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  • Document 3:The Southern Nigeria Native House Rule Ordinance (1901)
  • Olatunji Ojo (bio)


The Southern Nigeria “Native House Rule Proclamation” scheme had been proposed by Sir Ralph Moor,1 and had resulted in a 1901 law that abolished the status of slavery and converted slaves into house members. The Ordinance defines a “House” (Ijo: Wari) as “a group of persons subject by native law and custom to the control, authority and rule of a chief, known as a Head of House.” Membership of a House “includes any persons who by birth or any other manner is or becomes subject to the control, authority and rule of a Head of a House.”2 Although the system of “houses” had its roots in Kalabari society, Moor extended the “House Rule” to Igbo, Ibibio and Edo societies as if they had the same tradition. This Proclamation No. 26 of 1901 became Chapter CXXI of the Nigerian criminal code and is reproduced here.3 The chief or head of a house was given legal authority over members, thereby effectively giving the head of the house absolute authority over house members, including slaves. The Colonial Office waxed enthusiastic over this scheme, which has been the subject of ridicule by Joseph C. Anene.4 Lord Frederick Lugard, upon his appointment as Governor-General of the newly unified Nigeria in 1911, presided over the repeal of this Southern Nigeria law in 1914, the repeal taking effect on January 1, 1915. Lugard explained that “House rule was not thereby abolished, but the denial of the assistance of British courts in enforcing the will of the head of the House, and of Government police in capturing fugitive members, struck a death blow to the system.” In effect, Lugard thus abolished the legal status of slavery in Southern Nigeria in accordance with the policy that he had enacted in the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria when he was High Commissioner. Among the [End Page 127] numerous complaints concerning the system were (1) acceptance of the uncorroborated oath of the head of a house was sufficient to convict a vagrant; (2) arrest could be without warrant; and (3) the penalty, a year’s imprisonment, was severe. Problems with the Proclamation are discussed below in CSE 35/1/2 Native House Proclamation No. 26 of 1901: Southern Nigeria, Memorandum on The Native House Rule Proclamation, Nigerian National Archives, Enugu.

Olatunji Ojo

Olatunji Ojo teaches African History at Brock University in St. Catharine’s, Canada, including African History and seminars on slavery, economic and women history. Prior to joining Brock University, he taught at the University of Ibadan (Nigeria), Ohio University and Syracuse University. His research interests include slavery, ethnicity and identity formation, religion and gender, centering on the history of social and economic change.


1. Sir Ralph Denham Rayment Moor (1860–1909) was born on 31 July 1860 at The Lodge, Furneux Pelham, Buntingford, Hertfordshire, son of William Henry Moor (c.1830–c.1863), surgeon, and his wife, Sarah Pears. Educated privately after his father’s death, he worked in the tea trade before entering the Royal Irish Constabulary as a cadet on 26 October 1882, becoming in due course a district inspector. In January 1900 Moor became High Commissioner for the British Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. See Adiele E. Afigbo, “Sir Ralph Moor and the Economic Development of Southern Nigeria, 1896–1903,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 5:3 (1970), 371-97; and John D. Hargreaves, “Moor, Sir Ralph Denham Rayment,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004. Cf.

2. See Rev. John. H. Harris, “Domestic Slavery in Southern Nigeria,” West Equatorial Africa Diocesan Magazine 87 (1911), 110.

3. See “Report by Sir Frederick Lugard on the Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria and Administration, 1912-1919” (1919), Cmd 468, paragraph 23; and Margery Perham, Lugard: The Years of Authority, 1898-1945, (London: Collins, 1960), vol. II, 458. A copy of the Southern Nigeria 1901 House Rule ordinance can be found in The National Archives, Kew (TNA) CO 520/7, Proclamation No. 5 of 1901 and TNA, CO 520/14, Ralph Moor to Colonial...


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