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Upper and Lower Nigeria

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A colony of British East Africa extending from the Gulf of Guinea to Lake Chad (from 4° 30' to 7°N. lat., and from 5° 30' to 8° 30' E. long.), is bounded on the north and west by French Sudan, on the southwest by the English colony of Lagos, on the south by the Atlantic, on the east by German Kamerun. It derives its name from the River Niger, flowing through it. The Niger, French from its source in the Guinean Sudan to the frontier of Sierra Leone and Liberia, enters Nigeria above Ilo, receives the Sokoto River at Gomba, and the Benue at Lokodja, the chief tributaries in English territory. Though the establishment of the English dates only from 1879, numerous explorers had long before reconnoitred the river and the neighbouring country. Among the most famous were Mungo Park (1795-1805), Clapperton (1822), René Caillé (1825), Lander, Barth, Mage, and recently the French officers Galliéni, Mizon, Hourst, and Lenfant. In 1879, on the initiative of Sir George Goldie, the English societies established in the region purchased all the French and foreign trading stations of Lower Niger and in 1885 obtained a royal charter which constituted them the "Royal Company of the Niger". The Royal Company developed rapidly and acquired immense territories, often at the cost of bloodshed. The monopoly of navigation which it claimed to exercise, contrary to the stipulations of the General Act of Berlin, its opposition to the undertakings of France and Germany, its encroachments on neighbouring territories, aroused numerous diplomatic quarrels which finally brought about the revocation of its privileges (1 Jan., 1900). It then became a simple commercial company with enormous territorial possessions; the conquered lands, reunited to the old Protectorate of the Niger Coast organized in 1884, constituted the British colony of Nigeria. France, however, retained two colonies at Badjibo-Arenberg and at Forcados; navigation was free to all.

Politically Nigeria is divided into two provinces, Southern or Lower Nigeria, Northern or Upper Nigeria, separated by the parallel which passes through Ida. Each division is governed by a high commissioner named directly by the Crown. Northern Nigeria with an area of over 123,400 square miles is as yet only partly settled, and has nine constituted provinces. The ancient capital, Gebha, is now replaced by Wushishi on the Kaduna. The chief cities are Lokodja Ilo, Yola, Gando, Sokoto, Kano, etc. Kano, situated two hundred miles to the north, is a remarkable city and one of the largest markets of the whole world. For more than a thousand years the metropolis of East Africa, Kano contains about fifty thousand inhabitants, is surrounded by walls built of hardened clay from twenty to thirty ft. high and fifteen miles in circumference. Every year more than two million natives go to Kano to exchange their agricultural products or their merchandise. The chief articles of commerce are camels, cattle, ivory, sugar, ostrich plumes, and kola nuts. Kano is also a great industrial centre, renowned for its hides and its cotton materials; sorghum and many kinds of vegetables and cereals are cultivated. The natives are very good workmen, especially in the cultivation of the fields. Although nominally subject to England, some chiefs, or sultans, have remained almost independent, for instance those of Sokoto and Nupe. English money, however, has circulated everywhere and three-penny pieces are very popular. Northern Nigeria has a population of about fifteen million inhabitants, divided into several tribes, each speaking its own tongue, the chief of which are the Yorubas, the Nupes, the Haussas, and the Igbiras. English is the official language of the administration.

Constantly pressing to the south, Islam has penetrated as far as the markets of the Lower Niger, and carries on a vigorous proselytism, aided by the representatives of the English Government. Mussulman chiefs and instructors are often appointed for the fetishistic population. Powerful English Protestant missions have unsuccessfully endeavoured to gain a foothold. Catholic missionaries explored a portion of these same regions as early as 1883, but only now have they undertaken permanent establishments. Nigeria is divided into two prefectures Apostolic; that of the Upper Niger is confided to the Society of African Missions of Lyons (1884), and that of the Lower Niger to the Fathers of the Holy Ghost (1889). The first comprises all the territory west of the Niger from Forcados and north of the Benue to Yola. Its limits were only definitively constituted by the decrees of 15 January and 10 May, 1894. The prefect Apostolic resides at Lokodja. The mission is chiefly developed in the more accessible part of Southern Nigeria, where Islam is still almost a stranger. Its chief posts, besides Lokodja, are Assaba, Ila, Ibsélé, Ibi, Idu, etc. The twenty missionaries are assisted by the Religious of the Queen of the Apostles (Lyons); in 1910 there were about 1500 Catholics and an equal number of catechumens. The Prefecture Apostolic of the Lower Niger comprises all the country situated between the Niger, the Benue, and the western frontier of German Kamerun. Less extensive than that of the Upper Niger, its population is much more dense, almost wholly fetishistic, and even cannibal. Towns of five, ten, and twenty thousand inhabitants are not rare; the population is chiefly agricultural, cultivating the banana and the yam. In the delta and on Cross River the palm oil harvest is the object of an active commerce. Several tribes are crowded into these fertile districts; the Ibo, Nri, Munchis, Ibibio, Ibani, Ibeno, Efik, Akwa, Aro, etc. Their religion is fetishism, with ridiculous and cruel practices often admitting of human sacrifices, exacted by the ju-ju (a corruption of the native word egugu), a fetish which is supposed to contain the spirit of an ancestor; but purer religious elements are found beneath all these superstitions, belief in God, the survival of the soul, distinction between good and evil, etc.

The Mussulmans are located in important centres such as the market of Onitcha. Moreover, wherever the English Government employs Haussas as militia the latter carry on an active propaganda, and where they are, a movement towards Islam is discernible. This is the case at Calabar, Lagos, Freetown, and numerous points in the interior and on the coast. English Protestant missions have long since penetrated into this country and have expended, not without results, enormous sums for propaganda. Native churches with pastors and bishops have even been organized on the Niger, constituting what is called the native pastorate. At Calabar the United Presbyterian Church dates from 1846, strongly established throughout the country. In 1885 the Catholic missionaries of Gabon established themselves at Onitcha, the centre of the Ibo country and a city of twenty thousand inhabitants. Several native kings, among them the King of Onitcha, have been converted, numerous schools have been organized, towns and villages everywhere have asked for missionaries, or lacking them, for catechists. Until 1903 no establishment could be made at Calabar, the seat of the Government and the most important commercial centre of Southern Nigeria, but once founded the Catholic mission became very popular, adherents came in crowds, the schools were filled to overflowing. There is need of labourers and resources for the immense harvest. The Fathers of the Holy Ghost are seconded in their efforts by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny. The progress of evangelization seems to necessitate in the near future the division of the mission into two prefectures, one of which will have its centre at Onitcha, the other at Calabar.


Missions catholiques au XIXe siècle; Missions d'Afrique (Paris, 1902); Missiones Catholicæ (Rome, 1907).

About this page

APA citation. Le Roy, A. (1911). Upper and Lower Nigeria. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Le Roy, Alexandre. "Upper and Lower Nigeria." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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