Local Government in West Africa 9780231885782

Studies some of the units of local representative government in Southern Nigeria and the problems encountered in the int

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Local Government in West Africa

Table of contents :
Introduction: The Indigenous Political Systems in West Africa
I. The Native Authority System in Nigeria
II. Local Administration in French Africa before 1939
III. Local Representation in Nigeria since 1945
IV. Postwar Representative Institutions in French Africa
V. The Nigerian Local Council System in Operation
VI. The Representative Bodies of French Africa in Operation
VII. The Traditional Authority and the Nigerian Local Council System
VIII. The Indigenous Authority and Local Administration in French Territory
IX. The Regional Government and Nigerian Local Administration
X. The French Administration and Local Government
XI. Local Government and the Nigerian Political Parties
XII. Local Government and the Political Parties in French Africa
XIII. Outline of the Future in French Africa
XIV. Retrospect and Prospect

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Copyright © 1958 Columbia University Press Published in Great Britain, Canada, India, and Pakistan by the Oxford University Press London, Toronto, Bombay, and Karachi Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 58-11900 Manufactured in the United States of America


IN THE COURSE of little more than a decade since the end of the Second World War there have been created in almost every territory of West Africa new representative bodies that have placed in African hands many of the powers formerly held by the colonial administrations. The conciliar structures which have been developed by Britain and France in West Africa have been largely based on the models which each country knew best—its own. In no sense can they be said to be natural extensions of indigenous political forms. The national and regional legislative houses of Nigeria, the territorial assemblies, and the grands conseils of French Africa had no traditional counterparts simply because the administrative units over which they were given jurisdiction were largely creations of the European powers. The new units of local representative government in Southern Nigeria, on the other hand, supplanted a system of local administration in which strenuous efforts had been made to preserve the framework of traditional political authority. This book is a study of some of these new representative institutions, of their operation, and of the problems which have been encountered in the integration of popularly elected bodies into communities which had little appreciation of their real functions and which were not in many cases fully prepared to accept their authority. Representative government in the Western sense was imposed by fiat from above (although in response to the demands of an educated minority) but it could only operate with the consent of the governed. Securing the consent and the participation of the mass of the people has been a slow and often painful process, particularly in areas where legitimization of the new system was actively combated by the tribal authorities.



Acceptance of the conciliar forms could be brought about not by law or by force but only by persuasion. The persuaders have been the European administrators and the educated political leadership, working through the political party organizations. In Southern Nigeria the administrative officer has been forced to play an indirect role in creating popular support for the elected councils since he is, in theory at least, only a guide and adviser. Although the French administrative officer's position has not been changed directly by the existence of the territorial assemblies, his former authority has been tempered by the presence of an elected member of the assembly in his area and he has been forced to compromise with the new political forces created by local representation. The political parties have everywhere been active in applying pressure to the colonial administrations for the extension of local representative systems. And they have found fertile fields for their activities in the local councils; party struggles in the councils are helping to develop local party organizations. In French Africa the parties have perforce concentrated much of their efforts on the territorial assemblies as mechanisms for teaching the voters the meaning of the representative system. But during the growth of the secular democratic organs there has continued to exist traditional authority, varying in its power from area to area, depending on the strength of local adherence to the indigenous political structure. One of the most serious problems confronting the local representatives in Nigeria has been that of securing the cooperation (or at least the neutrality) of the chief and his councilors. Where the traditional heads of the community have been genuinely integrated into the conciliar structure, the task of the councils has been made immeasurably easier; where there has been strong opposition, popular representation has often become only an empty shell. The following quotation, while it refers specifically to Ghana, illustrates a situation which finds a counterpart in many other areas of West Africa: Cousin against cousin, an old man on a gilded throne and a young man in a swivel chair are struggling for supremacy over the sacred stool of Akim Abuakwa. At his capital in Kibi the Paramount Chief sits amid the trappings of his ancient office, a leopard skin under his feet and a self-winding watch



on his arm, vowing to defend his traditional powers and cling to the leadership of his people. In his office at Accra the Minister of Local Government hunches over a desk piled with papers, insisting that the old Omanhene must keep out of politics and give way to the new Ghana of mass movements and ballotbox democracy.1 Today the people of West Africa, in the midst of a social and economic revolution, have been required to participate in the operation of political bodies designed for an entirely different environment, while those institutions to which their loyalties have been directed in the past are often ignored. The economic individualism arising from the technological revolution of the twentieth century has already put an almost unbearable strain on the fabric of traditional society; the reluctance of many Africans to accept the local representative organs is often a reflection of their desire to retain some element of stability based on tribal authority, in a world which in other ways is disintegrating before their eyes. The chief concern of this study, then, is to describe the structure of local representation and to analyze its operation in the light of the influences exerted on it by the traditional systems on the one hand and, on the other, by the pressures of modern Western political and administrative practices as they are illustrated by the political parties and the European administrator. Because of their differing approaches to the problem of selfgovernment and ultimate independence in West Africa, Britain and France have not attached equal importance to the development of purely local representation. Since 1950, a full-scale conciliar structure extending down to the level of the bush village has been brought into existence in Southern Nigeria. In French Africa, however, with the exception of some of the larger municipalities, popular representation has virtually everywhere ended at the level of the territorial assembly. In the hierarchy of elected bodies it is evident that, in terms of many of its functions, the territorial assembly is much more nearly comparable to a regional legislature in Nigeria than to, say, a county council in Nigeria. Although the territorial assembly was, particularly in the early period of its existence, in reality little more 1

Richard P. Hunt, New York Times, October 11, 1957.



than the overseas counterpart of a French conseil de département, the rapid growth of the demand for local autonomy had by 1956 virtually eliminated all traces of this local council element. But the comparison in the present study between the assemblies and the Nigerian local councils lies not primarily in their respective roles as organs of government but in the roles they have played as the lowest common denominators of the representative system in their respective territories. It was through the assemblies in French territory and through the local councils in Nigeria that the opportunity for expression of political opinion was given at a level meaningful to the average voter. The ability to vote in the election of a deputy to sit in Paris carried almost as little significance for the great mass of the new African voters in French Africa as did, at first, the vote for a member of the central legislature to the man in the bush in Nigeria. When one's horizon is bounded by the next village or at most by the nearest large town, Lagos is as far away as Paris. The problems encountered in establishing local representation, whether the form was a district council, a commission municipale, or a territorial assembly, were in many respects similar. While the powers of an assembly were obviously substantially greater than those of a council, the voter had still to learn in both cases how to choose a councilor or an assemblyman who would best represent his interests. The assemblies and the councils both created new roles of prestige and distinction in the community, and the new authority of these elected representatives had to be reconciled with the existing pattern of indigenous authority. Problems of integration and of conflict arose as a consequence of the activities which the new representative institutions were required to perform, at whatever levels they existed. We are concerned here with the process by which the resolution of these problems has been sought in two colonial areas in which a widely differing interpretation has been placed on the continuing value of indigenous political structures. A word must be said about the time sequence of this study. Political change is taking place so rapidly in West Africa that it becomes virtually impossible to analyze the current situation except on a day-to-day basis. The field research for the present work was undertaken in West Africa in 1954 and 1955; most of the data upon which



the analysis is based are drawn from observations and interviews conducted during this period. It is inevitable that some aspects of the problems dealt with will have changed, although it is hoped that in the broader picture the judgments made remain valid. An effort has been made to take into account any major structural changes in local government by reference to documentary sources up to the end of 1956. In particular, the sweeping changes made in French Africa by the Loi cadre have of necessity been dealt with only in the most general fashion; the full effects of the decrees taken under the law cannot yet be estimated, but it is clear that by them the entire picture of local government in French Africa will be altered. I can only hope to acknowledge here my debt to a few of the many people who have helped me in the preparation of this study. To Columbia University and to the Rockefeller Foundation I owe thanks for the grants which permitted me to undertake the field research. To Mr. Kenneth Robinson, formerly of Nuffield College, Oxford, and to the staff of the Institute of Colonial Studies at Oxford, as well as to officials of the Colonial Office, I am deeply grateful for guidance in documentation and for their friendly counsel. My work in Paris was greatly facilitated by the assistance of the staff of the Ecole de la France d'Outre Mer, the Institut des Hautes Etudes Musulmanes, and by the members of the secretariat of the Ministry of Overseas France. To many officials of government in Nigeria and the territorial capitals of West Africa, the Cameroons, and French Equatorial Africa I am greatly indebted both for the warmth of their hospitality and for their advice. The district officers, commandants de cercle, and chefs de région who were prepared not only to answer endless questions but to put at my disposal files of invaluable information on local administration will understand that my gratitude for their help is no less great because they must remain anonymous. Any of them who may read this book may well recognize some of the opinions they expressed to me. Professor James S. Coleman of the University of California at Los Angeles and Mr. Thomas Hodgkin of Oxford have read all or parts of the manuscript. For their helpful suggestions I am most grateful.



Lastly, but very far from least, I am deeply indebted to the council secretaries, treasurers, and other staff members of Nigerian councils, and to the members of the territorial assemblies who spent many hours in discussion with me. Without their cooperation the field work could not have been accomplished and, to them, in some small measure of recompense, I would like to dedicate this study.


Introduction: The Indigenous Political Systems in West Africa I


The Native Authority System in Nigeria


Local Administration in French Africa before 1939



Local Representation in Nigeria since 1945



Postwar Representative Institutions in French Africa




The Nigerian Local Council System in Operation



The Representative Bodies of French Africa in Operation 142


The Traditional Authority and the Nigerian Local Council System 158


The Indigenous Authority and Local Administration in French Territory 172


The Regional Government and Nigerian Local Administration 191


The French Administration and Local Government


Local Government and the Nigerian Political Parties


Local Government and the Political Parties in French Africa



Outline of the Future in French Africa



Retrospect and Prospect











THE POLITICAL SYSTEMS found in West Africa prior to the advent of European colonial administrations offer almost as wide a variety of peculiarities as there are tribes. Each of the main tribal groups had its particular political forms, ranging from the closely knit and specialized administrative structure of the great kingdoms to the loose and often ill-defined structure associated with extended family and kinship groups. In the most general terms, however, the indigenous political systems of the parts of West Africa dealt with in this book would appear to fall into one or another of the three types which have been distinguished by M. Fortes and E. E. Evans-Pritchard: 1 those systems generally in existence in small societies, "in which the political structure and kinship organization are completely fused"; those "in which the lineage structure is the framework of the political system"; and finally, those to be found in larger groups "in which an administrative organization is the framework of the political structure." The two broad categories of systems defined by the same authors—those with a centralized authority and machinery of government and those lacking these features—are particularly relevant to the question of adaptation to new political institutions introduced by the European powers with which we will be concerned. The Western forms of representative government are still of too recent vintage in West Africa for us to see clearly which of these in1

African Political Systems (London, 1940), pp. 6-7.



digenous political systems most easily and successfully adapts itself to them. 2 The problem of the transfer of authority from the traditional leadership, the chief and his councilors, to the new elective bodies has everywhere been a difficult one. Tribal custom and the authority and loyalty retained by the chiefs has at many points clashed with the new institutions of government, especially at the local level, which have been introduced over the past decade. The complex system of social interaction within the tribal unit was regulated and adjusted by behavioral prescriptions which were frequently derived from magicoreligious sources. Government, in the Western sense of the term, was an integrated part of this whole; laws were often not man-made but were based on traditional taboos respected by all members of the tribe. The elements of coercion and punishment within the tribal unit were spiritual, not temporal, in origin; an act which was likely to harm the solidarity of the group was punished by the ancestors or the gods. Everyone knew what the consequences of antisocial behavior were; too great a deviation from the norms laid down in the system of tribal beliefs and symbols would result in the casting out of the individual from the tribe—a sentence which, in a world where everyone depended on the community for protection and often for livelihood, meant death. Into the closed universes of the tribal communities have come in the twentieth century the disruptive forces of the money economy of the Western world, industrialization, and Western education. Now the young men leave the tribe for work in urban areas; successful farmers sell their crop of cocoa or coffee on the European markets; and new distinctions of wealth and status are created in the community. The introduction of new government services and responsibilities and the new secular institutions of government require the building up of a bureaucracy of educated men. Inevitably the creation of these new roles strikes at the heart of traditional political power, the authority of the chief. The old group solidarity is undermined, the traditional sanctions governing the 1 West African experience thus far would seem to bear out Professor Fallers' comment that, "the general hypothesis suggests itself that societies with hierarchical, centralized political systems incorporate the Western type of civil service structure with less strain and instability than do societies having other types of political systems, e.g. segmentary ones." Lloyd Fallers, Bantu Bureaucracy (Cambridge, Eng., n.d.), p. 242.



action of individuals lose their strength, and the force of the new secular sanctions of law and order are not yet fully effective because they are not yet fully understood by the community. As one commentator has put it, "the introduction of secular political forms demands a substitution of new cultural forms, new symbols and artifacts to supplant the old as relevant guides to action." 3 Regardless of the type of indigenous political structure the process of adaption to Western political forms will be a difficult one. Even in tribes with a traditional administrative hierarchy, decentralization of power from the hands of a small group of traditional officeholders at the top can only be effective if the new subordinate conciliar institutions can be integrated into the fabric of a society which still has many overtones of tribal affiliation. In West Africa the problems presented by the change-over from tribal to secular government have been accentuated by the differences between the traditional structures of the forest regions along the coast and those of the savannah areas to the north. A line running roughly across the center of Ghana, Nigeria, and the surrounding French areas separates the high forest region from the rolling hills of the savannah which gradually shade off into the desert. To the north of this line the people differ from those in the south, in religion, cultural background, and social organization. The northerners, many of whom are nomads, are cattle raisers and horsemen. Fiercely proud of their cultural heritage from the Arab and Berber invaders from North Africa, their ancestors were in past centuries the founders of great empires stretching over vast areas of the Sahara. Because of their relatively recent contact with the West (as compared to the coastal peoples) the northerners have retained a strong loyalty to their traditional political forms. Secular institutions of government are taking root more slowly than in the south; the elective conciliar structure at the local level in Nigeria, for example, while almost complete in the Southern Region, is only beginning in the Northern Region. The cellular base upon which African tribal government turned was the chief. Whether he was the head of an extended family, of a village, or of a kingdom, his function derived originally from his •David Apter, The Gold Coast in Transition (Princeton, N.J., 1955), p. 15.



duty to protect the people who depended on him. Frequently his position as the ruler of the group was fortified by the secrets of magic and appeal to the spirits he was supposed to possess. In him rested powers over the fertility of the land and over rainfall and through these, in effect, powers of life and death over the community. In some tribes the powers of the chief were related to his descent (or that of his lineage) from the founder of the clan, or lineage, often a mythical figure lost in the history of the tribe. Upon his ordination each new chief was expected to perform certain ritualistic ceremonies through which the powers held by his predecessor were supposed to pass on to him.4 Thus the continuity of government was maintained. The position of some of the more powerful chiefs could in the past be roughly compared to the seigneurs of medieval Europe. Around them gathered their family, retainers and warriors, and artisans; the peasants who looked to them for protection were in turn required to present either traditional gifts or a certain percentage of their crops in the form of direct tax. The rulers of the great Saharan empires of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were able to build up complicated administrative structures through delegation of their powers to provincial governors, under whom worked a corps of officials responsible for tax collection and other services. But the system under which these early empires operated depended too much on the personality of the ruler. A strong king was able to maintain his position only by constant vigilance over his far-flung vassals; when a succession of weak rulers ascended the throne, the empires soon disintegrated, returning to the small chiefdoms out of which they had originally been built. Few traditional chiefs in the tribal political systems of Africa could be considered complete autocrats. In almost every case they were assisted by a council, sometimes made up of elders or of the heads of other lineages within the group. While the chief was not obliged to accept the advice of his council, no chief who expected to remain long in office would be unwise enough to ignore his council consistently. Many tribes had clearly defined traditional procedures for getting rid of a chief who had overstepped the bounds of tribal ' Cf. the Yoruba custom in which each successive oba was required to eat part of the heart of his predecessor.



mores; sometimes he was merely deposed but more often he was eliminated from the scene in order to prevent the outbreak of dynastic quarrels. Particularly in the case of chieftaincies consisting of a small number of villages or of members of one extended family there was some provision for the expression of popular opinion in matters concerning the welfare of the group as a whole; meetings of the entire male adult population of a village might be held to discuss and decide on important questions. In some tribes certain administrative responsibilities of government were carried out by designated age sets, 5 who acted as market policemen, foresters, or road clearers. Secret societies also frequently had some share in governmental decisions; because of the supposed magic powers of their members they were useful in maintaining public order.

Tribal Government

in Nigeria

Examples of all three of the main types of indigenous political system which have been mentioned are to be found in Nigeria and in French Africa. The Fulani empire of Northern Nigeria illustrates the development, prior to the coming of European colonialism, of a large-scale administrative organization with a clearly defined official hierarchy from the village head up to the ruler of the state, the emir. The Fulani people 6 appeared on the scene in what is now Northern Nigeria as early as 1564. It is generally believed that they came from Egypt through North Africa and settled first on the Futa Djalon plateau in present-day French Guinea. They gradually spread with their flocks in increasing numbers through the then powerful Hausa states during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Many settled down peacefully, intermarrying with the local Hausa people. It was not until the proclamation of a holy war in 1804 by Othman dan Fodio that the Fulani arose to conquer the Hausa states and set up the great emirates which Frederick Lugard found when British control was established over Northern Nigeria in 1900. Othman dan Fodio himself assumed the title of Commander of the Faithful, and, through 6 Groups of young men born at approximately the same time or within a few years of each other. "They are known variously as Fulas, Fulbe, or by the French term, Peuls.



his son Mohammed Bello, this title has descended today to the sultan of the emirate of Sokoto, who is the spiritual head of the Moslems of the Northern Region. The new Fulani rulers took over almost intact the organized administrative system which had existed in the Hausa states, preserving and improving it for the better part of a century. In theory, the ruler, or emir, was the absolute head of the state, and in his hands rested ultimate judicial powers and the disposal of all lands. He was assisted by a council consisting partly of the ruler's personal appointees and partly of holders of fiefs that had existed before the Fulani uprising. In addition to his duties as adviser each member of the council acted as head of a department of government. Beneath the emir were the district heads appointed by him; they were either traditional local chiefs or frequently, as a method of securing loyalty to the emir, members of his own family. At the lowest level were the village heads, usually selected by traditional methods and confirmed in office by the emir. The village heads were advised by a traditional council of the village elders, a system which persists up to the present day. It was in the Hausa village, then, as Lord Hailey points out, "there was to be found the most obvious evidence of the survival of the older indigenous system, which had continued to exist beneath the hierarchical organization of the Emirate rule imposed on it." 7 Beyond the general maintenance of law and order it was the duty of the village and district heads to collect the taxes which were levied according to a system long in force in the former Hausa states. Thus, the imposition of Fulani control made no fundamental changes in the governmental system to which the people had been accustomed. In the course of the nineteenth century, however, special exactions levied by the more rapacious emirs tended to weaken popular support of the administration. Resistance to the invasion by British troops at the turn of the century was lessened, in part at least, by the dissatisfaction which had been growing up against the authoritarian methods of the emirs' rule. The indigenous political organization of the Yorubas, the largest group in Western Nigeria, exemplifies a type in which the lineage 7 Lord Hailey, Native Administration (London, 1951), Part III, p. 46.

in the British African




played an important role. At its apex was the Alafin of Oyo, to whom the other Yoruba chiefs acknowledged a more or less vague allegiance. In his rule of Oyo itself the Alafin was assisted by a council of state of seven members, drawn from particular lineages. In theory an absolute monarch, the Alafin could not in practice ignore the advice of his council, and its leader was an important voice in choosing the successor to the ruler. Beneath the council there was an elaborate structure of officials, both hereditary and appointed. In their political organization the smaller Yoruba chiefdoms largely duplicated Oyo. Except for the payment of annual tribute, the obas, or rulers of the smaller states, were autonomous, although external relations were controlled from Oyo. The political process in Oyo, as well as in the powerful kingdom of Benin, appears to have been in its later stages one of checks and balances, although at an earlier period in the nineteenth century the oba of Benin was one of the most autocratic rulers of the West African coast. But no Yoruba oba, despite the fact that he was regarded as divine, could afford to slight the Ogboni society, one of the most powerful "secret societies," which often controlled much of the business of state. In the case of the Egba people, a subgroup of the Yoruba, the ruler, the Alake of Abeokuta, was dominated by the Ogboni members. 8 Lugard, in his report on the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria, castigates the administration of Egbaland, as he saw it, in these terms: It was a hybrid with an exterior pleasing to those who reckon progress among natives to consist in imitating European methods. Side by side with a Secretariat and minute papers, . . . with Estimates prepared o n the Colonial model and Orders in Council and Regulations passed by an illiterate body of conservative Chiefs, practically all of w h o m were very old men who looked o n these proceedings probably with amused indifference, there existed the ancient regime with all its abuses—extortionate demands from the peasantry, corruption and bribery in the Courts, arbitrary imprisonment and forced labor. 9

The Yoruba kingdoms during the latter part of the nineteenth century were able to preserve a façade of strength, based largely on the ad8

Ibid., p. 106. Report by Sir F. D. Lugard on the Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria and Administration, 1912-19 (Cmd. 468, 1920), p. 13. 9



herence of the people to traditional ways and their fierce pride in and loyalty to their rulers. But undermined by internal corruption the Yoruba administrative system was forced to give way to the reforms upon which the British administration insisted. In Eastern Nigeria the political system of the predominant tribal group, the Ibo, was characterized, in contrast to the two types already described, by an almost complete lack of centralized authority. Villages were made up of one or more kindreds, each individual member of a village claiming descent from a common ancestor. With rare exceptions the largest political unit was the village group, united only by the slenderest social ties, sharing a common meeting place for a market and for political discussion. Each village acted as an autonomous unit in the political structure, and, except when the threat of invasion or other calamity brought about united action, each managed its own affairs.10 Even within the villages decentralization of power was pushed to its extreme. There was no single chief, authority being split up between the heads of the kin groups making up the village. Such village affairs as required common action were discussed by a council of elders whose head was the chief of the senior lineage. New laws had to be ratified by this council after general public discussion by the community. Political power did not rest in the hands of the lineage heads entirely, however; men of wealth could wield real influence as individuals. The age sets and title associations played a significant role in political decision-making and were often responsible for punishment of minor infractions of the law by members of their own group. The political system of the Ibos is almost unique in its strong emphasis on the independence of the clan or village units. Hailey comments: Nowhere . . . is there to be found any close analogy to the centralized organizations of the Northern Emirates, nor indeed to the less highly centralized but nevertheless authoritative organizations of the Y o r u b a and the Egba. . . . The large Ibo community presents perhaps the most outstanding example in the British African Colonies of an indigenous structure in which it is difficult to find any definite seat of executive authority, a characteristic which it has retained u p to this day. 1 1 10 Darryl Forde and G. I. Jones, The Ibo and lbibio-Speaking Peoples of South-eastern Nigeria (London, 1950), p. 16. u Hailey, Native Administration in the British African Territories, p. 155,



In Eastern Nigeria a wide variety of political structures is found among the smaller non-Ibo groups, and this diversity, along with the peculiar features of the Ibo system, were to be sources of administrative difficulty throughout the whole period of colonial rule. Tribal


in French


The three types of tribal government in Nigeria which have just been described find their counterparts, with a myriad of local variations, in French Africa. The present territories of French West Africa were the seat of the long-disappeared Saharan empires, which have left traces only in legend and tradition of their once powerful role in the history of West Africa. The old empire of Ghana (from which the name of the present country is taken) flourished until 1240, drawing its prosperity from the trade in gold with the caravans from Morocco. The influence of the widespread Mali empire reached its height in the reign of Mansa Musa in the early fourteenth century, and in the following two centuries the Songhai empire of Gao stretched over much of what is now Niger and Sudan territories. The government of these early empires was based on the despotic power of the kings, who by their skill in war were able to push the boundaries of their domains ever farther outward until their sphere of control became too great to be controlled by one man and so collapsed from the ravages of internal revolt. Although the history of these empires is often marked by cruelty and fanaticism, there appeared occasionally leaders who were remarkable for their qualities as statesmen and administrators. Mohammed Askia (1493-1529), one of the greatest of the Songhai kings, imposed upon his territories an administrative structure closely resembling that of the Fulani emirates three centuries later. According to one historian, The territory was divided into a certain number of provinces, the chiefs of which were responsible to the emperor for public order and prosperity. Every important city had an administrator in charge of municipal affairs. The high dignitaries of the court were arranged in hierarchies and the emperor closely defined their ranks, attributions, and privileges. 12 "Henri Labouret, Histoire des noirs d'Afrique (Paris, 1950), p. 62.



The administrative structures created by the rulers of these empires disappeared almost with their founders and the people over whom they held sway reverted to the earlier and simpler traditional political forms. By the time of the French conquest in the nineteenth century, the Mali empire had sunk back to groups of villages ruled by comparatively insignificant chiefs. The two important Mossi kingdoms of Yatenga and Ouagoudougou resisted the Songhai invaders and remained powerful native states until they were subdued by the French. Both kingdoms had well-organized financial and judicial systems, and the government services were in the hands of four royal ministers. Further east, the kingdom of Dahomey in the course of more than three centuries developed a highly complex administrative machine which came to an end only with the French conquest in 1894. Throughout the nineteenth century the French in their gradual expansion across West Africa treated the rulers of the African states in much the same way as though their territories had been principalities in Europe. Treaties between the French government and the chiefs were drawn up in large numbers; the French explorers appeared to believe that, once the consent of the chief to French suzerainty was secured, the problem of political control was solved.13 Unfortunately, the chiefs were often neither able nor willing to adhere to the terms of these agreements, and consequently administrative powers were withdrawn from them and placed in the hands of French officials. The British and French colonial administrations were faced, at the outset of the twentieth century, with the practical problem of establishing some form of administrative structure over their newly acquired lands in West Africa. But they also had to envisage the longer range goal of creating modern Western systems of representative government in their respective territories. In the pursuit of this end the mother countries evolved two differing theories of political development, direct rule and indirect rule. In the following chapters we will be concerned with the practical results of these two approches. "Between 1795 and 1891 in Senegal alone nearly 130 treaties were negotiated. Cf. Raymond L. Buell, The Native Problem in Africa (New York, 1928), I, 912.


always been considered in colonial literature as a prime example of the British practice of indirect rule. From the inception of formal British control over Northern Nigeria in 1900 until 1950, indirect rule was the touchstone of administrative policy. The general meaning of the term, as it was expounded by the first governor of Northern Nigeria, Sir Frederick (later L o r d ) Lugard, was clear and precise. It was only in its later application in the whole of Nigeria that it became clouded over by the mystique which grew up about it. Lugard stated his native policy succinctly in his first annual report for 1900: N I G E R I A HAS

The Government utilises and works through native chiefs and avails itself of the intelligence and powers of governing of the Fulani caste in particular but insists upon their observance of the fundamental laws of humanity and justice. If an Emir proves unamenable to persuasion and threats . . . he is deposed and in each case a Fulani or other successor recognized by the people has been installed in his place.1 Two years later he reaffirmed these views, emphasizing the necessity of ruling through the medium of the Fulani emirs whose administration had been in operation for almost a century before the arrival of the British. Lugard used indirect rule primarily as a matter of practical necessity and not of theory since his administrative staff at the beginning 1

Northern Nigeria, Annual Reports 1900-11, p. 26.



totaled eleven officers for the entire area. Indeed, even as late as 1921 there was only one political officer for every 80,000 inhabitants in the northern provinces. Neither the finances nor the personnel were available for direct administration, and the excellent results of Lugard's early policies were as much attributable to the stability of the indigenous system of rule in the Fulani emirates as they were to the wisdom of British administration. As one later governor of Nigeria commented, That the men who have been concerned in the gradual evolution of this system should feel a strong personal pride in it, and in the results which it has produced is natural enough: and who shall blame those amongst them who incline to forget that circumstances and the lack of funds contributed at least as much to its initiation as did political foresight and wisdom? 2

The Development

of the Native Authority


Under the system of indirect rule as it was practiced in Northern Nigeria, the emirs were recognized by the British administration as integral parts of the machinery of government. As long as they stayed within the bounds of native tradition and refrained from exercising their power in a way repugnant to Western mores, they were permitted a large degree of autonomy. The role of the British administrative officer in this system was conceived as that of a sympathetic guide and supervisor. It was his duty to push the development of native institutions in the direction of efficient and presumably more democratic administration, but in doing so he must "clothe his principles in the garb of evolution not of revolution." 3 The Resident and the district officer were not expected in theory (and largely in practice) to exercise any executive function. All orders of the administration were transmitted through the emir or his representative; even on tour the district officer was accompanied by a district head or a member of the emir's staff, and commands were issued to village heads or local chiefs through this intermediary. 4 Every effort was 'Sir Hugh Clifford, Address to the Legislative Council of Nigeria (1924), p. 97. ' Lord Lugard, The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa (4th ed., London, 1929), p. 194. * The practice continues in Northern Nigeria even today.



made to safeguard the dignity and position of the emir in the eyes of the people, and the installation of a new emir was carried out with strict regard for the ceremonial detail required by local tradition. In his later writing Lugard pointed out the limitations upon the powers of the emir which were inherent in the Native Authority system, as the structure of indirect rule came to be called. The traditional rulers were forbidden to raise and control armed forces, and no arms were given to the native police under the emir's control. The British administration reserved the right to legislate, and all rules made by the Native Authority were subject to the governor's approval. The right to appropriate land for public purposes and to confirm the choice of a new chief was also reserved. Lugard maintained that all employees of the native administrations should be natives subject to the control of the local Native Authority.® Beyond these stipulations, the rule of the emir or chief was, under indirect rule, largely left undisturbed. The objective of the system was to promote the political education of the administering elite to a point where the native states would be able to operate their own governments in a manner consistent with the standards of efficiency demanded by the British administration. Lugard himself discussed some years later three differing approaches to this ideal stage. One might be the development (as in England and America) of representative institutions, through which an educated group would be recognized as the spokesman for the mass. Lugard discounted this as unworkable since, owing to the diversity of tribal groups, no truly representative organs could be created which would not be too large and unwieldy for efficient operation. In Lugard's view the role of the educated African was to be that of counselor to the native ruler; such a role would avoid the substitution of an elected oligarchy for British rule and would retain "a form of government more in accord with racial instincts and inherited tradition." 8 A second approach, which Lugard also criticized as impractical, was to give the widest possible powers to the native rulers in the expectation that independence would be granted as rapidly as possible. The assumption implicit in this approach was that for primitive "Lugard, The Dual Mandate 'Ibid., p. 196.

in British



pp. 205-7.



tribes training in self-government was impossible. The best that could be hoped for was an enlightened local ruler, trained under British administration, who would continue the practices he had been taught when his state became independent. The difficulty with this view, Lugard emphasized, was that during the period of tutelage the authority of the ruler was so undermined by the constant interference of the British administrator that when he became independent he no longer had any means of enforcing his rule. A third choice, to which Lugard himself subscribed, rested on the assumption that the peoples of Africa, "are not yet able to stand alone and that it would not conduce to the happiness of the vast bulk of the people—for whose welfare the controlling power is the Trustee —that the attempt should be made." 7 Lugard's feeling was that the stage of complete independence would not be reached at any foreseeable future time. In his view, then, the system which he introduced into Northern Nigeria was the only feasible one. The native authorities were left free to manage their own affairs, as regards all those matters which are to them the most important attributes of rule, . . . but [they were] admittedly . . . subordinate to the control of the protecting Power in certain well defined directions.8 Lugard's views in this later formulation provide an ex post jacto justification for the administration which he set about developing in Northern Nigeria. The consolidation of those aspects of the local powers of the emirate governments which Lugard emphasized— a regularized taxation system, the establishment of treasuries and accounting procedures for the Native Authorities, and a stronger system of native courts—corresponded to the administrative needs of the emirate system. He found a going concern on his arrival which he proceeded to strengthen and enlarge by judicious guidance and pruning. The overriding concerns of defense, external relations, and the expansion of trade and the native economy—which were in themselves beyond the concern of the individual native authorities —he reserved for British control. The story of British administration in Nigeria in the forty years following Lugard's arrival very largely revolves around the attempt η Ibid., p. 197. 'Ibid.



to adjust this system, which so clearly filled the early needs of the northern provinces, to the southern parts of the territory. The basic difficulty lay in the failure of Lugard's successors (and to some extent of Lugard himself) to perceive clearly the unique relationship between the successful operation of indirect rule and the existence of the Fulani emirate system. The Fulani had been conquerors and were, therefore, more inclined to accept the hegemony of a more powerful force than they might have been had they themselves been native to the area. From the viewpoint of the masses, the substitution of British control for that of the emir served to mitigate some of the excesses of emirate rule, although its very indirectness prevented British supervision from playing a very visible part in the life of the average peasant. The continuity of administration under the direction of an established ruler made possible gradual changes without serious disruption of the social fabric of the country. The foundations of government and of society remained firm, although reforms were introduced which were intended ultimately to have far-reaching effects. But in its social structure and in its forms of indigenous rule Southern Nigeria presented a picture wholly different from that in the north. Under its traditional Yoruba obas, Western Nigeria had never experienced the unifying influence given to the north by the Fulani conquerors. In the years prior to the British invasion the power of the obas was gradually being broken down by internecine warfare. Stability of administration could only be brought about by reform of the internal structure of government within the Yoruba kingdoms. But the very fact that the large and relatively powerful Yoruba states continued to exist in treaty relationship with Great Britain made difficult the imposition of an over-all administrative system. Legally at least, the Yoruba kingdoms were still independent entities whose form of government could not be changed without their consent, no matter how desirable this might have been from a point of view of administrative convenience. If the existence of strong traditional authorities constituted a block to the spread of a unified administrative system in Western Nigeria, the absence of any centrally constituted indigenous authorities in



Eastern Nigeria proved to be an equally serious handicap to the introduction of British colonial rule. The success of indirect rule depended on traditional rulers with sufficient power to enable the administration to act through them, and in the east such rulers, if they did exist, were exceedingly hard to find. In 1900 the territory known as the Niger Coast protectorate was turned over to the colonial office by the British foreign office and renamed the Southern Nigeria protectorate. Six years later Lagos and its hinterland protectorate were amalgamated with the Southern Nigeria protectorate, and the entire territory was henceforth known as the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.9 Lord Lugard (who had left Nigeria in 1906) was called from the governorship of Hong Kong in 1911 to undertake the task of amalgamating the two protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria, and on January 1, 1914, the new government of Nigeria came into existence. Lugard saw as one of his first tasks the application of the system of indirect rule, and in 1916 the Native Authority legislation of the north was applied in substance to the southern provinces. The previous treaties with the Yoruba kings had been abrogated by 1914 and the way cleared for native courts and native treasuries. However, a prerequisite to the operation of the Native Authority system was the ability of the government to levy a direct tax since this was the only way by which the salaries of the chief and the other officials of the Native Authority could be paid. The people of the Northern Region had long been accustomed to a direct tax, imposed by the emir and collected in a variety of forms by the local headmen.10 The system of indirect rule here had meant not an innovation but rather a regularization, to prevent arbitrary exactions of an accepted form of taxation. In the western and eastern provinces the idea of direct tax was entirely new. It was accepted in the west with only minor disturbances, thanks to the cooperation of the local chiefs. Immediately upon its introduction, the Native Authority system was put into effect in Egbaland, Ekitiland, and other parts of Yorubaland. •Cf. Sir Alan Burns, History of Nigeria (4th ed., London, 1951), pp. 199— 201.

10 Cf. Lord Hailey, Native Administration Part III, pp. 75-76.

in the British African




Gradually it was extended to the whole of what is now the Western Region. In the east, however, owing to popular resentment against the direct taxation system, the Native Authority legislation cannot be said to have been effective until 1934. In an attempt to incorporate at least some element of the indigenous authority, the earliest form of local native administration in the southeast had taken the form of "native councils" (in reality native courts), whose appointed members gradually came to be used as the executive agents of the government. In theory one member was drawn from each village but, in fact, members were arbitrarily appointed from equally arbitrary geographic divisions. In most cases, they held no traditional place whatever, being frequently men with a little knowledge of European ways who had found favor in the eyes of the administration. From the document given them signifying their appointment they became known as "warrant chiefs." Over a period of time they gradually assumed a much greater importance than the administration had originally intended. In the eyes of the people they had no standing, but, supported as they were by the power of the administration, they became both feared and disliked. When a plan for direct taxation was introduced in the east as a prelude to replacing the warrant chief system with Native Authorities, there was a strong popular reaction. Because it lacked a traditional base, the assessment procedure used for the new tax was misunderstood by many people. Although the tax was collected peaceably in the first year, 1928, the following year saw the outbreak of the serious Aba riots, in which the women played a major role. Undoubtedly the tax collection procedures and the dislike of the warrant chiefs were contributing factors, but, the fundamental cause of the disturbances . . . was to be found in the fact that the government had insufficient knowledge of the indigenous institutions and life of the people.11 In the following years extensive attempts were made by the administration to discover the natural units of administrative control and to erect these into Native Authorities. Despite the reorganization which followed after 1934, the Native Authority system in the eastern "¡bid.,

p. 159.



provinces never operated as satisfactorily as in the west or the north simply because it was not possible to adjust it to the basic social structure of the people. The Native Authority Ordinance of 1916, with its several revisions (the last major one being that of 1943), was applied for more than thirty years. The dissatisfaction with the Native Authorities constituted under this ordinance helped pave the way for the new local government systems of the Eastern and Western Regions and also helped bring about the changes which have been made in the northern local government structure. Native Authorities came into existence by the authority of the governor and derived their specific powers from a general list of powers which was incorporated in the ordinance. However, the powers granted to any particular Native Authority did not necessarily include all those which were specified in the ordinance. The Native Authority might be either a chief, a chief associated with a council, a council alone, or any person or group of persons. Thus the way was left clear for the appointment of a district officer as Native Authority in the colony area of Lagos. Since the governor could specify the composition of the Native Authority council or direct that it be composed according to traditional forms, there was no automatic recognition of any traditional authority. The Native Authority could appoint subordinate authorities within its area of jurisdiction and grant them such powers as it saw fit. The primary function of the Native Authority was "generally to maintain order and good government in the areas over which its authority extends" and specifically to prevent crime; it was given the power to arrest persons who were "about to commit" or who had committed any offense. Under the ordinance the authorities were required also to issue regulations governing widely divergent matters ranging, for example, from the registration of births and deaths and child betrothal to restrictions on gambling and the carrying of weapons. These regulations covered the whole field of community welfare in its broadest sense. Infraction of them carried a maximum penalty of £ 2 5 fine or six months' imprisonment. The British Resident was empowered to direct the Native Authority to issue any regulation which he saw fit, and in default of its so doing, could himself issue it with the same force as if the Native Authority had done so. The bulk



of the powers granted a Native Authority were those normally to be found in the hands of local government bodies, but in this case they were supplemented by the power to declare or recommend to the administration changes in native law and custom. Additionally, the Native Authority could order any stranger (that is, a member of another tribe) living under its jurisdiction to leave the area, if it were satisfied that he was unable to support himself and his dependents. Considering the strong emphasis laid by Lugard on the development of native treasuries, it is surprising that the ordinance failed to mention their existence; nor were any except incidental references made to the local taxing powers of the Native Authorities until an amendment was passed as late as 1948. The bulk of Native Authority revenues came from a share of the direct tax which was collected by the government and returned to the Native Authorities for use in local services. While this system simplified the collection of tax, it tended to create a constant friction over the percentage share to be returned to the Native Authority. As the demand for local services grew, so did the demand of the Native Authorities for a larger share of the tax; in fact, as Hailey points out, As long as some of the NA's could hope to succeed in obtaining a larger apportionment of the Tax for the benefit of their own treasuries, there was no inducement for them to increase their resources by other means, as for example by the levy of a Local Rate for which the Native Authority Ordinance made provision.12 Some adjustments were made in the system of local finance after the constitutional changes of 1947 but these were shortly replaced in the Eastern and Western Regions by the provisions of the new local government laws. No specific mention of popular representation was included in the procedure for constituting a Native Authority under the ordinance. The appointments were made by the governor, although normally the individuals named were those chosen for office by traditional tribal procedures. However, an increasing demand, especially after 1945, by the younger educated element in the east and west for a voice in local affairs forced many Native Authorities to admit elected 12

Ibid., p. 8.




members. To a certain extent, the indigenous political structure of both the Yoruba and Ibo groups made easier the introduction of a representative element in the Native Authority councils. In the Western Region the evolution of the Native Authority system had been away from the position provided in the ordinance of "Sole Native Authority," that is, a chief ruling without reference to a council of any kind. Such complete authority had not traditionally rested in the chiefs hands, and an official report on the operation of the Native Authorities pointed out in 1951 that the Yoruba obas themselves had for some years stressed their desire to relinquish the title of "Sole Native Authority." By 1939 only five such authorities were left in the Western Region and by 1949, none. It was claimed that the delay in eliminating these last five was caused in large part by popular opposition to the move.14 Impetus toward broader popular representation on the Native Authority councils was actively given by the administration, and federation of smaller units into larger councils to promote more efficient administration was encouraged. However, the tendency to have overly large and unwieldy councils had to be combated constantly; even where there was an elected majority, as there was in occasional instances, the political education of the less sophisticated members was impeded by the sheer size of the council. Efforts to break down the activities of the councils into committees met with only limited success since few councilors understood what the functions of a committee should be. Since the Native Authority system was least closely adjusted to the traditional political forms in the Eastern Region, it is not surprising that the most vocal demands for its elimination came from this area. In 1948 a select committee set up by the Eastern Region House of Assembly to recommend changes in local government leveled the following charges at the Native Authority system: u There was nothing, of course, in the ordinance which precluded the governor from naming popularly elected members to the Native Authority as well as those chosen by traditional means. The elections at this period frequently took the form of a show of hands by the taxpayers under the supervision of an administrative officer. For details of these elections in the Western Region cf. Hailey, Native Administration in the British African Territories, Part III, pp. 113 ff. "Local Government in the Western Provinces of Nigeria (Ibadan, 1951),

p. 6 .



a ) The theory of "Native Administration" presupposes the existence of a degree of inherent authority capable of development to such an extent that it can provide for effective and efficient administration of the people at all stages of progress. After twenty years* experience it is evident that inherent authority in the Eastern Provinces, extending as it does but little beyond the confines of the family, is incapable of such development. b ) The existing units of Native Authority which average three to a Division each with an annual revenue of no more than £ 7 , 0 0 0 are unsuitable in size and character to be the superior organ of local government. c ) The existing Native Authorities, with few exceptions, have failed to attract educated and progressive Africans into their membership and are too parochial in outlook to offer scope for development. d ) Without the rapidly increasing progressive elements the majority of existing Native Authorities . . . are unsatisfactory as an integral link in the structure of Government. e ) With the small revenues at their disposal Native Authorities are unable to achieve a fully competent staff . . . the existing staff of Native Authorities is both inefficient and ill-equipped for its duties. 15

While recognizing that the system had "some merit," in providing opportunities for a few people to play a minor role in local government and in inculcating some degree of financial responsibility in the councils, the committee concluded that "the system of local government . . . is in need of drastic reform." The growth of nationalist feeling as it affected local government is reflected in the committee's recommendation that, in new legislation, "the word 'Native' is unacceptable to the people of the Eastern Provinces." 16 In the northern provinces the Native Authority system continued to develop after amalgamation on the firm foundation already laid. The north progressed more slowly economically than did the south and was by tradition more conservative. But the north could not remain unaffected by the political advance of the south, and it rapidly became evident after 1945 that popular representation would have to be introduced in some form within the Native Authority system. There was a constantly growing need to decentralize the power of the Native Authority, and the most suitable way to accomplish this appeared to be to place in the hands of village councils (which in many areas had a traditional basis) some responsibility for local develop15

Report of a Select Committee

(Enugu, 1948), p. 3.


Ibid., p. 4.



ment. The local government legislation of 1954 was designed toward this end, although the important features of the system already built up were clearly maintained. The Decline of the Native Authority


The value of indirect rule and of the Native Authority system, which was its practical application, has been the subject of wide controversy in the literature on colonial administration. The volume of writing on this topic has reached formidable proportions, and, as with most similar questions, no clinching arguments can be advanced on either side. Too often the controversy has wandered far from the realities of the problem into theoretical questions regarding the process of change in social institutions. The real test of the Native Authority system would seem to be whether or not it corresponded to the needs of the society in which it was to operate. Regardless of the theoretical desirability of maintaining and developing native institutions, as opposed to the substitution of European models, if the native institutions proved incapable of meeting the demands made on them by society, then they no longer played a useful role. The difficulty in Nigeria was that the exponents of indirect rule, in their zeal to prevent the destruction of indigenous institutions, inadvertently prevented them from evolving at their normal tempo and so aided in their eventual stultification. The many factors which contributed to the decline of the Native Authority system in Southern Nigeria after 1938 can be traced back ultimately to the basic inability of the traditional forms to meet the new conditions which a changing society imposed on them. The great merit of indirect rule, at the time of its establishment in the north, was its presumed ability to permit a gradual evolutionary development. It was argued that, unlike French policy, indirect rule assumed that there was a real value in African social institutions. Under this system the African would be able to progress toward civilization in a traditional milieu in which the loyalties inculcated in him from childhood would remain undisturbed. Unlike the policy adopted in other parts of Africa where the interests of the white community were paramount, indirect rule was to provide in Nigeria



a compromise in which neither culture was excluded but a new one would be created which would be a blend of African and European. 17 A great advantage claimed for indirect rule was its flexibility. Since the Native Authority was a part of the operating machinery of government, the administration might delegate to each authority only those powers which it was judged capable of handling. Through successive stages the customary authority would be prepared to carry out the tasks of modern administration. By definition indirect rule was expected to preserve the framework of indigenous authority, so long as that authority was popularly accepted. In practice, however, the system tended not toward flexibility but toward rigidity. The desire to preserve indigenous authority prevented its adaptation to meet the new demands made on it. The inability of indirect rule in Nigeria to meet the needs of a changing society cannot be ascribed to the failure on the part of its creator to foresee the problem. Lugard himself stressed the necessity for constant adaptation through the guidance of the administrative officer. But as time went on the system grew away from his ideas and began to take on an existence in and for itself. Especially in the north, where the Native Authority structure was so admirably suited to local conditions, the desire of the administrative officer to preserve intact the structure of indigenous authority created a vested interest in the system as it stood. Supported by the natural tendency of the northern rulers to resist change, the northern officer began more and more to see as his major function the preservation and maintenance of the emirs against attempts both by local groups and by the central authority in Lagos to reduce their power. The provincial and district administrations became, then, not an agent for change and modernization but a keeper of the status quo. One critic of this tendency in indirect rule states the problem in more categorical terms: The simple and healthy linking of an ideal to an expedient was elaborated into an occult science. Indirect rule became a formula as hieratic and dead of creative development as an outworn theology. . . . [It] degenerated firstly into a systematic glorification of a number of able but unscrupulous careerists, secondly into the practice of preserving at all costs " For a further development of these points, cf. Lucy Mair, Native Policies in Africa (London, 1936), pp. 261 ff.



the status and power of the families of the hereditary emirs and chiefs and thirdly into an undue preoccupation with Islam and the emirates to the neglect of the pagan peoples. 18

There is no doubt that the mystique which became part of the concept of indirect rule in the north did violence to Lugard's own ideas and to the efficacy of the whole system. Corrupt and inefficient rule by some chiefs was tolerated under the guise of preserving institutional continuity. Emphasis tended to be laid on the duties of the top echelon of the Native Authority, and development at the village level suffered as a result. The government at Lagos gradually became aware of the problem, and a serious effort was made by Sir Donald Cameron during his governorship (1931-34) to restore Lugard's original ideas. In a speech to the legislative council in 1933 he pointed out, We have departed from the intentions and principles of Lord Lugard . . . particularly in drifting into the habit of mind that . . . a feudal monarchy of this kind [an emirate] is the be-all and end-all of Indirect Administration. 19

He urged the administrative officers to take a more direct hand in the supervision of the emir's rule and to encourage the use of conciliar rather than one-man rule.2t) The inclination to see the preservation of native institutions as an end in itself is in part attributable to the fact that at no time was the real aim of indirect rule ever clearly defined. The assumption was generally accepted that the Native Authorities should be guided in their progress, but toward what goal? In a vague way it was taken for granted that they would gradually assume fuller administrative responsibility and would associate at least some of the "commoners" in their decision-making. But no clear policy statement was ever made prior to 1939 on the larger form of the future Nigerian government into which the Native Authorities would be integrated. Lugard himself laid no stress on the eventual place of the Native Authorities in 18 W. R. Crocker, Nigeria (London, 1936), p. 215. For a more conservative statement of the case, see Margery Perham, Native Administration in Nigeria (London, 1937), pp. 326-28. "Cited by Perham, Native Administration in Nigeria, p. 331. 20 Principles of Native Administration and Their Application (Lagos, 1934), p. 14.



an independent Nigeria since, as has been indicated above, he saw no possibility in the foreseeable future that the people of Nigeria could become self-governing. The rapid constitutional development of Nigeria immediately after the Second World War left the Native Authorities in the incongruous position of being largely unrepresentative in a country where representative bodies were being created over their heads. Obviously the original outlines of indirect rule had to be broadly modified if a politically conscious and active electorate were to have the power to choose the members of the legislative council and yet had no voice in purely local affairs. Representative selfgovernment did not come within the purview of classic indirect rule theory, and the juxtaposition of the two, especially in Southern Nigeria, seriously weakened the position of the Native Authorities. Within the concept of indirect rule were implied a number of assumptions, the full significance of which became clear only after it had been in operation over a number of years in the southern provinces. The application of the Native Authority Ordinance there demonstrated that these assumptions were only partly valid or in some cases not valid at all. The Ordinance itself had been framed by British administrators, not by Africans. In consequence it reflected a political orientation based on centuries of Western experience, but not necessarily one which corresponded to an African's view of what was to be expected from his political institutions. Western political training led the framers of the Native Authority Ordinance to assume that every community, no matter how primitive, had its political leaders—the only task was to find the appropriate individual or group. Whereas in the north this had been accomplished with very little effort, in the eastern provinces no natural rulers existed who exercised power over a wide area. Even where it was possible to locate a chief of some stature, the individual often proved unwilling to cooperate with the administration. In their ignorance of tribal custom the administration not infrequently appointed, after local consultation, a man put forth by the tribe who in reality was merely a straw chief. The real ruler (who often had spiritual as well as temporal powers) preferred to remain in the background, sometimes prevented by tribal custom from having any contact with the European at all. The result was that after the period of the warrant chiefs,



Native Authorities were often created which had no traditional authority in the eyes of the people and had to depend on British power for whatever allegiance they might command. A concomitant misconception existed regarding the role of the chief in the tribal society of Southern Nigeria. On the analogy of the north it was believed that he represented the apex of a hierarchy of command stretching down to the village level. The European automatically assumed that, since a man was a chief, he was in a position to command obedience from his subordinates. Once having located the chief and secured his agreement, it logically followed that all that was necessary was to transmit instructions through him for delivery to lower-ranking chiefs and through them ultimately to the people. But the chain of command did not necessarily work in this way; in fact the opposite was frequently the case. The chief derived his authority not from his position (although he might have certain religious or ceremonial functions) but from the people. He was not the head of his people but their spokesman; the village chiefs who were his equals, not his subordinates, were not prepared to obey commands issued by him. The fact that the district officer's orders often remained a dead letter arose not from the failure of the chief to understand them nor from a lack of willingness to obey, but from the failure of the administration to comprehend the limits of his command. More than one Native Authority was accused of stupidity, laziness, incompetence, or inability to control his people, when in reality he was expected to accomplish the impossible, in terms of his traditional role. Another hidden assumption of the system which proved to be of extremely doubtful validity was that the Native Authorities were necessarily interested in "progress." Underlying the philosophy of indirect rule was the British view that the natural rulers desired to advance their communities rapidly on the road to "modern" administration; all they lacked was the guidance which would be supplied by the district officer. There was no evident reason to suppose this to be the case; the chiefs were, actually, often among the most conservative members of the tribe. They were in many cases quite prepared to go on in the ways of their forefathers and were in fact fundamentally in disagreement with European methods and ideas of efficiency.



The vague presumption was made under indirect rule that in the process of adaptation native institutions would necessarily become more democratic in character. This, too, was a purely gratuitous expectation. There was, from the point of view of the chiefs, no reason to broaden the base of authority. They had, in most areas, been advised by a traditional council, and popular representation would mean not only a break with tradition but the sacrifice of position and privileges by both the chief and his councilors. Basically, the whole concept of a Native Authority was antithetical to the democratic ideology; rather it implied in many areas the continuation of an enlightened and benevolent oligarchy. The pressure of outside forces as well as the urgings of the administration caused many Native Authorities to extend popular representation in the period after 1945. Such a step would probably not have been taken voluntarily, however, except in the case of Native Authorities headed by young, educated chiefs. By the late 1930s it was already becoming apparent that the Native Authorities in the south were not measuring up to the demands being made of them as local government agencies; the headlong speed of constitutional change after 1945 and the rapid economic development of the country made their deficiencies even more obvious. They had failed to allow adequate representation to the new middle class of young educated men who were already taking an active interest in Nigerian national politics through the medium of the newly organized political parties. This younger group, which in most cases occupied no traditional positions, regarded many of the restraints imposed by tribal custom as outmoded and sought to break away from the authority of chief and family. They were in outright disagreement with the conservative views of the chiefs and were impatient with the inability and unwillingness of the traditional leaders to conduct local government business along more modern lines. Quite justifiably the educated element considered itself better qualified to further the interests of the people than the older illiterate councilors; yet the younger group was denied the right to a voice in Native Authority affairs. Age and experience no longer counted in their eyes since education was the prime requisite in coping with problems created by the rapid economic pace of the postwar years. They became



alienated from the Native Authority and to a certain extent also from the people, who regarded them as upstarts and troublemakers since they flouted tribal authority. Thus, the very group which might have aided in the transition from the old to the new in tribal society was restrained by an administrative theory that sought to preserve intact the institutions of tribal rule. The emergence of a middle class in the postwar years brought for the first time demands for local social services far in excess of anything previously required of the Native Authorities. While these bodies had been reasonably successful in maintaining law and order and in carrying out such simple tasks as the regulation of road construction, they were totally incapable of operating the new and complex services called for in the postwar urban and rural development plans. They were unable to manage (or often even to understand) the detailed budgets necessary for the capital construction which was to be financed from local funds and governmental grants. Nor were they capable of overseeing the technical staff required to operate the new services. Many of these schemes could not be carried out without the cooperation of the people, and the Native Authorities were clearly unprepared to offer the leadership necessary to enlist popular support. Essentially the difficulty proceeded from the fact that the rate of social development outpaced a system which -was designed for gradual change. Given time, the Native Authorities might have been able eventually to adjust to modern administrative requirements, but the press of events made this adaptation impossible. In addition to lacking respect in the eyes of the educated minority, the Native Authorities began to lose popular support as well since they were all too evidently unsuited to the new requirements of local government. Theoretically a training ground for local government, the Native Authorities gave neither the opportunity for the direct expression of popular demands nor for the training on a large enough scale of the staff necessary to manage technical services. They failed to provide a meeting ground on which the growing conflict between traditional and educated elements might be resolved. Nor did they provide progressive leadership for the mass of the African peasants. But the shortcomings of the Native Authorities did not stem entirely from the deficiencies of their African traditional members. In



no small degree the inefficiency and lack of initiative of the Native Authorities must be attributed to the provisions of the legislation under which they operated. The extent of their powers was often misunderstood, even by those in official positions. They were accused of inactivity in fields in which, in fact, they had no statutory authority to act. It is true that, under Sections 23 and 25 of the ordinance, the Native Authorities were given extensive powers, but these powers were almost completely regulatory, not executive. Almost without exception, the subsections enumerating the powers of the Native Authorities began with the words "prohibit," "regulate," or "prevent." Essentially the only substantive acts permitted the Native Authorities were those referring to their police powers concerning peace, order, and public welfare. Thus, for example, the Native Authority could make rules "regulating the repairing, improving, stopping or diverting of streets," but nowhere did the ordinance actually empower the Native Authority to build or repair a street.21 It was apparently assumed by the administration that the right to regulate where a street might go gave the right to build it too, and when Native Authorities failed to carry out necessary construction, they, not the ordinance, were blamed. The ordinance specified some local services which were theoretically to be carried out by the Native Authorities. But in reality the district officer was the executive arm in the majority of cases. It was he who planned the project, and, when funds for technical help were short, often carried it out himself with the help of labor paid by the Native Authority. Particularly in the case of the less effective and less progressive Native Authorities, it was the district officer under whose direction local works were undertaken. As a result, the system of indirect rule in which the district officer was supposed to be no more than the guide became more and more one of direct rule. The growing conflict between the conservative, traditional chiefs and the younger, educated groups over the proper role of the Native Authorities served only to reinforce the district officer's executive role. Both sides turned to him to support their case. To the educated "Native Authority Ordinance, Section 25, Subsection 20 (a).



groups, the district officer represented progress; he was educated, was concerned with improving the general living standards, and knew the value of modern administrative methods. But at the same time the chief and his council expected him to support them as traditional rulers against the young upstarts who sought to upset the established order. Had they not after all been told repeatedly that the district officer was there to preserve native institutions as well as to guide their adaptation? The Native Authorities drew their strength not only from their traditional position but also, to some degree, from the fact that they were the creatures of the administration which had appointed them. Under such circumstances there was often little left for the district officer to do but to act himself, since the conflict within the community rendered the Native Authority impotent. To satisfy the demands of the educated minority as well as to provide for the welfare of the people, increased local services and facilities had to be supplied. Where the initiative was not forthcoming from the Native Authority, it became a question of direct action by the district officer.

The Native Authority

System in


The criticisms of the Native Authority system which have been outlined in the preceding pages apply, of course, in greater measure to Southern Nigeria than to the north. In Northern Nigeria, where conditions permitted the philosophy of slow adaptation to operate, the Native Authority system was successful in introducing modern techniques of administration. But where conditions of life changed as radically as they did in the south, and in such a short period of time, it was unreasonable to expect traditional institutions to change at the same pace, especially when the chiefs and elders who represented these institutions in the eyes of the people were themselves disinclined to agree with the necessity for change. Moreover, there are limits to the adaptability of an institution. To have adapted the traditional forms to meet modern requirements would have meant in many cases adapting them out of existence. Despite the growing number of elected members in various Native Authorities in the late 1940s in both the Western and Eastern



Regions, there would appear to be greater truth to the points made by the Eastern Region select committee quoted above than to Lord Hailey's comment on the Eastern Region: T h e Native Authorities a r e in any case f r e e f r o m the charge, so frequently b r o u g h t against N a t i v e A d m i n i s t r a t i o n s elsewhere, that they owe their existence to a policy w h i c h has sought to p e r p e t u a t e t h e powers of react i o n a r y chiefs. . . . T h e y provide as a m a t t e r of fact a readier m e a n s f o r the expression of p o p u l a r views o r grievances than is to be f o u n d in most o t h e r parts of Colonial A f r i c a . 2 2

In refusing to allow adequate representation to the progressive elements, the Native Authorities cut themselves off from the help of the young men in the modernization of local government functions. A rift was thus created which proved to be a serious threat to the social base of the village communities. No doubt some of the charges of autocratic rule leveled against the Native Authorities by the Progressive or Tribal Unions in the Eastern and Western Regions 2 3 were attempts by the more active nationalists to make political capital. The nationalist parties saw the Native Authorities as creatures of the British administration; as such they were 33 Hailey, Native Administration in the British African Territories, Part III, p. 166. 23 The role of these groups in bringing about reform of the Native Authorities and ultimately the introduction of elected councils was an important one. A vast variety of new types of associations grew up in Southern Nigeria after 1945. Some were designed as social clubs or self-help organizations meeting only the particular interests of their owr. members. But the Tribal Unions existed on a broader foundation. They were based, as the name indicates, on a particular tribe or clan and were formed primarily to foster the interests of the tribe, whether within its own area or among its members who might be resident in the cities. Branches of the parent group were established in the larger urban centers in order to maintain the link between those who had left the tribal area to work and those remaining at home. Since the earnings of the city members were greater, it was expected that they would contribute to local development projects organized by the Union, such as the building of a new school or the provision of scholarships to send young men of the tribe to England for university education. Many of the Unions were sparked by the leadership of the young educated men who found in them natural units around which to organize pressure for political reform. Since the Unions combined the group solidarity of common tribal interest and responsibility with the advantages of educated leadership they were very effective in presenting their demands f o r wider popular representation in the Native Authorities within their areas. With their cooperation it was easier for the administration to convince reluctant chiefs that there was a place f o r elected members in the Authorities. The growth of local political party organization was also assisted by the Unions, especially in



a stumbling block in the way of self-government. The closer the nationalists came to attaining this goal in the regional governments, the stronger became the demand for reform of the Native Authority system. Popular, responsible government at the center was incompatible with traditional rule at the village or district level. The Native Authorities were intended to provide some experience in modern methods of local government management, at least for the small group employed by them. But the education of the mass of the people to choose suitable individuals who would carry out the policies desired by the community was never considered an essential function of the Native Authority system. Selection of the chief and the elders by traditional means, however democratic in the African sense, was no substitute for practice in picking men competent to deal with such complicated problems as considering tenders for building the local market. Not only did the average man need to know how to choose his representatives but how to hold them accountable for their actions as well; in this, the Native Authority was of almost no value. The idea of popular responsibility was understood only imperfectly, if at all, by the chief and his councilors. They were unaccustomed to having their actions questioned (except in case of gross infractions of traditional laws or mores) and the average peasant was not prepared to question his rulers. Traditionally, ruling was the province of those selected by custom and, so long as the peasant was left relatively undisturbed and no heavier tax was exacted than he considered fair, he was not prepared to interfere in what he considered none of his business. But the spread of education and nationalist agitation had its effect, particularly in the more prosperous areas. More and more people demanded to know what was done with their tax money. New services were sought for which they were ready and able to pay. If the Native Authority could not or would not provide for these demands, then some new form of local administration had to be found which could do so. The fact that the Native Authority system proved unsuitable in the the Eastern Region; the young leaders of the Unions stepped naturally from these posts into the regional legislatures. For a discussion of the local operation of a representative Union, cf. Simon Ottenberg, "Improvement Associations among the Afikpo Ibo," Africa. X X V (January, 1955), 1 - 2 8 .



long run for Southern Nigeria does not mean that, for its time and under the circumstances of its conception, it was an unsound policy. Given several years more of evolution in Northern Nigeria, it may well be that the slow adaptation for which the system was designed will provide a sounder basis for local democratic government than the new conciliar system in the south. It is undeniable that the greatest virtue of the whole concept of indirect rule lay in the respect and appreciation it showed for the indigenous political institutions. But it also tended to turn the native ruler into a unit in the chain of British colonial command and thus freed him from some of the traditional restraints over his authority. Too much can, however, be made of this objection. Only in rare instances was the chief unable to retain at least some degree of legitimate authority derived from his traditional status. It was, as has been indicated, in those cases where this legitimacy was lacking, as in some parts of the eastern provinces, that the Native Authority was found to be least effective. Today under the new elected council system, it would be a grave mistake to underestimate the influence of the traditional authority in local government, even in those areas where the demand for popular control has been strongest.


A F T E R 1900 France was immediately faced with the task of imposing some form of administrative organization on the sprawling territories she had so rapidly acquired through the activities of her military explorers. The various territories were organized at first under a governor who was responsible to the ministry of colonies in Paris. But it soon became obvious that this highly centralized authority was not practicable for so large an area, and attempts were made to group the colonies of West and Equatorial Africa into two federations, each headed by a governor general to whom responsibility might be delegated by Paris. Accordingly, in 1895 a decree was issued placing the territories of Guinea, the Ivory Coast, the Sudan, and Dahomey under the complete authority of a governor general who simultaneously held the post of governor of Senegal. This arrangement, however, proved unsatisfactory since the federal government was virtually powerless, lacking even a budget of its own. Between 1895 and 1902 various changes were made; the Ivory Coast was temporarily withdrawn from the federation and the Sudan was for a brief period suppressed entirely as a territorial unit. In 1903 and 1904 measures were taken to separate the post of governor general from that of the governorship of Senegal, and to move the capital of the federation from St. Louis to Dakar. From time to time in the following two decades new territories were created, and it was not until 1920 that



the form of the present federation of French West Africa became fixed. It is now made up of eight separate administrations—Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Dahomey, Sudan, Upper Volta, Niger, and Mauritania—at the head of which is the federal administration at Dakar. 1 The territorities which make up the federation of French Equatorial Africa have undergone a similar evolution. Established by a decree of January 13, 1910, the federation consists of four territories— Middle Congo, Gabon, Ubangi-Shari, and Chad—each with its own administration. At the head of the federation is a governor general, whose seat is at the federal capital, Brazzaville. In addition to the federations, the two trust territories of Cameroons and Togoland occupied a separate position in the administrative complex of French Africa. The chief administrative officer for these territories was a commissioner, dependent directly on the Minister of Overseas France, although the administrative staff was composed of career members of the colonial service. Despite their distinctive legal status, the internal administration of the trust territories has not been significantly different from that of the neighboring federations. The Doctrines

of Assimilation



The system of administration adopted by the French from the beginning of their African empire has been termed "direct rule" in contrast to the "indirect rule" of the Native Authority system in British territory. While such a characterization is in part true, like all broad statements of this nature it is dangerous to apply it too literally to a particular territory at any given point in time. The form of direct rule which the French practiced between 1900 and 1939 had its origin in the fact that military force was at first required to maintain French control in many areas of West and Equatorial Africa. Where there was active opposition to French hegemony by the local rulers, there could be little question of making use of the native administrations as vehicles for the control of the population. Unlike the British in Northern Nigeria, the French required several years to subdue the more powerful chiefs in their far-flung territories, and as a result the 1

The territory of Upper Volta was suppressed as a separate administrative division by a decree of September 5, 1932, and recreated as a territory in 1947.



organization of local administration necessitated direct control by a military officer over a relatively long initial period. Although direct rule was forced upon the French by the circumstances of their conquest, it was undeniably made more palatable as a consequence of the philosophic bias toward assimilation which runs like a scarlet thread through the history of French colonial policy. To a greater or lesser extent, depending on the particular period under examination, assimilation has been a constant in French colonial doctrine. In its broadest sense, it has meant the imposition on colonial peoples of the culture, language, and political institutions of France through a process of education and example. Critics of French policy have often seen in the desire to spread French culture merely a pretext for the extension of political control. Neither historical fact nor present observation would appear to bear out their contention. There can be little doubt that French administrators in the colonial areas, as well as the theoreticians at home, have been in the past sincerely convinced that the greatest gift that can be brought to colonial peoples is the language and culture of the mother country. Even today, when, objectively, most administrators are forced to admit that assimilation is no longer possible, the conviction is still strong that ideally it is the best possible policy. Many believe that it is not the concept that failed but the method by which it was put into practice. The young chef de subdivision in bush is still a proponent of assimilation through the very fact of his education as a Frenchman, although it is no longer a part of official policy. The origins of the French thirst to spread the benefits of French culture may be traced far back into history. One writer goes so far as to seek the source of the assimilative tendency in the Roman heritage: The Frenchman o w e s his ideal of assimilation which has dominated our history, our political life and our colonial action to his temperament, to an education based for centuries on classic thought and the principles of Roman law. 2

The colonies of the ancien régime were subjected to almost complete assimilation; they were made an integral part of France, and French law and administrative practices were applied to them in full con2

H. Labouret, Colonisation,



(Paris, 1952), p. 85.



formity with those in the mother country. But the sources of the doctrine of assimilation in nineteenth- and twentieth-century France were the philosophic views of the eighteenth century and the political action of the Revolution. The universalism of reason and the basic equality of all men as reasoning beings led almost inevitably to assimilation, since logically there could be no differentiations between cultures and societies. The equality and fraternity of man, based upon reason, was valid for all times and all places. The superficial external differences among societies could be brushed aside now that the universal truth had been discovered. While the philosophy expressed in the Revolution was espoused by the generations of colonial policy-makers that followed, in its application it became, by the subtle alchemy of nationalism, a justification for imposing on other peoples institutions not of a universal nature but of the French nation-state. The failure of Europe immediately to follow the lead of France in establishing republican institutions left the inheritors of the revolutionary tradition with the conviction that only French institutions were based on the true concepts of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Hence with the expansion of France in the nineteenth century went the export of French political concepts, since they were presumed from their very origins to be those best suited to the governing of reasoning man. Regardless of the attachment of the colonial peoples to the customs and beliefs of their own societies, it was firmly believed by some assimilationists that, once presented with the opportunity to learn about French institutions, the colonial subjects would not hesitate to adopt them as their own. This conviction tended to be covered over with vague statements regarding the welfare of native peoples and their advancement, through education, to higher moral standards and better conditions of life. But, reduced to its elemental constituents, the philosophy of the assimilationist was a "cultural imperialism" which went hand in hand with political control. In the nineteenth century the assimilationist trend in colonial policy came most strongly to the fore in 1848 and again during the decade after 1870. The abolition of slavery in the colonies was an indication of the universalism of the Revolution; Schoelcher, the great French abolitionist, declared, "No longer can the Republic make distinctions




in the family of man." The former slaves became citizens who possessed a voice in selecting the deputies who were to sit in the French parliament. The administration of Algeria was largely assimilated to that of the métropole from 1848 to 1852, and again for a decade or more after 1870. The Algerian administrative services were made responsible to their respective ministries in Paris, and the powers of the governors on the spot almost completely disappeared. A reaction to this overcentralization took place within a few years when it was found that the agitation resulting from the failure to recognize the existence of Moslem law was threatening the very basis of French control. Fortunately in Senegal the more realistic views of Louis Faidherbe prevented the wholesale application of the assimilationist doctrine. Although the ideal of complete assimilation proved unworkable in practice in French Africa, it left a legacy whose effect is even today evident in the French federations. Quite apart from its influence on administrative organization, it has been a determining factor in the French attitude toward the whole problem of race relations. It is probably true that the Latin peoples have in their African colonies been able to establish a firmer basis for cooperation between the African and the resident European than have the British. The French are justifiably proud of the fact that no formal color bar exists in their territories. An African who has accepted French culture in its entirety, who speaks French, and who has received a French education —in short, one who has been assimilated—finds few social doors closed to him. This is not to say that discrimination does not exist in French territory. It is to be found, as it is elsewhere in Africa, among the economically less secure group of the colons, particularly the craftsmen, and among small businessmen, who see their livelihood threatened by the educated African. But at the level of the administrative class there is a genuine acceptance of the African, provided he meets those standards of culture which would make a European of the same position acceptable. In large part, the absence of widespread prejudice in French Africa is attributable to the concept of the equality of man " Quoted by Hubert Deschamps, Méthodes France (Paris, 1953), p. 107.

et doctrines


de la



inbred into generations of educated Frenchmen since the Revolution. The distinction between the assimilated and the nonassimilated African was of considerable importance in the interwar period, in that it was possible for the African, by fulfilling certain stipulated conditions, to become a fully naturalized French citizen. In 1833 the people of Senegal had been granted the same political and legal rights enjoyed by metropolitan citizens under the Code Civil. The constitutional assembly of 1848 expressly absolved the Senegalese from any proof of French nationality other than a minimum of five years' residence in the territory. However, the idealistic fervor which had prompted this gesture in the mid-nineteenth century had by 1900 been replaced by a more cautious attitude. Accordingly, the qualifications for attaining citizenship were progressively raised until only a tiny trickle of Africans were naturalized annually between 1920 and 1940. By 1936 only 2,136 out of a population of over fourteen million had become French citizens by naturalization. 4 The fact that so few Africans made the effort necessary to acquire citizenship was in itself a commentary on the whole thesis of assimilation. French citizenship placed the individual under French law and exempted him from penalties under the regime of the indigénat,5 but many who might have qualified preferred to forego these advantages and to retain their status as subjects. As such they remained under Koranic law or their local customary law. With the passing of the Lamine Gueye Law in 1946, the distinction between citoyen and sujet became a thing of the past, although the new categories of citizenship set up under the French 'Lord Hailey, An African Survey (London, 1938), p. 201. This figure excludes the 80,000 citizens of the four communes of Senegal. 'The indigénat was the system of summary justice introduced into French West Africa in 1887. Under it the administrators had the power to imprison any African not a French citizen for a maximum period of two weeks and to levy a fine on the offender. N o trial was held, and no appeal against the administrator's decision was possible. The number of offenses punishable under the indigénat was reduced over the course of years, but such wide discretionary powers were left to the bush administrator that almost any offense could be interpreted as coming under its provisions. Anyone acting in a manner which might disturb the public peace, or who showed disrespect for French authority, could be imprisoned under the indigénat, and the administrator's powers were often used to suppress possible local agitators. The indigénat was one of the most disliked aspects of French administration, and the French African leaders at the end of the Second World War were insistent in their demand that it be eliminated. For further details on the operation of the indigénat, cf. Buell, The Native Problem in Africa, I, 1016-20.



Union created a legal situation which in some ways had the effect of reestablishing this distinction in a more complex form. The proponents of assimilation who exercised so strong an influence in the early years of the Third Republic found their views under attack from several quarters by the turn of the century. The struggle between the assimilationists and those who favored a looser attachment of the colonies to the mother country plays an important role in French colonial history up to 1939, and, indeed, as later events proved, this dispute was by no means settled when the new structure of the French Union was established by the Fourth Republic. The attack on assimilation arose partially as a result of the changing economic circumstances of Europe at the turn of the century. The industrial revolution brought demands not only for sources of raw materials but also for markets for the manufactured goods of France. Economic relations with the colonies could no longer be limited, as heretofore, to the simple notion of trade. The new capital made available by industry could now be applied to the development of colonial natural resources, which in turn served to raise the living standards in the colonies and to increase the potentiality of the colonies as markets for the consumer goods of the metropolitan countries. The first exponent of the new doctrine in France, Jules Ferry, advocated the organization of an administrative system for the colonies based on their economic utility, not on theoretical doctrines of political philosophy. Side by side with the idea of an economic function to be fulfilled by the colonies went a new intellectual current which attacked the very foundations of assimilation. The doctrine of evolution pointed up the variations which existed between peoples and stressed fundamental differences between societies. It emphasized, too, the attachment of societies to their own customs and institutions. Several important books appeared in France between 1900 and 1910 dealing with the question of primitive mentality and asserting that the earlier conceptions of the unity of mankind, based solely on the possession of the power of reason, were false. 0 While the implication in many 6

Cf. Lévy Brühl, Les Fondions mentales dans les sociétés inférieures (Paris, 1910); Gustave Le Bon, Psychologie de la colonisation française (Paris, 1899); and Jules Harmand, Domination et colonisation (Paris, 1910).



of these works was that the black race was inherently inferior to the white, nevertheless stress was placed on the necessity for respecting the political and social institutions of the colonial peoples and on the differences of temperament and heredity among the races of the world. To admit that these variations existed was to render the principle of assimilation inapplicable, since the common element of reason was not enough to bring one society to accept fully the culture of another. The practical consequence of these views was the advocacy of flexible legislation adjusted to suit the needs of the people of each colony and the broad delegation of administrative discretion to the governors in each colony. It involved a greater respect for local institutions and social organization and a recognition that the culture developed by a colonial people prior to the coming of the French might, in fact, be better suited to its needs than a foreign one. The name given to the new policy in the interwar period was association. One of the first definitions of the term is to be found in the important work of Jules Harmand, Domination et colonisation, published in 1910. Harmand, a resident of Indo-China, pointed out: We can only raise the black and yellow races in the social and political hierarchy by a gradual acceleration of their progress, and not by a deviation from the ancestral road over which they have come. . . . Only the application of these principles which are resolutely opposed to assimilation, but which are sympathetically respectful of the mental constitution of peoples and of the social and political organizations which are the result of their material and moral needs will be profitable both to the ruler and the subject. 7

Association meant, in contrast to assimilation, cooperation between the colonial administration and the native political bodies to provide a leadership which would guide the African along the road to civilization. It implied, in particular, the formation of an educated native elite who would become assimilated but who, as the leaders of their people, would remain within the framework of native society and would thus form an intermediary bloc between the European and the native mass. While the assimilationists also foresaw the creation of an elite, the emphasis in association was shifted from the 7

Quoted by Buell, The Native Problem in Africa, II, 87-88.



aim of making Frenchmen out of the mass to a more limited goal of assimilating only the leadership cadre, while the mass retained its own cultural orientation. French policy between the two wars concentrated on the formation of this elite, but the result was not the creation of the bridge between European and African cultures toward which the proponents of association looked. In the process of education, the elite group eventually was forced to accept so much of the European cultural background that it lost touch with its own culture. Some members of this group felt themselves a part neither of European nor of African culture; in their effort to regain a close relationship with the mass of their people, they tended to react against European influence. It will be evident that association contained within it, however, many elements of the assimilationist doctrine, and the distinction between the two concepts often became blurred, both in theory and in practice. There is a great deal of justice in the criticism of some French writers that association was merely another name for assimilation and that in reality the basic aims of the assimilationists never changed, although they may have subscribed to the new doctrine in public. Louis Vignon, one of the advocates of indirect rule for the French colonies modeled on that of British Africa, commented in 1919: How could the assimilationists ever get along when their doctrine was, in fact, contrary to fact? For this reason, the word "assimilation" has disturbed the assimilationists in recent years, and so they have thought up another, "association." N o more "assimilationists" but "associationists." But what do they mean by it? . . . The words "associated," "association" . . . are vague, at least in the minds of our associationists. . . . There is no doubt that the secret views of the "associationists" are very close to those of the "assimilationists." 8

Although it was generally recognized among the French writers on colonial questions in the postwar era that there were fundamental differences between the organization of native society and that of western Europe, the idea of association had only a very limited effect on the operation of the administration during this period. The form 'Louis Vignon, Un Programme 201-2.

de politique


(Paris, 1919), pp.



of indirect rule introduced in Morocco under the protectorate is the closest approach to the British practice of indirect rule to be found on a large scale in French territory. It was argued that such a policy was possible there only because of the prior existence of a relatively highly organized Moroccan administration, but it would appear that it sprang rather from the personal influence of Marshal Louis Lyautey, who was himself convinced of the value of maintaining native institutions. In French West and Equatorial Africa the methods of direct rule were scarcely disturbed by the concept of association. From time to time efforts were made by high officials of the administration to bring about a limited recognition of the tribal authorities, but these met with no success. As early as 1909 Governor General William Ponty stressed the necessity of conserving tribal individuality. Joost Van Vollenhoven, some seven years later, strongly defended the policy of utilizing native chiefs in the structure of administrative organization. They were, in his view, the only intermediaries who enjoyed the confidence of the people and without their support the work of the French administrator would be much less effective. But Van Vollenhoven was careful to make clear that the chiefs had "no power of their own of any kind. There are not two authorities in the cercle [district], the French authority and the native authority; there is only one." 9 In 1932 Governor General J. Brévié sought to organize for West Africa a means of consulting native opinion through organized councils at the village level. However good the intentions behind these attempts to integrate traditional authority into French administration may have been, they were defeated by the tendency toward assimilation displayed by the local administrators. By temperament and by conviction the commandant de cercle was of the tradition of the Revolution. He saw as his chief task the imposing of a French cultural mold upon native society. Only rarely was he prepared to see any real value in native institutions; therefore, when the policy of association finally filtered down to the officer in the bush it was in most instances transformed into one of assimilation. Although the theoretical formulation of the concept of association bears a superficial resemblance to British indirect rule, it was never •Cited by Buell, The Native Problem in Africa, I, 997.



intended that the same degree of autonomous control should be left in the hands of the native ruler as was given to the Fulani emirs of Northern Nigeria. Combined as it was with overtones of assimilation, the French idea of association emerged as a different policy from that pursued by the British. Both included the use of Native Authorities as part of the administrative machine, but from the French point of view their role was much less important. In the case of indirect rule, traditional authority was left in the hands of the chief, and so long as he administered his area reasonably well, and in accordance with minimum standards of Western justice, he was able to retain his position. The chiefs in French territory possessed no legal authority of their own; they became adjuncts of the administration and, in effect, civil servants carrying out the orders of government. The Native Authority system of Nigeria saw the preservation of native political institutions as an end in itself. They were expected to evolve into modern administrative units, but they were not necessarily expected to duplicate those of Britain. The French view, on the other hand, was that, while native institutions might have some temporary value as tools in the maintenance of law and order, there was no reason to suppose that once the African had been raised to the level of European civilization there would be any inherent value in retaining them. Where native institutions showed that they were capable of adaptation to French administrative standards, they were permitted to exist, but where they failed to meet this test, they were ruthlessly discarded as rapidly as possible. The tendency was to substitute institutions based on the French model as soon as the population was considered ready to accept them. Despite the strikingly different initial approach of the French to the survival of native social and political organization, as compared with that of Great Britain, the ultimate position of tribal authority in the present day is not, in fact, greatly different. It has already been pointed out that in Southern Nigeria the development of an educated African elite brought with it a demand to change the Native Authority system to one of local representation, based on the British model. Similarly the legislative houses at the regional and federal levels in Nigeria derive their formal structure from the example of the parliament in the mother country. From the point of view of in-



stitutional forms, then, Nigeria would appear to have "assimilated" as much from the political structure of Great Britain as have French territories from France. The total effect of the policy of indirect rule practiced for fifty years in Nigeria was to reduce the power of the indigenous political institutions in those areas of Nigeria where European contact was most intense just as effectively as did the French policy of direct rule. The French consciously set out to create an educated elite and to place this group in a position of command over their fellow-citizens when they showed sufficient capability. British policy, perhaps unconsciously, produced the same effect when, in establishing schools based on the British educational system and in sending young Africans to English universities, it brought forth a generation of Africans who were to become the new nationalist leaders. The educated leaders of British Africa are as convinced, in their own way, of the merits of British culture as the French African leaders are of the merits of French culture, but in neither case has this conviction persuaded them to give up their own cultural heritage entirely. In British territory assimilation was not a conscious policy but was rather akin to a process of osmosis; in French territory a conscious assimilation, if not of the mass, then of a select group was considered the chief moral justification for possession of colonies. Perhaps more than any other factor, this moral conviction of the essential Tightness of superimposing French culture on the colonial African has made the transition from dependency to self-government more difficult in French territory than in British.

The Practical Application

of Assimilation



It was the enthusiasm for total assimilation in the early nineteenth century that prompted the French assembly in 1833 to declare that any person born free or who was liberated from slavery in the French colonies enjoyed all the civil rights and political liberties granted under the Code Civil. Fifteen years later Article 6 of the decree of April 27, 1848, gave representation in the national assembly to a part of Senegal; Africans here enjoyed the right to vote long before this stage was reached in any other part of colonial Africa. It is a curious



paradox that it was the much criticized concept of assimilation which led to the first application of the representative principle in West Africa. The right to exercise the vote was confined to those Africans who were originaires of the annexed territory of Senegal as it stood in 1848; Africans moving into the area were thus excluded. This territory was subsequently divided into four communes, St. Louis, Rufisque, Gorée, and Dakar. 10 The citizens of the four communes were permitted, despite their exercise of the franchise, to retain their statut personnel—that is, they remained subject to Moslem law and judicial procedure. A decree of 1857 expressly recognized their separate status with regard to marriage, inheritance, and wills. The question of the legality of the citizenship claimed by the natives of the four communes was challenged from time to time and was not settled finally until 1916, when, at the insistence of the deputy from Senegal, the national assembly declared the natives of the four communes full French citizens. These citizens were indeed a privileged group, in comparison to their fellow Africans, in that they were permitted to vote for their own deputy to the French legislature and to have their own elected councils for local government within the communes on the same basis as the communes of the métropole.11 The provision for a deputy from Senegal was first made under the Second Republic in 1848. The constitution provided that all the "old" colonies were to be represented in Paris. Under the Second Empire this representation was suppressed, but it was resumed again under the Third Republic in 1872. At first, European deputies were elected; the first African deputy, Blaise Diagne, was sent to Paris in 1914 and retained the seat for several years; he was succeeded by another African, Galandou Diouf. Diagne was a remarkable figure. A man of great personal magnetism, he represented the interests of his African constituents well and was able to gain the support of many Europeans during his years in office. It is doubtful whether many of the African voters were able 10 St. Louis and Gorée were created in 1872, Rufisque in 1880. Dakar was separated from the island of Gorée in 1887. u The two best accounts in English of the operation of the representative institutions in Senegal are to be found in Buell, The Native Problem in Africa, II, 57-60, and Kenneth E. Robinson, "Political Development in French West Africa," in Calvin Stillman (ed.), Africa in the Modern World (Chicago, 1955), pp. 140-81. I have leaned heavily on these two sources in the following pages.



to understand the issues upon which his campaigns were based, but they were content to vote for a personality, not a platform. Commenting on pre-1939 Senegalese politics, Κ. E. Robinson points out: The general impression is of a political machine, deriving its strength on the mainly from the influence it could bring to bear in the métropole colonial minister and its ability to exercise, in one way or another, substantial patronage, and organized round a leading personality, almost a political boss, rather than any set of political principles or a specific party program. 12

Within the communes, elected councils carried on the functions of municipal government. These councils were headed by a mayor elected by the councilors from among their members. After 1914 the majority of the councilors were Africans.13 The councils controlled a local budget, but, as is true with similar municipal bodies in France, their powers were strictly limited by the central administration. The four original communes were the only ones that had fully elected councils. A restricted form of representation was allowed in a number of other communes, but it scarcely affected the average African since only a few could meet the qualifications for suffrage. The elected councils of the four communes, despite their restricted powers, provided valuable experience for the African members in handling budgets and other municipal problems. This was denied tò other Africans who did not share the privileges of those born within the four communes. A more broadly based representative institution was provided by the conseil général of Senegal, analogous to the council of a déparlement of France. In Metropolitan France, the conseils généraux play an important role in local politics. They "stand somewhere between the national legislature and the communal authorities in public interest and political activity." 14 In general it is the task of the council to keep watch over the activities of the state administration within the département and to act as a sounding board for local public opinion. u "Political Development in French West Africa," in Stillman (ed.), Africa in the Modern World, pp. 150-51. Through his personal influence Diagne was very useful to the French in their recruitment of Senegalese troops during the First World War. " Buell, The Native Problem in Africa, I, 958. " Bryan Chapman, Introduction to French Local Government (London, 1953), p. 63. The councils are discussed on pp. 63-78.



The conseil général of Senegal was established in 1879 and was composed of twenty members elected by the French citizens of the socalled "territory under direct administration," or the four communes. The remainder of the colony, termed the "protectorate," was unrepresented. In effect, then, the conseil général gave representation to only about 175,000 people, as compared to the protectorate population of about 1.5 million in 1920. 15 The voters were the European residents of the communes and, of course, the African citizens. Since the latter group constituted the majority of the voters, most members of the council were Africans. In the matter of the colonial budget the powers of the council were quite extensive, and, subject to some reservations for obligatory expenditure, its assent was required before the annual expenditures could be made. After 1890, when the protectorate was separated from the territory under direct administration, the council controlled only the budget for the territory. With the creation of the federation in 1904, the strength of the council was still further reduced, since a separate budget was established for the gouvernement général. The members of the council bitterly resented the progressive curbing of its powers over the administration, and in 1917, when an attempt was made to transfer the expenses of the administrative services for the territory and the protectorate to the latter's budget, the council refused to vote the annual budget for the following year. To offset the curtailment of its budgetary powers, the council demanded that its jurisdiction over the whole of Senegal be restored. 16 In 1920 a decree was passed which in part met the council's request by reuniting the two sections of Senegal. The council itself was reorganized to give representation to the protectorate as well, and its name was changed to conseil colonial. To the twenty members elected by the French citizens (that is, the voters of the four communes) were added twenty chiefs elected by the provincial and cantonal chiefs.17 The council was given powers of decision on thirteen specified subjects, 15

Buell, The Native Problem in Africa, I, 967. "Ibid., pp. 988-89. "This balance was altered in 1925 to 24 citizens and 16 chiefs and in 1930 to 26 and 18, respectively. In 1939, 18 French subjects born in Senegal were added; they were elected by French subjects who had been born in Senegal and had completed their military service. Robinson, "Political Development in French West Africa," in Stillman (ed.), Africa in the Modern World, p. 146.



confined largely to matters affecting the disposition and management of public property, the acceptance or refusal of gifts to the colony, the classification of roads and the contribution of the colony to work being executed by the State.18 It had also certain advisory powers, and the lieutenant governor was required to consult the council on the creation of new communes. On questions of the rate and assessment of taxes the council possessed powers of deliberation. Its decisions in the field of finance became effective upon approval by the governor in council (in contrast to its legislative decisions, which became effective after two months unless the lieutenant governor expressly asked for their annulment). Like the conseil général, the colonial council was required to approve the budget for the whole of Senegal except for certain classes of obligatory expenditures. The powers given in 1947 to the territorial assemblies of French Africa follow very closely, in many respects, those of the colonial council of Senegal. The powers of the colonial council were subject to close supervision by the administration through the governor's veto, but they nevertheless were extensive enough to cause the administration to hesitate before riding roughshod over it. The council could, as Buell suggests, prevent the government from embarking on a development program by the expedient of withholding the optional expenditures. Moreover, the discussion of the budget left the way open for criticism of almost any aspect of the work of the administration, and the citizen members frequently took advantage of this opportunity. Despite the fact that the powers of the colonial council were substantial, on paper at least, the addition of the chiefs proved to be a device by which the administration was able to exert a measure of control that had not been possible under the former conseil général. The chiefs voted almost solidly for the government, so that in effect there was constituted an official majority. Divisions on the council were not between the European minority and the African majority but between the chiefs and the citizens. While in theory the chiefs elected their own members, the citizens accused the administration of handpicking those chiefs they were sure would provide support for the official side. Indeed, considering that the chiefs were largely depend" Buell, The Native Problem in Africa, I, 971.



ent on the administration for official récognition of their positions, it could hardly have been expected that they would vote otherwise. They were often not capable of discussing the more technical problems of government and were content to leave such decisions to the administration. The Senegalese conseil colonial cannot be said to have been representative in the true sense of the word, since, for all practical purposes, it did not afford an opportunity for an expression of popular opinion by the mass of the people. It must, however, be admitted that the citizens of the four communes were probably the only Senegalese who were, from the standpoint of education, at that time capable of expressing an informed opinion on the more complex questions of administration. Outside Senegal itself representative institutions existed on only the most minor scale. Each colony was represented in the conseil supérieur des colonies (known after 1937 as the conseil supérieur de la France d'outre-mer), an advisory organ to the minister of colonies in Paris. Elections, based on the votes of the French citizens, were held once every four years. Except for natives of the métropole and natives of the four communes who might be living in other territories of the federations, there were no other voters, so that the elections were hardly an expression of mass opinion. One African writer comments: The natives of the colony, with the exception of a very small number of naturalised French citizens, had no voice in the affair. For this reason, the electoral college was very restricted and the elections in no way translated the will of the people. 19

The governor general of the federation was assisted by a conseil de gouvernement, consisting of the lieutenant governors of the eight colonies, and certain other officials, the deputy for Senegal, the elected members of the conseil supérieur for Dahomey, the Ivory Coast, the Sudan, and Guinea, and two unofficial members elected by the conseils d'administration in the other colonies. In the case of Senegal, however, the representatives were the president and one noncitizen member elected by the noncitizen members of the colonial 19 F. J. Amon d'Aby, La Cóle d'Ivoire dans la cité africaine (Paris, 1953), p. 53.



council. In addition, representatives were elected from the chambers of commerce in Senegal and the Dakar municipal council. The functions of the council were largely advisory. It had to be consulted on such matters as public works, loans, and taxation, and it considered the budgets of all the territories of the federation, but its discussions were not binding on the administration. 20 At the capital of each colony except Senegal, the lieutenant governor had a conseil d'administration, whose consultative powers were similar to those of the conseil de gouvernement. In Dahomey, the Ivory Coast, the Sudan, and Guinea the councils had, after 1925, elected as well as official members. Two French citizens were elected by the chambers of commerce and of agriculture and three noncitizens (that is, subjects) were elected by a special African electorate. This consisted of seven classes of noncitizens: Africans who had spent five years in the civil service, chiefs of provinces and cantons, licensed traders, owners of registered urban property of a specified value, farmers cultivating areas of a size fixed by the lieutenant governor, and holders of the Legion of Honor or other civil decorations. The electoral lists were prepared annually by a mixed commission including one African chief. In Niger and Mauritania the membership of the council continued to be officially nominated. The council had a permanent commission composed of members normally resident in the territorial capital. Similar conseils d'administration were established for French Equatorial Africa. 21 The representative base for the conseil d'administration was considerably broader than that of the legislative councils of British territory at this period, where the vote was confined to urban areas. On the other hand, as Buell indicates, the legislative councils of British territory were responsible for all local legislation and were therefore much more important than the conseils d'administration.22 In other words, the French system in this case had the advantage of spreading the concept of representation more broadly through the indigenous population, but the vote had relatively little significance; the British " Robinson, "Political Development in French West Africa," in Stillman (ed.), Africa in the Modern World, p. 149. There are certain parallels with the grands conseils established after the Second World War. " Hailey, An African Survey, p. 202. 22 Buell, The Native Problem in Africa, I, 982.



system gave a somewhat more meaningful vote to a much more restricted group of Africans. The conseils d'administration laid the foundation for the new conseils généraux (the present territorial assemblies) introduced after the Second World War, and as such may be considered the real forerunners of the representative institutions now existing in all of French Africa. At the level of local administration, in addition to the elected bodies existing in the four communes, legislative provision was later made for the commune mixte, which could have an elected council. However, no communes of this nature were established before 1939. In nonurban areas, local conseils de notables were established. These consisted of nominated chiefs, but their powers remained very shadowy. 23 On the whole, the representative institutions introduced during the interwar period into the two French federations in Africa were of relatively little value in developing a real sense of popular political responsibility. There is no doubt that, Outside the special regime of the Senegal communes . . . this system did nothing to stimulate political activity o n Western lines, though the existence of the Senegalese citizens w h o had not been required to accept French private law as the price of citizenship, doubtless did something to suggest that a similar result might one day c o m e about elsewhere, just as the existence in the legislative councils of Nigeria and the Gold Coast of one or two members elected for urban constituencies by ballot operated in a similar fashion there. 24

Fundamentally, the problem in French territory lay in the fact that the transfer of any real legislative and executive power to the colonies was incompatible with the principle of legislative responsibility centralized in Paris. The ultimate power of decision on matters of colonial administration was placed in the hands of the president of the Republic (although effectively in the hands of the minister of the colonies) through the decrees issued by authority of the Sénatus Consulte of 1854. Under the Second Empire the French senate had laid down a constitution for the so-called "old colonies" but pro23

The conseils de notables are discussed below, pp. 117-18. Robinson, "Political Development in French West Africa," in Stillman (ed.), Africa in the Modern World, p. 149. 24



vided that the other colonies should be governed by decree of the emperor, until a constitution for them could be elaborated. This was never done under the empire and, since the Third Republic made no constitutional provision whatever for colonial legislation, the power to legislate for Overseas France was transferred by default under the new regime to the hands of the head of the state—the president. Under this arrangement the president was not required to consult either the national assembly or the conseil d'état in issuing decrees. The chamber of deputies laid claim to an overriding right to legislate for the colonies under the Republic and by express provision made some metropolitan enactments applicable to them. In the fields of taxation and finance parliament intervened from time to time,25 but ministerial decrees constituted the greater part of colonial legislation up to 1939. The centralization of power in Paris was reflected in the administrative structure of the African federations. The governor general was the direct representative of the Republic and as such was the supreme head of government. Through him all communications between Paris and the lieutenant governors and the administrative services were channeled. From him proceeded the arrêtés d'application which put into force the decrees issued in Paris. Except for a few services, such as posts and telegraphs, which, because of the nature of their operations, were intercolonial, the same centralization of territorial services was to be found in each colony, under the direction of the lieutenant governor. He alone was permitted to correspond with the governor general, and he alone, not the heads of his services, was responsible for the operation of government in his territory. At the local level the territories were divided into cercles and subdivisions (in French Equatorial, regions and districts), and within his own cercle the administrator reigned supreme. While the device of organizing the colonies of West and Equatorial Africa into federations was designed in the first instance as a decentralizing mechanism, to relieve the ministry in Paris of detailed work concerning each territory, in practice it placed a very large degree of discretion in the hands of the governor general and hence " C f . the law of April 28, 1893, when the right to impose taxes on the colonies was asserted.



tended to recentralize control at the federation level. This tendency was reinforced by the fact that the- federation drew its financial resources from import duties and taxes de consommation, while the territorial budgets were dependent on direct taxes and other minor local revenues. With their slim sources of revenue the territories depended on grants from the federation for any development plans they might wish to undertake. The African population had no representation in Paris (except for Senegal), whereas the French trading companies and other financial interests could bring direct pressure to bear on the minister through political influence. Government therefore became a problem of balancing the interests of the federal administration and the economic interests operating in the territories, while the purely local interests of the Africans were pushed aside. Except for a very small number of minor civil service posts, the educated African elite created by the policy of association found no place within the centralized administrative structure to exercise the new skills which they were acquiring. Despite the limited attempts made to introduce representative bodies, French policy between 1920 and 1940 had in reality no long-term plans for political development of the African colonies. Just as indirect rule assumed that the Native Authorities would someday develop into democratic bodies, the policy of association vaguely assumed that the elite formed by a limited assimilation would eventually play a role in the operation of the administration. But no plans toward this end were made, either in Paris or in Africa. The administration was content to govern from day to day without thought for the future; the more so during the period after 1930 when attention was directed almost exclusively toward recovering from the effects of the depression. With the budgetary restrictions of the time, the administrative staff, particularly in French Equatorial Africa, was reduced to the point where only the most necessary functions could be performed, and neither time nor money were available for new schemes, however valuable they may have been. The comment of a French critic on the system as a whole is illuminating: The repudiation of assimilation, an "association" . . . reduced in fact to a label covering a blind conservatism; stripped of circumlocutions, such was, in 1939, the officiai system. It was fossilised; it was dangerous. To



deny problems is not to solve them; many a regime has died of doing just that. 26 Undoubtedly there is justification in much of the criticism aimed by foreign writers at the concepts of assimilation and association in French policy. However, the argument in favor of assimilation advanced by one contemporary French writer is worthy of attention: It should be understood at the outset, assimilation represented an essentially progressive policy. While traders and colonizers regarded the native as an inferior being whose lot was naturally subordinate, statesmen and intellectuals looked upon him as a potential Frenchman having a natural claim to the enjoyment of the same rights and prerogatives as other Frenchmen. When first conceived the idea of assimilation was based on the assumption of the equality of all men, proclaimed in 1789 and upon the absence of racism. . . . The idea of constituting a unified political whole in which all citizens would be equal, regardless of race or color, is excellent. 27 For the mother country, however, there is a fundamental objection to assimilation which, as M. Duverger points out, has nothing whatever to do with the idealism upon which assimilation is based. Unfortunately, it is an idea which is almost impossible to implement and not primarily because of the opposition of the colonials. . . . The primary reason for the failure of the policy of assimilation is that, if pursued to the end, it would result in giving the majority in the French parliament to the overseas deputies; the mother country has only 43 million inhabitants as against more than fifty million in the territories. This would have been acceptable only if the 50 million ex-colonial natives had been culturally assimilated and had thought as a man from Auvergne or Provence would. No other condition would have proved satisfactory. Furthermore, even if such a degree of assimilation had been possible, it would have necessitated changes in the mores and the civil laws of the colonial peoples for which they were quite unprepared. For example, on the civic or family level, changes involving polygamy would never have been countenanced. 28 The makers and administrators of French colonial policy in the interwar years were increasingly aware that the African colonial 20

Deschamps, Méthodes et doctrines coloniales de la France, p. 176. Maurice Duverger, "Aid Given by the Mother Country to Colonized Peoples—the Example of France," Confluence, IV, No. 4 (January, 1956), 423-24. 38 Ibid., p. 424. 117



could not be made to think "as a man from Auvergne or Provence would." They were aware, too, of the practical impossibility of complete integration of the colonies with the mother country. Yet a century and a half of education had bred assimilation into their thinking, and they found it difficult to abandon so congenial a concept. Association was but a halfway measure; it was neither assimilation nor yet a reconstruction of native political institutions. Because it was a compromise it led to sterility of policy and administrative inertia throughout French West and Equatorial Africa. The ends of French control in Africa were never clarified, and thus the double current of assimilation on one hand and respect for local custom on the other created the fundamental contradiction which is to be found at the origin of all the difficulties experienced by France in her search for a colonial policy. 29

It required the shock of war to break this dilemma and to give new direction to the political development of France overseas. The first spokesman for a new policy was to be, ironically, a man who was himself an excellent example of what the process of assimilation could accomplish in making a man of African descent into a Frenchman. Félix Eboué, the governor general of French Equatorial Africa and a native of French Guiana, was the first of his race to occupy such a high post in the French colonies. He had already spent twenty-five years in the colonial service when war broke out in 1939, and he was the first to declare his territory (at that time he was governor of Chad) on the side of the Free French. 30 In a circular of November, 1941, Eboué outlined his views on native policy. Rejecting entirely the idea of assimilation, he urged the reconstruction of the tribal institutions and their gradual modernization: To make or remake a society, whether in our image or at least according to our habits of thought is to run into certain stalemate. The native has a way of life, laws, and a homeland which are not ours. We will neither make him happy by applying the principles of the French Revolution which is our Revolution, nor by applying to him the Code Napoléon which is our " André P. Robert, L'Evolution des coutumes de l'ouest africain et la législation française (Paris, 1955), p. 11. "Cf. Ulrich Sophie, Le Gouverneur Général Félix Eboué (Paris, 1950), pp. 63 ff.



code, nor by substituting our administrators for his chiefs, because our administrators think for him but not as he does. 3 1

Eboué's views were inspired in part by the British policy of indirect rule, in that he stressed the importance of the chiefs in the African community and the necessity of educating them to take their place in modern administration. This idea was, of course, not new to French colonial thought; he himself attributed it in large part to Lyautey. Like Lyautey, he believed that the only way to preserve native societies in Africa was to guard the institution of chieftainship from collapse. He disapproved of the arbitrary choice or replacement of chiefs, so often made by the French administration. W h o should be chief? 1 do not reply, "the Best." There is n o best chief. There is a chief and we have no choice. . . . There is a chief designated by custom; it is a question of recognizing him. If we replace him arbitrarily, w e divide the line of command between the official chief and the real chief; we deceive no one but ourselves. . . . T h e chief is not interchangeable; when w e depose him, public opinion does not. T h e chief still exists. 3 2

Eboué foresaw the growth of a class of notables évolués—essentially a middle class—to whom the administration of the cities would be entrusted. They would be, in his opinion, not French citizens primarily, but citizens of the colony to whose development they would devote themselves because it was their own. Only with the spread of education could the administration count on finding among the Africans efficient help in the drive toward economic and social development—"help which up to now we have never seriously sought." 33 The circular issued by Eboué represented a thoughtful and constructive approach to native administration. Basically his concern was to breathe life into the sterile concept of association by genuine efforts to enlist the cooperation of the African in the progressive modernization of his country. While it may be argued that Eboué's vision of restoring the chief to his former position of authority was m Félix Eboué, La Nouvelle Politique Indigène pour L'AEF, p. 585. Citations are from the text found in the Appendix to Jean La Roche and Jean Gottmann, La Fédération française (Montreal, 1945). Page numbers refer to this text. "Ibid., p. 589. M A statut des notables évolués was promulgated by a decree of July 29, 1942, in French Equatorial Africa.



unrealistic in view of the rapidity of postwar economic change in French Africa, nevertheless it must be admitted that had he lived to carry out even a few of the plans outlined in this circular, his work would have been a more positive contribution to the improvement of the relationship between France and the people of Equatorial Africa than was that of most of his predecessors. The advent of the war served to shock French colonial policy out of the lethargy of the previous two decades, but it failed to settle the old controversy over association and assimilation. The declaration of the Atlantic Charter, with its provisions for free choice of government by all peoples, served to reinforce the demands of some native leaders in French colonial Africa for a greater autonomy based on association.34 The time was ripe for a complete reassessment of colonial policy. The government of Free France (all the more conscious of the need for a new approach since the seat of government by 1944 was in Africa, in Algiers) undertook this task at the Brazzaville conference in February, 1944. The gathering was attended by the governors of the African colonies, the commissioner for the colonies, M. René Pleven, and other officials of the ministry in the De Gaulle cabinet. The recommendations of this conference played an important role in the later discussions of the structure of the French Union. The first recommendation set the tone of the conference and revealed the direction in which the thought of the conferees was headed. It stated flatly: The ends of the work of civilization accomplished by France in its colonies obviate any idea of autonomy, or any possibility of evolution outside the framework of the French empire; the eventual, even far distant, introduction of self-government in the colonies is to be avoided. 35

The conference made no specific recommendations as to the method of representation of the colonies in the postwar French parliamentary institutions but insisted that, whatever its form, it be much broader than before the war and should preferably be within a federal assembly, not in the French national assembly. Within the colonies, M

Cf. Le Manifeste algérien (1943), by the Algerian nationalist Ferhat Abbas, and La Communauté imperiale française (1945), by Leopold Senghor. 20 The text of the recommendations with other conference documents is to be found in La Conférence africaine française (Algiers, 1944). All citations are from this volume.



the conferees called for administrative decentralization and for the establishment of representative assemblies at the territorial level (having both European and African members) which would have deliberative powers over the budget and over public works. A number of other recommendations were made dealing with Africanization of the civil service, the suppression of the indigénat, and the regulation of labor. Regarding the colonial service itself, the conferees recommended a further extension and definition of the powers of the governors as opposed to those of Paris and a reorganization of the regulations governing the service of career officers. Taken in their entirety the recommendations of the Brazzaville conference reveal a curiously ambivalent approach to the subject of developing future political responsibility in the colonies. The specter of assimilation seems to hover over the discussion so that the recommendations at times appear contradictory; how, for example, can the insistence that "we desire to see them [the colonies] go forward by stages from administrative decentralization to [the growth of] a full political personality," be reconciled with the complete rejection of self-government? The real difficulty was, of course, that the members of the conference were torn between the desire to see the colonial subjects assimilated to the métropole as a final aim of policy and the realization that greater political responsibility would have to be given to the colonies if France were to be able to retain her empire. Moreover, as administrators, they were concerned with preserving as broad a field of discretion as possible within the colonies themselves, and so they favored administrative, if not political, decentralization. The difficulties now confronting France in her relations with the overseas territories were clearly foreseen in a report read to the conference by Fily Dabo Sissoko (then a cantonal chief, who was later to become a well-known political leader and deputy from the Sudan). In it he concluded that, in the postwar world, "the African would remain an African, in his way of life and in his social evolution," and that "the European should, by all appropriate means, bring about the evolution of the African according to the African's own ways." 36 The Brazzaville conference had a strong influence upon the mem"Ibid., p. 101.



bers of the constitutional assemblies two years later. Many of its recommendations were eventually incorporated into the new constitution, particularly those dealing with the territorial assemblies. The conference pointed the way to a solution for some colonial questions, but on the most important point of all—the definition of a new relationship between the colonies and the métropole—it was silent. The members of the constitutional assembly of 1946 brought forth the French Union as the fruit of their labors; after a decade the child still bears the birthmarks inflicted by the continuing battle of the assimilationists for control of Overseas France.


IT WAS CLEAR that by 1939 the Native Authority system was not keeping pace with Nigerian progress. Reform of the system was already in the air, and even if the Second World War had not intervened, it could reasonably have been expected that fundamental changes would shortly have been introduced. While the preoccupation of the war years had the effect of preventing any gradual changes which might have been envisioned, the pace of Nigerian social and economic development increased so startlingly between 1939 and 1945 that plans which might have been suitable for peacetime progress were entirely outmoded by the end of the war. The experience of Nigerian veterans in the war theaters of Southeast Asia served to broaden their horizons immeasurably. The discontent with the system which existed among educated groups before the war became crystallized and focused when the veterans returned to their home communities after demobilization. Among this group particularly the unprogressive attitudes of the tribal authorities found growing disfavor. In lesser degree this disfavor was shared even by those who had remained at home.

Discussions in the colonial office during the war years concerning constitutional reforms in Nigeria were accompanied by planning for reform at the local government level as well. As early as 1943 the Secretary of State for the Colonies declared in the House of Commons, "I regard the extension of local government as one of the quickest



and certainly the surest methods of making certain of the extension of central government." 1 The question was discussed at length by an interdepartmental committee of the colonial office as part of the general consideration of postwar colonial problems. Additional urgency was lent to the question of local government institutions with the creation of schemes for increased local social services, to be aided by grants under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act. Early in 1947 the Secretary of State pointed out in a dispatch that, the African governments are now beginning to put their ten-year development programs into execution. The stage has been reached when paper plans must be translated into action and it is in the townships and villages among the people themselves that much of this action must take place. There are many development schemes where success in whole, or in part, depends on the active cooperation of the people and that cooperation can best be secured through the leadership of local authorities. Without an efficient system of local government the great mass of the African population will derive only partial benefits from the monies granted for development by the Colonial Legislatures.2 The text of this dispatch, sent to all colonial governors, became the keynote of local government policy in the African territories. In it the secretary emphasized that local government was to be regarded as part of the process of the evolution toward self-government which could not be isolated from the general trend toward more representative institutions. The place of local government in the broader field of constitutional advance was again pointed up by the Secretary of State in 1949, when he said, We are already in a position in which constitutional reform is not merely a matter for the educated element of the population or for the chiefs and Native Authorities but one which closely concerns the ordinary people who form the bulk of the population of each territory. This leads naturally to the conception of sound Local Government institutions in Africa as the only healthy basis for political advance. The aim is to secure an effective system of Local Government not only in the towns but in rural areas and representatives not only of the traditional elements of the popu1

Cited in Rita Hinden, Local Government and the Colonies (London, 1950), p. 27. 2 Dispatch of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 1947.



lation but of the rising middle classes, the farmers, the industrial workers and the educated minority, all of whom have an important part to play in the growth of these institutions in their home areas.3 Local government was the subject of the first colonial office summer conference in 1947; it was discussed also in the conference of governors in October of that year and by a conference of parliamentary representatives the following summer. At this point there was general acceptance by both colonial officials and African representatives of the plan of creating new representative institutions at the local level. However, in contrast to the postwar French plans, no effort was made to draw up a common form for these institutions for all of British Africa. Instead, it was left to the governments of each colony, under the general policy directives of the colonial office, to work out the detailed reforms which would best fit the needs of the territory concerned. It was perhaps inevitable that the model upon which plans for the new councils were based should be that of the English local government system. At the national level the British parliamentary forms were rapidly being evolved; and it was assumed that the system at the lower level could be articulated with the higher one on the same basis as in the mother country. Accordingly, the local government ordinances which were eventually drafted for Southern Nigeria contained the basic elements of the English system and, in the case of the Eastern Region, even paralleled the English terminology in the use of the term "county." The foundation of the English structure is the elected council, with a permanent staff. The English councils draw their revenues to provide for local services from property and other taxes, from municipally owned property, and from grants-inaid allocated by the central government. While a large part of their operations are autonomous, the councils are subject to some control by the national government, particularly in those areas of public service which are dependent upon government grants. Duplication of almost all this structure is to be found in the West African local government legislation, although the degree of control exercised from the center is, under the present laws, much greater than in England. * Address of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Journal of African ministration, I (July, 1949), 5.




The development of local government in Nigeria in the past decade is not without parallel to the history of English local government in the two decades preceding the turn of the century. Popular representation at the local level is of relatively recent origin in England itself; the elected county council came only in 1888 and the elected rural district and parish councils in 1894. At an earlier period and even during the nineteenth century local government in England had more the flavor of an autocracy or of an oligarchy than of a democracy. The power of the landed gentry, as magistrates, was almost absolute. They combined in their offices the duties of judge and civil administrator; their chief functions were the preservation of law and order and the supervision of performance of those minimum services, such as highway repair and care of the poor, which were community necessities. Like the Native Authorities in Nigeria, the landed gentry of nineteenth-century England were virtually a traditional ruling class; they conceived of their duties in local government in much the same way as the Native Authority Ordinance conceived of those of the Native Authorities appointed under its provisions. Indeed, there is evidence that the early district officers of Northern Nigeria saw in the emirs the counterpart of the landed gentlemen to which they were accustomed in England. In consequence, they were prepared to permit the emirs the same latitude of powers in local administration as the local justice of the peace might have had at home.4 The demand for local democracy in England arose as a result of the economic changes of the industrial revolution; the "traditional" system of local government could no longer provide the services the growing urban communities wished and the result was the popularly elected council. Similarly, the Native Authorities failed to meet the demands of the middle class created by wartime prosperity in Southern Nigeria and were replaced by institutions responsible to the people. The changing needs of local government in West Africa were met by the British administration in the same ways that had been evolved to meet an analagous situation at home fifty years previously. It should be emphasized, however, that, while similarities may be found between the development of the English local government forms •Cf. C. L. Temple, Native passim.

Races and Their Rulers

(Capetown, 1918),



and those now in force in Southern Nigeria, the present local councils are not a logical progression from the Native Authority system as it was ideally envisaged at the time of amalgamation in 1914. There are, of course, a number of elements in the conciliar structure, particularly in the Western Region, which appear on the surface to be organically connected to the old Native Authority system. Representation of the traditional authorities is included in the Western Region councils and the present bodies administer in part the same geographic areas as did the Native Authorities. But the foundation of local government now rests on the principle of popular representation with a nod in the direction of the chiefs through the mandatory inclusion of one or more traditional representatives on the council. It may perhaps be assumed that over a period of years the elective principle will be applied to the entire membership of the council as popular allegiance to traditional authority wanes.

Local Government Legislation in the Eastern Region Perhaps the most convenient method of securing a picture of the basic structure and powers of the elected councils in Southern Nigeria is through an examination of the councils created under the Eastern Region Local Government Ordinance of 1950. The first of the local government laws to be adopted, it became the model for similar laws not only in the Western Region but in Ghana and in some of the British East African territories as well. The question of local government reform was taken up formally as early as 1948 by the Eastern Region House of Assembly. A select committee of the house was appointed in August of that year to review the existing system and to "formulate general principles for the reform of that system." The committee's report, which began with an indictment of the Native Authority system, 5 recommended "a completely new approach to the problem of providing effective and efficient local government." In substance the committee proposed the establishment of elective county councils, whose membership, "should be designed to comprise a predominance of educated and progressive Africans." Such councils would be supervised by a local 5

Quoted above, p. 22.



government board at regional headquarters, which would control a unified local government staff and would advise on the appointment of subsidiary councils on the recommendation of the county council. In part, the committee based its proposals on a report completed only a few months earlier by Brigadier E. J. Gibbons, a Senior Resident of the Eastern Region who had been assigned to study local government in Kenya and Uganda with a view to formulating recommendations for the Eastern Region.6 The Gibbons report castigated the Native Authority system as unsuitable either in size or character to be the superior organ of local government . . . it offers neither the scope nor the prestige to attract into its membership the really enlightened African of education and consequence in the community. It is sometimes suggested that such men have a duty to enter the NA's and thus raise them to higher levels of understanding and efficiency. Some do. But a man has only one life and it is idle to expect an educated African gentleman . . . to fritter away his efforts in arguments with yokels around the parish pump. The Native Authority Councils continue to consist therefore of worthy but unlettered men with a parochial horizon . . . material such as this is unsatisfactory as a link between government and the people. . . . It is inherent in the "Native Administration" theory that it possesses inherent authority which merely receives the recognition of the government. It has therefore an outlook on the place of local government in the State which is quite out of place now that Nigeria is becoming a modern nation. . . . It is naturally unable to appreciate the need for its own reformation and . . . the very existence of the institution tends to create a vested interest in the status quo. 7

The reforms envisaged by Brigadier Gibbons were a peculiar mixture of the elective form at the top superimposed on the Native Authority system. Essentially he sought to find a suitable substitute for the Native Authorities but only where they were a conspicuous failure. The aim behind his proposals was, "to enable the people of the Eastern Provinces, by methods suitable to their own conditions to achieve the same order and efficiency which is enjoyed elsewhere under the system of Indirect Rule." 8 Έ.

J. G i b b o n s , African


Eastern Nigeria (Lagos, 1949). 7

Ibid., p. 34.

Government 8


Ibid., p. 43.






While the select committee followed Brigadier Gibbons in recommending an elected county council, it rejected his view that existing Native Authority councils should become subordinate councils on the ground that this did not carry the elective principle far enough. Instead, it recommended a system of fully elected subordinate councils at the district and village levels. The Gibbons report and the select committee were in agreement that the district officer should, at least temporarily, be the chairman of the county council. It is perhaps an index of the reaction by the Eastern Region House of Assembly against the Native Authority system that this position was completely reversed in the final draft of the 1950 ordinance and that the district officer was almost excluded from any part in the council system. Following the publication of the select committee's report discussions were held throughout the Eastern Region with the Native Authority councils and the Tribal and Progressive Unions to explain the proposals and to measure public opinion on the issue of local government reform. As a result of these talks, a memorandum was framed, which was accepted by the Eastern Region House of Assembly in July, 1949, and used as a basis for the finished ordinance. The committee's recommendations were modified at three important points, tending to bring the new system more into line with English local government practice. The concept of a subordinate council was too reminiscent of the subordinate Native Authority councils to be acceptable, and it was replaced by a horizontal system, under which each council became jointly responsible to the electorate and to the regional government for carrying out only those duties specifically assigned to it. The suggestion of a local government advisory board was eliminated, leaving a direct relationship between regional government and the councils. Finally, the idea that local government staff be controlled by a board or other outside agency was felt to be incompatible with the financial autonomy of a local government unit and was therefore discarded. After more than two years of preparation the ordinance finally became law in May, 1950. Preliminary investigation into the first area where the representative system was to be established took a further year, so that it was not until mid-1951 that the first county council began operation.



Over the council system as a whole the ordinance placed a Regional Authority (the goveraor-in-council) under whose supervision the Instruments establishing each council were drawn up. The Authority exercised a wide measure of control over the councils and could even dissolve a council for failure to carry out its duties, failure to levy local taxes, or misuse of its funds. The Instrument creating a council defined its area of jurisdiction, specified the number of councils, and defined the powers (drawn from a list which was part of the ordinance) which were granted to it. Any qualified resident of the area over the age of twenty-one might stand for election to a council. Councilors were elected for a term of three years, one-third of them retiring annually so that a residue of experienced members remained to carry on the council business. The method of election varied with the level of the council. Local councils were elected directly, the voters being those whose names appeared on the nominal tax roles. Urban district councils were also elected directly, the district being divided into wards specified in the Instrument. In urban areas the voters were those who owned or rented lodgings of a specified assessed value. County and district councils were elected indirectly, by the members of the local councils. The ordinance laid down detailed provisions for the conduct of elections, including procedures for revising the voters' lists and punishments for bribery, fraud, or personation. In practice, the use of the tax rolls as the voters' lists appears to have worked smoothly enough in rural areas, where the population was relatively stable. In urban areas, however, where there existed a large floating population, this device was considerably less successful. The councils at all levels were permitted a wide variety of functions. As with the former Native Authority system, their powers were detailed in the Instrument of establishment, and so a considerable flexibility was achieved. The basic duties of all councils were concerned with the maintenance of law and order; the sections dealing with crime prevention, powers to expel a stranger from a council area, and the power to declare or modify customary law were copied almost directly from the Native Authority Ordinance. In addition, there were laid down, in eighty-two subsections, specific powers which might or must, depending on the Instrument, be exercised. This comprehensive section covered the bulk of functions which



would normally come within the purview of any elected local body, including the maintenance of educational facilities from local taxes. For the purposes of carrying out the functions entrusted to them the councils might make by-laws but these were subject to the approval of the Regional Authority; their law-making powers were thus closely controlled. While this might have been necessary in view of the council's lack of experience, it tended toward overcentralization and thus slowed up the council's operations. Provisions were made for the employment of staff by the councils, although here again the Regional Authority's permission was required before anyone might be employed at a salary of over £ 4 0 0 . This restriction was inserted in part to guarantee that the council would have a competent senior staff, since the Authority had the right to review the qualifications of such appointees. More directly, however, the proviso served to prevent the misuse of council funds. The temptation, not unknown in local politics elsewhere, to appoint a favorite son to a sinecure at a substantial salary was all too prevalent, especially in the rural councils. Perhaps the most distinctive features of the whole council structure were the methods of local finance. It was felt by the framers of the ordinance that a system in which all levels of councils could levy taxes for local purposes would be much too complicated to administer, and too costly, in its duplication of collection facilities. The Direct Taxation Ordinance provided that a portion of the poll tax collected locally be transferred to the local authorities as a part of their revenue. Accordingly, the district council was named as the tax collection agency, and the chief revenues of the county and local councils were derived from precepts 9 levied on the taxing councils. The county council also drew revenue from the proceeds of fines and fees levied in native courts within the area. Provision was also made for taxes which might be desired by a single local or county council for special purposes, such as education. This insured that any local body desiring to provide more * A "precept" in the English local government system is a demand issued by a subbody on the rating, or taxing, authority. The taxing authority in working out its annual budget must take into account the demands of those subbodies which may precept upon it and adjust the tax rate so that the expenditures of the subbodies as well as its own are taken into account in the rate of tax finally levied.



than normal services might do so if the voters agreed to the heavier tax payments. In recent years the demand for education in the Eastern Region has been such that many areas have voluntarily levied a substantial additional tax on themselves to pay for the needed facilities. Taxes are collected by appointed agents of the district councils; normally these agents are village councilors or headmen who prepare nominal tax rolls for the area and receive the payments. Some of the more progressive and wealthier councils are beginning to hire a staff of collectors, but it will be some time before this becomes a universal practice. The bulk of the taxes collected by local authorities of the Eastern Region were derived from a flat rate poll tax or capitation tax. However, district councils were permitted by the ordinance to levy other forms of rates, either an annual rate on property or an annual rate on income. The property tax has been used for special purposes, such as provision of new schools, to an increasing degree in the Eastern Region, despite the fact that its collection entails some difficulties because of the rudimentary assessment facilities available. Except in some instances where the public has felt that the tax money was not being used for the purposes for which it was collected, there has been a general willingness to bear an increased burden of local taxes. A recent survey of the Nigerian economy concluded, We are inclined to believe that for many years to come it will be impossible to assess income or property taxes on Africans on any but the local authority level. Since we believe that in Nigeria, as in other countries, taxes on income and property are the most equitable form of taxation, we recommend that taxation at the local level be increased in order to pay for the increased government service which we propose. The proceeds of such taxation should be sufficient not only to pay for local government but eventually to permit the application of income tax proceeds to the cost of regional government. And to the extent that this becomes possible local expenditure should be met increasingly through property taxes. 10

Experience over a five-year period showed that the ordinance as originally drafted had a number of serious deficiencies which were " The Economic by the international

p. 71.

Development of Nigeria: Report of a Mission Organized Bank for Reconstruction and Development (Lagos, 1954),



corrected when the 1950 ordinance was replaced by the Local Government Law of 1955. The reasons for the changes made by the 1955 law will become clear in the following pages, but for the sake of completeness the major changes made under the law may be summarized here. The Regional Authority was abolished, and its powers are now assumed by the Minister of Internal Affairs, a new post created by the Constitutional Order-in-Council of 1954. The minister may now declare all seats in a council vacant, and order a new election, if he determines that the council has failed to carry out its duties. To assist in the control of local council corruption, the minister now has the right to approve the appointment of all council staff, and his assent is required, through the medium of independent tenders boards, for all local government contracts over £ 1 0 0 . The only oustanding alteration in the conciliar structure is the creation of municipal councils which, on the model of the English all-purpose county boroughs, are independent units headed by a mayor and have no organic connection to the surrounding councils. The district officer, who was summarily excluded from local government affairs by the previous legislation, is now brought back as the inspector of local government, and to him the minister may delegate many of his powers. It was not, of course, intended that the 1950 ordinance should come into force simultaneously in all provinces throughout the Eastern Region. Rather it was to be introduced slowly, as conditions warranted and only after extensive investigation and consultation by the administrative staff on the spot.11 The ideal procedure for preparing a district for the new system was envisaged as requiring twenty months, of which about one-half would be given over to an explanation of the ordinance to the people of the area and to the preparation of a report outlining the details of a possible form of council organization. During this period council sites were to be chosen and arrangements made for the first elections. It was rapidly discovered in practice, however, that this ideal process required 11 By 1956 the system of local councils was almost complete. One municipality, seventeen county, and seventy-nine urban or rural district councils had been established. Policy for Local Government: Sessional Paper No. 2 (Enugu, 1956).



more administrative staff than was available and, if strictly adhered to, would postpone the introduction of the system in some provinces for several years. Accordingly, it was decided to speed the procedure by encouraging the election of members of the Native Authority. In this manner, practice in elections and in council organization could be given prior to the establishment of the councils under the ordinance. These "unofficial elections," as they were called, proved quite popular. For the first time many villagers began to realize what a vote could mean. The comment of an administrator is illuminating in this respect: A form of secret voting is usually employed and it is curious how often a man regarded as a certainty before the election fails to secure election with a secret vote. It has been reported many times how, when the system of voting is explained and it is realized that nobody will ever know how a man has voted, the voters' eyes have lit and the betting has rapidly changed.

Considerable difficulty was encountered in fitting the council areas to the population density so that councilors would not have to travel too far to meetings. In the thickly populated regions the problem did not arise, but in the less populous provinces with only a minimum of internal transport the three-tier system would have entailed real hardship for many members of the county or district councils. The aim was to make the councils small enough to be fully representative yet large enough to be viable units of government. In the first district where the system came into operation, Ikot-Ekpene (which is fairly thickly populated), the basis of representation ranged from one to twenty to one to one hundred at the local council level, while at the county level it ran three councilors for areas of over 3,500 taxpayers, two for areas over 1,600, and one for areas below 1,600. A thorny problem arose when, in the interests of economical and effective local government, an area which under the Native Authority system had been a single unit, was split, or had to be combined with other units for the purpose of forming a county or a district. In areas which encompassed multiple tribal groupings, it was only with the greatest reluctance and after lengthy negotiations that small isolated communities were persuaded to give up their Native Authorities to become members of a broader council area. Particularly in the forma-



tion of counties a great deal of what might be termed "tribal gerrymandering" went on, but if the system was to work, there was little alternative, if an Ibibio community refused to sit in council where there were Ibo members. The response of the people as a whole to the formation of the new councils ranged from intelligent interest to total apathy. The report of a district officer engaged in the survey of public opinion prior to establishing the councils in one of the first areas to come under the ordinance illustrates some of the queries which arose in the voters' minds, One question often asked was, "Is this being done because the people want it or because the government wants it?" a difficult one to answer. [Another frequent inquiry was] "Why not start in the big towns and leave the bush alone?" Probably the point most generally accepted was that council membership was not for life and would not be the requisite of a few Ntinya wearers or big men because the villagers and not the self-appointed village councils would acclaim the candidates. Another very common reaction was, "Does this mean the D.O. will go? If so, we don't agree!" and, "It is all right for the councils to frame estimates but the D.O. must hold the key of the safe." It was evident that the people have but little confidence in the competence of their representatives and none at all in their honesty or disinterestedness. It was surprising apart from the conservative elders, how many of the younger generation showed what might be called reactionary tendencies and how few showed any real desire for progress. Among the present N.A. councillors there was also a considerable contrast in their views. A large number, the old illiterate type, is concerned only in maintaining their traditional position. Many are out for what they can make out of it, a few only show any sense of public spirit. Perhaps the utter lack of financial honesty and responsibility is the most dangerous rock ahead.

As local representation became a reality in more areas of Eastern Nigeria, the problems it raised became increasingly clear, though almost all of them could be seen in embryo even before the first councils were established. Nonetheless, the plan of local government initiated in the Eastern Region proved to be attractive enough to be adopted almost in its entirety by the Gold Coast in its Local Government



Ordinance of 1951, and by the Western Region of Nigeria in the following year. However, the Western Region law was modified in important aspects to take account of particular conditions within the Region. The Western Regional Local Government


The conciliar structure created by the Western Region Local Government Law 12 is similar to that of the Eastern Region, except that the top organ of the pyramid is termed a "divisional," not a "county," council. Despite the fact that Lagos, the capital, was at that time a part of the Western Region, it was expressly omitted from the provisions of the law. The method of establishing the councils by Instrument is identical to that outlined in the Eastern Region ordinance. An important difference occurs, however, in the powers granted to the Minister of Local Government. Even the relatively short experience in the Eastern Region had indicated that the role assigned to the district officer in the council system was insufficient to provide proper guidance and control over inexperienced councils. The Western Region law therefore provides that local government inspectors and assistant inspectors (who are in fact the district officer and assistant district officer) may be appointed by the minister. To them the minister may delegate a wide variety of functions (except those of a broadly substantive nature, such as the establishing of Instruments and the making of electoral regulations). In addition to any delegated powers which they may have, the local government inspectors have statutory right of access to all council and committee meetings and may inspect the council's books and accounts. They are specifically accorded the right to advise the councils and they must render an annual report to the minister on the activities of councils under their supervision. The composition of the councils in the Western Region differs from that in the Eastern Region in one important respect. Since the traditional ruler, the oba, and his council still constituted a popularly recognized source of authority, the councils in the Western Region are usually composed of both elected and traditional members; the 12

No. 1 of 1953.



latter may be either appointed or elected. In this way the position of the tribal authorities is preserved. Thus, for example, the Ibadan district council was given nineteen traditional members out of a total membership of 73; Egbado divisional council two out of 58; Akaka local council, three out of 13. In addition the local ruler of the area is normally appointed president of the council, although the executive powers are exercised by an elected chairman. In the Instrument establishing the council the appointed traditional members are specified by the title of their traditional office. To safeguard the representative nature of the council system as a whole, the law specifies that no more than one-third of the total council membership may be composed of appointed traditional members. Both district and local council members are elected directly, the Instrument specifying the wards into which the council's area is divided for electoral purposes. Divisional councils may be elected, as specified in the Instrument, directly or from among the elected and traditional members of the local and district councils by the members of these councils themselves. However, the law provides that a district council may elect someone not among its members, provided he has not been defeated for election to a district council seat at the past election. This leaves the way open for district councils to elect someone who they may feel to be especially qualified to serve on the upper council or to elect a traditional authority who is not an appointed member of the council. In addition to the normal residence and other qualifications of candidates for election to any council, an amendment to the law specifies that no one may be elected who has been defeated in the previous ten years as a candidate for the title of chief in a council area. Detailed regulations have been laid down for the conduct of local government elections.13 Provision is made for two types of election: one for use in areas where the voters are literate, in which a printed ballot is used listing the candidates' names with space for recording the vote, and the other for illiterate voters, in which the ballot is placed in a box marked with the name and assigned symbol of the individual candidate. An electoral register of qualified voters is drawn up in advance from the tax lists of the area; anyone whose " L o c a l Government Electoral Regulations, 1953, and amendments. Text to be found in the Western Region Local Government Manual (Ibadan, 1955).



name is omitted is given the opportunity to prove his claim for inclusion on the list. Faulty preparation of voters' lists prior to the first elections led to so many protests that the electoral regulations were subsequently amended to permit the acceptance of a tax receipt as prima facie evidence of qualification. The powers of the councils in the Western Region are substantially the same as those in the Eastern Region, similar elastic procedures being used in the Instrument to suit the functions of the council to its capabilities. The financial and revenue arrangements largely duplicate the Eastern Region ordinance of 1950, the district councils being normally (though not necessarily) the taxing authorities. To emphasize the need for a fuller understanding by the councils of the processes of local finance, the law lays down that all members of a council finance committee must be literate in English. The introduction of the elected council system in the west has proceeded along the same lines as that in the east, although perhaps at a somewhat more gradual pace. Some of the less progressive obas resisted the changes, and friction between the traditional ruler and the elected council is bound to continue in the rural areas for some period of time. There are many sleepy Yoruba villages far removed from the main travel arteries where the impression made by the elected councils will for the immediate future be relatively slight. The illiterate farmer is not always impressed with the necessity for change; he shares with the older obas the view that the young men who seek election to the councils are no more than "small boys" trying to show off their education. It will be some time, then, before the mass of the rural population sees the elected council as a source of legitimate authority equal to the traditional ruler. But if the councils succeed in overcoming the handicaps of inexperience and are able to keep pace with the slowly growing demands for new local services in the country districts, there is every prospect that they will in a few years gain a substantial measure of popular respect. The Northern Region Native Authority Law of 1954 The picture of local government development presented by the Northern Region of Nigeria is totally different from that already sketched for the Southern Region. The local government laws of the



Eastern and Western Regions represent a clean break with the basis of indirect rule, in that the traditional leaders now become, at least in theory, adjuncts to the newly created bodies, the elective councils. In the Northern Region no such break has taken place. There has been a slow evolution of the Native Authority system toward a more democratic structure but the fulcrum about which any popular local representation in the Region still evolves is the Native Authority— the emir and his council. The emirates had been in existence prior to the British conquest and were an accepted part of the social structure of the area. They provided a relatively satisfactory form of local administration which, it was expected, was capable of adaptation, with the district officer's guidance, into a modern administrative system. The emirs had been appointed as Native Authorities and the substructure of emirate administration had been incorporated in the Native Authority framework. During the period prior to the Second World War the concentration had been on administrative method and on the concrete accomplishments of local development, such as roads and bridges, rather than on the transformation of the emirates into units of local democracy. Indeed, the British administration tended to become almost as interested in the retention of the old system as were the rulers themselves. It must be said, however, in all fairness, that traditional rule was not maintained in the face of widespread popular demand for change. Unlike Southern Nigeria the numbers of educated young men were sufficiently small that they could easily be absorbed into the Native Authority administration in responsible posts. Those who received an education were usually the sons of traditional emirate officeholders, who would probably have inherited these positions in any case. For the vast mass of the rural population, there was no ambition to play a role in government, a task which the villagers had traditionally been happy to leave to those who they knew were better prepared to assume it. Despite the reluctance to turn from the old system, it became obvious after the Second World War that Northern Nigeria was going to be affected, albeit to a much lesser degree, by the economic transformation of the south and by the encroachments of technological civilization. The north could not remain isolated economically or



culturally and as the material conditions of life improved, especially in urban centers, the institutions of local government had to be adapted more quickly to meet the new needs. Constitutional advance at the higher levels of government was calling into being a representative system which required the election of members to the regional and national legislatures. In the face of this, local government could not remain stagnant. The process of bringing the Native Authority system more into line with contemporary conditions was begun in 1950, with a motion by Mallam Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in the Northern Region House of Assembly, calling for a commission of inquiry into the state of local government. The inquiry resulted in a report which gave a factual summary of all existing local government units in the Northern Region.14 The authors of the report concluded: All sorts of Councils, conferences and committees are being formed with varying functions, composition and methods of selection; but the general trend is clear. By giving recognition to Village, Town and District Councils and by the establishment of consultative bodies representing larger units, encouragement is being given to the positive association of the general population in the work of local government. It is true that at present many of these councils are comparatively ineffective but most of them are in the experimental stage of development and the people have not yet realised their potentialities. . . . The great majority of the population are more interested in farming than in village and district administration which they feel is not their business. 15

After consideration of the report, a select committee of the House of Assembly made recommendations for strengthening the representative element within the Native Authority system. Perhaps the most significant of these, which was later incorporated into the present Native Authority law, was the elimination of the "Sole Native Authority." The British administration, in appointing Native Authorities during the period following the occupation, was so eager to preserve the authority of the chief that he was often made under the law a sole authority who governed without any necessary recourse to advice from any kind of conciliar body. In fact, this was far from the 11

K. P. Maddocks and D. A. Pott, Report on Local Government ern Provinces of Nigeria (Kaduna, 1951). 15 Ibid., pp. 2 and 7.

in the North-



traditional form, since the majority of chiefs had always governed with the aid of a council. The existence of "Sole Native Authorities" had long given rise to the accusation of autocratic rule in the Northern Region, although in reality virtually none ruled alone. To give full legal status to the traditional council, appointments of Native Authorities are now made as "chief-in-council" or "chief and council." 16 The Native Authority may also be a council alone, consisting, if it is so desired, of an elected majority. There were in 1955 ninety Native Authorities in the region, of which fifty-nine were composed of chiefs in council, seventeen were chiefs and council and fourteen were a council only.17 The last "Sole Native Authorities" disappeared from the scene on April 1, 1954. The changes which took place in many aspects of the Native Authority system between 1947 and 1953 made necessary a thorough revision of the former Native Authority ordinance. The existence of the local government ordinances in the two Southern Regions was an additional incentive to consolidate and modernize the Northern Region legislation and parts of these two ordinances were incorporated into the northern bill. The new Native Authority Law which came into effect on July 31, 1954, is in great part a restatement of the former legislation. But in view of the emphasis which it lays on increasing the elective elements in all levels of councils, it is perhaps surprising that the title of the law was not changed to bring it more into conformity with those of the Southern Regions. That it was not reflects the innate conservatism of the northerner; there may be changes in the system but they must not seem to disturb its foundations. The title Native Authority Law was kept at the express insistence of the northern ministers, who felt that "Native Authority" had come to have a very real meaning in the language of the country, despite the fact that some of the progressive elements might have been more pleased with " T h e distinction between the two terms is important. The Native Authority (Definition of Functions) Law, 1952, provides that a chief and council shall make decisions by a simple majority vote. In the case of a chief-in-council, the chief must seek the advice of his council on important questions, and, should he fail to abide by their advice, must notify regional headquarters, which may then intervene if it is thought necessary. This latter position is the one which the majority of chiefs or emirs have traditionally occupied. 17 "A Review of the State of Development of the Native Authority System in the Northern Region of Nigeria on the 1st of January, 1955," Journal of African Administration, Vol. VII, N o . 2 (April, 1955).



a new title. One commentary points out that, "In fact, the Hausa word 'En'e' is a term which has acquired a special connotation quite independent of the literal meaning of the English words from whose initials it is derived and it has obviously come to stay." 18 The governor remains the ultimate source of authority for the establishment of Native Authorities but the day-to-day relations between the regional government and the Native Authorities are handled by the Minister of Local Government. The law creates no new councils, but rather has the effect of giving a statutory legal position to councils which had previously been in existence. Village councils, in a more or less rudimentary form, had been a traditional part of the local government system, but efforts had been made since 1946 to formalize them in several areas and to give them specific duties. District councils, on the other hand, were relatively artificial creations, consisting of the village heads and a few literate members, such as the schoolmaster or a local trader nominated by the Native Authority. They were until very recently purely advisory in nature, being consulted by the Native Authority on questions of general interest. An even more recent creation, the "outer councils," were composed of elected representatives from the district councils and educated nominated members. These councils meet periodically in an advisory capacity to the Native Authority. Urban councils were also in existence, created frequently at the demand of the educated element which was, as might be expected, concentrated in the towns. The effect of the Native Authority Law was to permit the Native Authority to establish any town, village area, or district council by means of an Instrument, which would specify its composition and delegate to it designated functions. To encourage broader popular representation in these "chartered" councils, the law specified that they must have a majority of elected members. This provision is of particular importance, since it implied that, if the council was expected to pass from an advisory to an executive capacity, it must do so on a democratic foundation. The outer councils remain consultative bodies under the law. Designed originally to close the gap between the district council and the Native Authority council, they suffer from the fact that they are M

¡bid., p. 78.



usually too large to permit detailed consideration of all aspects of Native Authority policy. Moreover, because of transportation difficulties, they can be called together only a few times a year. The day-to-day work of governing remains in the hands of the Native Authority council, composed of traditional officeholders and occasional representatives of the educated "commoner" group. Normally the Native Authority councils act as an emir's cabinet, each member being responsible for a department of the administration. The effectiveness of the outer council depends, then, on the willingness of the Native Authority council to listen to advice from the outside. In some cases, unfortunately, the emir has tended to use the outer council not as a sounding board for what policy should be, but as a means of transmitting to the popular level policy decisions already made. The future of the outer council as an instrument for the expression of public opinion appears, then, to be somewhat speculative. Ideally, as the literacy level rises, the outer council might be gradually merged with the Native Authority council, although its size would prevent its acting as a continuing body for the making of other than broad policy decisions. The traditional Native Authority council will, in all likelihood, continue to be the executive arm of the Native Authority, with a trained staff responsible to it, as is now the case. It would not seem feasible to think of the outer council combined with the Native Authority council as a county or divisional council in the same sense as those created in the south. The Native Authorities differ in size, population, and actual or potential revenue to such a degree that without a readjustment of boundaries it would be impossible to transform them into counties with anything like comparable abilities to provide local services. An effort has been made since 1952 to reduce the number of Native Authorities and subordinate Native Authorities by amalgamation and federation. It has, however, had only limited success. The number of independent Native Authorities was reduced between 1952 and 1955 from 157 to 90, and the subordinate Native Authorities from 149 to 65. But there is a point at which local jealousies and tribal animosities prevent further consolidation. It is obvious that few Native Authorities will ever be able to compete with an emirate like Kano, which has a



population of nearly three million and an annual revenue of nearly one million pounds. Kano emirate has, in fact, twice the population and almost ten times the revenue of the three other Native Authorities of Kano province combined. While some equalization of revenue in proportion to population is being made by grants from the regional government, it is apparent that, if equality of administrative services is the long range ideal, some artificial unification of the smaller Native Authorities is going to be necessary. The way is open under the Native Authority Law for smaller Native Authorities to join together for specific purposes, such as joint contracts for road making, under the supervision of a joint committee, but this is far from the combined administration found in a county council in the south. With its embryo system of local councils, the Northern Region is a long way from the stage of popular control over local affairs that now exists in the Eastern and Western Regions. But the Native Authority Law of 1954 at least lays the foundation upon which a broader conciliar structure may be built. Municipal





An outline of the institutions of local government in Nigeria would be incomplete without some mention of the growth of municipal representative organs. Prior to the coming into force of the Eastern and Western Region Local Government Laws, the basic legislation governing the municipalities was the Townships Ordinance of 1917. This provided for three classes of townships, granting to the first and second classes the right to their own annual estimates of revenue and expenditure. Lagos, the only first class township, had its own town council, while second class townships were administered by a local authority (an administrative officer) assisted by an appointed advisory board. Third class townships consisted chiefly of government reservations near the native towns, which came under the direct supervision of the district officer. In those cases where towns did not come under the Townships Ordinance, they were administered by the Native Authority in whose area they were situated. In common with most other African territories, Nigeria has seen an extraordinarily rapid rise in urban population in the past decade.



This influx of people into the cities caused rapid and unplanned growth which brought with it new complexities in administration. The Native Authorities were unable in some places to cope with the problems of providing facilities for the newcomers. Moreover, since the vocal educated elements tended to concentrate in the cities there was a growing demand for popular control of municipal affairs. Municipal administration in the north presented somewhat different features from that of the east or the west. Here the towns came under the normal administration of the Native Authorities; in the case of the larger towns one member of the Native Authority council was often responsible for municipal affairs. With the development of trade there grew up an increasingly large area separated from the original town, which was occupied by "strangers"—usually nonMoslems from the south who could not be incorporated into the homogeneous population of the town. These stranger towns, or Sabon Garis, form quite distinct suburbs of the larger northern cities. The northerner's traditional dislike of the southerner, accentuated by religious and tribal differences, has long made of the Sabon Garis a thorny administrative problem. The administration has sought a solution to the friction that has arisen in these communities by placing most of the Sabon Garis under the local native administration, usually with a "stranger" acceptable to the Native Authority as intermediary between the stranger population and the emir's representative. In Kano, the largest city in the north, a separate administration is gradually being carved out of the Native Authority for the entire town. In 1950 a city council was set up, consisting of four members, one from each ward. Within each ward a ward council met quarterly. The council controlled its own budget which was based on a sum equal to six pence per taxpayer. In the Eastern and Western Regions, urban district councils have been introduced, under the ordinances, for the larger towns, such as Ibadan, Enugu, Aba, and Port Harcourt. Port Harcourt, which had never been under a Native Authority since it was essentially an artificial creation around the harbor and railroad facilities, was in 1948 the first town in Nigeria to have a council with an elected majority. Unfortunately, the experience with elected town councils in the Eastern Region has been particularly bad. Three of them,



Onitsha, Aba, and Port Harcourt have had to be suspended, after official inquiry, for misuse of council funds, bribery of the councilmen, and over-all inefficiency. Representative government in Lagos, the capital, has had a stormy history. The municipal council had elected members as early as 1919. It was reorganized in 1941, to include an appointed president (an administrative officer), three nominated official members, three nominated unofficial members, and five elected members. Two elected members were Europeans. The place of the traditional "white cap chiefs," the descendants of the first Yoruba settlers in the area, has always been a matter of some controversy. For many years they were assigned no role in municipal affairs because of the constant intrigue which went on among them.19 In the council established by ordinance in 1941, one of the two nominated unofficial members was a white cap chief representative. Prior to 1950, elections to the town council were never taken very seriously; out of a possible 15,000 voters (based on a property franchise) only slightly over 1,000 exercised their rights.20 Since the elected members were in a minority, it is not surprising that little interest was shown in the elections. In 1950 the council was again reorganized to give a completely representative form with a mayor and elected council. Within two years, however, the council had collapsed, as a result of excessive corruption and mismanagement, and was replaced by an interim committee of management. Being in the capital and therefore at the center of political activity, the council was itself plagued by a constant interplay of party politics. Even during the earlier period of limited elected representation, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) had controlled the elected members. The opposing Action Group sought to weaken the NCNC faction through a demand for increased representation of the traditional authorities. Since Lagos, was, until 1954, a part of the Western Region, the home of the Action Group, this move was enthusiastically supported by the oba of Lagos and by the traditional chiefs. The details of the Hailey, Native pp. 25-26. * Ibid.,

p. 27.


in the British African


Part III,



political struggle which brought about the council's downfall cannot be related here, but the whole affair serves as an excellent example of what may result from party strife in the local government arena. 21 A new council came into being with the Lagos Local Government Law of 1953. It consists of a traditional member as president (who takes no active part in the council's discussions), and elected and traditional members. The traditional members, elected from among the Lagos chiefs by themselves, may number one-fifth of the council, the remainder of the members being elected on the basis of one per ward. The franchise is extended to all adults, provided they have lived in the city for a period of at least six months prior to the election. The council is given the usual powers and functions of such a body, including the preparation of estimates and the levying of a rate based on property evaluation. The present council would appear to be a considerable improvement on its predecessor. It is supervised and guided by an administrative officer who is a local government inspector, with powers similar to those given to such officials under the Western Region Law. Since Lagos now constitutes a federal territory separate from any region, it may be assumed that the political party pressure on the council will be less severe. However, it remains to be seen whether the council can live up to the standards of honesty expected of it. A peculiar difficulty of Lagos municipal government is the competition between the Yoruba and Ibo groups within the city's population. Such social advances as, for example, the clearing of the appalling slum conditions existing in parts of the city, are blocked by the opposing groups, who fear that with improved living conditions fresh numbers of the other side will settle in the capital, thus upsetting the political balance. Several years of experience with the capital as federal territory will be necessary before it will become clear whether the new status will reduce the tribal allegiances which now stand in the way of much needed improvement in the city's services to its people. The preceding sketch of the local government institutions within 11

The history of the Lagos town council is most entertainingly recounted in the report of Commissioner H. B. Storey, who was appointed to inquire into its affairs.



Nigeria has touched on the forms of popular representation which have been evolved in recent legislation, made necessary by the maturing political and economic stages of the country. The changes in the Eastern and Western Regions have introduced what is essentially an alien system, containing many features derived from the local government structure in Great Britain. In French Africa an equally alien system of territorial assemblies and communes has been created. An examination of the two systems in operation provides an illuminating illustration of the problems which must be solved before local representative government based on the European model can be made to work efficiently in an African milieu.


made by the conferees at Brazzaville to give a new direction to postwar French colonial development were reinforced by an ordinance of March 7, 1944, of De Gaulle's National Liberation Committee which extended to Algerians the rights and duties given to all Frenchmen. At the same time, it permitted the Algerians to retain their statut personnel, that is, to remain subject to Moslem law. The same privilege was extended to them, in other words, as had been enjoyed by the citizens of the four communes of Senegal for almost a century past. For purposes of voting two colleges were established, the first consisting of Frenchmen and a selected number of Algerians (notables, fonctionnaires, veterans, and local councilors) and the second, all other male Algerians over twenty-one. The principle of a two-college electorate here established was to be carried over into the future French Union. THE EFFORTS

The first official mention of this new term came a year later in a speech by the then Minister of Colonies. Referring to the future relationship of Indo-China and France, he said, "The Indo-Chinese federation will form with France and the other parts of the community a French Union whose external interests will be represented by France." 1 The electoral laws of the provisional government laid down in 1

Cited in Michel Devèze, La France d'outre mer (Paris, 1948), p. 210.



1945 carried out at least some of the promises of the Brazzaville conference by increasing greatly the representation of Overseas France in the first constituent assembly. Throughout the two African federations the elections were carried out under the double-college system, as they were in Algeria and Madagascar. The electorate in French West and French Equatorial Africa consisted of the French citizens in the first college and a small number of Africans in the second. The list for the second college was made up from a few special categories of noncitizens: holders of a primary school certificate, holders of a decoration or other distinction of honor, veterans, chiefs of native collectivités, members or former members of the administration, trade unionists, and one or two other minor groups. The representation from overseas totaled 64; of these, ten came from Afrique Occidentale Française ( A O F ) , four from Afrique Equatoriale Française ( A E F ) , and two from the Cameroons. Eight of the representatives were elected by second colleges.

Genesis of the French Union The debates of the first constituent assembly on the question of the overseas territories revealed clearly most of the problems of constitutional form which have plagued the French Union ever since. Two main themes can be distinguished; the one assimilationist, the other favoring some form of federal arrangement. The assimilationists insisted that the overseas representatives should be primarily concerned with seeing that their people benefited from the same rights (including those of representation) granted the citizens of France by the new constitution while the federalists emphasized the principle of local administrative decentralization through territorial assemblies and representation in Paris in a federal assembly, not in the chamber of deputies. The basic contradictions shown in these two views may be traced throughout the long and confused debates of the assembly. The parties of the left were in general inclined to favor the federal principle, in the expectation that, as the overseas territories developed, their representation in the French national assembly would be replaced by membership in a full federal assembly to which the chamber of deputies would itself send members in the same way as



would the overseas territories. The parties of the right and center rejected this approach, charging that it would lead to a breakup of the empire since a federal scheme by its very nature had in it the right of secession. The provisions of the constitution of April, 1946, dealing with overseas France tended to favor the assimilationist view but because of the basic disagreement among the members of the constituent assembly they were often only vague compromises of wording. The overseas territories were to elect representatives to the national assembly, while the local assemblies of the overseas departments (Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, and Reunion), and in the territories, as well as the conseils généraux of France were to elect the members of a council of the French Union. This body was to be purely advisory; it, in fact was the o u t c o m e of an uneasy compromise between the protagonists of bicameralism, the proponents of a federal assembly for the French U n i o n as a whole and the bitter opponents of any revival of the pre-war senate. It was essentially the organ of a unitary state and contained n o provision for any representation from the associated states. 2

The French Republic was described as "one and indivisible" and its laws were to apply to the overseas territories and departments unless it were otherwise provided in the legislation. Indicative of the divided views of the constituants were the vague provisions governing citizenship. Article 44 stated: "All nationals and inhabitants of the métropole and of the overseas territories enjoy the rights of citizens," but it failed to define whether "French citizen" or "citizen of the French Union" was meant. The law of May 7, 1946 (Loi Lamine-Gueye) granted citizenship immediately to all peoples of the colonial territories but gave no further definition of its meaning although it assured them the rights conferred by the Declaration of Rights. The question of the double-college system for elections in overseas territories was unmentioned, although representative assemblies were established within them. The single-college system was voted for ' Κ. E. Robinson, The Public Law of Overseas France, Oxford University Institute of Colonial Studies, Reprint Series No. 11, p. 44. This is one of the best brief treatments in English of the whole structure of the French Union.



Black Africa by a law of April 13, but the double college was maintained for Algeria. Although the constitution was rejected in France for other reasons, it was the single-college law, along with the LamineGueye law, which prompted the overwhelming vote in its favor by the native citizens of the overseas territories. Similarly, the Europeans residing in the territories rejected it because it failed to distinguish between "French citizen" and "citizen of the French Union." As one critic has pointed out, They balked at the prospect of new political and social guarantees for the natives, at the threat that the white minority would be swamped by a flood of new citizens and at the idea of relaxing the bonds of empire.3

The rejection of the first constitution threw the whole question of the French Union back into the hands of the drafting committee at the beginning of the second convention. During the months intervening between the two conventions, the opposition of the French colonial residents to the provisions of the first constitution regarding the place of the colonial citizens had coalesced, and the result was a new organization called "The States-General of French Colonization." This body stressed the diversity of peoples within the Union; rejected the idea of assimilation and proposed that, instead of representation of native peoples in the French parliament, there should be an assembly of the French Union where their representatives might deliberate on questions submitted to them by the government. Fearful of sacrificing what they termed "the sacred principle of French sovereignty," the colons demanded that the double-college system be preserved. In their view French citizenship must be confined to those who were capable of understanding "its moral, social and political meaning." 4 Against the threat of the "States-General" there promptly came into being a grouping of overseas representatives, the Intergroupe des parlementaires d'outre mer. Led by M. Lamine Gueye, a representative from Senegal, it put forward a radical program, advocating the renunciation of all rights of sovereignty by France and, within a maximum period of twenty years, the right of each colony to choose ' G o r d o n Wright, The Reshaping of French Democracy pp. 179-80. 1 Cited in Dcvèzc, La France J'outre mer, p. 266.

(New York, 1948),



independence and secession, integration within France, or federation on the basis of free consent. Moreover, the Intergroupe insisted that the drafting of the constitutional clauses dealing with the French Union should be put off until a third convention, in which the natives of the colonies would have an elected majority. 5 Such propositions were, of course, totally unacceptable, and the ideas of the Intergroupe found no place in the final version of the constitution. They are, however, worthy of some attention, if for no other reason than that they show how far in the direction of colonial autonomy the overseas representatives wished to go in 1946. Indeed, in view of the events in the past decade, these representatives were more realistic in their appraisal of the future of Overseas France than were the members of the convention. The constitutional committee rapidly became deadlocked on the issue of the French Union, and it was only the personal intervention of Georges Bidault with a draft plan drawn up by the government which broke the impasse. Bidault's plan incorporated essentially the form of the French Union as it now exists. It is significant, however, that it was only with the greatest difficulty that the overseas representatives were persuaded to accept the compromise—which was, in effect, no compromise at all, since it satisfied very few of the Intergrouped demands. The overseas members of the convention threatened to resign. It was only when Bidault agreed to change two provisions, one transferring the double-college concept from the constitution to the electoral law (thus making easier any future changes in it) and the other giving both Frenchmen and natives of the colonies dual status as "French citizens" and "citizens of the French Union" that his proposal was accepted. 6 Even so, the constitution, as it finally was submitted in the second referendum, was defeated in the overseas vote, 335,000 to 280,000, although the over-all vote was for its acceptance. The debates in the constituent assemblies revealed most of the problems which are still today sources of friction within the French ' T h e text of the proposals is found in Daniel Boisdon, Les Institutions l'Union française (Paris, 1949), pp. 41-42. "Wright, The Reshaping of French Democracy, pp. 214-15.




Union. Far from being the "revolution" in French colonial policy claimed by several French writers, the Union was an amorphous series of compromises. The outside observer cannot but agree with Robinson's judgment: The debates of the two Constituents and their various committees represented in spite of their confusion, the furthermost extent of the anticolonial reaction after the war and soon after the new Constitution came into operation there began the gradual rightwards trend which was to remain characteristic of French politics for some years. The debate was not resolved; the Constitution represented a mixture of policies and ideas, though its substantial provisions were fairly heavily tilted in an assimilationist direction, concessions to federalism and autonomy being more apparent than real. 7

The Structure of the French Union The Union as it finally emerged was composed of the French Republic, consisting of Metropolitan France and the overseas departments and territories on one side, and on the other, the associated states and territories. The overseas departments were the four "old" colonies, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion, and French Guiana, while the remainder of the colonial empire was included in the overseas territories. The associated territories, the Cameroons and Togoland, could not, because of their peculiar international status, be classed as overseas territories; the category of associated states was reserved for Tunisia, Morocco, and the Indo-Chinese states; within a few years it became, by force of political events, a dead letter. Provision was made for political progression of the members of the French Union from one category to another (Article 75), by means of a law passed by the national assembly after consultation with the assembly of the Union and the territorial assembly concerned. The way was presumably left open for overseas territories to seek autonomy; one authority states: The constitution has left open the way to political autonomy, as it left open the way to assimilation. The status of an overseas territory appears, 7

Robinson, The Public

Law of Overseas

France, p. 45.



from this point of view, to be a waiting stage. If the tendency toward autonomy were accentuated, the French U n i o n would see enlarged the number of units of which it is composed. 8

It might be added that if the experience of the relationship between the French Union and the associated states is to be taken as indicative, this comment would seem to be overly optimistic. Once a territory reaches the stage of securing autonomy, it is questionable whether any form of direct relationship with the mother country can be maintained. Representation of the members of the French Union in Paris was through the national assembly and the conseil de la république as well as by membership in the assembly of the French Union and in the high council.9 In its composition the assembly gives the appearance of a federal parliament, but, in fact, so strong was the unitary sentiment on the part of the framers of the constitution that they refused to place the substantive power to legislate in its hands. One half of its members represent Metropolitan France and the other half the overseas departments, territories, and the associated states and territories. 10 The metropolitan members are elected two-thirds by the members of the national assembly and one-third by the council of the Republic, with only the metropolitan members voting. Of the 102 overseas members, 22 come from the departments and 53 from the territories. In the case of the departments they are elected by the conseils généraux; in the overseas territories, by the territorial assemblies. The two African federations, with Cameroons and Togoland have 40 members in the assembly. The assembly's functions are purely consultative. It may be consulted by the government, the national assembly, or the associated states on any matter concerning Overseas France, and it must be consulted concerning changes in the statut of any part of the French 8 L. Rolland and P. Lampué, Precis de droit des pays d'outre mer (2d ed., Paris, 1952), p. 79. 9 The high council, which was intended to "assist the government in the general conduct of the Union" (Article 65), was to be composed of a delegation from each associated state and the French government. Even if such a body could conceivably have had any real usefulness, political events intervening since 1946 rendered it stillborn. 10 The constitution does not, in fact, mention the associated territories, but provision was made for them in the law of October 27, 1946.



Union and on any changes in the interior organization of territories which has already been prescribed by law. On its own initiative the assembly may adopt resolutions submitted to it by its own members and transmit them to the national assembly or to the government for consideration. Similarly, it may invite the national assembly to submit for its advice any matter which is before the latter body. However, all matters considered by the assembly of the Union must relate to some aspect of Overseas France. The assembly has no direct power of legislation and no method of forcing the government or the chamber to accept its opinions. The influence exerted by the assembly is difficult to gauge. No doubt its views are listened to by those deputies concerned with overseas problems, but its resolutions have no juridical force whatever. Its members debate at great length, and its discussions on problems of Overseas France are often better informed than those of the national assembly, but all too often the very fact that the speakers are aware that few, if any, beyond their immediate audience are listening gives the debate an academic overtone. On the whole, Deschamp's comment is not too strong: the assembly of the Union languishes, in its gilded exile at Versailles, discouraged by its absence of powers, despite its professional conscience and its good will; it has already grown old in the larva stage. 11

For the overseas territories as a whole, the legislative power is reserved exclusively to the national assembly in the fields of political and administrative organization, criminal legislation, and the régime des libertés publiques. All other French legislation is applicable to them only if the law expressly so indicates, or if this is done by decree after consultation with the assembly of the French Union. Finally, particular decrees for each territory may be issued by the president, on the advice of the assembly of the French Union. The stipulations as to the source of law in the territories laid down in the present constitution closely resemble those operative in the prewar period except for the new feature of consultation with the assembly of the Union. However, decrees issued by the executive as part of 11 Deschamps, Méthodes et doctrines coloniales de la France, p. 205. The assembly no longer sits at Versailles but in an ornate building in the center of Paris.



the regulatory power under existing legislation do not require consultation. The general philosophy upon which the French Union is based is to be found in the references made to it in the preamble to the constitution. Here it is stated, France, with the peoples overseas, forms a Union founded on the equality of rights and duties, without distinction as to race or religion. The French Union is composed of nations and peoples who hold their resources in common or coordinate them and their efforts to develop their respective civilizations, to increase their wealth and assure their security. Faithful to her traditional mission, France seeks to lead the peoples of which she is in charge to administer themselves and to manage their own affairs democratically; setting aside any system of colonization founded on arbitrary measures, she guarantees to all equal access to the civil service and the individual or collective access to the rights and liberties here proclaimed and confirmed.

Even here can be seen the vagueness and contradiction which is so strong a feature of much of the phraseology dealing with the Union. In one breath, the sentences quoted appear to favor autonomy, or at least a large measure of self-government. Yet the phrase "seeks to conduct the peoples of whom she is in charge" would seem to mean that the pace and methods toward these ends would be the concern of France in the first instance. Until 1956 the tendency was undoubtedly to place more emphasis on the guiding role of France than on the development of popular responsibility among the peoples of the overseas territories. The question of citizenship which played such a large role in the constitutional debates was resolved, for the purposes of the French Union, under three Articles (80, 81, 82) of the constitution. Article 80 states, All those coming from (resortissants) the overseas territories have the status of citizen, on the same basis as the French nationals of Metropolitan France or the overseas territories. Special laws will establish the conditions in which they will exercise their rights as citizens.

Article 81 provides for the new category of citizenship held by all citizens without exception, citoyen de l'Union française, assuring them of the enjoyment of the liberties guaranteed by the constitution.



The following article allows citizens who do not have the statut civil français to keep their statut personnel; they may not under this provision have their rights and liberties as French citizens limited. The existence of these articles in the constitution has served not so much to clarify as to complicate the legal position of the people of the overseas territories. Whereas under the Third Republic the distinction between citoyen and sujet was sufficiently clear, in the present situation citizenship becomes so generalized a term that it is confused with nationality. All the peoples of the Union now become French "citizens," but within this term there are two distinctions: those who are subject to French civil law, and those who remain subject to their own local civil law, whether tribal or religious. The grant of citizenship to peoples in the overseas territories entailed some real personal advantage to them in that it became necessary to assimilate their position to that of the citizens of France. As part of this process forced labor and the indigénat were abolished, and French criminal law is now applied to all penal cases.12 The distinction between citizens of the two statuts was, until 1956, important insofar as electoral rights were concerned. Alongside these two categories is that of citoyen de l'Union Française, the importance of which from a legal point of view is minimal. In the case of the associated territories, the new categories of citizenship have raised some special problems. Being trust territories, their inhabitants cannot be automatically granted French citizenship although by virtue of Article 81, they are citizens of the French Union. They retain the legal position of administrés français, although for all practical purposes they may be subjected to the same regime as the overseas territories since they are governed by laws emanating from the government of Metropolitan France. 13 It is not within the scope of this study to examine the legal problems raised by the citizenship provisions of the constitution nor to deal with the position of the people of the associated states, as they are affected by them. But, from the viewpoint of the people of French Africa, the acquisition of French citizenship was one of the most positive gains derived from the new 12 Law No. 46-645 of April 11, 1946 (Journal officiel, April 12, 1946, p. 3063), and decree No. 46-877 of April 30, 1946 (Journal officiel, May 1, 1946, p. 3680). 13 Rolland and Lampué, Précis de droit des pays d'outre mer, pp. 250-54.



constitution. More than anything else, it proved that they were regarded as the legal equals of the metropolitan citizens, while at the same time it permitted them to retain the customary law to which they were so strongly attached. 14 It is within the larger framework of the French Union that the representative organs in AOF, AEF, Togoland, and the Cameroons have been organized. In Paris, the territories are represented in the national assembly, in the conseil de la république, and in the assembly of the French Union. 15 Election of the deputies to the national assembly takes place on a direct basis, while the members of the conseil de la république and the assembly of the Union are chosen by the territorial assemblies. l f t Within the federations, the grands


sitting at the federal capitals, are the representative bodies for the federations as a whole. They are elected by the territorial assemblies, each of which selects five of its own number to the council. The territorial assemblies are themselves elected by direct vote of the people of the territory. The lowest level of representation within the territories is the communal council, either urban or rural, which is chosen directly.17 While the representative system of French Africa is fairly well developed, at least on paper, it is only possible to secure a clear picture of its place in the political life of the territory if the powers of the various units are examined, in relationship to the continuing power of the metropolitan government, and if a closer scrutiny is made of the electorate to which the opportunity of choosing representatives is given. The Growth of the Electorate in French Africa It was the intention of the framers of the constitution that the people of the overseas territories should be represented locally "by councils " For a more extended discussion, see Robert, L'Evolution des coutumes de l'ouest africain et ¡a législation française. K A fourth representative body, the conseil économique (organized by a decree of May 10, 1951, on the basis of Title III of the constitution), will not be dealt with here since it is not popularly elected. Representatives to it are designated by chambers of commerce, trade unions, and other economic groups in the overseas territories. " The deputies for the territory also vote for the members of the conseil de la république. 17 Rural communes are to be found as yet only in Togo and the Cameroons.



elected by universal suffrage" (Article 87). However, a previous Article (77) provided that the régime électoral for these local assemblies would be determined by law. The laws subsequently passed concerning the composition of the electorate fell far short of the expectations of the constitution makers. Those citoyens de statut civil, that is, the French citizens resident in the territories, were automatically included, as were the originaires of the four communes in Senegal, although they, of course, had retained the statut local. Of the vast mass of the other citizens who retained the statut local, the law permitted the vote to only a few well-defined categories. In AOF, AEF, and Cameroons, by the law of October 5, 1946, the franchise was extended to: (1) the notables évolués, as defined by local regulation; (2) members and former members of local assemblies (that is, municipal councilors, members of chambers of commerce, or agriculture, labor unions, and government councils); ( 3 ) members and former members of ten years' standing in cooperatives, trade unions, and sociétés indigènes de prévoyance; (4) holders of specified military or civil decorations; (5) all local officials and others employed for at least ten years in a business firm; (6) members and former members of native tribunals; (7) ministers of religion; (8) veterans; (9) all businessmen holding a license; (10) chiefs; (11) owners of registered property; and (12) holders of hunting or driving licenses.18 The following year an additional group was added: all those who could read or write French or Arabic (law of August 27, 1947). New categories swelled the list in 1951, including (1) heads of families paying the general tax for themselves or their families, (2) mothers of two children, and (3) holders of civil or military pensions. Finally, an amendment by the law of February 6, 1952, 19 removed the qualification that heads of households must be taxpayers. The detailed list given above is noteworthy because it indicates the methods by which the suffrage was gradually extended. Although not universal, it rapidly approached that point. To the outside observer the whole approach appeared to be a singularly cumbrous " F o r the text, see Journal officiel, October 8, 1946, p. 8496 (Law No. 46-2151 of October 5, 1946). " L a w No. 52-130 of February 6, 1952 (Journal officiel, February 7, 1952, p. 1587).



one. The reason advanced by the administration for the continuation of the restricted suffrage was that because of the lack of an accurate record of the état civil (the registration of births and deaths) it was impossible to identify individuals. Some means of ascertaining the eligibility of a voter and of preventing impersonation had to be found. It will be evident from the above list that all the categories enumerated provided some means by which the individual could either be identified by official documents or be recognized in his community. There was no doubt some justification to this argument; personal experience in observing the difficulties of holding elections in various parts of West Africa leads the author to believe that, until an established system of birth records has been in effect for at least a generation, some means of identification will be necessary to prevent fraud. 2 0 On the other hand, the restriction of the suffrage was legally a contravention of the constitutional provisions forbidding a distinction between the two classes of citizens; the fact that the right to vote was automatic for those under the statut civil put the African under the statut personnel at a disadvantage. The problem of a correct electoral list is, however, more than "just a question of administrative organization." 2 1 P. F. Gonidec blames the failure to introduce universal suffrage on the conservatives who were fighting against political rights for the people of the overseas territories. Basically, the argument against universal suffrage in the overseas territories, although unexpressed, is undoubtedly that the overseas populations have not sufficient political maturity and could not utilise the power to vote with discernment. . . . In reality all the arguments given against universal suffrage are only the last ditch efforts of the governing class to retain the political power which is escaping with the awakening of the mass political conscience. Sooner or later we must realise this fact. France would be better to do it sooner than later. 22 20 The system of voters' categories was largely an extension of the prewar form used for elections to the conseils d'administration. Cf. Buell, The Native Problem in Africa, I, 981. 21 P. F. Gonidec, "Les Assemblées locales des territoires d'outre mer," Revue juridique et politique de l'Union française, VI (1952), 317-55, and VII (1953), 443-91. 22 Ibid., VI (1952), 350.



This view is supported by Robinson in his comments regarding the excessively narrow interpretation of the electoral regulations taken in parts of AOF during the 1951 elections, when many potential voters were kept off the lists, either by error or intention.23 The theme of "political immaturity" was expressed, in somewhat more guarded terms, to the author on several instances in French Africa, usually by businessmen, whose contact with Africans was confined to those whom they employed. There would appear to have been little basis for these arguments since the progressive extension of the suffrage in French Africa since 1947 gradually included almost all those who were most inclined to take an interest in voting. From the viewpoint of the évolué, however, who sees political responsibility and equality as vital goals, the granting of universal suffrage by the French assembly would have meant a reassurance of the long-range intentions of the métropole. A second aspect of the electoral system in French Africa which has been open to much criticism was the existence of the two electoral colleges for the territorial assemblies. The first college consisted of those voters of statut civil, or all the metropolitan French residents; the African voters retaining their statut personnel made up the second college. In the case of the election for deputies, the problem did not arise in AOF, since no distinction was made between the two colleges. But in Cameroons and AEF each of the two colleges voted for its representative separately. Thus, for AOF and Togoland, there were twenty-one deputies for the eight territories chosen by the single combined vote; in Cameroons, one deputy from the first college and three from the second; the corresponding figures for AEF were two and five. Within the territorial assemblies themselves the two-college system prevailed (except in Mauritania and Senegal) for the election of senators to the conseil de la république, each college voting for its own senator. On the other hand, the members of the federal bodies, the two grands conseils, and the members of the assembly of the French Union were elected by the territorial assemblies voting as single colleges. 23 Robinson, "Political Development in French West Africa," in Stillman (ed.), Africa in the Modern World, pp. 163-65.



The membership in the assemblies was divided between the two colleges as indicated in the table on page 103. It will be seen that only in the case of Senegal was there a common roll; in all other assemblies the electorate voted in separate constituencies for members of its own college. The whole arrangement of the double-college system for the local assemblies was debated at length both in Metropolitan France and in the African territories. It was particularly resented by the évolués in French Africa and the question of its elimination was repeatedly brought up in the national assembly by the African deputies. The arguments advanced for retention of the double college would appear to have had little logic at base. The concept of two colleges derived from the assimilationist views of some members of the constitutional convention and went back ultimately, of course, to the prewar system. The thesis of those who defended the two colleges was that the African was not yet sufficiently experienced to be able to formulate or to vote on a complicated budget and that questions of broad administrative policy were beyond his competence. All except the most reactionary group accepted, at least in public, the premise that there was no inherent reason why African legislators could not ultimately handle local legislative problems themselves, but they insisted that the time for this was still far in the future. Meanwhile, it was imperative that, to protect its own interests, the metropolitan community secure a reasonable representation in the local assemblies. In view of the fact that French commercial firms and the French treasury were supplying the bulk of the funds for development and even for maintenance of administration in the territories, it was argued, it would be impossible to allow the complete control of local finance to pass into inexperienced African hands. The argument was succinctly put by a deputy in the assembly, in a debate on this issue, "Think, my dear colleagues, that with a single college large deficits may be foreseen as the consequences of inexperience; deficits which . . . would bring in their train new demands for subventions from the métropole." 24 The two-college system was the only way, in the view of this group, to secure any representation " Maurice Bayrou in the national assembly, April 8, 1954 (Débats, Journal officiel, April 9, 1954, p. 1928).


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