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The Production and Export of Hides and Skins in Colonial Northern Nigeria, 1900–1945*

  • A. G. Adebayo (a1)

Despite the seeming abundance of writings on the topic, the depth and breadth of the British raw materials trade with Africa is yet to be fully appreciated. There are commodities, such as cassava starch, animal and dairy products and other less prominent crops, whose exploitation under colonial rule has not been studied; and, with regard to the organization of the export trade, the relationship between the colonial state and metropolitan (industrial and merchant) capital has not been adequately defined. This paper examines the organization of the production and export of hides and skins in colonial Northern Nigeria both to fill a gap in the literature on colonial economic history and to raise questions about the true position of the colonial state vis-à-vis metropolitan capital. Relying on primary source materials, it confirms the importance of hides and skins as a commodity of the pre-colonial caravan trade; and shows that, upon the establishment of British rule over Northern Nigeria, the volume of production and export increased, reaching new and unprecedented peaks during the world wars. Colonialism had a tremendous impact on the hides and skins industry of Northern Nigeria. The colonial state forced the producers to adopt new procedures in flaying, trimming and drying hides and skins, and extended rules of control of markets, minimum standards and compulsory inspection to the industry. In the enforcement of these rules, the state practised double standards, treating African producers and European merchant companies differently. Finally, on the strength of the evidence from the controversy over export duties and railway freight charges, the paper agrees that European merchants and industrialists had unlimited access to, and sometimes prevailed on, the colonial state; but argues that the latter had autonomy in the taking of crucial decisions affecting the economy and commerce of the colony.

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1 The writer is not aware of any detailed, full-length study of the hides and skins trade of Northern Nigeria. However, brief references are contained in many of the works on West African pre-colonial trade and markets, colonial economic history, and African industry and commerce. Among others, see Perham, Margery (ed.), The Native Economies of Nigeria (2 vols) (London, 19461948), i, 283–6; ii, 145, 166–7; Smith, M. G., The Economy of Hausa Communities of Zaria: A Report to the Colonial Social Science Research Council (London, 1955, reprinted New York, 1971); Hill, Polly, Rural Hausa: A Village and a Setting (Cambridge, 1972), 268, 292–3, 323; Madauchi, Ibrahim et al. , Hausa Customs (Zaria, 1968), 36; Taylor, F. W. and Webb, A. G., Al'adun Hausawa: Accounts and Conversations Describing Certain Customs of the Hausas (London, 1932), 193; Meek, C. K., The Northern Tribes of Nigeria (2 vols) (London, 1925), i, 160–1; Johnson, Marion, ‘Periphery and centre: the 19th century trade of Kano’, in Barkindo, Bawuro M. (ed.), Studies in the History of Kano (Ibadan, 1983), 136–7, and ‘Calico caravans: the Tripoli-Kano trade after 1880’, J. Afr. Hist., XVII (1976), 102–8; Okediji, F. A., ‘An economic history of Hausa-Fulani Empire of Northern Nigeria, 1900–39’ (Ph.D. thesis, Indiana University, 1972), 220–6; Hopkins, A. G., An Economic History of West Africa (London, 1973), 7987.

2 The literature on the trans-Saharan trade is already ample. I have found Adu Boahen's studies very useful for the nineteenth century generally. See his ‘The caravan trade in the nineteenth century’, J. Afr. Hist., III (1962), 349–59, and Britain, the Sahara and the Western Sudan (Oxford, 1964), 103–31. I have also found the following works informative regarding the vitality of the trans-Saharan trade in the latter part of the century: Newbury, C. W., ‘North African and Western Sudan trade in the nineteenth century’, J. Afr. Hist., VII (1966), 233–46; Baier, StephenTrans-Saharan trade and the Sahel: Damergu, 1870–1930’, J. Afr. Hist., XVIII, (1977), 3760; Johnson, , ‘Calico caravans’, 95117; Cordell, Dennis D., ‘Eastern Libya, Wadai and the Sanusiya: a tariqa and a trade route’, J. Afr. Hist., XVIII (1977), 2136.

3 See Hopen, C. E., The Pastoral Fulbe Family in Gwandu (London, reprinted 1970); Awogbade, M. O., Fulani Pastoralism (Zaria, 1983); Stenning, D. J., Savannah Nomads (London, 1964); Croix, W. F., The Fulani of Northern Nigeria (Lagos, 1946).

4 Tsetse fly was (and still is) a menace in the Nigerian savannah, and the colonial administration fought several campaigns against both sleeping sickness and trypano-somiasis (in man and livestock respectively). For further information, see Glover, P. E., The Tsetse Problem in Northern Nigeria (Nairobi, 1961); Nash, T. A., Tsetse Flies in British West Africa (London, 1948); Davey, T. H., Trypanosomiasis in British West Africa (London, 1948); Nash, T. A., ‘The tsetse fly and the trypanosome’, The New Scientist, July 1958; Baldry, D. A. T. and Riordan, K., ‘A review of 50 years’ entomology of insect-borne diseases of veterinary importance in Nigeria’, Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Nigeria, 1967, 4355.

5 Africanus, Leo, History and Description of Africa (3 vols.) (London, 1896), 829, 933.

6 Barth, H., Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa (5 vols.) (London, 18571958), iii, 98.

7 Staudinger, Paul, In the Heart of the Hausa States (2 vols.) (Athens, Ohio, 1990), ii, 159222.

8 Dalziel, J. M., The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa (London, 1937), 203, cited in Polly Hill, Rural Hausa, 323.

9 Lugard, Lord, The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa (London, 1965), 509–10.

10 Kano has also attracted an interesting range of research. See, among others, Ubah, C. N., ‘Administration of Kano Emirate under the British, 1900–1930’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Ibadan, 1973); Hill, Polly, Population, Prosperity and Poverty: Rural Kano, 1900–70 (Cambridge, 1977); Barkindo (ed.), Studies in the History of Kano; and Tukur, M. M., ‘The imposition of British colonial domination on the Sokoto caliphate, Borno and neighbouring states, 1897–1914’ (Ph.D. thesis, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria), 1979).

11 Barth, H., Travels in Nigeria, ed. Kirk-Greene, A. H. M. (London, 1962), 116–17.Johnson, , ‘Calico caravans’, 102, shows that Barth's one million cowries was worth £160.

12 Johnson, , ‘Calico caravans’, 105 (table).

13 Ibid. 108.

14 Hides and Skins of Nigeria (pamphlet prepared for the Empire Exhibition, Scotland, 1938, by the Export Advertising Services Ltd.), 1–5.

15 Boahen, Britain, the Sahara and the Western Sudan.

16 The Charter of the Royal Niger Company, cited in Cook, Arthur N., British Enterprise in Nigeria (London, 1964), 89.

17 Ubah, , ‘Administration of Kano Emirate’, 419–35.

18 National Archives, Ibadan (NAI), Chief Secretary's Office (CSO) 01149, Vol. 1, Hides and Skins (and Groundnuts) Export Duties and Railway Freights, entry 109 of 1 Sept. 1921. It should be noted also that there was a disastrous rinderpest outbreak in 1919–20 which caused heavy mortality to livestock. See Wosu, L. O., Rinderpest Outbreaks in Nigeria, 1886–1986 (Zaria, 1989), 11.

19 NAI, CSO 01149, Vol. 1, entries 70–106.

20 National Archives, Kaduna (NAK), SOKPROF 3/1, 1653, vol. 1, Hides and Skins—Instructions Re, 1932–5, pp. 73–88; KANOPROF 197/1926 Hides and Skins, 1935–52, pp. 1–32.

21 Some information on the activities of the LKTC is contained in Robert Shenton's pioneering study. See his ‘The London and Kano papers: an introduction’, in Barkindo, (ed.), Studies in the History of Kano, 187–92.

22 NAK, KANOPROF 108/1916, Kano Provincial Annual Report, 1915, by H. R. Palmer.

23 NAK, SNP 10/5 413P/1917, Sokoto Provincial Annual Report, 1916, by E. J. Arnett.

24 NAK, KANOPROF 202/1917, Kano Provincial Annual Report, 1916, by W. F. Gowers.

25 NAK, SNP 10/5 413P/1917, Sokoto Provincial Annual Report, 1916, by E. J. Arnett.

26 Extracted from NAK, KANOPROF, various Annual Reports.

28 NAK, KANOPROF 438, Kano Provincial Annual Report, 1930 by H. O. Lindsell.

29 A similar structure has been observed with regard to the collection of hides and skins for export in neighbouring Niger. See Stewart, Bonni Ann, ‘The organisation for the collection of hides and skins in the Province of Zinder, Republic of Niger’, J. Afr. Studies, XIII (1986), 28.

30 See NAK, KANOPROF 3416, Hides and Skins—Control of Export of 1933–50.

31 Hides and Skins of Nigeria, 13–14.

32 Ibid. 14–15.

33 Ibid. 15–16.

34 In the present discussion, only the activities of the dillali in the hides and skins collection will be examined. For more details on their role in the total commerce of the western and central Sudan, see Lovejoy, Paul, Caravans of Kola: The Hausa Kola Trade, 1700–1900 (Zaria, 1980), 31, 127–30; Hill, , Rural Hausa, 224, 292–3, Hogendorn, J. S., Nigerian Groundnut Exports: Origin and Early Development (Zaria, 1978), 141–3.

35 NAK, KANOPROF 3416, Senior Veterinary Officer, Kano, to District Officer, Kano Division, minute on file, 13 July 1943.

36 This is one of the reasons why colonial improvement schemes failed. According to Mr Peck, Veterinary Officer, Katsina, butchers were for the most part in debt to the middlemen and therefore, had no incentive to do extra work for which they would receive no pay. Thus, butchers refused to obey veterinary instructors for ‘they knew they were committing no offence and were losing no profit by doing so’. See NAK, ZARPROF 7/1 737, Hides and Skins, Zaria Province, 1931–4.

37 NAK, KANOPROF 256/1928, Provincial Annual Report, 1928, by C. W. Alexander, p. 36.

38 NAK, ZARPROF 7/1 737, Vol. 1, Hides and Skins, Zaria Province, 1934–42, Manager UAC to Resident, Zaria 27 July 1939.

39 NAK, KANOPROF 256/1928, Provincial Annual Report, 1928.

40 Hides and Skins Sub-Committee, Kano Chamber of Commerce, Minute of Meeting of 27 Aug. 1943.

41 Kano Chamber of Commerce to Director of Veterinary Services, 16 Apr. 1938, in NAI, CSO 37049, Vol. 1, Draft Hides and Skins Ordinance, 1937–41.

42 It has long been recognized that, in the West African market, the middleman was indispensable in bulking and breaking of bulk. According to Bauer, and with particular reference to the bulking of Northern Nigerian groundnut, ‘the first link in the chain may be the purchase, hundreds of miles from Kano, of a few pounds of groundnuts, which after several stages of bulking arrive there as part of a wagon or lorry load of several tons’. See Bauer, P. T., West African Trade: A Survey of Competition, Oligopoly and Monopoly in a Changing Economy (London, 1963), 23.

43 It is necessary to note that, by not exporting tanned hides and skins, the merchant companies indirectly killed the development of modern tanning industries in Nigeria. Moreover, and as R. Scott and Marion Johnson have (separately) argued, after the best untanned hides and skins had been exported, Northern Nigerian leather workers were left with low grade raw materials to process. See Scott, R., ‘Production for trade’, in Perham, (ed.), The Native Economies of Nigeria, i, 283–6; Johnson, , ‘Calico caravans’, 108.

44 Lugard, , Dual Mandate, 487511.

45 In this regard, the colonial state was treating hides and skins as it treated other prime raw materials, such as cotton, cocoa, groundnuts and timber. Improvement and inspection schemes were introduced into the production of these commodities, and grading officers ensured that minimum standards were maintained by producers. For more details, see Bauer, , West African Trade, 365–76; Hogendorn, , Nigerian Groundnut Exports, 3940, 130; Shenton, Robert, The Development of Capitalism in Northern Nigeria (Toronto, 1986).

46 Astmoor Tanning Co. Ltd, to Colonial Secretary, 10 Jul. 1922, in NAI, CSO 01149, Vol. I, Hides and Skins (and groundnuts) Export Duties and Railway Freights.

47 Chief Secretary to Director of Agriculture, 1945/503 of 12 Sept. 1927, in NAI, CSO 01149, Vol. II.

48 NAK, KANOPROF 256/1928, Provincial Annual Report, 1928, by C. W. Alexander, p. 34.

49 Ibid. 35–6.

50 NAK, KANOPROF 923, Provincial Annual Report, 1932; also see NAK, SOKPROF 3/1 1653, Vol. I, Hides and Skins—Instructions Re, 1932–5, p. 27.

51 NAK, ZARPROF 737, Hides and Skins, Zaria Province, 1931–4, p. 24.

52 Gazette Notice No. 1334, in Gazette No. 67 of 6 Dec. 1934, Section 2.

54 Ibid. Sections 7 & 8.

55 Ibid. Section II.

56 Hides and skins (Northern Provinces) Ordinance, No. 69 of 1942, Section 16.

57 Such cases were numerous. See NAK, SOKPROF 5581; KANOPROF 3416; ZARPROF 3602.

58 NAK, SOKPROF 5581, Hides and Skins Ordinance Legislation, 1940–7, pp. 70–4.

59 ZAK, ZARPROF 737, Hides and Skins, Zaria Province, 1931–4, p. 69.

60 NAK, ZARPROF 737, Vol. I, Hides and Skins, Zaria Province, 1934–42, pp. 126–8. This case is of further interest. The D.O. ordered that the butcher be arrested and brought to Zaria; but perhaps in the belief that he was going to be jailed, the butcher sent another man in his place, most probably his apprentice. After this man had been lectured for 14 days on how to apply the stencil, he confessed that he was not the actual butcher. The Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer was so disappointed that he commented in the file that ‘the whole thing seemed so futile’.

61 Leubuscher, Charlotte, ‘The policy governing external trade’ in Perham, (ed.), The Native Economies of Nigeria, ii, 145.

62 NAK, SOKPROF 1653, Vol. II, Hides and Skins—Instructions Re, 1937–44, p. 97.

63 Officer Administering the Government of Nigeria to Secretary of State for the Colonies, No. 97 of 28 Feb. 1942, in NAI, CSO 37049, Vol. II, Hides and Skins, Draft Ordinance, 1942.

64 NAK, ZARPROF 3602, Hides and Skins Improvement Scheme—Staff for, 1942–5.

65 NAI, CSO 37049, Vol. II, Hides and Skins, Draft Ordinance, 1942.

67 Ibid. Such markets were available in the United States, Japan and Eastern Europe, where the inferior quality hides and skins were used to produce suede.

68 See, among several other writings on the theme, Shenton, Development of Capitalism in Northern Nigeria; Ekwekwe, Erne, Class and State in Nigeria (London, 1986); Kay, G. (ed.), The Political Economy of Colonialism in Ghana: A Collection of Documents and Statistics, 1900–60 (Cambridge, 1972); Lonsdale, J. and Berman, B., ‘Coping with the contradictions: the development of the colonial state in Kenya’, J. Afr. Hist., XX (1979), 487505; Phillips, A., The Enigma of Colonialism: British Policy in West Africa (London, 1989).

69 See for example, Lawal, A. A., ‘Sharing profits with subjects: the colonial fiscal policy’, in Falola, Toyin (ed.), Britain and Nigeria: Exploitation or Development? (London, 1987), 186–99; Ikime, O., ‘The British and Native Administration finance in Northern Nigeria, 1900–34’, J. Hist. Soc. Nigeria, VII, 4 (1975), 673–89.

70 NAI, CSO, 01149, Vol. I, Hides and Skins (and Groundnuts) Export Duties and Railway Freights.

71 NAI, ARS/C.4, Annual Report of the Customs and Excise Department, 1929 (1931–52 not available).

72 Astmoor Tanning Co. Ltd, to Colonial Secretary, 10 July 1922, in NAI, CSO 01149, Vol. I, enclosures. See also letters from Penkett Tanning Co. Ltd, Highfield Tanning Co. Ltd, and Camden Tanning Co. Ltd, to Colonial Secretary, 10 July 1922.

73 Colonial Secretary to Astmoor Tanning Co. Ltd, 20 July 1922.

74 Niger Company Ltd to Acting Governor, 11 Sept. 1922. Also Customs Comptroller to Chief Secretary, 30 Oct. 1923, in NAI, CSO 01149, Vol. II, p. 263.

75 Governor of Nigeria to Secretary of State, No. 186 of 4 Mar. 1924, in NAI, CSO 01149, Vol. II, pp. 281–3.

76 NAI, ARS/C.4, Annual Report of the Customs and Excise Department, 1929; also, NAK, KANOPROF, Provincial Reports, 1924, 1925 and 1928.

77 For information on the railway in Nigeria, see Omosini, O., ‘Background to railway policy in Nigeria, 1877–1901’, in Akinjogbin, I. A. and Osoba, S. O. (eds.), Topics on Nigerian Economic and Social History (Ile-Ife, 1980), 146–58; Tamuno, T. N., ‘Genesis of the Nigerian Railway—I and II’, Nigeria Magazine, Nos. 83–4 (12 196403 1965); Oshin, V. O., ‘Transport studies in Nigeria—a review’, Odu, XXXIII (1988), 219–25.

78 General Manager, Railway to Chief Secretary, 14 Jan. 1918, in NAI, CSO, 01149, Vol. I, entry 52.

79 The full report is not available, but the relevant sections on hides and skins were extracted into NAI, CSO, 01149, Vol. II, pp. 286–90.

81 General Manager, Railway to Chief Secretary, H.178 of 24 Feb. 1925, in NAI, CSO, 01149, Vol. II.

82 Throughout the paper, exploitation is used with its meaning in the labour theory of value rather than in the general sense of utilization. It is, however, recognized that in order to use the resources of the colony for the benefit of the metropole, colonial governments first had to develop these resources and provide necessary socio-economic infrastructures. For more detail on this issue of definition, and for a synthesis of writings on the subject, see Falola, Toyin, Britain and Nigeria, 131.

83 I have examined elsewhere the various colonial policies in the extraction of other livestock products, such as milk, butter and butterfat. See A. G. Adebayo, ‘Colonial rule and the dilemma of domestic supply: the case of milk in Nigeria’, Odu, forthcoming; and ‘Taming the nomads: the colonial state, the Fulani pastoralists and the production of clarified butter fat in Nigeria’, Trans-African Journal of History, forthcoming.

84 Shenton, , Development of Capitalism in Northern Nigeria, xiv; also 14.

85 Lonsdale, and Berman, , ‘Coping with the contradictions’, 487.

* I am grateful to the Editors of this Journal for their assistance in bringing this article to publication, and to their anonymous reader for his helpful criticisms.

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