The main commodities of international trade during the industrial revolution were palm oil and palm kernels, which were used in Europe to make soap and as lubricants for machinery, before petroleum (discovered in 1859) products were developed for that purpose. Palm oil is derived from a tropical plant which is native to Niger Delta in the West Coast of Africa. Palm oil trade replaced the slave trade.
Britain as the world’s first industrialized nation required palm oil in great amounts to maintain its factory and other machinery.
From 1815–1840, The Niger Delta palm oil exports increased. British merchants led the trade in palm oil produced in the region. Much of this oil was sold elsewhere in the British Empire. Other Europeans like the French, the Dutch and the Germans were also involved in the international palm oil trade.
1840 - palm oil exports alone were worth £1 billion a year to Britain. The trade was concentrated near the Niger Delta coast, where palm trees grew in abundance. To produce all this oil, the economy of the southern region crossed over from mostly subsistence to the production of palm oil as a cash crop.
European merchants used to moor their ships outside the harbor and use their ships as trading stations and warehouses. Eventually, they began to build depot onshore along the Niger River. As the volume of trade increased they requested the British Government to appoint a Consul General to help them deal with ‘unpredictable’ local rulers. They were supported by the British Royal Navy.
1850 - A ‘court of Equity’ was created by the British Consul to deal with trade disputes. This was overseen by John Beecroft who had been appointed in 1849 as Consul for the West African Coast areas of Dahomey to Cameroon.
1879 - George Taubman Goldie took control of the lower Niger River by forming the United African Company. He started to amalgamate companies trading in commodities along the Niger River into it. By 1884, his company had 30 trading posts along the lower Niger. This created a monopoly which put Britain ahead of its rival European countries. The company created treaties which local rulers had to sign. The treaties gave the company broad sovereign and it considered itself the legitimate government of the area. All legislative, executive and judicial powers were vested in the Board of Directors in London.
By the 1880s, the National African Company became the dominant commercial power, increasing from 19 to 39 stations between 1882 and 1893.
1884 – after the Berlin Conference, Britain announced formation of the Oil Rivers Protectorate (from the fact of these rivers supplying the main part of the palm-oil exported from West Africa), which included the Niger Delta and extended eastward to Calabar and a Consul General was put in charge of the whole area. They established the Consular Courts. Vice Consuls were put in charge of areas that had already signed the treaty of cooperation with the foreign office. They established the Native Courts.
In 1886 Goldie's consortium was chartered by the British government as the Royal Niger Company and granted broad concessionary powers in "all the territory of the basin of the Niger." The charter allowed the company to collect customs and make treaties with local leaders (even though they were already doing so).
The Royal Niger Company had its own armed forces. This included a river fleet which it used for retaliatory attacked on uncooperative villages. It dictated whom the natives could trade with, and denied them direct access to their former markets. The RNC could open and shut any market at will; they offered any price to the producers which meant they either accept it or starve. It was a ruthless monopoly which worked against local producers.
Goldie strangled livelihood of local traders. They were denied access to their former markets. This would lead to the Brass River rebellion in 1895.
1891 – Sir Ralph Moor was appointed Consul General of the Oil Rivers Protectorate. He wanted to break Royal Niger Company’s monopoly and excesses in the area.
1894 – The Oil Rivers Protectorate became the Niger Coast Protectorate when it expanded to include Lagos Colony and Protectorate including the hinterland, and northward up the Niger River as far as Lokoja, the headquarters of the Royal Niger Company. It officials were appointed by the foreign office in London.
A small force of soldiers was raised to keep order in the areas. This was known as the Protectorate Force initially consisting of 350 and later raised to 450 soldiers. Their headquarters was at Old Calabar. The soldiers were mainly Yoruba and Hausa men. Direct treaty making between the British Foreign Office's agents and native chieftains began. This threatened the Royal Niger Company assumed sovereign and legitimate government status in the area. It led to disputes between it and the foreign office's field agents.
1895 - After the raid of Akassa by the Brass people in January on account of the RNC not allowing them to choose their own trading partners, and the British Royal Navy burning down of Brass on February 20 , trade returned to normal in April. Local administrators pushed for British colonial rule believing that trade in British Pounds would be more beneficial than current system of trade barter. Public opinion in Britain had also began to change against Goldie’ RNC.
From 1886 to 1899, much of the country was ruled by Royal Niger Company, authorized by charter, and governed by George Taubman Goldie. In effect, he ruled the Southern and Northern Protectorates. However, his method of brutally and coercion against local traders continued to be challenged by local people and his commercial and territorial tactics against his European rivals particularly the French made the British public question his integrity. He knew it was only a matter of time before he meets the same fate as the East India Company he was emulating.
1896 – 1897: In January 1897, Mr. Phillips the inexperienced acting Vice Consul led a trade mission to Oba Overami of Benin against advice not to do so. It was the trading companies that incited him to do so. Mr. Phillips and all the men were annihilated by the Benin Strike Force.
February 1897 - This defeat was followed swiftly by the British Benin Punitive Expedition of February 1897 which ran Oba Overami out of town and eventually forced him into exile on September 13 1897. This was one too many incidences which the Royal Niger Company was responsible for.
Even though, the Benin Punitive Expedition was seen as the last obstacle to trade in the hinterlands, events moved very quickly thereon for the Royal Niger Company.
May 1897 – Plans to merge Lagos Colony, the Niger Coast Protectorate, and the Royal Niger Company began in London. The reason given was in order to make more use of the area’s natural resources .
The Royal West African Frontier Force was created (RWAFF or WAFF), under the leadership of Colonel Frederick Lugard. Within the year, he had He recruited a total of 2600 Hausa and Yoruba troops.
14 June 1898 - France signed the Anglo-French Convention agreement to fix borders of Northern Nigeria and French West Africa.
1899 - June 28, General Ologbosere was executed by Consul General Moor for leading the Benin Massacre. This last stand against the natives of the Niger River areas together with the Brass Oil Wars, the Bonny Expedition, the Nupe and Ilorin Expeditions, punitive measures against Nana and similar measures against Jaja of Opobo and ongoing commercial and territorial disputes with France and German interests influenced public opinion back in Britain and this forced the government to revoke the Royal Niger Company charter.
December 31 1899: Following the revoking of its charter, the Royal Niger Company sold its holdings to the British government for £865,000 [£77,712,386 today].
1 January 1900 all handing over of Royal Niger Company territories and assets was completed. RNC changed its name to the Niger Company.
The surrendered territories together with the Niger Coast Protectorate were formed into Northern and Southern Protectorates of the Niger River. They came under the British Crown control.
In 1900, The two territories were amalgamated as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria by Governor Lord Fredrick Lugard.
1929 - The Niger Company became part of the United African Company.
1930s - The United African Company became a subsidiary of Unilever.
1987 - The United African Company was absorbed into Unilever.
1) Boisragon, A. The Benin Massacre, 1897, pages 21 – 25
2) Publication: Guardian 1821 – 2000; Date: Jan 23, 1897; Section:
None; Page 7