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  • Documents 4-9:Slavery Documents, Protectorate of Northern Nigeria
  • Paul E. Lovejoy (bio)


The following documents provide an overview of British colonial policy toward slavery in the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria. Sir Frederick Lugard, first High Commissioner, instituted policies that were intended to avoid the sudden abolition of slavery and thereby ease the transition by which the large slave population in the conquered territories of the Sokoto Caliphate, Borno, and neighboring areas that had remained independent of the two Muslim states would achieve their freedom. As has been demonstrated elsewhere, the main points of British policy effectively abolished the legal status of slavery without affecting the existing relations between masters and the enslaved population. In short, slaves were not emancipated, although the courts could no longer uphold the rights of slave owners over their slaves. This policy inevitably had its contradictions, particularly in relation to the status of any slaves who decided to run away or otherwise refuse to obey their masters. The result was what has been described as a “slow death” for slavery. In fact, slavery continued to exist legally until 1936, when under pressure from the League of Nations, all individuals in the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria were declared free.

Lugard’s policies in abolishing the legal status of slavery were outlined in a series of memoranda, some of which are reproduced here. The main points of these memoranda included the following:

  1. 1. Enslavement and the trade in slaves were declared illegal, criminal offences to be tried in colonial courts.

  2. 2. Children born after March 1, 1901 were born free.

  3. 3. Otherwise, individuals were encouraged to negotiate terms of emancipation based on existing Muslim practices and precedents, but otherwise the existing social relations were considered to be continued. [End Page 137]

The first document seems to be the only surviving public declaration of slavery policy during the conquest of the Sokoto Caliphate. Upon the occupation of the Emirate of Kano in 1903, Lugard informed the defeated government that “it was not my intention to interfere with the existing domestic slaves.”1 Although not reproduced here, there were numerous memoranda that were exchanged among early colonial officials debating the pros and cons of legal status abolition and subsequently coded law and various byelaws.2 As these documents reveal, there was considerable confusion in the minds of British officials as to whether or not slavery was being continued or being abolished, and whether or not this was a good idea. The subtle distinction between abolishing the status of slaves in the courts but not actually emancipating slaves was a difficult proposition. The policy derived from British colonial rule in India, Burma and elsewhere in Asia as enacted in the 1850s and was similar to policies introduced in East Africa, Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast (Ghana) and elsewhere in Africa. Whereas slaves had been emancipated in British colonies in 1834, as is well known, this was not the case for colonial administrative areas that were designated “Protectorates.” In Africa emancipation of slaves only occurred in the Colony of South Africa and the Colony of Sierra Leone, which included only the peninsula on which Freetown is located and then later also Sherbro Island, but not other parts of Sierra Leone that were designated as a Protectorate.

The two most important documents were Memorandum No. 5, initially written in 1905 and subsequently revised slightly in 1906, and Memorandum No. 22 of 1906, which together were published for distribution to colonial officials in Lugard’s Instructions to Political and Other Officers, on Subjects Chiefly Political and Administrative (London: HMSC, 1906). Memorandum No. 6 was entitled “Slavery Questions” and provided a general overview of the policy of legal status abolition, including details from various reports of the Residents from each of the conquered provinces, while Memorandum No. 22 dealt with “The Condition of Slaves and the Native Law Regarding Slavery,” which largely drew on the views of British officials and the advice of local Muslim jurists on how Islamic law was being interpreted in relation to slavery questions. Both Memoranda provide invaluable information on how British officials viewed slavery and the impact of British policy on the very substantial enslaved population that...


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pp. 137-140
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