The Rise and Fall of the Warrant Chief System in the Cross River Region

Topics: Colonialism, British Empire, Nigeria Pages: 7 (2490 words) Published: September 7, 2011
Prior to the advent of the British Colonialists to our shores more than four hundred years ago, the traditional institutions held sway as the organisational structure around which the socio-political, cultural, administrative and economic life of the people revolved. It was therefore, not surprising that the colonialists who came to exploit us with their imperial motives and to imposed their own social order on the indigenous existing nationalities that later coalesced into the present day Nigeria, found it expedient to enlist the support and cooperation of traditional rulers in securing their hold on the conquered territories. Indeed, the traditional rulers proved so indispensable in this regard that where non seemed to have existed, the Colonialists appointed same as was the case of the Warrant Chiefs in the minority groups of the South, and the Igbo in the South East. Taking a cue from the colonialists, successive government in Nigeria, whether at National or State level, both civilian and Military since Independence in 1960 have seen the wisdom to carve an advisory role for traditional rulers in the governance of the Nigerian Polity. However, the amount of power entrusted to thes chiefs was far in excess of what any political leader would have enjoyed in the pre-colonial era and in any case they were equally as corrupt and oppressive as their less traditional colleagues and this contributed to the collapsed of the system. This paper therefore attempt to look at the rise and fall of the Warrant chief system in the Cross River region which comprises the present Cross River and Akwa Ibom States. To do this, we will attempt to look at the following sub topics, the rise of the warrant chief system, its workings, eventual fall of the system, and finally its impact.

The Warrant Chief system was an attempt made by the British to rule the minorities in Southern Nigeria and the Igbo in Southeastern Nigeria through what was thought to be their indigenous political organization. The origin of the Warrant Chief can be traced to the period of British occupation of these areas between 1890 and 1917.1 In order for the Colonial master to have good governance in these areas, the colonial District Commissioners had to create the institution of Warrant Chiefs.2 Along the coast, especially the Efik who did, by 1890s possessed certain chiefly institutions, there was no difficulty in finding who were the leading figures of the trading states because, there was the advantage of long contact. However, in the interior the issue was confounded by the fact that it was not easy to locate the traditional heads of the villages and village-groups. Where the people were consulted they more often than not misunderstood the purpose of the request and pushed forward as their chiefs people who had no special status in traditional society. Similarly, communities which thought those they presented would be killed or sold into slavery presented criminals or never- do-wells as their chiefs, while others who thought the whitemen need messengers sent able young men.3 Be that as it may, the colonial administration chose chiefs without reference to anybody in many places and made similar mistakes. But it is important to note that not all those who were chosen as chiefs were nonentities or rogues. To distinguish them from common impostors and blackmailers of which according to Afigbo, there were many in this period, and to legalise the power they exercised over their fellow country-men, each of those recognize as chiefs was given a certificate. This certificate was known as ‘Warrant’ and partly for this reason the chiefs came to be popularly known as Warrant Chiefs. Warrant Chiefs were thus installed without much recourse to local traditions or hierarchy and status, without taking into account the details of pre-colonial local political structures. This arbitrariness stemmed from the fact that the British...

References: A. E Afigbo. THE EASTERN PROVINCE UNDER COLONIAL RULE in Obaro Ikime(ed)”Groundwork of Nigerian History”(Ibadan:Heinemann publishers, 2004)p.411
A. E Afigbo. The Warrant chiefs: Indirect rule in Southeastern Nigeria 1891-1929( London: Longman publisher,1972)pp.108 and 141
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