Max Siollun, "What Britain Did to Nigeria: A Short History of Conquest and Rule" (Hurst, 2021)

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In this ambitious book, Max Siollun provides an overview of Nigerian history from 1472 to the 1950s. As such, What Britain Did to Nigeria: A Short History of Conquest and Rule (Hurst, 2021) provides an excellent primer for those interested in learning about the gradual process of colonial conquest and the attendant resistance by local populations, as well as colonialism’s long-term impact on what would become modern-day Nigeria.

Part I and II of the book explore early trade relations between the peoples of coastal Nigeria and European merchants. Particular attention is given here to George Taubman Goldie and his business ventures, most notably the Royal Niger Company. By examining the Royal Niger Company’s tactics of fraudulent (or at minimum, misleading) treaties and the violent misconduct of its employees, Siollun evidences the destructive nature of Britain’s presence even before the official start of colonization.

Part III concerns colonial conquest, from 1851 to 1920. Siollun starts with an exploration of what gets referred to as Glover’s Hausas, generally considered to be the start of the modern-day Nigerian army. This provides an entry point for Siollun to examine Britain’s policy of racialized military recruitment, and to reflect on the problems this caused in post-colonial Nigeria. Siollun’s detailed description of the violence of colonial conquest, as well as the resistance by ordinary Nigerians across the country (the subject of Part IV), make plain that despite British claims of a “civilizing mission,” colonization was very much self-serving and unwanted.

Part V considers “how British rule radically changed Nigeria’s cultural, educational, and religious identity,” and in doing so, depended divides between the Northern and Southern parts of the country.

Max Siollun is a historian and author who specializes in Nigeria's history. Besides What Britain Did to Nigeria, he is the author of the books Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria's Military Coup Culture 1966-1976, Soldiers of Fortune: A History of Nigeria (1983-1993), and Nigeria's Soldiers of Fortune: The Abacha and Obasanjo Years.

Sara Katz is a postdoctoral associate in the history department at Duke University.

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