Sir Percy Girouard,

Canada's Governor of Northern Nigeria, 1907-1909


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SUMMARY    This year, 2007, marks the centenary of a significant event in the history of Canadian-Nigerian relations.  Exactly one century ago, in January 1907, Lord Elgin of Britain's Colonial Office appointed Percy Girouard - a forty-year-old Canadian railway engineer from Montreal, educated at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario - as Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Northern Nigeria.  His two-year tour of service was primarily intended, via the construction of a railway through the Protectorate up to Kano, to reinforce pax Britannica over local uprisings, and to break the United States' quasi-monopoly on raw cotton supplies for Britain's Lancashire textile mills.  Girouard was recommended by then Parliamentary Under-secretary of State for the Colonies, Winston Churchill, who was personally acquainted with Girouard and his previous seven years' administrative success in Egypt, the Sudan, and South Africa.  


Today, few Canadians or Nigerians are familiar with Percy Girouard, despite his two years' work in Nigeria alone being the subject of at least five detailed critical studies over the last three decades, including four by historians in Canada.  Girouard holds the distinction of being only one of two Canadians to attain the post of Governor in the British Colonial Service's forty territories;  the only other Canadian to do so was Galt, Ontario's Sir Gordon Guggisberg, who governed the Gold Coast (Ghana) in 1919.   While Mount Girouard in the Canadian Rockies' Banff National Park, the Girouard Building at the Royal Military College, and a plaque in St. Paul's Cathedral, London all commemorate the man, Sir Percy Girouard remains what one historian of Africa has called "Canada's most distinguished yet least-known colonial governor" (Kirk-Greene 1984: 207). 


Girouard's enthusiasm and strong results-orientation in the Northern Nigeria protectorate quickly established a flourishing groundnut export trade, hastened the emancipation of slaves, brought humanitarian aid to the Kano famine of 1914, recruited a handful of young Canadians to transfer their engineering skills to Nigerians, and enshrined land ownership with indigenes rather than British concessionaires, the Royal Niger Company and John Holt & Company. 


Nevertheless, the historical record reveals that Girouard's policies incurred significant deleterious repercussions as well.  Many of his predecessor Lugard's policies were continued, privileging the minority Fulani ruling class, and there is evidence that Girouard was at least aware of, if not complicit in, human rights abuses involving the mistreatment and forced labour of Nigerian peasants as railway construction labourers.  Recent examination of Girouard's land tenure reforms by Paul Lovejoy reveals that, had these reforms been fully implemented, they would have emulated the overtly racist and exclusionary Jim Crow laws in the United States


In 1961, Northern Nigeria's two principle export crops, cotton and groundnuts, attained their highest shares of 1.5% and 15.5% of these global exports, respectively.  Had these shares been maintained to the present day, they would have contributed an additional 0.1% and 0.2% to Nigeria's gross national product in 2005 of $98.6 billion.


This site consists of a ten-thousand-word essay on Girouard, his accomplishments in Nigeria, and his character.  There are also links to Girouard's annual report to the Colonial Office for Northern Nigeria, 1907-08, a newspaper article from the Globe (Toronto), his 1932 obituary notice in The Times, and historical Nigerian agricultural production and export data. 




Introduction. 3

Why a Canadian to govern Nigeria?. 4

Girouard in Nigeria. 6

A Railway for Northern Nigeria. 7

Canadians Recruited by Girouard. 9

Challenges of the Communications Infrastructure. 11

Girouardian Policies towards Indigenous Peoples, Christian Missionaries, and British Concessionaires 12

Human Rights Abuses, the Use of Forced "Political" Labour 16

Girouard's Land Reforms Ostensibly In Favour of the Colonised  20

Assessments of Girouard's Character 23

The Impact of Girouard's Policies in Nigeria. 27

Groundnuts surpassed cotton exports spectacularly  27

Other impacts of Girouardian policies on Nigeria. 38

Sources 39



Édouard Percy Cranwill Girouard was born into a prominent, politically-connected Roman Catholic household in Montreal in 1867.  Girouard's father, the Hon. Désiré Girouard, was a Member of Parliament, a Supreme Court justice, deputy Governor-General, and author of more than a dozen local histories of Quebec.  Désiré's eldest son, Percy, was the second of his second wife Essie's six children.  At the age of fifteen, Percy enrolled in the Royal Military College at Kingston (RMC), becoming the first Catholic graduate in 1886, with a diploma in engineering.  Although he was slight in stature (5' 8" tall) and lacking in athletic distinction, academically he was at the top of his class in his final two years (Kirk-Greene 1984: 212). 


Percy Girouard's first employment was as a surveyor with the Canadian Pacific Railway from 1886-88, where he was involved in the building of the branch line through Maine to the Atlantic coast (Smith 1989: 14).  At the end of 1888, he left Canada behind for England, having been gazetted to the Royal Engineers at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich; there he worked until 1895, steadily rising the ranks to Traffic Manager of the Royal Arsenal Railway.  This was followed by his first appointment to Africa, two years' supervision of the laying across uncharted desert along the Nile of the 400 kilometre Sudan Military Railway, during Britain's Nile Expeditionary Force in Egypt and the Sudan (1896-98); for this he received the Distinguished Order of Service at 31, and was knighted (KCMG) at the age of 33.  He then carried out five years' railway administration in South Africa, during and following the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1904) that ended in his forced resignation, possibly a victim of post-war Afrikaner hostility (Mwaruvie 2006: 6; Kirk-Greene 1984: 232).  Nevertheless, while still in Pretoria in 1903, Girouard married into a well-placed Afrikaner family, and his wife Gwendolen Solomon gave birth to one son, Richard Désiré in 1905.  


In 1907, leaving behind his young family at Hove in the south of England, Girouard first held the title High Commissioner, and one year later was appointed Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Northern Nigeria; he occupied the post for two years (1907-1909) including travel and leave time.  His proven administrative success in Nigeria led to a three-year post as Governor of the British East Africa Protectorate (Kenya) that unfortunately ended in his second resignation, over his decision to forcibly transfer a group of Maasai out from European settler lands.  He spent the remaining years of his life in England, divorced by his wife for reasons of desertion in 1914; in 1915, Gwendolen remarried, to a captain of the Coldstream Guards, only to die in childbirth along with twins in 1916 (The Times, April 25, 1914, p.4; Smith 1989: 157).  Girouard presided over the operations of a munitions factory, with a brief secondment back into the public spotlight in 1915 as Director-General of Munitions Supply, only to suffer his third forced resignation under the Munitions Minister, Lloyd George, a few months later (Kirk-Greene 1984: 234).  He died in London, England in 1932.



Why a Canadian to govern Nigeria?

In 1906, Northern Nigerian rebellions against British imperial rule by the Tiv at Abinsi, and in Sokoto and Kano-Hadejia were crushed under Frederick Lugard's orders, but without the sanction of his superiors in London; his resignation as High Commissioner was impelled by his authorisation of the excessive use of force via by punitive expeditions to quell those uprisings (Smith 1989: 26).  Lugard governed Hong Kong from 1907 to 1912, returning to govern a unified Nigeria from 1912 to 1919. 


Quelling uprisings was inhibited by poor or nonexistent transport infrastructure.  In 1906, it required a 27-day march from the Protectorate's capital, Zungeru, near present-day Minna, for the British regiment to reach the Madhist revolt at Satiru, 12 miles south of Sokoto.  Railways were regarded as strategic allies in Britain's history of colonial repression, and this is one of two key reasons why the Colonial Office under-secretary, Winston Churchill recommended Girouard as Lugard's successor.  Girouard well knew that back in Canada, it had taken a three-month forced march to reach Louis Riel's Red River Rebellion in 1870, whereas troops reached Riel's second uprising of 1885 in only a matter of days via the newly-constructed railroad (Kirk-Greene 1984: 220).  In railway administration, Churchill was particularly impressed by Girouard's meticulous attention to detail during the Sudan military campaign:


Sitting in his hut at Wadi Halfa, he drew up a comprehensive list.  Nothing was forgotten.  Every want was provided for; every difficulty was foreseen; every requisite was noted.  The questions to be decided were numerous and involved.  The answers to all those questions were set forth by Lieutenant Girouard in a ponderous volume several inches thick; and such was the comprehensive accuracy of the estimate that the working parties were never delayed by the want of even a piece of brass wire.  (Winston Churchill, The River War, (1899) 1972: 252; quoted in Kirk-Greene 1984: 214-5).


The second rationale for placing a Canadian engineer as proconsul of Northern Nigeria was to serve British trade interests.  Girouard's vessel reached Lagos 1st April 1907, and later the same year, on August 26th, the Toronto Globe reported that Winston Churchill, "speaking at Manchester on the development of Northern Nigeria, paid a high compliment to Sir Percy Girouard.  He is the one man the Government could look to to construct the new railway line in Central Africa" (Globe 1907: 27).  Churchill, then Member of Parliament for Lancashire, was representing Manchester, the Lancashire textile industry and the British Cotton Growing Association (B.C.G.A.) in seeking alternatives to Britain's near-exclusive reliance on raw cotton from the United States, and Northern Nigeria was deemed to offer a rich and reliable production source (Smith 1989: 29).  Given his background outside of the normal British colonial administrative channels, Girouard's appointment was initially intended to run only a single sixteen-month tour of office.


The cotton-export motive had precedent in southern NigeriaBritain in the nineteenth century relied on the United States for 80% of its raw cotton, but lost that supply entirely during the American Civil War of 1861-1865.  Cotton farmers in the Egba Yoruba region of Southern Nigeria, for which an indigenous industry was long-established, were persuaded to grow cotton for export to Britain during that period, only to suffer the loss of their investment after America's civil war ended and U.S. cotton exports resumed. During 1902-1905, the British Cotton Growing Association invested in several steam-powered cotton gins in the Lagos Colony and Southern Nigeria Protectorate, including Ibadan and Oshogbo, and, in a manner that today might be alleged to be "corporate welfare bums", persuaded the British colonial administration to transport inland raw seed cotton and cotton lint free of charge, not only via the southern Nigerian railway to the coast, but also across the Atlantic via the Elder Dempster Shipping Company to Liverpool, England.  The association also posted two experienced African-American cotton-growers in Ibadan and Lagos to instruct Nigerian cotton planters in modern growing techniques, and committed to paying a price of 1d. per pound of seed cotton to the farmers during the first three years of the initiative.  With four pounds of seed cotton yielding one pound of ginned cotton lint, and a world market price of 5d. per pound of lint cotton, this arrangement proved profitable in supplying Lancashire's textile mills with raw material at lower cost than American or Egyptian cotton.  Exports grew quickly from 12,000 pounds of cotton lint (£150) in the first year, 1902 (3d. per pound), to 1,281,000 pounds in 1905 (£25,000, 5d. per pound) and transformed what was previously a single-export cash crop economy of palm oil and palm nuts.  Nevertheless, "by growing and exporting raw cotton, and taking European manufactured fabrics in exchange, the people's traditional cloth industry languished while that of the Europeans thrived.  Moreover, the prices at which the raw cotton was sold to the Europeans, were determined by the Europeans who fixed the price that best served their interests rather [than] those of the producers" (Egboh 1979).  As we shall see, similar exploitative results obtained in Northern Nigeria.



Girouard in Nigeria

Girouard oversaw British Residents in the Northern Nigeria Protectorate's sixteen provinces.  Girouard's salary of UK Pound £4,000 per annum (Smith 1989: 38) represented nearly one per cent of Britain's entire colonial budget for the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria of £500,000, and as such he held responsibility for some seven million native Nigerians (half of whom were Muslims), 27 Indian clerks and officers, and 424 Europeans, across a territory of 800,000 square kilometres.  His stipend on a weekly basis was thus 800 times greater than that paid to indigenous Nigerian railway labourers (2/2d. per week) recruited under his supervision.  Estimates of the cost of living were one penny per diem (1d.)for a basic per capita food ration, with clothing and sundries about half that amount, based on a survey by the Katsina Province Resident H.R. Palmer in 1909 (Lovejoy and Hogendorn 1993: 225).  Government-employed head porters received 6d. per diem when carrying a 56 lb. load, or 3d. per diem on returning home empty (Leith-Ross 1983: 47).  In addition to his salary, Girouard took possession of the Government House at the Protectorate's then-capital of Zungeru, situated 50 kilometres northwest of Minna, on the Kaduna River


Only seven years into its founding as a colonial territory, Northern Nigeria was already firmly established in trade with Britain, with five raw materials comprising 78% of the total export value: rubber (39%), shea nuts (18%, used in candles, soap, and as a butter substitute), palm kernels (10%), groundnuts (6%) and raw tin (6%).  The statistical records for the second half of 1907 show that "cotton goods" comprised about three-quarters of the total value of imports brought into Northern Nigeria (Girouard 1909: 74, Appendix A).  The wearing of British-made textiles had established itself as far north as Sokoto to the extent that one British "political officer" observed in late 1908 that "[q]uite 35 per cent of the rigas [traditional Hausa robes] are made out of plain English cotton" (Kisch 1910: 100).  In 1907, a virtual duopoly of the Niger Company and Messrs. John Holt & Company controlled 95% of the merchant vessel tonnage that entered the port of Lokoja (Girouard 1909: Section 13, p. 13).  The Niger Company had established small stores, or 'canteens' in virtually every small town, "selling pots and pans, sugar, soap, matchets, hoes while their agents bought cotton, palm oil, groundnuts" (Leith-Ross 1983: 20).  The Elder Dempster Shipping Company provided a weekly mail run from England, such that the British newspapers received in Northern Nigeria were already one month old (Leith-Ross 1983: 49).



A Railway for Northern Nigeria

While the southern Nigerian Lagos-Jebba railway, 366 miles in length, took from 1900 to 1909 to complete and cost Britain's Colonial Office UK Pound £13,000 per mile, Girouard reckoned that he could lay the 356-mile railway line from Baro, 60 miles upstream from Lokoja on the Niger River up to Kano for only £3,000 per mile.  As it turned out, the actual Baro-Kano cost came to between £3,800 and £3,915 per mile (Geary 1927: 145; Mwaruvie 2006: 12), and required only from 1907 to 1911 to complete.  The line was officially opened on 1st April, 1912, exactly five years to the day that Girouard first set foot on Nigerian soil (Isichei 1983: 420).  Coaches were ferried across the Niger River from the Lagos extension until the completion of a bridge at Jebba in 1916 (Kirk-Greene 1984: 22, n. 42).  Lugard's dual mandate policy of "indirect rule" has been qualified by some as "hegemony on a shoestring" or "minimal interference" and the railway was viewed as "cut-price hegemony in the area and as providing a pipeline for the pumping out of the region's surplus wealth and the pumping in of imported goods, particularly those from Britain" (Mason 1978: 57).


Soon after his arrival in 1907, Girouard revised the gradients and curvature from an earlier location survey for the Baro-Kano line, chose the adoption of standard 3' 6" guage in conformance with Southern Nigerian standards, and received authorisation of his plan by the Colonial Office by mid-year.  Rather than contracting the operations privately, Girouard was assisted in the construction by a detachment of his own Royal Engineers from England (Kirk-Greene 1984: 222; Mwaruvie 2006: 10).  By the time of Girouard's departure in April 1909, earthworks for the first 130 miles from Baro up to She were nearly completed, and the first 30 miles of railway track had been laid ("The Promise Of Nigeria," The Times, Tuesday, Apr 20, 1909; p. 5, col F).


In late 1907, native-built huts were erected at five-mile intervals along the first 120 miles of the proposed line to house both the surveyors and construction crew, and portable mosquito-proof shelters obviated the need for netting (Girouard 1909: Section 20, p. 22).  By the middle of 1908, a monthly average of 4,000 local Nupe, Gwari, Koro, labourers, in addition to Yoruba and Hausa labourers were being recruited on the Baro-Kano line construction project.  Those from the first three ethnic groups were employed as unskilled workers, building the earthworks, while the Yoruba were engaged in track-laying, and the Hausa as carriers of tools and materials.  Gangs of 25 men worked for four-week periods, then replaced by another gang  (Mason 1978: 62).  Owing to a supply shortage, locally-made hoes and British-made tin basins were initially used for the earthworks construction (Girouard 1909: Section 20, p. 21). 


Several aspects of Girouard's railway operations were nevertheless a dismal failure.  In 1907, he had requisitioned at a cost of UK Pound £25,000, and duly obtained from Britain, a suction dredger with the aim of clearing the Niger River's sandbars, and rendering the Lokoja-Baro channel navigable by large stern-wheelers up to the Baro railway terminus throughout the dry season; however difficulties led to the decision that "the experiment will not be continued", according to the official 1913 report (Geary 1927: 144).  Girouard's ambitions to pursue the employment of shallow draught sailing craft similar to those used on the Nile for cargo transport along the Benue and Niger Rivers likewise never appear to have been pursued seriously (Girouard 1909: Section 19, p. 19-20).


According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, to the present day, from July to March, the Baro line and port is still used to ship peanuts (groundnuts) and cotton downstream to the Niger Delta ports of Burutu and Warri ("Baro" 2007).


Canadians Recruited by Girouard

Girouard never spent any significant length of time in Canada following his first departure at the age of 21.  Despite returning to Canada on only two or three short occasions over the rest of his life, he leveraged his home connections as Governor of Northern Nigeria to the extent that one might today almost make the charge of nepotism.


The Toronto Globe newspaper's front-page notice appearing one day following the announcement of his appointment to Nigeria on January 16th, 1907 mentions that "[h]e is a a typical product of the empire, and everyone looks forward to the success which they hope he may obtain".  Girouard was certainly not the only Canadian living in the seven-year-old British Protectorate.  In the same year, on September 11th, the Globe reported on one Dr. Andrew P. Stirrett of the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM), who "went from Toronto eight years ago [...] to labor among the Hausa tribe, one of the most advanced of the peoples of the Central Sudan, through whom, when evangelized, it is expected the other tribes will be Christianized" (Globe, November 11, 1907: 9).  A pharmacist by training, Stirrett returned to Toronto in 1906 at the age of 44 to complete a medical degree, then returned to missionary work in Nigeria right until his death at the age of 83 (Craig 1997: 25). A 1948 biography of Stirrett rather paints him as Canada's Norman Bethune for Nigeria, the Hausa in Jos having named him Bature Mai Magadi, or, the "white doctor of Nigeria". 


When Girouard first set foot in Northern Nigeria in April 1907 and began his initial tour of inspection, he soon made the acquaitance of a fellow Canadian and RMC graduate, Arthur Leith-Ross, who was the Protectorate's Chief Transport Officer, supervising the "cart route" between Zaria and Kano.  Sadly, Arthur Leith-Ross died in Nigeria only a year later, of blackwater fever, however the memoirs of his British wife, Sylvia, one of only three European women in Northern Nigeria at the time, were published posthumously in 1983.  In these memoirs she revisited Zungeru late in her life, in the 1970s, only to find the former colonial capital "desolate [...] the bricks of the Government Offices in Aiki Square [...] scattered in the dusty grass [...] the roads [...] half-lost tracks across the sand and laterite".  Girouard's quarters were likely similar to those of his Transport Officer, a bungalow built of wood imported from England, raised up on four-foot high iron stilts, with little surrounding tree coverage.  Lugard had selected Zungeru as the Northern protectorate's capital owing to its relatively sparse population density, proximity to the Kaduna River with its plentiful supply of fish, and its position north of the tse tse fly belt (Leith-Ross 1983: 36).


In 1907, Girouard appointed A.W. Robinson, another Canadian, a Montrealer in fact, to oversee the subsequently-aborted dredging operations on the Niger River (Girouard 1909: 16; Smith 1989: n. 33).  In addition, Girouard records in October, 1908 the hiring of "lumber-men from Canada" in his 1907-8 report:


(20). Baro-Kano Railway [...]  There is throughout the first 100 miles of railway a considerable amount of good local timber.  Native carpenters, though unaccustomed to work to dimensions, have been gradually taught to cut excellent sleepers, totalling to date nearly 6,000.  The railway also, in part of its course, traverses a virgin forest.  The experiment of introducing expert lumber-men from Canada to develop it has been tried since January [1908], and with marked success.  The forest has been scientifically laid out, and a great deal of valuable timber has been cut, which will be carried at a later date to saw mills which are being established at Baro.   (Girouard 1909: Section 20, p. 22).


In a letter from Nigeria to his father dated November 25, 1907, Girouard writes that "I cabled George Pesley (in Canada) for two axemen and got an answer in three days.  I call that business.  The CO [Colonial Office] take three weeks ad don't do much then" (quoted in Smith 1989: 55).  Girouard's biographer Michael L. Smith, examining documents in the Colonial Office discovered that:


... the Canadian axemen, one Jules N. Lachappelle and A.S. Choun were among several recruited for Northern Nigeria with contracts that sound like modern "cooperant" arrangements under the auspices of CIDA.  "I thoroughly understand the building of cribwork piers and am not only to do such work myself but undertake to teach the natives how to do it and I agree to remain in Africa one year unless I am discharged or invalided."  (Smith 1989: 55, n. 33)


Thus, Girouard's recruitment of young, skilled Canadians to transfer their technical knowledge to Nigerians towards the modernisation of this new country antedates the first contingent of seven Canadian CUSO volunteers in a decolonised Nigeria, in 1962, by over half a century. 



Challenges of the Communications Infrastructure

With minimal editing, Girouard's annual report and letters to the Britain's Secretary of State, Lord Crewe, could easily read like letters or blogs from a CUSO Nigeria co-operant in the 2000s.  He expresses his exasperation over the severely debilitating communications and transport infrastructure, but also discusses social services, including homes and schools for freed slaves.  "At present the journey from Zungeru to Kano takes from 15 to 20 days, a circumstance which militates greatly against inspection by the central administration, or the possibility of conference at headquarters with Provincial Residents.  These disabilities, it is hoped, will be materially relieved by the use of motor cars" (Girouard 1909: Section 45, p. 61).


Communications infrastructure in Nigeria, aside from the telegraph system, was indeed frustrating for His Majesty's representative from Canada.  The Nigerian historian I.M. Okonjo writes that Girouard in a report to the Secretary of State, stated that commercial convoys travelled 15 miles per day (1974:28-29); Lord Lugard had procured labourers from Argentina, and oxen-drivers from India for the task, given that the transport bill for head carriers/porters was exorbitant, UK Pounds £100 per British official per annum.  In a tour of twelve months, Girouard reported that it was practically impossible to visit more than one-third of the provincial headquarters in the Protectorate, and nine-tenths of the journey was consumed solely by traveling time; thus there was quite heavy delegation of responsibility, along with a considerable volume of correspondence (Nigeria Despatch 262 of 5/6/1907, High Commissioner to Secretary of State; Colonial Office 446/38).


Ingeniously circumventing the challenges of overland travel, Girouard took full advantage of resources at his command, including the practice of what today would be called an Internet chat room with his far-flung Residents, i.e., he "introduced a system of weekly telegraphic 'conversations' with provincial Residents by which he succeeded in gaining an intimate personal knowledge of local affairs, enabling Residents at the same time to feel that they were not altogether cut off from headquarters and its immediate concerns" (Orr 1911: 192).  Nevertheless, while Girouard reported that during the dry season "the telegraph service was quite satisfactory", in the wet season, "the difficulty in maintaining the line was, as usual, very great" (Girouard 1909: Section 55, p. 73).  Girouard also proposed to the French West African colony's Governor-General that Northern Nigeria's telegraph lines be linked with Dahomey's, and the extension from Birnin Kebbi to the Dahomey frontier was completed in 1909 (Girouard 1909: Section 4, p.8).


Girouard writes of his modus operandi under such trying circumstances to his father in his seven month of service:

Have done one of two last journeys both by land and water and will have visited 9 out of the 17 provinces this tour.  By talking on the telegraph I have got in touch with two more, the country is so vast and the travelling so slow that it will be several years before I get all over it.  I am getting out a motor car which will help on the one road we have which runs from Zunguru to Kano 220 miles but it is only a dry weather road i.e. January to May.  (Percy P. Girouard to Désiré Girouard, 25 November 1907).


Given myriad logistical hurdles, it is not surprising that Girouard pragmatically revised one particular policy of his predecessor, Sir Frederick Lugard.  His biographer Michael L. Smith writes that it is clear that the chief change that took place with Girouard's arrival in Northern Nigeria "was probably the devolution of initiative and responsibility to Residents; there was no longer a central 'dictator'" (Smith 1989: 80).  Beit-el-Mal ("native treasuries") were initiated, providing the Residents, in conjunction with the Emirs, much greater fiscal independence from the central administration, and thus forming the fourth pillar of "Native Administration" along with the Native Authority (Chief), Native Court, and the supervisory District Officer (Kirk-Greene 1984: 223).  This decentralised system of Indirect Rule angered Lugard greatly upon his return in 1912 as Governor of a unified southern and northern Nigerian, however by that time opposition from both the Residents and the Colonial Office to recentralisation was too strong for any reversal (Smith 1989: 52-54).



Girouardian Policies towards Indigenous Peoples, Christian Missionaries, and British Concessionaires

There is considerable evidence in the historical record that as Governor of Northern Nigeria, Girouard espoused not only humanitarian values of inter-cultural respect for the dignity of seven million Nigerians who fell under his purview, but also varying degrees of contempt towards both the Protectorate's two principal private "concessionaires", the Royal Niger Company, and John Holt & Company (Liverpool) Limited, and towards the Christian missionaries from the Sudan Interior Mission.


In a letter to his father Désiré, dated 19 June 1907, six weeks into Girouard's arrival in the country, we read of his first reception in Kano.  It contains tinges of "Social Darwinism" characteristic of Westerners during that period, attributing social superiority of the Fulani over the Hausa predicated on perceived differences of physiognomy: prejudices that elsewhere prompted the French colonial regime in Rwanda to favour the Tutsi over the Hutu, ultimately leading to the 1994 genocide:


The Emirs of Zaria and Kano came out to meet me, with a great number of horsemen and gave a really fine show.  These Hausa and their overlords the Fulani are not negroes especially the latter who are almost copper coloured and of a semitic cast of feature.  Very handsome fine race they are.  The women carrying themselves like the most stately drawing room countess.  The whole of this back country and its population of about 3,500,000 is entirely cut off from general trade with the outside world except by land to Tripoli or down to the coast.  Railways will I think make a great change not all for the better but in many ways it will destroy a population which has kept to itself for 1,000 years or more.  Bitterly fanatical and moslem not entirely uncivilized if you judge them by their agricultural progress and the trades they can work in, leather makers or tanners, curriers [horse-groomers], leather workers of boots, saddles, etc.  From smelters and casters, steel workers making all the various tools, spears, swords and knives etc. they required.  Cotton spinners and weavers making a cloth Manchester can not compete with.  Dyers in many colours.


This is not an uncivilized race but it wants careful handling and it is to be feared the influx of Europeans in numbers may upset them...  (P. Girouard, letter to Désiré Girouard, 19 June 1907, quoted in Smith 1989: 45-6).


The Canadian historian, Michael L. Smith notes that Girouard's concern with technological change wreaking adverse consequences "is reflective of the particularly paternalistic view some proconsuls would adopt with regard to 'their' people" (Smith 1989: 47).


In an address to members of the African Society in London, while on leave, 13 months into his tour of service, Girouard expressed similar concerns publicly:


I felt that the country was moving at the rate of its carriers, or three miles an hour.  This is the speed, I stated, of our transport, our officials, our mails - in fact the whole country moves at this pace; and I am not sure that, all things considered, it is not its best gait for the present.  The railways may give a high speed in communication of our own ideals to ourselves, but it would be dangerous to move the native mind at anything like express speed.  Hitherto they have moved about at anything like express speed.  Hitherto they have moved about as far as the seventh century by our reckoning - I am not sure but that some are positively antediluvian.  We cannot move them into the twentieth without such jars and collisions as may well shake their whole of their social conditions from turret to foundation.  (Girouard 1908: 335-336).


In Girouard's correspondence, Michael L. Smith found that Girouard applied the terms "fanaticism" and "tactlessness" to two Christian missionaries practicing in Northern Nigeria, Dr. Walter Miller and Bishop Tugwell, respectively (Smith 1989: 99).  Girouard's real opposition to the missionaries was their role in


...denationalizing the native and subverting the moral and cultural values of traditional society...  Personally I should like to see the missions retire entirely from the Northern States for the best missionary for the present will be the high-minded clean-living British Resident.  (P. Girouard to F. Lugard, January 25, 1908; quoted in Smith 1989: 99).


Girouard's official report for Northern Nigeria contains several of his extended, sympathetic considerations on the cultural dislocation that European mission converts encountered, and recalls his experiences in Islamic Sudan a decade earlier:


Freed Slaves' Home.  Lucy Memorial [Nassarawa Province, under construction]. The Government are making every possible assistance, and it is hoped that the opening of the home and school may be a means of getting over a very real difficulty, the disposal of freed slave children.  At present children are sent to the Freed Slaves' Home at Zungeru; the girls are taught needlework, cooking, washing, and goat management, and are given elementary schooling; and the boys are, in some cases, taught the elements of a trade by the aid of an Indian artisan, and are given elementary schooling.  At fifteen practically every native woman in Northern Nigeria seeks to marry, and failure to marry means disgrace in all eyes.  The girls brought up in the Freed Slaves' Home have acquired European household notions, and a veneer of English and Christianity.  The only Christians in the country are clerks from the coast, only too often married.  Here we are faced with a very grave problem indeed; the local missions have been appealed to, but can only take a few of these girls; others have been sent to Southern Nigeria missions, and have done well; others again have become servants to the wives of coast clerks, but there always remain a balance undisposed of.  If they had remained among their own people, and been educated in their own language or Hausa, they could readily be made wards of a native court, and eventually marry respectable natives.   (Girouard 1909: Section V (31), p. 32).


    Education in Northern Nigeria has not as yet been seriously taken up, mainly for financial reasons.  In the Mohammedan states [...] [t]eaching is limited to reading and writing in Arabic for the most advanced scholars, and for the others, to learning of verses of the Koran [...]   The attempt was made to try a Mission school in Zaria, but has proved to be a failure[...]   [F]ollowing Lord Cromer's policy for the Sudan, it appears advisable to educate Mohammedans along their own lines, and compulsory attendance at a Christian school is inconceivable, and might prove disastrous...


     In the pagan south we are dealing with a different problem, the people being almost entirely illiterate.  Here, Government has fostered schools in the Cantonments of Zungeru and Lokoja, and Missionary Societies have supplemented these by establishing schools among the pagan communities.  With regard to those schools, there has been noticed a tendency to take the natives out of their normal groove too suddenly, instead of inculcating and increasing a respect for native customs and institutions, where not at variance with higher standards of morality.  The premature teaching of English is thoroughly in keeping with this mistaken policy, and inevitably leads to utter disrespect for British and native ideals alike, and to a denationalised and disorganised population.  (Girouard 1909: Section XI (52), p. 70).


Applying his administrative experience in the Sudan, Girouard brought with him to Nigeria a French version of the Moukhtasar, a well-known treatise on Islamic jurisprudence from the North African Maleki sect.  Deeply impressed by the Nigerian alkalis' (Islamic scholars) knowledge of them, he translated portions of the texts into English for the benefit of his Residents, in the belief that although Muslim law did not require incorporation into the statutes of Northern Nigeria, the government officials needed a clear guide to indigenous jurisprudence, especially where it concerned land and taxation (Smith 1989: 82).


Girouard's antipathy towards the Christian Missionary Society's proselytisation zeal manifests also in his response to allegations of coercion and various abuses of Nigerians working on the rail gangs.



Human Rights Abuses, the Use of Forced "Political" Labour

The Jamaican-born M.G. Smith's history of five centuries of the Hausa Kingdom in Kano states that Girouard's administration of the Baro-Kano railway construction, leading to its completion in 1911, was accomplished "largely by means of forced labour, and thereafter trade between Kano, Southern Nigeria and Britain accelerated" although he does not elaborate on the specifics of the how such labour was forced (M.G. Smith 1977: 425).


Michael L. Smith's 1989 M.A. thesis on Girouard concluded that there is substantial evidence to support M.G. Smith's claim, including research performed by Concordia University (Canada) historian Michael Mason at the National Archives in Kaduna, Nigeria during the 1970s:


The Colonial Office tried to keep track of possible offensive practices in British Africa.  In response to a circular dispatch enquiring about compulsory labour in Northern Nigeria, Girouard was able to respond in June 1907 that it was only permitted for purposes specified in the Roads Proclamation of 1903, that is, solely for road making, and never for more than six days a quarter.  He also pointed out that labour was recruited through the local chiefs and thus there was no movement of labour outside the villages from which it was drawn.  (Smith 1989: 59-60).


Smith cites an editorial from a Lagos newspaper hinting that deviations from the letter of the law did indeed occur:


It is this misconception and misconstruing of the native system of free labour by the European official which is responsible for all the trouble.  (Lagos Weekly Record, 14 March 1908; quoted in Smith 1989: 60).


At least, for the first months of construction, beginning among the Nupe around Baro in early 1908, indigenous labourers were procured without any apparent opposition, owing to the British having reconstituted hierarchies of power with the Emirs and the police force earlier in the decade (Smith 1978: 67).


Since the raising of a large labour force for the railway was dependent on the efforts of the chiefs and village headmen, Girouard made a special effort to cultivate their support with the start of construction in September [1907].  For the first year of the project most of the labour was Nupe, largely from the emirates of Agaie and Lagai, and the system, with the cooperation of the Emirs involved, worked smoothly.  By the middle of 1908 the line passed into the territory of the Gwaris and the recruitment of labour became a more serious problem.  It highlights one of the failings of the system of Indirect Rule.  The Gwari people did not have the clearly recognizable hierarchical structure of the Nupe that the British could manipulate into cooperation.  As resistance to recruitment increased, compulsion became more obvious and abuses more flagrant.  Charges by missionaries were generally dismissed until they were raised by the Right Reverend Bishop Tugwell in September of 1909 [Girouard had vacated his post in April 1909].  A commission of enquiry was held by Acting Governor Wallace which, not surprisingly, failed to substantiate the abuses alleged by Tugwell, but clearly the system of recruiting labour for the Baro-Kano railway had become increasingly brutal and coercive.  (Smith 1989: 59-62; emphasis added).


Michael Mason fills in the details that Smith has summarised above, and more.  Simultaneous to the Baro-Kano railway construction was the extension of the southern Nigerian railway from Ilorin up to Jebba on the southern bank of the Niger River, then through Niger Province, eventually connecting with the Baro-Kano line at Minna.  In the Annual Report for 1908, the Resident of Niger Province cites "the splendid service" of three political officers, including one Mr. Vanrenen, "for the difficult task of organizing the Gwari labour, and in gaining the confidence of native tribes which have barely been a year under control" (National Archives, Kaduna; cited in Mason 1978: 76, n.10). 


However, the June 1909 Semi-annual report for Niger Province points to the "lamentable spirit of discontrol among the Gwaris", and this same British Lieutenant D.A. Vanrenen, along with 11 African policemen were ambushed, shot and killed near the village of Gussoro, Kuta Division, a two-day march from Zungeru, on May 6, 1909, just one month following Girouard's retirement from the country.  This incident was described as "one of the most vigorous attempts at resistance to Colonial rule to succeed the Satiru and Hadejia rebellions of 1906" (Mason 1978: 68).  A heavily-armed colonial force retaliated, killing between 75 to 200 villagers; Orr, the province's Resident, sentenced seven Gwari men to hanging, however the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment (Mason 1978: 69).  A week following the ambush, Girouard is quoted in The Times, allaying any paranoia-mongering and seemingly invoking the late twentieth-century Washington Consensus remedies of liberalisation and globalisation:


Wherever I went I was struck by the people... There is now very little hindrance to caravans even among the pagan tribes.  I found no sign of the truculent attitude which formerly characterized some of the people.  Last week's unfortunate affair at Gussoro, when Mr. Vanrenen's party was ambushed, is one of those unhappy incidents which must arise in dealings with raw pagans of whom the Guari population is composed.  But there need not be the slightest fear that this will lead to further trouble.  Out of a total area of 250,000 square miles only a few thousand remain to be brought under administrative control... This is being done in such a way as to render hostilities unnecessary.  In the case of the pagans we seek to introduce better government and peace by establishing markets and getting them into touch with the outside world.  (The Times, Saturday, May 15, 1909, p. 7).


Mason's research suggests it was rather the British who were out of touch with their Nigerian labourers.  During the 1909 planting season, Lagai and Agaie conscripts at Baro were not permitted to return home to their fields, and further north, the Koros of Kuta Division "deserted en masse to their homes at the beginning of the rains and refused either to turn out for work or to pay the tribute due for the previous year... " (Mason 1978: 68).


Along the Lagos Extension from Jebba to Zungeru-Minna, the Resident of Nupe Province reported to the High Commissioner "that some of the workers had been beaten by the contractors," i.e., the British had hired Yoruba sub-contractors to recruit earthworks labourers from among the Nupe.  The Resident's catalogue of complaints mentioned also the Nupe railway gangs as being required to work from dawn to dusk with two half-hour meal breaks for up to four weeks' period, being compensated 8/6d.; others received only 1/- for one week's work (Mason 1978: 62).  The four-week labourer thus received the equivalent of 2/2d. (one-tenth of a pound sterling) per week, compared to Girouard's personal annual salary of £4,000, or £80/week, Girouard earning 800 times more than the unskilled local labourer.


Mason records two C.M.S. missionaries who expressed moral outrage over the mistreatment of Nigerian railway labourers.  The Superintendant in Mokwa District, through which the Lagos Extension was being constructed, Rev. J.D. Aitken, "moved by the palpable horrors of railway building [...] wrote the Resident at Bida a number of letters condemning both the European supervisors and the African labor recruiters for extortion and exploitation of various sorts [...] and claimed that 'harsh and unjust treatment was being meted out to the chiefs in connection with the provision of labour for the railway' [...] [T]he High Commissioner had been consulted and [...] the Reverend recanted in the most enigmatic terms and was immediately transferred out of Northern Nigeria" (Mason 1978: 64).  Reverend Aitken's statement read "Dear Sir, I am a cad and behave like a cad.  I am very sorry and wish to withdraw all I have written" (CMS minutes, February 1909, quoted in Mason 1978: 76, n.19).  Despite such a retraction, Mason notes that "[n]either [Aitken] nor anyone else actually suggested that his accusations were without basis" (Mason 1978: 76), and that the British "political officer in charge of the area in question... admitted that the African agents were exploiting the laborers" (Mason 1978: 64, emphasis added).  Further, Rev. Aitken's claims were "investigated by a spy paid on the Secret Service account.  At least one malefactor was arrested and sentenced to prison, probably no less than the brother of the Emir of Bida" (CMS, March 8, 1910, Tugwell to Baylis; quoted in Mason 1978: 64).


The Right Reverend Bishop Tugwell's observations of Nigerian railway labourers' conditions were treated more seriously, yet, as Smith has concluded, very little attempt was made at amelioration.  In September 1909, Tugwell described, to Acting High Commissioner Sir William Wallace, conditions of workers at the Baro port as "difficult to distinguish [...] from slavery" given that "the men do not volunteer their services but are forced to render service [...] [A]lthough they are nominally paid six pence a day, they do not actually receive this amount.  A large part of the earnings do go to the men who drive them to their work".  He spoke of men who worked nine to ten hours per day, sometimes carrying heavy rails through deep mud without a break, and "whilst carrying these heavy loads, if a man slacks or slips he is most cruelly beaten by those who are his overseers.  Whilst if a man escapes from Baro and runs to his village he is sent back by his overlord, possibly after further beating."  Wallace ordered an inquiry, chaired by Herbert Goldsmith, the Niger Province Resident, and constituted of European administrators and the Emirs' representatives from Lapai, Agaie and Bida.  While the inquiry found no evidence for the use of physical force or coercion, nor any serious accidents reported to the senior medical officer, there was the admission that "a certain amount of ill-treatment of labour is bound to occur at times".  And, despite the inquiry concluding that the men in fact received 9d per day, and that there were no "escapes" from work as each was employed only for three to four weeks, Tugwell privately responded to Wallace, reasserting that it was cruel to employ unskilled labour to unload iron rails and iron sleepers and that eight hours in tropical conditions was excessive to employ men who were ill-fed, ill-clad, and unused to strenuous and continuous exertion (Mason 1978: 65).


Against this mass of implicating evidence, it should be said that Girouard did travel 1,000 miles up the Benue River in August 1908 in order to reprimand some of his district officers for carrying out punitive expeditions against the indigenes (Smith 1989: 135).



Girouard's Land Reforms Ostensibly In Favour of the Colonised

Many accounts cite Girouard's work in Nigeria on land tenure as second in importance only to the railway construction.  We appear on the surface to find a man who could easily fit into the pro-global-justice, anti-corporatist mindset of a twenty-first century humanitarian.


Girouard opposed what he regarded as his predecessor Lugard's intentions to compensate the Fulani ruling class for the losses they suffered under the freeing of slaves.  Influenced by his reading of land tenure analyses in India, Girouard contended that by compensating the Fulani with land, their absolute control of land would create a landlord class among the Fulani aristocracy, coupled with a non-Fulani peasant class (Smith 1989: 76).


In the summer of 1908, while on leave in England, Girouard convened meetings of the Northern Nigeria Lands Committee, accompanied by his senior Residents Orr and Temple.  According to historian Michael L. Smith, Girouard and his committee members were adamant in preventing the emergence of a landlord class, speculators, or "the possible influx of the [European] concessionaire in natural products and the land grabber", and the most important outcome of those meetings was the acknowledgement that English concepts of private land ownership should not hold in the Protectorate.  Nevertheless, Girouard's concerns appear to have been not entirely humanitarian, as the Jangali, or cattle tax, at 0/6d per acre on over 3,000,000 acres was steadily increasing, contributing potentially £140,000,000 to the Protectorate's revenue (Smith 1989: 83-86).


Based on his past work in North and South Africa, it is evident from Girouard's correspondence that he was quite concerned with the potential disruption that European traders and future European colonists could inflict on the precarious social balance sheet.  In a letter to Lugard 28 April 1909, Girouard remarked that the Niger Company's refusal to appear at meetings of the Lands Committee in London, together with the company's letter "expressing their deep concern for the rights of the natives" was "most amusing when one thinks of their fighting against reasonable compensation to the Hill Tribes of Bauchi for surface rights" (Smith 1989: 71).  Further, of the evidence given by John Holt and Company (Liverpool) Limited, "practically amounted to 'do not forget the poor unprotected native, but at the same time remember John Holt must have what he wants'" (Smith 1989: 72).


Girouard also feared for his railway's potential deleterious impact on the indigenous citizens' welfare, and the fledgling stability of a territory in "almost complete pacification" (Girouard 1909: 5):


The construction of railways will very probably result in a large access to the white population, and a probable demand for land for plantation purposes.  Should such a demand arise before the determination of land tenure, injustice to the present holders of the land might ensue, tending to unsettle the country and shake the faith in our rule now becoming firmly established.  (Cd. 5103, Northern Nigeria Lands Committee, 1910; quoted in Smith 1989: 73).


Another Canadian historian, Robert W. Shenton notes that Girouard cited the precedent of Baden Powell's 1876 Land Act of Burma in formulating his reform proposals for Northern Nigeria, however Girouard erased clear distinctions between the Burmese legislation's "permanently occupied lands" and unoccupied lands, effectively rendering all land public.  According to Shenton, "in his utilization of the Lower Burma example as precedent for Northern Nigeria, Girouard had nary a leg to stand on, except that of his own dubious construction" (Shenton 1986: 40).  The Lands Committee that convened in England had no representation whatsoever from indigenous Nigerians, and their conclusions would have effectively given no legal right for existing land occupiers to sell or mortgage their property privately, requiring instead that it be sold to the Government.  Further, representatives from the Niger Company commented that "the socialistic principles of the Land Committee will prove to be utopian and unworkable in practice" (Shenton 1986: 43-44).  In sum, "although couched in humanitarian terminology and implemented under the pretext of saving Northern Nigeria's agricultural producers from the fate of expropriation and landlessness [it] was in fact an action in the interest of capital as a whole..." (Shenton 1986: 46).


Girouard's land reform work, leading ultimately after his departure to The Land and Native Rights Proclamation, 1910, would have ostensibly barred European settlement, retaining land ownership with the existing slaver-owner aristocracy, and introduced a single "economic rent" or "single tax" on all citizens.  Lovejoy and Hogendorn have recently re-examined these conclusions, arguing that the key alterations of Lugard's policy were largely semantic, inconsequential, and ultimately overturned:


Girouard's inquiries, the Lands Committee hearings, and the 1910 proclamation were part of a carefully stated attempt to impose a theory of colonialism for Northern Nigeria that derived from the writings of the American economist Henry George (Lovejoy and Hogendorn 1993: 145).


The proclamation undoubtedly tried to limit the ability of slaves to leave their masters [...]   Thus did Girouard attempt to implement a system that, under different circumstances and thousands of miles away, would be called "exclusionary zoning," or earlier and more pithily, "Jim Crow Laws."  Land policy would continue to be a pillar of the British campaign to keep slaves in place.  (Lovejoy and Hogendorn 1993: 148).


Girouard had very little impact on slavery policy or land policy, though it appeared to some scholars and administrators of the time that Girouard imposed his ideological commitment to a policy of economic rent on land  (Lovejoy and Hogendorn 1993: 149).


The review of land tenure between 1908-1910 may appear to have been objective, but Girouard's intention was to introduce radical changes that would have resulted in the confiscation of Caliphate land if fully implemented.  Such a course would have obstructed Lugard's vision of how slavery was to be transformed, because it might well have alienated the existing landlord class (Lovejoy and Hogendorn 1993: 151).


The 1910 proclamation of the single-taxers had been a dead letter from its inception.  The Land and Native Rights Ordinance February 25, 1916, reaffirmed Lugard's policies under which the state claimed "no rights to land in actual occupation".  Lugard specifically rejected Girouard's intention of calculating economic rent on land; by contrast, the taxation in Lugard's Revenue Ordinance of 1916 was "an income tax" pure and simple. (Lovejoy and Hogendorn 1993: 154).



Assessments of Girouard's Character

Writing to his father three months into his two-year term in Nigeria, Girouard expresses not only enthusiasm and glee for his position but also a contempt for "the red tape of 'proper channels" that historian Kirk-Greene sees as his Achilles' Heel, leading to the end of Girouard's colonial career just five years later in Kenya (Kirk-Greene 1984: 214):


I love the country and its problems and believe in it and its future greatness. There is no part of the empire I would sooner be in and excepting the hold of the Secretary of State, I am a little independent King [...]   (P. Girouard to Désiré Girouard, 22 July 1907; quoted in Smith 1989: 54).


Michael L. Smith, the biographer who has examined in the greatest depth Girouard's career in Nigeria and Kenya, sums up his subject as follows:


Girouard's life was a contrast of brilliant success and tarnished failures. (Smith 1989: 2).


Girouard's private life was marred by controversy.  His wedding to Gwendolen Solomon, the only child of Sir Richard Solomon, was described in South Africa as "the prettiest and most interesting wedding that has taken place since the Transvaal became British territory"...  This marriage bound him to one of the most important families in South Africa but the relationship disintegrated eight years later in Kenya and the details of the divorce, on the grounds of Sir Percy's statutory desertion and adultery, were reported by The Times of London in 1914. (Smith 1989: 4).

Girouard was a complex individual.  He acted quickly and decisively and did not always ask permission.  Girouard was an outsider in the Colonial Service.  He lacked the standard social, educational, religious and ethnic background of most of his fellow Governors.  Yet he believed strongly in the British Imperial Mission, and in a way, he had as a Canadian, a more important stake in the Empire than his fellow Proconsuls who were all English.  True, he did not have the concern that they did in the processes of Empire, in keeping on the right side of the bureaucracy, and unlike many of his contemporaries he did not have any great fascination with protecting his place in the history of the Imperial Mission.  This aspect of his personality, while perhaps endearing, may account for the fact that he sank without a trace when he resigned from public office.  (Smith 1989: 165).


Smith correlates Girouard's loyalty to British imperialism with his upbringing as a minority culture and language within Canada :


He frequently maintained in his public utterances that he never forgot his roots in Quebec, and this Colonial perspective would influence his Imperial outlook as well.  [Girouard quoted in The Times, 11 June 1915, addressing munitions workers]:  "I stand as a British subject and a French-Canadian...  We have enjoyed under the British flag the Roman Catholic religion, the French language, the old Napoleonic and pre-Napoleonic law without hindrance and with great tolerance.  Is it any wonder that French-Canadians feel what it would mean to them if anything occurred to upset the equilibrium of the Empire?"  (Smith 1989: 7).


Canadian labour historian Michael Mason locates Girouard's place within the colonial machinery more severely:


[Lugard's] successor, Girouard, a willing convert to the dream world of colonial absolutism, carried the fantasy of an Islamic camelot a step further by arguing for the exclusion, especially in the Hausa emirates, of not only southern Nigerians, but of European missionaries as well.  In his view, "the best missionary for the present will be the high minded clean living British Resident". (Girouard, correspondence, Rhodes House, Oxford, MSS British Empire, S.63; quoted in Mason 1978: 59).



Girouard expelled the C.M.S. missionaries from Kano and Zaria, and again comes under particularly harsh criticism by Mason:

Lugard's successor, Sir Percy Girouard, another paladin in the crusade to preserve the pre-capitalist world, was of the opinion that the presence of the missionaries in Northern Nigeria constituted "a menace to the peace of the country."  (Mason 1993: 205).

Contemporaries of Girouard were generally kinder in their assessments.  Captain C.W.J. Orr, a long-time Senior Resident in Zaria Province and later Governor of the Bahamas, paid a fine tribute to Governor Girouard in his memoir, noting that Girouard was "personally superintending the preliminary operations" of the railway survey crew (Orr 1911: 186), and, learning that the Emirs were in favour of the introduction of secular education:


...on his arrival in the Protectorate in 1907, took the matter up warmly, and in the following year one of the political officers was appointed Director of Education, with instruction to prepare a scheme for a regular system of education, much on the lines adapted by Lord Cromer for the Egyptian Soudan... Schools were started in Kano in September 1909. (Orr 1911: 267).  


A CMS missionary, Hans Vischer left the mission to become a political officer under the British colonial government, and following Girouard's recommendations, it was Vischer who became the first Director of Education of the Northern Provinces, opening two schools in Kano (Barnes 1995).  In 1909, the first Government Schools were opened, in Kano near to the Provincial Office, and at the Emir's summer palace in Nassarawa; they were designed to cater for the sons of Fulani aristocrats, and instruction was given in Hausa, using Roman script, and in mathematics (M.G. Smith 1997: 425).  


Orr has additional praise for his superior:


[B]esides these various problems there many other questions to which the new High Commissioner gave his careful consideration, and in doing so displayed an energy and zeal as whole-hearted as that of his predecessor [Lugard]. (Orr 1911:191).  


[Girouard's] great ability which he had brought to bear on the many problems in which the Protectorate was involved and his sympathetic understanding of them, had rendered his two years of administration conspicuous for the high level of progress which he had maintained, and his loss was keenly felt by those who served under him (Orr 1911: 192).


Girouard was in his element as a hands-on, in-the-field administrator, and his comradery with his subordinates clearly endeared him to them.  "Much of Girouard's success [lay in] his excellent custom of living in a Mess with his small staff so that he was always accessible to information and the opinions of everybody he met [...] many of his ideas were novel and, to a colonial staff, radical.  He proceeded in his own way, ignoring precedent", according to Sir John Eaglesome, his director of public works in Nigeria (Kirk-Greene 1984: 222; Smith 1989: 55).


The Canadian-born Transport Officer, Arthur Leith-Ross recorded in a letter to his wife an incident testifying to Girouard's ever-cheery disposition under trying circumstances, while returning from his first trek to Kano: 


"... a tornado without rain.  It came up without warning and with disastrous results as we were on loose and dusty ground.  We had a dirty time of it.  H.E.'s [His Excellency, Sir Percy Girouard's] tent was blown down on top of him just as he was going to take a bath[...]  H.E. took it in good part and as nothing could be done with his tent, he helped to ram down the pegs of mine."  (from Arthur Leith-Ross, letter to his wife Sylvia, 8 May 1907;  quoted in Leith-Ross 1983: 54-55).


The fiscal restraint of reserving an inordinate proportion of the Protectorate's budget to security enforcement frustrated Giouard's can-do technocratic penchant, but he took it with some measure of equanimity:


The limitation in expenditure for Northern Nigeria, and the necessity of devoting quite 30 per cent. of its total to military requirements, has seriously retarded the progress of the country.  On the other hand, this retardation has allowed of our securing a knowledge of the peoples and the co-operation of native rulers, and has been of marked advantage. (Girouard 1909: Section 43, p. 61). 


Two "appreciation" notices appeared in The Times following his death in 1932.  Brigadier-General R.B.D. Blakeney wrote:


Girouard's most striking gift was flair.  When confronted by a difficult and complicated situation he was in his element.  His vision took in the issues as if viewing a landscape, and he would point out a path of safety which might, and often did, take years to traverse. (The Times, September 30, 1932, p. 7).


Sylvia Leith-Ross, one of only three European women living in the Northern Nigeria protectorate during Girouard's governorship recalls a photograph of Sir Percy with the Governor of Togoland in which "in a Homburg hat and white trousers, he looks as if he had just walked out of the casino at Deauville" (Leith-Ross 1983: 56). 


A colleague of Girouard's in Nigeria wrote of their arrival in Lokoja in 1907:


I shall never forget the scene in some tiny school house.  Sir Percy, in full uniform, with his A.D.C., a Nigerian official, to administer the oath, and a few native youths as spectators.  I was the only European spectator.  Sir Percy had to consult me as to which way went the hilt of a Court sword.   (The Times, September 30, 1932, p. 7).




The Impact of Girouard's Policies in Nigeria

On the eve of Nigerian independence in 1960, Canada's National Film Board released an hour-long documentary entitled Nigeria: Giant of Africa, in which the script by Ronald Dick rather overgenerously claims that Nigeria's "railway system that reached all the way to ancient Kano [was] largely the work of a Canadian engineer, Sir Percy Girouard" (Dick 1960). A terse, 157-word entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia by Parks Canada historian Richard Stuart, claims without qualification that "[i]n Nigeria, the effects of his policies created a major impediment to Nigerian unity".  In fact, the impact of Girouard's railway was not at all what his prejudices would predicted, nor what the Colonial Office was hoping.  It was the groundnut that became the most profitable export from the Protectorate, rising exponentially from 6,000 tonnes in 1912 to 211,000 tonnes in the 1930s, and, together with Senegal, comprising three-quarters of world groundnut production in the 1950s (Isichei 1983: 420). 



Groundnuts surpassed cotton exports spectacularly

At a final cost of £3,915 per mile, the 356-mile Baro-Kano railway represented a £1.4 million infrastructural investment by the British, and this amount was recovered entirely during the five years between the time the railway officially opened in April 1912 until the end of 1916, through exports of UK Pounds £610,000 of raw cotton (10 kilotonnes) and £900,000 of groundnuts (96 kilotonnes).  Expressed as a percentage of Northern and Southern Nigeria's combined exports, groundnuts' share rose twentyfold between 1905 and 1921, first by a factor of ten from 0.3% to 3.5% in the four years immediately following the opening of Girouard's railway (1913-1916), and then by a factor of two in the six years hence, to 7.0%.  By comparison, cotton exports rose less than two-fold (63%) over the same 16-year period, from 1.6% to 2.6% (Nigerian Handbook 1925: 247-253).  Considering data only for Northern Nigeria, export quantities of groundnuts rose fifty-one-fold and cotton ten-fold between 1912 and 1925 (Lovejoy and Hogendorn 1993: 227-228).  Nigerian cotton exports peaked around 1957, achieving 5.8% of the nation's total exports, compared to 19.9% for groundnuts, and 19.7% for cocoa beans in the same year (UN 1959: 170).



Groundnuts, exports

Cotton lint, total exports


Quantity, tons

Value, £

£ per ton

% of total exports

Quantity, tons

Value, £

£ per ton

% of total exports






































(1) Exports Source (1900-1924): Nigeria. Chief Secretary's Office. (1925)   The Nigeria handbook containing statistical and general information respecting the colony and protectorate.  Lagos, Printed by the government printer, p. 247 (total exports), 252 (cotton), 253 (groundnuts).


Recalling that Girouard was recommended by Churchill as Northern Nigeria's Governor in order to achieve a transport infrastructure to placate British cotton magnates' desire for a cheap, reliable source of raw cotton, what accounts for the comparatively dismal failure of cotton exports relative to groundnuts' spectacular growth?   This paradox has been the subject of at least two detailed studies.  Between 1900 and 1923, 100% of Nigerian cotton exports went to the U.K.   However, for groundnuts, this was true only up to 1907; thereafter, the ratio fell to 89% in 1910 (£7,700 out of £8,700); to 90% in 1920  (£1.009 mill. out of £1.120 mill.); and to 18% in 1930 (£383,000 out of £2.116 mill.) (Nigerian Handbook 1925: 247-253).


The British handed the Northern Nigeria governorship over to our man from Canada, Percy Girouard in order to literally lay the groundwork for a natural resource export economy, and it worked, although not quite how the British intended.  Textile industrialists' hopes in the English Midlands for an inexpensive supply of Nigerian raw cotton for their looms were derailed by the shrewd business acumen of Hausa commodity merchants, something which the colonial administrators clearly unanticipated.  In the mid-1990s, in response to the UK's Body Shop plan for shea butter-based cosmetics that were socially responsible, Ghanaian peasant farmers exponentially boosted their cultivation of shea trees to supply shea nuts far in excess of the Body Shop's requirements.  And similarly back in the 1910s, rather than bales of cotton lint, the Hausa merchants flooded the warehouses and environs of southbound railway cars in Kano with huge pyramids of groundnuts, because their long-established regional communications network in West Africa quickly established that groundnuts were far more profitable than cotton (Hogendorn 1978).


Shenton compared fluctuations in Northern Nigerian groundnut exports across the first two decades after the protectorate's railway began operation.  In densely-populated Kano Province, where cotton and spinning industries were already well-established, any increases in cotton production were first absorbed into the local economy, and thus "local cloth could be more cheaply put on the local market; therefore local weavers could consistently outbid Lancashire for the Northern Nigerian cotton market" (Shenton 1986: 67).  With regard to the groundnut, Shenton writes: "The opening of the Kano rail line on 1 April 1912 cemented a link between the social formation of Northern Nigeria and the international system of capitalist relations of production and exchange which remains unbroken to the present day[...]  It was the last necessary link in the chain of conquest, occupation, and taxation which was to bind Northern Nigeria to the international economy.  It was the final precondition of capitalist development, the course of which was to join the fortunes of millions of Northern Nigerian agricultural producers to the international market for one agricultural product - the groundnut - the price of which would be beyond their control" (Shenton 1986: 74).  Shenton chronicles a cyclical boom-bust pattern of Kano groundnut prices, from £10 per ton in 1913 and 1916, £5 per ton in 1915 and 1920, gradually up to £20-25 per ton in the late 1920s. 


These fluctuations were paralleled by Liverpool groundnut prices approximately two-thirds more, to double the Kano prices, and were due to several factors, including competition with butter, competition among various European and Middle Eastern buyers.  European demand for groundnuts derived from the working class's preferences for consuming margarine manufactured from oilseeds only when the price was lower than butter.  European merchant firms from Holland, Britain and Germany established themselves in Kano and grew from eight in 1912 to fifteen in 1915, however Syrian middlemen such as Saul Raccah competed with these firms, driving down the prices.  In 1929, the British firm of Lever Brothers merged the African and Eastern Trade Corporation with the Niger Company to firm the United Africa Company subsidiary, which established trading posts throughout the hinterland to compete with the Syrian and native Nigerian merchants.  Cultivation areas were extended to offset falls in prices (from 19 kilotonnes exported in 1913 to 132 kilotonnes in 1925, and 326 kilotonnes in 1937), while other sources of margarine oils, such as whale further squeezed groundnut prices (Shenton 1986: 75-91).


Kano Province's indigenous groundnut economy was well advanced even before the advent of the Europeans, with interplanting of nitrogen-fixing crops with groundnuts to ensure good yields, the use of groundnut oil for lamps, and the tops of groundnut plants used as animal fodder.  Hogendorn's detailed study of the Kano groundnut export economy concludes that the growth in groundnut exports "has tended to even the distribution of income between families in Northern Nigeria, making cash income much more widely available and allowing access on a very large scale to improved and locally-made consumer goods" (Hogendorn 1978: 146).  Lovejoy writes that "almost no one in the colonial government and expatriate firms who should have been in a position to predict the remarkable growth in trade expected such spectacular developments, which overnight transformed the economy of Kano region into an export-oriented enclave[...] While Europeans were influenced by their own cultural arrogance, and sense of political power, the indigenous population responded as true economic men faced with market demand for their produce [...]  Groundnuts provided the cash earnings which paid for the railroad and European dictatorship.  Ultimately, producers were at the mercy of the capitalist world economy; there is little solace in the psychological victory of Hausa farmers in the 1912-1914 period when these same farmers lost in the long run" (Lovejoy 1981: 380; emphasis added).


With the perspective of one hundred years, we can review Northern Nigeria's two principal agricultural exports, cotton and groundnuts, as shares of the international cash crop export trade.



Total Production

1934-38 Average




% total


% total


% total

Cotton lint
















(included in India)






















































































Total Exports

1934-38 Average




% total


% total


% total

Cotton lint
















(included in India)




























































































(1) Production data, 1960-2001 (thousands, metric tonnes) FAOSTAT. Production. Core Production Data. Accessed 26 March 2007.           

(2) Export data, 1960-2001 (thousands, metric tonnes) FAOSTAT. TradeSTAT. Detailed Trade Data. Accessed 26 March 2007.

(3) Export data, 1934-1960 (Nigeria, World). FAO Yearbook, various years.

(4) Export data, 1934-1960, U.S.A.: Historical Statistics of the United States. Part E - Governance and International Relations > Chapter Ee - International Trade and Exchange. Rates > Table Group Ee362-611 - Exports and Imports.



If Nigeria had managed to maintain its global export dominance in groundnuts to the present day, how much wealthier would the nation be?  In 2001, world exports of groundnuts, shelled or in the shell, amounted to US $784 million, on top of which one are exports of groundnut oil, $192 m., and groundnut cake and meal (for livestock feed), $42 m (FAO Trade Yearbook, 2003).  In 1960, Nigeria's groundnut exports attained their peak of around 15% of the global supply, and so today Nigeria could be receiving an additional $150 m. in export revenues had it held on to its position.  However, that is only about 0.2% of Nigeria's gross domestic product in 2005, $98.6 billion (International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, April 2007). 



The global cotton export market was $6.6 billion in 2005, and Nigeria's peak exports came around 1961, attaining barely 1.5% of world export quantities (FAO).


Note: Nigeria's cotton production has never exceeded 0.7% of global production, therefore is not visible on the graph above.


With respect to cotton, the United States maintained its topmost exporter ranking throughout the twentieth century, according to Food and Agricultural Organization trade data, and it appears likely to retain it by a wide margin into this century.  In all likelihood, it has dominated the global economy for this commodity since the late 18th century; in 1850, the US exported 288 thousand metric tons of cotton (Mitchell 1998b: 292-297), compared to Egypt's 16 thousand and India's 102 thousand (Mitchell 1998a: 334-336). In 2005, the U.S. reëstablished a 42% global share, similar to that in the 1930s, just slightly lower than its peak share of 44.7% in 1961.  From the 1930s to 2001, the entire African continent's share of cotton exports has fluctuated between 13% and 26%, and at 16.4% of the global market in 2005.  In 2005, the largest cotton exporters after the United States were Australia and India, with 7.4% of global exports apiece, and then Uzbekistan (6.8%), Brazil (4.8%), Greece (2.9%) and three West African nations, Burkina Faso (2.4%), Mali (2.2%) and Benin (2.0%).  Had Nigeria paralleled the cotton export performance of its sister nations Benin and Burkina Faso, its current export earnings would be elevated by about $470 million, or about 0.5% of its GNP in 2005; in 2004, Burkina Faso's cotton exports were valued at $264m. while Benin's were $205m.  Even if Nigeria had simply maintained its 1.5% peak market share of 1961, the country would be earning an additional $98 million in export revenue in 2001.  This would represent an additional 0.1% of its GNP in 2005.


Note: Nigeria's cotton exports have never exceeded 1.5% of global production, and are therefore not visible on the graph above.



The stark irony of America's two-century-long dominance of the world cotton export economy is that it historically rests on the labour of African slaves working on large cotton plantations, where some 600,000 African-Americans were employed by white planters in the Deep South in 1830 (Sisson, 1997).  In the mid- to late-nineteenth-century, the majority of African slave labour was obtained from the Bight of Benin, i.e. the territory now occupied by Nigeria.  At its peak around 1850, approximately 100,000 slaves were shipped annually from this region to the New World, close to 1% of the total population of 10 million (Harris 2001: 2:125, 1:282).


A similar production/export assymetry exists for world cassava crops, although Nigeria could also be praised for its self-sufficiency in this regard.  Since the 1990s, Nigeria has been the world's largest producer of this tropical food staple, yet nearly 100% of the country's production is directed towards domestic consumption.  In 2005, Nigeria produced 41.6 million metric tons of cassava, far ahead of second-place Brazil (25.7 m. tons), third-place Indonesia (19.5 m. tons) and fourth-place Thailand (15.8 m. tons).  But in terms of export quantities, Thailand ranks first (4.4 m. tons), followed by Viet Nam (0.81 m. tons), Indonesia (0.30 m. tons) and Costa Rica (82,000 tons).  Nigeria exported only 0.001% of its dried cassava and cassava starch in 2005, only 205 tons according to the FAO trade statistics.  Asian and Latin American countries, but also non-producing re-exporters including Canada accounted for 99% of the $683 million in exports in 2005.


CASSAVA Ranking, 2005


Cassava Production quantity, metric tons

% of global production

Cassava Export quantity,
metric tons

% of global exports

% exports out of total production

















































Congo, Dem Republic of
































Tanzania, United Rep of
















Viet Nam







































FAO FAOStat / Production / ProdSTAT / crops

FAO FAOStat / Trade / TradeSTAT / Detailed Trade data

(Cassava Starch and Dried Cassava Export values combined)





Total Cassava Export value, 2005 (US $)

Percentage of Global export value


Export ranking, 2005









Costa Rica




































United States of America





Antigua and Barbuda












Fiji Islands







FAO FAOStat / Trade / TradeSTAT / Detailed Trade data

(Cassava Starch and Dried Cassava Export values combined)



After Côte d'Ivoire and Indonesia, Nigeria ranked third in terms of cocoa bean production in 2001, 340,000 metric tons, or 11.3% of global production, while in the same year it ranked fourth after those two countries and Ghana in cocoa bean exports, 175,000 metric tons, or 7.8% of global exports (FAO Yearbook, 2002).



Other impacts of Girouardian policies on Nigeria


During the last decade Girouard's policies on land ownership in Northern Nigeria received detailed analysis by the prominent historian of African slavery, Paul E. Lovejoy (York University, Canada) and Jan S. Hogendorn.  They concluded that Girouard's policies carried no significant impact, and in fact were reversed by Lord Lugard upon his return to Nigeria in 1912:


Girouard's attempt to change the system to an explicit land tax equivalent to the economic rent under the theories of Henry George was no more successful than Lugard's approach had been.  His reform proved very difficult to implement, just as his predecessor's was, because limited manpower made it impossible to survey and map the taxable lands and assess them adequately [...]   The American invasion of Northern Nigeria through the ideas of Henry George was thus thwarted by the realities of Caliphate political economy and the stinginess of British colonial rule (Lovejoy and Hogendorn 1993: 187).



There was however a silver humanitarian lining within the newly-completed railroad to Kano, indirectly accelerating the abolition of slavery:


The coming of the railway [...] meant that thousands of slaves who had undertaken dry-season porterage could now be dispensed with [...]   Even this decline of slaves' ability to earn income from porterage can then be viewed as promoting the prospect of their emancipation. (Lovejoy and Hogendorn 1993: 228).

The increasing opportunities for the slaves to earn cash income that were available from 1912 were instrumental in easing the transition from slavery to freedom [...]  True, most did not escape poverty, and many of their descendants are poor today.  But in large measure they did become free. (Lovejoy and Hogendorn 1993: 233; emphasis added).


And more immediately, in 1914, two years following the official opening of Northern Nigeria's railway, rainfall at 13 inches was only half the normal annual 25 inches in Kano; the second-worst recorded drought was to come in 1949, 16 inches (Lovejoy and Hogendorn 1993: 225).  The drought induced a famine resulting in thirty thousand fatalities, or approximately one per cent of Kano Province's densely-populated three million citizens.  Fortunately, the new rail line facilitated the delivery of humanitarian food relief, transported rapidly and in large quantities up from southern Nigeria (Smith, M.G. 1997: 432).


In honour of Girouard becoming the first graduate to receive a knighthood, Canada's Royal Military College in 1976 dedicated a new structure for the Departments of Mathematics, Political Science and  Economics as the Girouard Building.  An official photograph of Girouard taken when he was about 50 is in the Royal Military College library.


Girouard and the Canadians in his employ were neither the first nor last Maple Leaf influence on Nigerian railway infrastructure.  When next you're waiting for a train to pass at a level road crossing in Nigeria, check the name imprinted on the freight cars' undercarriages: if it reads "Hawker Siddeley", then those tank cars or hopper cars were likely manufactured by Hawker Siddeley Canada's TrentonWorks plant in Trenton, Nova Scotia during the 1960s or 1970s.


In the early twenty-first century, Canada's contribution to Nigerian economic and social development remains decidedly muted.  In 2006, Canada allocated US$69. in agricultural subsidies to every one of its cows, and $19 to each of its pigs, yet provided only $0.95 to each of the 2.7 billion poorest persons living on under $2 per day (Dobson 2006: 4 of 8).  In 2004-05, the Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA, allocated a total of Cdn. $42.7 million to Nigeria, comprising about 12% of Nigeria's total bilateral aid from OECD nations, or about 31 cents in Canadian aid money to each of Nigeria's 140 million citizens (CIDA 2006: 30).






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