Indirect Rule in Theory and Practice

From Lord Malcolm Hailey, Native Administration and-Political Development in British Tropical Africa (London, 1943).

The use of traditional native authorities as agencies of local rule is now so widely extended that it must necessarily occupy the chief part of our attention. Their value depends largely on the care taken in ascertaining the real seat of indigenous native authority before making the grant of those statutory powers which mark the position of a native authority as part of the machinery of our administration. There are large areas in which the seat of indigenous authority has been easily ascertainable. It has been mainly in conditions of which southeastern Nigeria, or some of the pagan areas of its [Nigeria’s] northern provinces present the most typical examples that difficulty has arisen and some mistakes have occurred in the past. ...

It is of great importance that administrative officers should in their personal contact with native authorities have regard to the traditional position occupied by the council or elders. It is no doubt a temptation, especially in matters involving some urgency, to follow the easy course of dealing with the chief alone. But apart from the offense which this may cause to native custom, it is not possible to secure a true view of native opinion on any proposed measure unless the council or the elders are brought freely into consultation. There is moreover the risk that the native anthority may seek to avoid taking its proper share of responsibility on the ground that it is "working under government orders."

A further point of considerable importance arises in connection with the composition of the native authority councils. At various places in this report, attention is drawn to the necessity for securing that a place should be found in the councils for the educated and other more progressive elements in the community. It has, again, been pointed out that there are areas in which it is necessary that important elements of stranger natives should be represented on the council of any native authority to which they are subject. In the majority of cases, the composition of the native authority councils is now determined by native custom and usage. But men who at an earlier stage had sufficient position in their own society to voice its views or to exercise influence over the personal actions of the chief are not necessarily the most suitable in the conditions with which the native authorities now have to deal. It is, for instance, common for age to be the main qualification of the elders, and experience shows how serious a disqualification this may impose where advice is required on new situations. There is, again, a danger that the elder may be out of touch with the younger men, of whom increasing numbers have some education, and many of whom have experience gained in wage earning in industrial areas and in other European enterprises. ...

... It would not serve the cause of African development if the administration, from a desire to strengthen the position of the native authorities, allowed them to distribute the benefits attendant on an expansion of the social or economic services, while itself accepting any odium which may attach to the measures which this may involve.

... It is important to impress on them the relationship between rights and duties. It seems advisable therefore that when minor revenues are handed over to the native authorities, responsibility for the services connected with them should be at the same time entrusted to them.

The difficulty occasioned by the lack of financial competency of many native authorities is not limited to the preparation of budgets. It is necessary for district officers to control closely the course of expenditure. In the majority of cases, their countersignature is required on every check drawn. In some of the less efficient treasuries, the accounts have to be maintained in the district office.

[This excerpt was taken from a larger excerpt located in Wilfred Carty and Martin Kilson, The Africa Reader:  Colonial Africa (Vintage Books, 1970).