Nigeria: The lingering roots left by Britain’s looting and killing

By Patrick Smith

Posted on June 4, 2021 14:36


Today Nigeria’s political system is more fiercely contested than ever with some militants trying to break up the federation – to what extent do these schisms have their roots in the extreme violence of Britain’s commercial exploitation of the territory and its colonial conquest ?

To tackle this question, Talking Africa podcast speaks to Max Siollun, author of  What Britain Did To Nigeria; Barnaby Phillips, author of Loot : Britain and the Benin Bronzes , and Funmi Adebayo, an economist and publisher of the Black Monologues podcast series.

The publication of Siollun’s and Phillips’s books this year follows the surge of activism in 2020 against racism and demands for a rigorous investigation of the history, especially of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism, taught in schools and played out in the media.

Siollun, who has written two books on the political consequences of military rule, was struck by the dominance of the largely uncritical British accounts of colonialism in the Nigeria.

His latest book is a bold and well-researched analysis of Britain’s role covering its clashes with King Jaja of Opobu, Benin’s Oba Overami and the successors of Usman Dan Fodio in the Northern Resistance ; as well the role of  figures such as Lord Frederick Lugard and George Taubman Goldie on the British side.

Phillips’s book focuses on an attack by British soldiers, who had been earlier forced back, on the Oba of Benin’s palace and the looting of thousands of cultural artefacts in 1897. He teases out the political and cultural consequences of this looting and why hundreds of thousands queued to see the Bronzes in the British Museum in London.

Many of the stolen Bronzes were sold to private collectors, most of whom, like the British government, have refused to return them to Benin.

The resurgence of debate about Britain’s role in Nigeria raises important questions about identity and justice in the fast-changing international order argues Funmi Adebayo, the daughter of Nigerian parents, who grew up in London but has worked around Africa and in the US. Adebayo’s Black Monologues series is documenting many voices in the African Disapora that are reclaiming their history in this new era.

This week’s Talking Africa is mediated by Patrick Smith.

‘What Britain Did To Nigeria’ by Max Siollun (Hurst & Company, London, 2021)

‘Loot – Britain and the Benin Bronzes’ by Barnaby Phillips (One World, London, 2021)

Both books are available from Roving Heights Bookshop in Nigeria which delivers worldwide. They are also available at all good bookshops and online services.

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