In This Review

What Britain Did to Nigeria: A Short History of Conquest and Rule
What Britain Did to Nigeria: A Short History of Conquest and Rule
By Max Siollun
Hurst, 2021, 408 pp

In this readable history of British colonialism in Nigeria, Siollun traces a broad arc from the first links between British explorers and various West African precolonial states, in the sixteenth century, to Nigerian independence, in 1960, sketching a series of fascinating episodes and characters along the way. Several excellent chapters cover the growth of British economic interests in the area during the nineteenth century, notably through the efforts of the mercantile National African Company. This increasing involvement in the region would lead to the establishment of two separate British protectorates, one in the south and one in the north, in 1900 and 1903, respectively. Siollun’s evenhanded assessment of the roughly 60 years of colonial rule that followed is also absorbing, particularly his description of Nigerian resistance to the various injustices and humiliations inflicted by the British. Siollun concludes with what he calls “the mistake of 1914”: his view that the British resolution to join their northern and southern protectorates into one poorly integrated colony constitutes the single most consequential decision of colonial rule in Nigeria. Ever since, the north-south divide has dominated the politics of independent Nigeria.