Skip to main content

“The Lost Province”: Neglect and Governance in Colonial Ogoja

  • John Manton (a1)

The notion that the colonial entity administered as Ogoja Province represented a Nigerian form of “the frontier” persisted right through the period of British rule in Nigeria. In a late colonial geography, Ogoja and eastern Calabar are referred to as the “pioneer fringe.” Marginalized by the economic geography of colonialism, as a result of its relatively low population density, in contrast to much of southeastern Nigeria, and by virtue of its terrain, crossed by unforded rivers and characterized by heavy, clayey soils which restricted wet-season travel, it could still be characterized in the 1940s as a “traceless praierie [sic]” by one of its most seasoned European observers, and as “the Lost Province” in common colonial parlance. Scholarly exploration has done little to address this marginalization, a fact both pivotal in the administration and development of Ogoja Province and restrictive of our attempts to understand and describe these administrative processes. The dynamics of community, trade, and migration in Ogoja, and the systematic misunderstandings to which these dynamics were subject, both constitute historical processes which call for scrutiny, and help shape development and welfare projects undertaken in the later colonial period and in post-independence Nigeria. This study investigates the problematic interaction of ethnography and administration at the colonial margin, and the implications of this both for the historical study of Ogoja and its hinterland and for economic and social development planning in the area.

Hide All

1 Buchanan, K.M. and Pugh, J.C., Land and People in Nigeria: the Human Geography of Nigeria and its Environmental Background (London, 1955), 93.

2 McGettrick, T., Memoirs of Bishop T. McGettrick (Sligo, 1988), 126.

3 Anene, J.C., The International Boundaries of Nigeria: the Framework of an Emergent African Nation (London, 1970), 5357. Bantu and Semi-Bantu were among the broad linguistic-ethnic descriptors used to group and distinguish populations in the Cross River basin and Cameroons grasslands. While early classifications group most Upper Cross River basin communities as Semi-Bantu, Crabb, D.W., Ekoid Bantu Languages of Ogoja, Eastern Nigeria, 1, Introduction, Phonology and Comparative Vocabulary (Cambridge, 1965), following Greenberg, classed 14 cognate languages as “Ekoid Bantu.”

4 Ibid., 5.

5 Bersselaar, D. van den, “Establishing the Facts: P.A. Talbot and the 1921 Census of Nigeria,” HA 31(2004), 69102.

6 Talbot, P.A., The Peoples of Southern Nigeria: A Sketch of Their History, Ethnology and Languages (2 vols.: Oxford, 1926), 1:226.

7 Ibid., 2:227-28, quoting Rev. Goldie of the United Free Church, ca. 1884.

8 Onor, S.O., The Ejagham Nation in the Cross River Region of Nigeria (Ibadan, 1994), 7.

9 Ibid., 7.

10 Ibid., 6. The usage “Ejagham” is preferred by Onor to “Ekoi,” a term deriving from Efik languages spoken in the Calabar area to the south of colonial Ogoja Province. It should be noted that the groups classified by Onor under this heading mirror those enumerated by Crabb in his study of Ekoid Bantu languages in Ogoja.

11 These names represent larger language groups rather than clans, and are in this way similar to the designation “Ejagham.”

12 Onor, , Ejagham, 144.

13 Ibid., 144-45.

14 Ibid., 76-78.

15 Ibid., 130-31.

16 Erim, E.O., Idoma Nationality 1600-1900: Problems in Studying the Origins and Development of Ethnicity (Enugu, 1981), 121.

17 Harris, Rosemary, “The History of Trade at Ikom, Eastern Nigeria,” Africa 42(1972), 122–39.

18 Ibid., 124-25.

19 Ibid., 124, listed Okuni, Adijikpor, Akparabang, Nsofang, and Little Obokum as the generally accepted constituent villages in this confederation, and noted that the chiefs of these villages made reciprocal visits on the occasion of funerals or installations of chiefs, sharing equal portions of meat, a fact of some significance given the status invested in certain portions.

20 Ibid., 129-30.

21 Ibid., 133-34 recounts the career of one such trader called Okim Ofu, who worked from 1912 at Bansara, and was able to engage in trade on his own behalf from 1915, having shared in the hiring of a canoe in the meantime.

22 Ibid., 133-35.

23 Ibid., 135.

24 Onor, , Ejagham, 133; Erim, , Idoma Nationalism, 121.

25 Harris, , “History,” 127. My use of masculine gender terms reflects Harris' own—there is no distinct reference made in the article to the engagement of women in trade or credit patterns.

26 Ibid., 131.

27 Ibid., 135-37.

28 Ibid., 131, 133, 135-38.

29 Talbot, , Peoples, 228–30.

30 Perham, M., Native Administration in Nigeria (London, 1937), 22.

31 Ibid., 201, 345.

32 Ibid., 201.

33 The term “Women's War” [Igbo: Ogu Umunwanyi] is now commonly used by scholars of eastern Nigerian history to refer to the Aba riots of 1929. See Falola, T., “Introduction,” 4; Ottenberg, S.A History of the Studies of Culture and Social Life in Southeastern Nigeria,” 57, 72 n. 149; and Onwumere, O., “Transitions in the Political System of Igboland: the Warrant Chief System, 1900-1929,” 177-79, all in Falola, T., ed., Nigeria in the Twentieth Century (Durham, NC, 2002). For a more in-depth review of the political processes leading up to the Women's War, see Afigbo, A.E., The Warrant Chiefs (London, 1972).

34 Perham, , Native Administration, 218

35 Ibid., 206.

36 Ibid., 222.

37 Ibid., 227. Ottenberg, , “History,” 4445. Ottenberg's presentation outlines the close association between political agents such as Talbot, official anthropologists such as C.K. Meek, academic anthropologists, and colonial administrators in developing a corpus of anthropologically-sanctioned knowledge as an aid to exercising political authority in southeastern Nigeria. The relegation of much significant material to appendices in intelligence reports indicates their predominantly practical focus, as well as of their theoretical shortcomings as a basis for understanding the dynamics of change and of grievance in African communities under colonial rule.

38 Ibid., 45.

39 Perham, , Native Administration, 363.

40 Hailey, W. M., Native Administration and Political Development in British Tropical Africa, 1940-42 (Vaduz, 1979), 147.

41 Ottenberg, , “History,” 45.

42 Hailey, , Native Administration, 148.

43 Ibid., 151.

44 Ibid., 150-51. The terms “tabu” and “juju” are used in Hailey's text to subsume a variety of local institutions surrounding totems, age-set organization, and masquerade and dance societies, many of which had broad political currency across the Cross River basin. This rather blunt shorthand aside, Hailey recognized that the role of new village councils was often likely to be misconstrued given the precolonial focus of village meetings on issues of farming, land distribution, and harvesting, and consequently maintained that the system of governing communities in eastern Nigeria would require careful attention and slow evolution.

45 Hailey, , Native Administration, 149.

46 Hailey, W. M., Native Administrations in the British African Territories, III. West Africa: Nigeria, Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, Gambia (London, 1951), 147, 161. Figures and estimates are for 1947 and 1948. Among the types of Native Authority constituted in Ogoja are those represented by Chief or titleholders in Council; District, Divisional, Federated or Federal Councils; Two or more Clan Village or Group Councils; Clan Councils; Councils [unspecified]; Group Councils; and, Village Group Councils.

47 Ibid., 162.

48 Ibid., 160.

49 Ibid., 175-76. Native Courts were graded A to D according to the Native Courts Ordinance No. 44 of 1933, with Grade A Courts empowered with full judicial powers, including capital powers, each subsequent grade having diminished capabilities. In the Eastern Region there were no Grade A Courts, 5 at Grade B (divided between Calabar and Onitsha), 54 at Grade C (of which 29 were in Ogoja Province), 492 at Grade D (with 93 in Ogoja), as well as 45 Native Appeals Courts, each also possessing status as courts of the first instance. Of these, 12 were in Ogoja Province.

50 Ibid., 172.

51 Hailey, , Native Administrations/1979, 149. Hailey mentions that the amalgamation of small units had progressed more quickly in Onitsha, which he seems to attribute to Onitsha being “less primitive than Ogoja.”

52 Hailey, , Native Administration/1951, 167.

53 Ibid., 10-11, 17-18, 183.

54 Erim, E.O., “The Old Ogoja Province under Colonial Rule” in Abasiattai, Monday B., Ibom and Cross River States: the Land, the People and Their Culture (Calabar, 1987), 117–30, and Talbot, Peoples, outline the process of pacification and military conquest experienced in old Ogoja Province, north of the Cross River.

55 Ibid., 1:227, 230.

56 Cameron (1931-1935), and Bourdillon (1935-1940, later Chairman of the Executive Committee of BELRA) differed on the extremity of response to the events of 1929, Bourdillon reversing many of Cameron's unworkable reforms of the early 1930s. The interim governorships of Shuckburgh and Burns in the early 1940s were unremarkable enough to be generally conflated with that of Bourdillon ( – last consulted, 11 June 2008, giving dates for these Governors, and compare with the list in The Nigeria Handbook (Lagos, 1953), 296, which lists Bourdillon as occupant of the position to late 1943). Richards (1943-1947) and Macpherson (1947-1955, from 1954 as Governor-General) each have a Nigerian Constitution to their names, while Robertson, as Governor-General from 1955 to 1960, presided over Nigeria's Independence celebrations.

57 Karmon, Y., A Geography of Settlement in Eastern Nigeria (Jerusalem, 1966), 41, proposes this explanation.

58 For more on this corpus, see Ottenberg, “History.”

59 Jones, G.I., Report of the Position, Status, and Influence of Chiefs and Natural Rulers in the Eastern Region of Nigeria (Enugu, 1956), i.

60 Coleman, James S., Nigeria: Background to Nationalism (Berkeley, 1971), 332, noted the colonial use of land regulations to support “peripheral tribes” against land alienation to Igbo migrants.

61 See Karmon, , Geography, 58, on the geography of this process; and Jones, G.I., “Ecology and Social Structure among the North-Eastern Ibo,” Africa 31(1961), 117–34, for the social dynamics of this late and continuing migration.

62 Karmon, , Geography, 7677.

63 Coleman, , Nigeria, 273.

64 Ibid., chapter 12

65 Mbajekwe, P., “Debating Land Policy in Colonial Nigeria” in Falola, , Nigeria, 263.

66 Ibid., 275.

67 Coleman, , Nigeria, 314.

68 Royal Institute of International Affairs, Nigeria: the Political and Economic Background (London, 1960), 67.

69 Sklar, Robert L., Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation (Princeton, 1963), 468–71.

70 Ibid., 470.

71 Willink, al., Nigeria: Report into the Commission Appointed to Enquire into the Fears of Minorities and the Means of Allaying Them (London, 1958), 3637.

72 Sklar, , Nigerian Political Parties, 13.

73 Manton, John, “The Roman Catholic Mission and Leprosy Control in Colonial Ogoja Province, Nigeria, 1936-1960” (D. Phil., University of Oxford, 2005).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

History in Africa
  • ISSN: 0361-5413
  • EISSN: 1558-2744
  • URL: /core/journals/history-in-africa
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed