Academic journal article Africa

Murder and the Political Body in Early Colonial Ibadan

Academic journal article Africa

Murder and the Political Body in Early Colonial Ibadan

Article excerpt

On 8 November 1902 Baale Mosaderin and ten Ibadan chiefs passed judgement on three men found guilty of murder. They considered them `worthy of death' but recommended that a fine should `be inflicted' on two of the perpetrators, and the third imprisoned. Dr Arthur Pickels, an Assistant Colonial Surgeon serving as Acting British Resident in Ibadan, thought the sentence too lenient and urged the chiefs to reconsider. The council responded by raising the fines imposed on each of the convicted from 50 [pounds sterling] to 75 [pounds sterling]. Pickels questioned their decision once again. Balogun Apanpa rose as spokesman and stated:

   The Council considered that a heavy fine was a greater punishment than
   death and would act as greater deterrent in future. If people think that
   they will only be killed if convicted of murder they will not think much of

The following day Pickels forwarded the trial notes to his superiors in Lagos. He wrote that although he felt the sentence was inadequate, `taking into consideration that I believe they [the accused] have only been the instruments of a higher authority I think that perhaps terms of imprisonment would meet the case.'(2) The Attorney General, Edwin Speed, gave his opinion on 12 November: `The Balogun's assertion that a heavy fine is considered a worse punishment than death is difficult to believe, though his statement that it is not the custom to execute powerful murderers is credible enough.'(3)

Speed admitted his own personal judgement was that two of the men, Salako and Aderuntan, should be liable to the death penalty. However, considering Pickels's view, he wrote that ten years' imprisonment was acceptable. For the third, Menasara, he recommended five years' imprisonment.(4) Governor MacGregor agreed that a fine was `quite inadequate' and concurred that the sentences suggested by Speed should be imposed as the `least punishment'.(5) Two weeks later, Acting Resident Pickels requested a warrant for the removal of the prisoners from Ibadan to Lagos.(6) The Ibadan chiefs never received payment of the 150 [pounds sterling] fine.

The trial of Salako, Aderuntan and Menasara provides a view of political culture in early colonial Ibadan. If one looks at the case closely, it becomes evident that debate about the homicide was embedded within a constitutional area of chieftaincy. Only within this arena does Balogun Apanpa's claim `that a heavy fine was a greater punishment than death' become comprehensible. However, before investigating the murder, it is necessary to set the scene.


Ibadan was occupied as a war camp about 1829 by a group of people whom the historian, the Rev. Samuel Johnson characterised as `a composite band of marauders'.(7) The occupation occurred amidst a violent upheaval which engulfed the region, today known as `Yorubaland' in south-western Nigeria, for most of the nineteenth century.(8) Following the collapse of the old Oyo empire, refugees flooded the area and personal security was at a premium. In this context of unrest, the organisation of the Ibadan polity came to be centred upon the success of the `marauders' in settling groups of people in large military households.

When the missionary David Hinderer visited Ibadan in 1851 he estimated its population at 60,000 to 100,000 residents.(9) Towards the end of the century, Assistant Colonial Secretary Alvan Millson described the city as the `London of Negroland' and suggested that `at least 120,000 people' lived there.(10) In addition to farming, Millson identified slave raiding as the main occupation of inhabitants. Emphasising that forays were undertaken to acquire slaves for domestic purposes, Millson made reference to Ibadan's bellicose society, where control over people was militarily and politically vital. This internal demand also related to the city's agricultural base, since slaves were generally put to work on the farms surrounding the settlement. …

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