved through improved literacy and knowledge. Infant mortality was reduced since citizens could tell the causes of certain diseases as well as their cures. It is worth noting that healthcare improvement, as other advantages of colonialism, happened through imperialism.

Introduction of money currencies

In pre-colonial Nigeria, the prevalent form of business was barter trade. This involved the exchange of goods with other goods, a system ridden with numerous challenges. The colonialists then introduced money currencies, making it easier to trade and do business.

In 1912, the British introduced the first silver coins in the country. Around the same time, the West African Currency Board was created. Besides the money currency, the British also introduced the banking system in Nigeria, further simplifying trade in the country.

Infrastructural development

Like many other African countries, the colonial masters introduced numerous infrastructural developments in Nigeria. These include electricity networks, rail lines, seaports, bridges, and roads. While most of the original colonial-era projects no longer exist, they formed the basis upon which the country's modern-day projects are based on.

People in pre-colonial Nigeria relied on traditional modes of transport such as walking on foot and the use of animals. The infrastructural changes significantly impacted the citizens' lives, making it easier and faster to move from one point to another.

Improved literacy

colonial Nigeria
A person writing. Photo:, @Free-Photos
Source: UGC

Literacy is inarguably one of the most significant benefits of colonial rule in African countries, Nigeria included. When the colonialists came to the country, they taught the natives how to speak, read, and write in English.

With the improved literacy levels, the natives pursued the numerous opportunities that involved communicating with other English speakers. The literacy benefits continue to be felt in modern-day Nigeria. It is no surprise that the country's education system is still largely based on what was introduced during the colonial era.

The creation of a huge political unit

The creation of a large and unified system of government helped the country develop faster. Before the imperialists came, the country was governed through divided systems consisting of kingdoms, empires, and other small groups.

The country has administrations such as the Igbo system, the Yoruba system, and the Hausa/Fulani system. These administration systems were significantly different from each other even though the regions they represented were quite close geographically.

When the systems were merged during colonization, it resulted in faster development since decisions could now be made easily.

Negative effects of British colonialism in Nigeria

Despite the numerous positive impacts of colonization of Nigeria, there were also several negative effects. Here are the main ones.

Constant war and conflict

colonization of Nigeria
Soldiers at war. Photo:, @Defence-Imagery
Source: UGC

Before the entry of the British into the country, the citizens enjoyed what can be described as a prevailing sense of harmony. However, when the country was overrun in the name of imperialism, it marked the beginning of conflict and war.

These conflicts were largely fueled by the colonizers in a well-thought divide and rule strategy. The colonial rule, therefore, disrupted the country's peace for quite some time.

Economic dependence and resource exploitation

While colonialism brought infrastructural and technological development to Nigeria, it was also a form of extreme exploitation. The basic idea behind colonization had aspects of economic dependency baked right into it. The British took the country's resources, land and mineral included, leaving the natives dependent on them to generate funds.

Additionally, the imperialists ensured that the natives did not get positions in the running of metropolitan industries, leaving them dependent on the colonial masters.

Loss of culture and identity

When the colonialists took over the country's rule during the colonial era, the natives suffered a massive culture and identity loss. The British brought and imposed their culture, language, behaviour, beliefs, and other ways of life on the Nigerians.

This then led to the natives abandoning some of their customs and culture in favour of those brought by the colonizers. For most natives, though, the conformity to the new way of life was more out of fear of the colonialists than a belief in their ways of life.

Eventually, after the 46 years of Nigerian colonization, the natives lost significant parts of their culture and identity, which were never fully regained even after the country attained independence from colonial rule.

This is one of the main subjects in Chinua Achebe's highly acclaimed book, Things Fall Apart. The British viewed the local culture as inferior and disregarded everything the Africans believed in. This resulted in the imperialists changing everything they deemed unsuitable.

The natives' sports, music, dressing code, education systems, naming, and religions were all replaced by those the British considered 'right.'

Loss of land

One of the biggest reasons for British colonialism in Nigeria was the abundant resources. The British needed the land to create massive plantations for their economic gain.

When they got into the country, the colonialists forcefully grabbed land from the natives. This left most natives in colonial Nigeria with little or no land both at individual and community levels. With the loss of land, other problems such as hunger and poor living conditions followed.

Slave trade and humiliation

British colonialism in Nigeria
Cuffs used to restrain a person. Photo:, @jhusemannde
Source: UGC

With the introduction of colonialism into Nigeria, the twisted idea of the slave trade followed suit. At the time, the colonial masters needed slaves to work in their home countries or in the colonies. Additionally, imperialism reduced the status and prestige accorded to Nigerian leaders.

The colonial masters controlled native leaders through fear and humiliation. Those who did not play to the master's tune would face dire consequences. Before Nigeria was officially declared a British colony, the British had carried out slave trade in the country for a while.

The Portuguese paved the way for the slave trade in Nigeria back in the 15th century. The slave traders would use the captured Nigerians as currency for purchasing weapons and other different items, as well as using them as soldiers during the war.

how did British colonization influence the Nigerian civil war?

The Nigerian Civil War is also known as the Nigerian-Biafran war and took place between July 1967 and January 1970. The war was between the Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Biafra, a secessionist nation that had declared independence from Nigeria.

The British encouraged this secession, worsening the war even further. Additionally. The colonial policies in place at the time did not consider the complex cultures prevalent in the warring regions. The policies then forced warring groups to live in proximity, making the situation worse.

What was the Nigerian government before colonization?

From about the 12th century CE until Nigeria's colonial era, the country was largely a collection of states, kingdoms, and empires with trade and political systems. Some of the most noticeable administration systems at the time were the Hausa states of Gobir, Zaria, Kano, and Katsina and the Jukun states of Wukari, Pinduga, Kona, and Kwararafa.

How has Nigerian clothing changed after the European colonization?

Before the natives began trading with Europeans, the country's traditional costumes were largely made from materials at hand. These included hand-woven textiles, leather, feathers, seeds, and other items made from natural fibres. In modern-day Nigeria, the prevalent fashion is heavily borrowed from the colonial masters.

Why was Nigeria colonized?

British rule in Nigeria
Palm trees on a beach. Photo:, @MustangJoe
Source: UGC

The colonialists targeted Nigeria primarily due to its abundant natural resources. They wanted products such as palm oil, groundnuts, cocoa, cotton, and palm kernel, all of which were abundant in the West African nation.

Additionally, the British also wanted to safeguard their trade interests in the region. Taking the country meant that the Brits effectively prevented any formal claims of the region by other colonial powers such as France and Germany.

How was Nigeria colonised by the British?

Nigeria was established as a British colony in 1884 at the renowned Berlin Conference, during which Africa was subdivided into territories to be taken by Europeans. The British then seized the country through the use of military force, strategic alliances and the collaboration of some of the natives.

The rulers then put in place a system of governance known as an indirect rule to further strengthen their foothold on the land. Under this rule, governance was left to traditional chiefs who operated under the strict guidance of the colonial rulers.

What was Nigeria called before?

The country known as Nigeria today dates back to 1914 when Lord Fredrick Lugard grouped the constituent protectorates into one. Before then, the region was known as the Benin Empire between 1440 and 1897. The locals used to call it Bini.

Other common names included the Kingdom of Benin, Kingdom of Oyo, and Kanem-Borno. The country's name is derived from the River Niger, one of the country's defining physical features.

How long was Nigeria a colony?

The Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria existed for 46 years between 1914 and 1960. The colony was created through the consolidation of the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria and the Northern Nigeria Protectorate. In 1960, the country attained independence from British rule.

Like in other countries under imperialist rule, colonialism in Nigeria resulted in numerous positive and negative impacts. Critics of this rule argue that the negative impacts outweigh the positive ones, while supporters argue otherwise.

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