The Rise and Fall of the Warrant Chief System in the Cross River Region

August 5, 2017 Cultural

INTRODUCTION Prior to the advent of the British Colonialists to our shores more than four hundred years ago, the traditional institutions held sway as the organisational structure around which the socio-political, cultural, administrative and economic life of the people revolved. It was therefore, not surprising that the colonialists who came to exploit us with their imperial motives and to imposed their own social order on the indigenous existing nationalities that later coalesced into the present day Nigeria, found it expedient to enlist the support and cooperation of traditional rulers in securing their hold on the conquered territories.

Indeed, the traditional rulers proved so indispensable in this regard that where non seemed to have existed, the Colonialists appointed same as was the case of the Warrant Chiefs in the minority groups of the South, and the Igbo in the South East. Taking a cue from the colonialists, successive government in Nigeria, whether at National or State level, both civilian and Military since Independence in 1960 have seen the wisdom to carve an advisory role for traditional rulers in the governance of the Nigerian Polity.

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However, the amount of power entrusted to thes chiefs was far in excess of what any political leader would have enjoyed in the pre-colonial era and in any case they were equally as corrupt and oppressive as their less traditional colleagues and this contributed to the collapsed of the system. This paper therefore attempt to look at the rise and fall of the Warrant chief system in the Cross River region which comprises the present Cross River and Akwa Ibom States. To do this, we will attempt to look at the following sub topics, the rise of the warrant chief system, its workings, eventual fall of the system, and finally its impact.

THE RISE OF THE WARRANT CHIEF SYSTEM The Warrant Chief system was an attempt made by the British to rule the minorities in Southern Nigeria and the Igbo in Southeastern Nigeria through what was thought to be their indigenous political organization. The origin of the Warrant Chief can be traced to the period of British occupation of these areas between 1890 and 1917. 1 In order for the Colonial master to have good governance in these areas, the colonial District Commissioners had to create the institution of Warrant Chiefs. 2 Along the coast, especially the

Efik who did, by 1890s possessed certain chiefly institutions, there was no difficulty in finding who were the leading figures of the trading states because, there was the advantage of long contact. However, in the interior the issue was confounded by the fact that it was not easy to locate the traditional heads of the villages and village-groups. Where the people were consulted they more often than not misunderstood the purpose of the request and pushed forward as their chiefs people who had no special status in traditional society.

Similarly, communities which thought those they presented would be killed or sold into slavery presented criminals or never- do-wells as their chiefs, while others who thought the whitemen need messengers sent able young men. 3 Be that as it may, the colonial administration chose chiefs without reference to anybody in many places and made similar mistakes. But it is important to note that not all those who were chosen as chiefs were nonentities or rogues.

To distinguish them from common impostors and blackmailers of which according to Afigbo, there were many in this period, and to legalise the power they exercised over their fellow country-men, each of those recognize as chiefs was given a certificate. This certificate was known as ‘Warrant’ and partly for this reason the chiefs came to be popularly known as Warrant Chiefs. Warrant Chiefs were thus installed without much recourse to local traditions or hierarchy and status, without taking into account the details of pre-colonial local political structures.

This arbitrariness stemmed from the fact that the British knew nothing about the pre-colonial organisation of the communities which they had coerced into submission. And since they were too arrogant to learn anyway, they erroneously assumed that African people had to be governed by chiefs, somehow. This was a very crude version of indirect rule. To this extent, many Warrant Chiefs solely constituted colonially-backed usurpers of power and had little or no legitimacy beyond the fact of them being installed by the colonial state.

Without any pedigree and claim to traditional legitimacy, they held to power and used it for their own parochial ends. THE WORKINGS OF THE WARRANT CHIEF SYSTEM. The Warrant Chiefs main source of power was the control of Native Courts and of labour, for example, for colonial road and waterways constructions. 4 These artificially created chiefs were given the authority to arrest and detain people who committed offences; and debtors who could not meet their financial obligations owed to others. They also acted as tax collectors for the Colonial masters.

Native courts were graded A to D according to the Native Court Ordinance No. 44 of 1933, with Grade A courts empowered with full judicial powers including capital powers, each subsequent grade having diminished capabilities. In the Eastern Region, there were no Grade A Courts, 5 at Grade B(divided between Calabar and Onitsha), 54 at Grade C(of which29 were in Ogoja province), 492 at Grade D (with 93 in Ogoja) as well as 45 Native Appeal Courts ,each also possessing status as courts of the first instance. Of these, 12 were in Ogoja province. As the courts grew in number and the duties of the political officer grew in volumes and complexity it became impossible for the administrative officer to be present at every meeting of each court in his district. Routine office work was already interfering with political responsibility, especially with the effective supervision of the courts. For instance, by September 1905, the Calabar district had several numbers of native courts which located in Calabar, Creek Town, Eastern Ekoi, Uwet , Adiabo, Duke Town, Oron, Ikot Ekpene and Essene. An examination of the available statistics on the attendance of district commissioners at five Native Courts will help. Native Courts Year No. of sittings no. presided over by district comm. Calabar jan. andsept. 1905 78 24 Creek Town “ 31 1 Eastern Ekoi “ 11 1 Uwet “ 18 _ Adiabo “ 15 _. According to Afigbo( 1972:109), the failure of the political officer to attend the meetings of the courts regularly had also given the constitution of the Warrant Chief system an unforeseen twist. It had led to a situation in which the court and its proceedings were dominated by the court clerk-an evil which was to grow from strength to strength and after, in spite of all checks, was to attain alarming heights after 1914. THE FALL OR COLLAPSED OF THE WARRANT CHIEF SYSTEM By the 1920s, the Warrant Chief system had in many places, become synonymous ith greed, avarice, and corruption, and the British administrative officers were increasingly aware of this. This was because, as Uzoigwe puts it, “ he ( the Warrant Chief) was the errand boy of the colonial administration and the people were essentially ‘guinea pigs’ used by the British colonial government to try out its financial ideas of local governance in a society like the Cross River region that did not have centralised authorities as was the case in the Emirate system of northern Nigeria. 8 The dilemma created by this novel political arrangement was immense. For the new chief who was not used to the exercise of the authority he was now called upon to exercise without precedent or training whatsoever, the situation was to say the least, confusing. He simply carried out his functions- obeying the dictates of his inordinate desires according to his ability.

Even though the degree of the territorial extent of the Warrant Chiefs’ authority was alien to the people of the Cross River region, their modes and methods of operation reflected their determination to endorsed government policy and undermine the interests of civil society organizations and the people they represent. It has been observed that because the Warrant Chiefs were not accountable to their kith and kin, this was proof to the people that the chiefs, like the Court messengers, the police, the soldiers, court clerks and the like were civil servants.

Interestingly, many ambitious Warrant Chiefs schemed unsuccessfully, to be elevated as “Chief of Chiefs” something similar to the status of an Emir in the North or an Oba in Yoruba land. Afigbo, however dismissed such chiefs as ‘artificial tyrants’ who were behaving like Emirs even before they were officially given the responsibility. Thus the Warrant Chief system could be regarded as the outcome of a vagrant search by the British colonial masters for a political system that would serve their dictatorial and exploitative model for governance.

In spite of all its inadequacies, the system did not break down before the famous 1929 Women’s uprising which took place in large areas of Southern Igboland and of the Ibibio speaking areas further South East. Thousands of women attacked Native Courts and besieged Warrant Chiefs. The women riot made unmistakably clear the little legitimacy of Warrant Chief rule, which since then has become paradigmatic for the errors about African societies and their traditions and rulers, committed by British colonialist. The reason behind the riot were more multifaceted; the immediate critical ssue was the rumour that, after the introduction of direct tax on men in 1928, women would also be taxed; at the same time, the fall in palm produce prices due to the world-wide recession aroused much anger and was attributed to manipulations by European trading firms the premises of which were also attacked in several places. According to Afigbo, direct taxation not only failed to improve the system but brought it to ruin in the women’s riot of 1929 in which Margaret Ekpo from the Cross River region actively participated.

The Riot marks the end of the era of the Warrant Chiefs. He further posits that the Warrant Chief system failed primarily because it was based on assumptions which had no root in indigenous soil, and secondly because it brought on the people burdens which were either unnecessary or whose purpose they did not understand. 9 IMPACTS Having dominated and to some extent determined the local political life of the people of the Cross River region for about three decades, the Warrant Chief System effected far reaching changes in their indigenous political system.

Though the administration of justice was one of their most important assignments, the Native Courts also served very important executive needs. They bolstered up the authority of Warrant Chiefs and thus made it possible for the latter to enforce the provisions of the Roads and Rivers ordinances and thus bring the building of the motor roads and bridges which span the Cross River region by the end of the period of Warrant Chief rule. 0 Though forced labour was applied in the constructions of these roads and bridges, it however did facilitate movement and transportation among the people of the Cross river region thereby enhancing an effective inter-group relations. Furthermore, exercising their powers for making bye-laws, Warrant Chiefs enacted and enforced regulations which promoted economic progress. In 1902 a proclamation, and in 1906 an order were made fixing the exchange rates of brass rods at four for one Shilling, and of manilas at twelve for one Shilling but no penalties were provided for cases of non-adherence to these rates.

The result was that rates varied according to the whims of the Coastal Middlemen, a state of affairs which caused consternation and confusion among the interior producers and hindered trade. Therefore, to stabilize rates of exchange, and trade, Native Courts in 1907, passed rules enforcing the rates of exchange established by law. Refusal to accept payment in English or indigenous currency became punishable by a fine of not more than five Shillings or imprisonment for not longer than seven days In default.

Similarly, the court compound itself influence the life of the in which it was located. To the people the way of life of life of the Court staff was generally a model and a reminder of the new ways which the British brought with them. The supreme handicap or demerit of the Warrant chief system was it lack of any real root in the political traditions of the people. The very idea of a man no matter what he was called, who had powers to issue out orders to his village, neighbours or a whole Clan was a political novelty. CONCLUSION

This paper has discussed the rise and fall of the Warrant Chief system in the Cross River region- an area which today comprises Cross River and AkwaIbom States. To a large extent, Warrant Chief System was created in order for the British colonial master to have a firm grip on the people they governed. The chiefs however, became too ambitious coupled with the fact that the system was over bearing on the people they governed and that it has no root in the indigenous political system led to its collapsed in the Women’s uprising of 1929 popularly known as the Aba Women Riot.

However, this paper agrees with professor Afigbo (his blessed memory) that too many harsh criticisms have been made of, and hasty conclusions drawn on the Warrant Chief System without an attempt to ask the right questions let alone to investigate them. For the first time in the people’s history a scrap paper (warrant) had the power to change the course of events. ENDNOTES 1Harneit-Seivers, A. Igbo Traditional Rulers’, Chieftaincy and the State in Southeastern Nigeria. Africa spectrum33 p. 60. 2http://www. network54. com-forum/266513/thread//11730853. 3A. E Afigbo.

THE EASTERN PROVINCE UNDER COLONIAL RULE in Obaro Ikime(ed)”Groundwork of Nigerian History”(Ibadan:Heinemann publishers, 2004)p. 411 4W. I Offonagoro “ An Aspect of British Colonial Policy in Southeastern Nigeria:The Problems of Forced Labour and Slavery,1895-1928,” in Obiechere, B. I (ed) Studies in Southern Nigerian History(London:Frank Cass)1982. 5http://www. crossriverstate. gov. ng/index. php? option. com-content&view=article&iD. 6A. E Afigbo. The Warrant chiefs: Indirect rule in Southeastern Nigeria 1891-1929( London: Longman publisher,1972)pp. 108 and 141 7Ibid 66 8Uzoigwe, G.

N Evolution and Relevance of Autonomous Communities in pre-colonial Igboland: An Essay in Local Governance, The Journal of Third World Studies,(Spring 2009) p. 6 9A. E Afigbo. Warrant Chiefs: Indirect Rule in Southeastern Nigeria 1891-1921. (London:Longman publishers, 1972)p. 11 10 ________________________pp. 251-252. REFERENCES. A. E Afigbo. THE EASTERN PROVINCE UNDER COLONIAL RULE in Obaro Ikime(ed)”Groundwork of Nigerian History”(Ibadan:Heinemann publishers, 2004)p. 411 A. E Afigbo. The Warrant chiefs: Indirect rule in Southeastern Nigeria 1891-1929( London: Longman publisher,1972)pp. 108 and 141


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