Academic journal article African Economic History

"You Are Demanding Tax from the Dead:" the Introduction of Direct Taxation and Its Aftermath in South-Eastern Nigeria, 1928-39

Academic journal article African Economic History

"You Are Demanding Tax from the Dead:" the Introduction of Direct Taxation and Its Aftermath in South-Eastern Nigeria, 1928-39

Article excerpt

During the final phase of the British conquest of the south-eastern region of Nigeria, which ended in 1914, the colonial administrative personnel accompanying the military columns was given specific instructions by Lord Lugard.' Among others, it was to assure the conquered people that "Nothing which is theirs will be taken from them; no demands of any kind will be made, save that they must be prepared to sell rations to troops and officials, and to furnish carriers in exchange for payment."2 Yet fifteen years later, the region was to explode in a women-led social upheaval linked in crucial respects to the introduction of direct taxation in 1928. The Women's War of 1929 was perhaps the greatest political challenge the British administration in Nigeria had to face since "pacification."3 In subsequent years, the administration was to spend a significant part of its time and resources suppressing anti-tax resistance in different parts of south-eastern Nigeria. The successful imposition of direct taxation marked the final phase of the consolidation of British rule in the region.

Like any other government, ancient or modern, taxes or tributes were central to the economic and fiscal strategies of the colonial administration in Nigeria. Not only did taxes constitute crucial sources of revenue to the state, but their payment marked the acceptance of state authority, willingly or unwillingly, by the affected people. No less important, as popularly argued in the literature on European rule in Africa, taxation was one of the major mechanisms for expanding and strengthening the integration of local populations into market networks mainly for the purpose of stimulating exchange production, especially for export.4 Such export activity promoted Nigerian links with the world economy. When the colonial administration sought to drive into extinction the indigenous currencies in order to ensure economic and financial unification of the country through the instrumentality of British West African currency, taxation was perceived as a key weapon for the project.5

With the exception of a few studies, the process of taxation and its wider ramifications for the political economy of African colonial states remain potentially rich fields of fiscal history in which little has been achieved. In the case of Nigeria, Newbury has helped shed light on the evolution of public finance in the northern part of the country.7 Studies of taxation in southern Nigeria have tended to focus on the Women's War of 1929,* regarded as a fundamental outcome of the advent of direct taxation. Direct taxation was a revolutionary innovation in south-eastern Nigeria and therefore requires a more detailed analysis and reinterpretation of events than existing works have achieved. Based mainly on archival sources, some of which have hardly been examined hitherto, the present paper explores the process of the introduction of direct taxation into our area of study, the political and social consequences of that introduction as well as its implications for government's fiscal and economic policies during the period under consideration. The study covers the decade of the Great Depression to the outbreak of the second World War, during which time a hitherto unidentified combination of the collapse in commodity prices and the concomitant depreciation of the manilla currency became central to colonial resistance. Other questions which the paper attempts to address include the relationship between taxation, the export economy and public finance, as well as the contribution of taxation policy and tax money to social development.

British Rule and the Advent of Taxation in Nigeria

Upon the proclamation of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria in 1900, Frederick Lugard - the first High Commissioner - began examining methods of direct taxation in the region within the existing Islamic framework.9 Despite the amalgamation of northern and southern Nigeria into one political entity in 1914 under Lugard, the country continued to exist as two relatively autonomous regions the Northern Province and the Southern Provinces (later Western Provinces and Eastern Provinces). …

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