Colonialism by Proxy: Hausa Imperial Agents and Middle Belt Consciousness in Nigeria

Colonialism by Proxy: Hausa Imperial Agents and Middle Belt Consciousness in Nigeria

Colonialism by Proxy: Hausa Imperial Agents and Middle Belt Consciousness in Nigeria

Colonialism by Proxy: Hausa Imperial Agents and Middle Belt Consciousness in Nigeria


Moses E. Ochonu explores a rare system of colonialism in Middle Belt Nigeria, where the British outsourced the business of the empire to Hausa-Fulani subcolonials because they considered the area too uncivilized for Indirect Rule. Ochonu reveals that the outsiders ruled with an iron fist and imagined themselves as bearers of Muslim civilization rather than carriers of the white man's burden. Stressing that this type of Indirect Rule violated its primary rationale, Colonialism by Proxy traces contemporary violent struggles to the legacy of the dynamics of power and the charged atmosphere of religious difference.


When I began this book project in 2007, my aim was to explain why the colonial form practiced in the Nigerian Middle Belt deviated so drastically from the familiar, fetishized British system of indirect rule. I wanted to engage in a simple corrective scholarly endeavor to highlight the limitations of the indirect rule paradigm and point scholars in the direction of less familiar but equally consequential forms of colonial rule.

One question in particular framed my initial inquiries and reflections: how is it that Northern Nigeria is seen in the Africanist colonial studies literature as a bastion of indirect rule when, all over the vast Middle Belt region, a system of colonization that violated the foundational rationale of indirect rule held sway? What began as a modest effort to supply evidence that mitigates the status of Northern Nigeria as an elaborate theater of indirect rule morphed into a huge scholarly undertaking. This required the collection and dissection of several genres of evidence, multiple research trips to Nigeria and Britain, oral interviews, informal discussions, archival adventures, immersion in relevant secondary literature, and many zigzags and detours that took me into several comparative geographical fields.

Another question that inspired my early quests is whether one could conceptually and empirically posit African groups as colonizers even in a circumscribed sense, given the overbearing influence of nationalist historiography, which frowns upon conceptual constructions that are outside the European colonizer/ African colonized binary. Or whether one could demonstrate that subalternity was not always a bar to colonial, and in this case subcolonial, initiatives.

I recognize that I was not only going against the established, if problematic, premise of nationalist African history but also against a conceptual architecture of empire studies in which the notion of subalterns as subcolonizers and self-interested drivers of the colonial enterprise often gets a hostile reception. I pressed on only because I was convinced that the Middle Belt story, which advances a conceptual and empirical counterpoint to these scholarly consensuses, was worth telling on its own narrative merit as an exploration of an unorthodox colonial form. the main arguments and conceptual interventions in this volume then took shape around this important story, an unfamiliar story that compels one to rethink colonization in this and several other parts of Africa.

Once I actually began to collect and read archival materials and to conduct and examine oral interviews, the stories told in this volume emerged with clarity and coherence. the book also took a turn in a direction that I had not antici-

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