British Empire Article


Sir Percy Girouard


In 1907 Sir Percy Girouard accepted an offer from the Colonial Office to become the high commissioner (governor from 1908) of Northern Nigeria, succeeding Sir Frederick Lugard. His task was to carry construction of the railway, already built from Lagos to the Niger, into the north and up to Kano. This he planned and began, though the line reached Kano only in 1911 under his successor.

A successful colonial governorship entailed more than railway expertise, however, and later critics have suggested that Girouard lacked political skills. He was from the first a devoted disciple of Lugard's ideology of 'indirect rule', but without Lugard's vision that British overrule could gradually lead to social change, including educational expansion, in the feudal regimes of the Fulani emirs. Girouard left the development of the indirect rule system almost entirely in the hands of the British resident agents in the capitals of each emirate, accepting their wish to allow each to establish 'native treasuries', with the result that the system tended to become one of ossified local conservatism, with emirs and residents often allied together to resist change. Girouard was also much interested in land reform designed to protect Africans against a possible influx of Europeans demanding land for plantations. He seems to have been influenced by the radical ideas of Henry George concerning the nationalization of land. Girouard saw this as a means to prevent the development of freehold property and the alienation of African communal land. It was Girouard's initiative which set up a committee in London on Northern Nigerian land questions. Following its report the governor issued the land and native rights proclamation of 1908, in which the entire land of Northern Nigeria, occupied or not, was declared to be 'Native Land' under the control of the governor, who alone could grant rights of occupancy, but not freehold. The decree was much criticized by educated African lawyers, who pictured this as an attempt to seize the land. Girouard had plans to tax the land on Henry George principles but the Colonial Office was dubious and never permitted these ideas to be implemented.

Photograph courtesy of Musee McCord


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