Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Politics in Colonial Ijebu, 1921-51: The Role and Challenge of the Educated Elite (1)

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Politics in Colonial Ijebu, 1921-51: The Role and Challenge of the Educated Elite (1)

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

One of the developments that accompanied the establishment of British political control in Lagos in 1861 was the introduction of Western education in Nigeria. (2) By the beginning of the twentieth century there had emerged a Western-educated class whose members were characterized by their prominence in the new society, evolving as a result of the British presence. They were typified, according to E.A. Ayandele, by their desire "to achieve modernization, bureaucratization, sophisticated economy, and a lifestyle that was closer to that of the white man." (3) However, they formed an elite group in view of their small number and social standing. Hence, as P.C. Lloyd also described them, they were "those persons who were western-educated and wealthy to a high degree relative to the mass of the population." (4)

Specifically, the introduction of Western education was bound up more with the general nineteenth-century movement to bring "civilization and progress" to Africa, or the "civilizing mission" as it was termed. The emergent African educated elite were the product of this course, and so they saw themselves as partners in progress with Europeans in carrying the mission through. However, late nineteenth-century imperialism produced a white racial prejudice which relegated the educated African to the background in the civilizing scheme. (5) Indeed, with the formal establishment of colonial rule at the turn of the twentieth century, notions had begun to develop which saw the mission as that of reforming African cultural systems rather than introducing Western ones. Such notions underlay the articulation of the Indirect Rule policy as formulated by F.D. Lugard. (6)

Hence, by the turn of the twentieth century the educated elite were considered a foreign element in the scheme of African progress. Their response was two-fold. First, they developed a sense of pride in African values, what has been termed "cultural nationalism," as a shield against racial prejudices. (7) Second, with their own awareness of Western civilization in the background, they challenged contemporary colonial notions of the direction of African progress. This was the context of the response of the educated elite, ultimately metamorphosing into nationalism, in which they challenged the evolving policies of the colonial administration. In this article, an attempt is made to examine this process in the administrative entity of Ijebu Province.

To state the issues more specifically, the educated elite were, until the twilight of the colonial period in the 1950s, not permitted to hold the reins of political control in the country. With particular regard to local administration, which is the concern of this paper, the system of Indirect Rule, instituted by the British following Lord Lugard's amalgamation of the Protectorates of Southern and Northern Nigeria in 1914, left political control with the indigenous authorities--official parlance, the "chiefs." (8) It entailed the exclusion of the nascent Western-educated elite from the executive structure of the local administration. Thus, a British official in March 1917, apprising Ijebu chiefs of the statutory powers invested on them, could well cite the hypothetical instance of how they might possibly deal with "a set of educated young men who imagine it is they who are going to refine the country and not the chiefs." (9)

As in most parts of southern Nigeria, the involvement of the educated elite in colonial Ijebu politics was, in the following two decades after the amalgamation, characterized by their efforts to seek political relevance in the local administrative apparatus. Beginning in the 1940s, they endeavoured to modify this apparatus. By this time, a number of the Ijebu educated elite had come into the national limelight as journalists, barristers, business magnates, among others. Foremost among these were N.T. Olusoga, T.A. Odutola (both of whom were at different times in the 1930s and 1940s members of the national Central Legislative Council), and Obafemi Awolowo (later to be a renowned national figure). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.