Who was the father of Nigeria? Certainly, not Lord Lugard

Who was the father of Nigeria? Certainly, not Lord Lugard

In the beginning, there was no Nigeria. There were people of various nations living very close to or very far from one another: Hausa, Yoruba, Ibo, Kanuri, Nupe, Benin and Fulani, who came in around 1800 and other smaller assemblage of groups.  They were not brothers nor were they sisters. Indeed, they were enemies because of the barrier raised by language. Those were the days of wars, when the powerful oppressed the powerless and destruction was nigh than peace. That was when the “White men” came. And there was Nigeria.


When you are in the primary or secondary school, or History 101 at the tertiary institution, your teacher stands up and shouts, “The father of Nigeria is Sir Frederick Lord Lugard!” Well, for the fear of failure during exams, no pupil wants to dispute that. What with some salient points that he amalgamated the north and south in 1906 and 1914, his wife gave Nigeria her name, he introduced indirect rule in the north, commanded the West African Frontier Force which later became the Nigerian Army, etc.

But out of the classroom, in an idyllic research environment surrounded by books and files, one can safely argue that Lugard couldn’t have been the father of Nigeria, just as a messenger couldn’t have taken over the property of his lord. There was a man, who many Nigerians think was Lugard and whose name many have not even come across for once.  That was the father of Nigeria. He was called George Dashwood Goldie Taubman or Sir George Goldie for short.


Born in 1846, much of Goldie’s childhood was not known save that he was an extremely brilliant boy in all the schools he attended. When he was about eight years old, he had gone to the Aquarium in the Westminster, where all kinds of wonders, both animal and human, were displayed. One of these was a ‘Calculating Man’ who possessed a miraculous arithmetical mind, challenging his audience to call out a mathematical problem, which without a pencil or paper, he would answer with amazing speed.

Young George, witnessing the display, became aware that he too possessed this gift and with childlike enthusiasm, innocently began to shout out the answers before the Calculating Man, much to the delight of the rough cockney audience. The occasion became something of a riot, the boy had to be ejected rapidly and the attendants were instructed not to admit him again. He was a bad customer. But he retained this gift of rapid calculation throughout his life.

Problem was George was restive, always in a rush and not knowing where exactly he wanted to go. In the 1860s, he trained for two years at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, but was like a gun powder magazine throughout and was blind drunk when he passed his final examinations. Just then, a relation of his died, leaving him his fortunes. He was so elated by this that he bolted without sending in his papers and resurfaced in Egypt. He was just 20!


In Egypt, he met an Arab girl with whom he fell deeply in love and the two went up to Egyptian Sudan where for three years they lived a blissfully isolated life. Goldie said their abode was a ‘Garden of Allah,’ while he learnt colloquial Arabic and had his first taste of Africa. No one knew what happened, but after three years, Goldie scampered out of the Garden of Allah and reappeared in England. The Arab girl was lost in transit.

His return did not betoken a transformation to more sober ways; instead, he led a life of idleness and dissipation. Then he thought a better way out: “Let me become a monk.  No wife, no children,” he must have told himself and to actualise this, he quickly started a course at the Nunnery. But habits die had! For not long after he got into the sacred land of learning, he became infatuated with the family governess, Mathilda Catherine Elliot. He quickly induced the innocent nun until she eloped with him to Paris, where they began a tempestuous love affair.


It was at this point politics stepped in to alter the shape of their lives. The year was 1870 and Goldie was just 24. On 2 August, 1870, war broke out between the French Empire of Napoleon III and Prussia. Within a month, the Prussians had forced the French armies and their Emperor to surrender and by 20 September, Paris was already surrounded by them.  Thus, the aspiring monk and the established nun were caught in the trap.

For four months, Paris was besieged and Goldie and Mathilda Elliot witnessed all the horrors of the terrible investment. Not until February 1871 were they able to return to England and having put off the garb of nunnery, got married on 8 July, 1871. Goldie knew he could never be a faithful husband and the wife was aware too, but the horrific adventure to Paris had become a bond and even if the priest had not asked them, they had resolved to stay together for better, for worse.

Now, at the time of his marriage, Goldie was 25 and without a career. His personal life had apparently taken a disastrous turn and he had abandoned the army. Although he had a small private income and a wealthy family to back him, he could not hope to use these to make a public career as a servant of the state or in politics.  And for four years, he roamed the streets not until 1875 was the opportunity for which he had been searching cracked open: the breakthrough.

One thing was the precision of his calculating mind. It never failed him. So, when this rear occasion came – and many people would not have seen it – he saw it and knew this was what he had been waiting for: an adventure that would occupy him, take him away and forge him into whatever form.

In 1860, his elder brother, John Senhouse Goldie Taubman, had married the then Miss Amelia Grove-Ross. Her father, Captain Joseph Grove-Ross, had become the Secretary of the small firm of Holland Jacques and Company which had begun trading on the Niger since 1869. By 1875, the firm was in serious financial difficulties and Grove-Ross appealed to his son in-law for help.

As Providence would have it, George Goldie was there when the matter was tabled before his brother. He not only persuaded his brother to invest in it, he volunteered to go to Africa to turn the dying company around. The family raised money, made it into a small loan to Goldie and he became the owner of Holland Jacques and Company.

Immediately, things changed in such a dramatic way that the family became baffled, for they could not fathom from where Goldie got his energy, discipline and doggedness. He set to work at once. Before moving to the Niger, he made his own preliminary investigation, wanting to know what had earlier gone into the Niger trade and why, especially, was Holland Jacques losing money.

Goldie learnt that between 1700 and 1800, the lion’s share of slave trade in the Niger region had been concentrated in the hands of the merchants of Liverpool. It was thus a disastrous blow for them when in 1807, parliament made the slave trade criminal and imposed drastic penalties on those found guilty. The Liverpool traders had much capital tied up in West African shipping and had built up a costly system of contacts with the African rulers of the coast.

The collapse of this trade now forced the Liverpool merchants to try to save something from the wreckage of their fortunes by developing a ‘legitimate commerce.’ Coincidence gave them the opportunity.

In the first half of the 19th Century, the demand for cleanliness in Europe revolutionised the soap industry; life was becoming dirtier and washing essential to health. Then the French Chemist, Michael Eugene Chevreul (August 1786-April 1889), discovered margaric acid and the designing of an early form of soap made from animal fats and salt, thus laying the foundation for the application of mass production techniques to the soap industry.

The main fat used to make soap then was tallow, but it was found that in order to make a good lather, the fat had to be blended with vegetable oils and the best of these was palm oil. This was where the Liverpool traders turned their shipping and capital resources, developing the trade in palm oil, for by 1850, Liverpool was producing nearly 30,000 tons of soap every year.  Also, the development of machinery in industries at the same time produced a greater demand for palm oil as a lubricant.

The oil was obtained from the fruits of palm kernel which were in abundance on either side of the delta of the Niger River, just from present Lagos through Delta to Rivers states. The Liverpool traders gave it a name: Oil Rivers. But it was difficult for them to get to the hinterland, only the local peoples could collect the oil since the mosquito-ridden coastal belt was deadly to the Europeans.

But the traders wanted to get into the swamp themselves; they detested the activities of the rulers who served as middle men between them and the actual producers. It was the desperation of the European traders to get direct access to the palm oil producers that began the scramble towards the Niger area as they looked for other routes.

To achieve this, pathfinders had to be sought and this was where the explorers and missionaries played the most significant roles in opening the bowels of Nigeria. It was often a suicide mission, but you found them smiling to meet whatever consequences awaited them in the forest of unknown. Association for Promoting the Discovery of the interior Parts of Africa, commonly known as African Association was formed in 1788.

Between 1788 and 1793, three expeditions organised by the association to discover the truth about the Niger failed, leaving many dead. Then in May 1795, Mungo Park joined the fray.  On the way, he suffered incredible hardship. He was robbed of all his belongings and frequently laid low by fever. Finally, after a trek of more than six months, he arrived at Segu on 20 July, 1796 and there he saw with infinite pleasure the great object of his mission: the long sought majestic Niger!

On 15 June, 1797, he returned to England and the association was very happy with his success.  That prompted the sending of a German, Frederick Hornemann, who went through Cairo and nothing was heard of him till this day.  The British government showed interest in the outcome of Mungo Park’s adventure and in 1805, asked him to lead a group of 45 Europeans. They went, but never returned, not excluding Mungo Park. All perished.



So were other expeditions and so many Europeans lost their lives in that zeal to be the first to get to the mouth of the Niger. On October 1830, however, two brothers, Richard and John Landers, got to the delta area of Niger and saw that the river emptied itself into the Atlantic Ocean. That was how the mouth of the Niger with its several creeks, became the hob of business activities between the Europeans and people of the area.

But this did not stop the death of many other Europeans. In 1832, Mac-Gregor Laird, with his two ships, Quorra and Albarka with 49 other Europeans including Richard Lander, started the exploration of the Niger for trade purposes. Lander and 40 others, however, died and the killer was malaria.

On 12 May, 1841, three steamers built with the assistance of the British government left England with over 100 Europeans. They were to go and establish points of trade in the Niger area.  They moved as far as Igala, then calamity struck and they started dying one after the other. In two months, 48 of them had died, while the others returned home.


These tragic recurrences should deter the Europeans, many would have thought, but no! In spite of the calamity of 1832 and 18412, the British Government still persisted in its search for the best and fastest route to the hinterland of the Niger area.  This could have been achieved with minimal casualties, but for the major obstacle on the road: mosquito.

So in 1850, the government prompted the explorers and the sponsor associations to find a cure to the dreaded African insect. And for this, some of them went in search of the formula earlier developed by a French gentrologist and through this effort, the Quinine was brought to the limelight after finding out it was the most effective drug for malaria.

And it came to pass that by 1850, Quinine had become a drug off the shelf for explorers.  So, the adventurers persuaded the British Government to give the exploration of Nigeria another trial and the same old Mac Gregor Laird was persuaded to build ships, while the British Admiralty supplied the officers.

Led by a Dr. William Baikie and including missionaries, the expedition was well fortified this time.  They left Dublin on 20 May, 1854, navigated almost as far as Yola, covering 900 miles, spent 118 days in the hinterland of the Niger area and not one European died on the whole journey. The use of quinine as a cure for malaria had now proved that life was possible for Europeans in the interior.


With this breakthrough and the removal of the obstacle erected by mosquito, the defender of African independence, the Niger interior was opened for trade.  And there was a big rush leading to a stiff-neck competition as the traders from Liverpool and those from other European countries tried to cut corners to out-do one another in the name of profit maximisation.

Then competition replaced mosquito, though killing companies rather than men.  One of the companies now gasping for breath was Holland Jacques and Company, which had just been bought by the Goldie Taubman family and given to Gorge to run.

After his preliminary research, he knew that there were four strong companies that traded around the area now known as North, linking up the South. One of the companies was very sick and its anaemic body given to him as the san-goma.  Surprisingly, he diagnosed the company and came up with the solution: Amalgamation.

The four companies must become one and by this, monopolised the trade. That propelled him to change the name of Holland Jacques and Company to Central African Trading Company Limited and moved it to the Niger as a new company in May 1876. There, he met West African Company, The Miller Brothers and Company and James Pinnock and Company.


Both were George Goldie’s seniors in age and experience, yet no one could detail how he was able to convince them and used the technique of amalgamation used in previous manoeuvres and flotation. On 20 November, 1879, all the companies merged and became United African Company (UAC) and the running of the company put in the hands of George Goldie.

The aim of the collapsed companies was to stop competition, pull their resources together and share profits. Unfortunately, hardly were they amalgamated when trouble reared its head from elsewhere. The French wanted to come to the Niger, just as the German also wanted to.

This was a stiffer competition since the traders were coming with the full backing of their governments, hence the United African Company began to get treaty from Kings of those areas they were occupying, cajoling them not to trade with any group from any other country.

Back home, the British government too became alert and reasoned, correctly too, that the coming of the French and German was to encroach on the land already secured for the Queen.  It got the government angry and the scramble for the Niger area began. Problem was that the British wanted the land, but did not want to run a protectorate or colony there as there was no money to do that.



Goldie was running the company and trying to retain the acquired land for the British government, but couldn’t do this successfully and there was almost a confrontation among the British, the French and the German. To afford serious war, a meeting of the European countries was called in Berlin in November 1884.

All they wanted to do was to share the land of West Africa. For this they converged; France, Great Britain, Germany, Portugal and King Leopold of Belgium. All were well prepared, except Britain that had, for fear of incurring expenses, abandoned Goldie to face the encroachers.

To ensure it did not lose out in the sharing, it quickly asked the United Africa Company to change its name, thereby becoming National African Company (NAC) and gave it the status of an agent, declaring all its areas a British territory.  And just three days to the beginning of the conference in Berlin, the NAC was permitted to hoist the Union Jack, the symbol of the British Government.

For this singular action and by the time the meeting ended in June 1885, Britain was able to get substantial share of West African land which included the coastline from the Cameroons to Lagos, the banks of the River Niger up to Lokoja and of the Benue, as far as Ibi.


To put its seal on this, the British quickly declared the area Oil Rivers Protectorate in June 1885. But it could not still be interested in administering the area, citing large requirement of fund as the excuse. This was why the area was handed over to George Goldie and his company. He was granted a Charter and the Great Seal affixed on 10 July, 1886.

Almost immediately, the company changed its name and became the Royal Niger Company.  The Board of Directors became The Council, while the Chairman became the Governor. Goldie, the owner of the company, became the Deputy Governor and directors of the company were now members of Council.

The Council was the final court of appeal in all cases of the Niger territories. The Company created two new posts, the Senior Judicial Officer and the Commandant of the Constabulary. In effect, the Senior Judicial Officer was the Chief Justice of the Niger Territories or the first Nigerian Chief Justice.

Also, the Commandant of the Constabulary was the first Inspector-General of Police, while the District Agents of the company were later to be known in British administration as District Officers (DO). It thus became clearer that the first semblance of British administration in Northern Nigeria was set up by Goldie and remained basically unchanged until independence.

Perhaps Goldie’s most significant historical contribution was in the sphere of administration and through the administrative system of the Royal Niger Company, he laid down the basis for what was later to become known as Indirect Rule: the system of administration based on using the existing legitimate African rulers.

The inspiration for the idea of ruling through the African chiefs and Emirs laid in the company’s poverty both in men and money. It was the same reason that brought the idea of using the resources of the South to finance the North.


The British government was not paying for administrative services rendered by Goldie and his company, rather, he was allowed to collect taxes on goods brought in from the South. It was this money so collected from traders from the south that was used to address the finances of the North.

However, it soon became clear that other foreign powers, who had signed the Berlin Treaty of 1885, neither intended to respect the Royal Niger Company’s claims over its territories nor abide by the regulations it laid down and the scramble began afresh.

It was the game of the fittest as the French and the German were coming fully armed to grab some areas which were free but could encumber the movement of the company on the Niger. This was why Goldie employed Lord Lugard to secure treaties from the kings of those areas that were not under his Company’s rule.


In August 1894, Lugard entered the Niger territories for the first time as an employee of Goldie. He was to secure a treaty from the King of Nikki, using a small troop of Hausa and Yoruba soldiers already raised by Goldie.

Now, while he was in the employment of the company, his girlfriend, Miss Flora Shaw, came looking for him. Lugard took him to his employer and was shown round and lavishly entertained. In appreciation, when she returned to her station in the Times office, she wrote an article enumerating the conquest of Goldie in the Niger territory.

But for Goldie’s unassuming posture, the country would have borne a different name entirely.  The first name suggested was actually Goldisia, as Rhodesia, where John Rhodes was the owner of the company running the territory.

Goldie rejected the name and Flora started another coinage: Area around the Royal Niger Company, the Royal Niger Company area, Niger area and, finally, Nigeria.


Lugard went back to England after his service. But later, when the territories were to be taken away from Goldie due to another face-off that was very close to war between France and Britain, an army officer was needed again. Goldie suggested Lugard.

Then, on 31 December, 1899, while the Royal Niger Company’s flag was being lowered and the Union Jack raised again, Goldie was moving back to England and his employer, who he brought to the Niger area was moving in to consolidate the foundation already laid by his former boss.

So, who was the father of Nigeria? Certainly, it could not have been Lugard!


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