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8.4 Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, [formerly RH] Mss. Afr. s. 958, Dwyer, Dr. P. M. Extracts from Reports Ilorin 19021908.


Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, Mss. Afr. s. 958, which consists very largely of extracts from Reports on Ilorin between 1902 and 1908, is drawn from the collections formerly held at the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House (Rhodes House Library), Oxford. These collections are now located in the Weston Library (formerly known as the New Bodleian). The old “RH” reference numbers are no longer used; they are included here within brackets in order to alert readers who have been accustomed to the “RH” prefix.

The Bodleian Library requests that the original material (here: any material from Mss. Afr. s. 958 that is directly quoted in the essay below) be cited in the form “Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, Mss. Afr. s. 958.”

Special Collections at the Bodleian Library can be contacted at specialcollections.enquiries@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

Note: in the following, where direct quotations are employed, I have utilised square brackets to enclose letters or words that are missing or unclear from the copy that I am using (for example, where the final word/words of a line are missing from the copy); I have also utilised square brackets where an insertion is needed for purposes of clarity or accuracy.


Mss. Afr. s. 958 consists of typed extracts transcribed from periodic reports written by Dr. P.M. Dwyer, British Resident (senior colonial officer) in Ilorin, plus some communications from the High Commissioner for Northern Nigeria. They include extracts from reports written between 1902 and 1908 (excluding 1903 and 1907) in the city of Ilorin and its environs, and more broadly in areas that were (or had been) subject to some measure of Ilorin control. They range over numerous subjects, including conditions before the British takeover, problems and improvements in the governance of Ilorin in the period covered by the reports; tribute collection; the Native Courts; the Ogboni society in Otun (“Awton”) and elsewhere; and symbolic warnings of intended arson attacks. The reports also cover boundary disputes with Southern Nigeria; improvements in safety for long-distance traders; roadmaking; and the arrival of the railway and its effects.

In addition to the topics listed above, the extracts that are contained in MSS. Afr. s. 958 (hereafter, “the Extracts”) include material connected with slavery: the seizure of people, slave dealing, the liberation of slaves, the treatment of slaves/former slaves; and the ex-chief Ajidungari (Eji), who was an elite slave. These topics comprise the bulk of this essay. In conclusion, I offer comments on some aspects of Resident Dwyer’s accounts as transcribed in the Extracts.

The earliest Extracts dealing with slavery are from the year 1902:


As I have explained to Your Excellency on numerous occasions, since we took over the country the revenue of the Emir and Baloguns may be considered as nil. The chief sources of revenue in the past were:

(a)       Slave dealing.

(b)      Raids for farm produce.

(c)       Seizing people and holding them in pawn.

(d)      Attacking Caravans.

(e)       Collection of tribute as often as possible

. . . I have put a stop to all these sources of revenue, at least to a very great extent if not completely. If we have taken this revenue away . . . , it is only right we should find some means of collecting a revenue which would be fair and just to all parties.

The situation specifically after the Niger Company defeated Ilorin in 1897 is introduced in the following month’s report:

MAY 1902.

When the Niger Company broke Ilorin the towns of the Province at once seized the opportunity and refused to pay any more tribute. . . .

The Ilorins were afraid to attack the rebellious towns on account of the Company, the c[hief?] source of their income was gone and so they were obliged, and, I will say not against their will to seize traders and confiscate their goods and sell all strangers they could catch.

The lawless situation in the last years of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth is referenced again in the June report:

JUNE 1902.

Money was the ruling passion. . . . Justice was knocked down to the highest bidder and the most shameful abuses took place. The rich trampled on the poor always certain if they concocted a charge [it?] would be proven without fail. If a rich man seized a free man and sold him into slavery he [would get?] off without a fine because it could not be proved he knew he was a free man.

The Trade section of the report for July 1902, however,  painted a somewhat improved picture, as “now taxes and tolls have been removed traders can travel with safety, free from the constant dread of being raided by lawless bands.”

A few months later, Dwyer travelled to the “Western Frontier” towns of Pategi, Lafiagi, and Shonga. In Pategi, he had discussions with regard to fugitive slaves, which shed some light on British policy:


I went to Patigi. . . . I had several long meetings with the Chiefs. I consider the [Emir] Isa to be a very useful man. . . . I again war[ned] him that slaves from Bida are not to be permitted to reside in the town. He and all his Chiefs declared no slaves had been permitted to sit down there since I had last warned him. He said many slaves passed through Patigi on the road to other places but they did not remain in his town.

After this time, there is no reference to slavery in the Extracts until the report of March 1904, in which there is a note on freed slaves in Ilorin:

Two male slaves were liberated during March 1904. They state that they came down from Hausaland during the Rammadan [sic] feast, and were sold at Ibadan. The small boy is very much grieved that the Yoruba markes [sic] were stamped on his face to prevent discovery.[1]

They ran away from their mistress and wanted to live in the police barracks. This of course would not be permitted so they were sent in to the Home.[2]

In April, there is a further mention of a slave being freed in Ilorin:

A boy aged about 14 years was granted his freedom. He was in a very bad condition. . . . He was ordered to make four hundred heaps of yam a day; this he did but he was flogged all the same. The master did nothing but flog and curse him. . . . Considering the state the boy was in I declared him free.

In July 1904, a very different slave is discussed: “The Resident of Borgu has granted the ex-chief of Ajidungari a piece of land to farm and I trust he will find him useful. Had he only had the sense to smother up his intense dislike to the Emir and Chief[s] of Ilorin there would have been no need to remove him.” Although the fact is not mentioned in the Extracts, this individual was actually a slave either of the Emir or of the Emir’s military slave the Sarkin Dongari, and he, like the Sarkin Dongari, can be classified as an “elite” slave. He had taken advantage of the chaotic conditions in Ilorin in the 1890s, before and after the Niger Company’s “breaking” of Ilorin, and had taken control of a large area northwest of the city (now Ejidongari District)  and set himself up as more or less an independent ruler.[3]

In his August report, the Resident again returns to the situation in the city of Ilorin before the British takeover. He notes the “consternation among the poor class” when the West African Frontier Force detachment was withdrawn. The poor people  “declared that “they would run away. . . . [T]hey would not

. . . risk . . . the old troubles or being seized and sold or thrown into prison until they had paid a fine.” Dwyer was obliged to reassure them that “there would always be a Resident stationed at Ilorin.”  He reports that “the Chiefs of Ilorin are a most contemptible lot and would gladly once more welcome the old days when they lived on plundering the poor.”

Later in the same report, Dwyer turns to the conflict in the 1890s between Emir Momo (Moma) and Balogun Alanamu: the former, “having gained peace” (after the long war with Offa) “was anxious to retain the friendship of the Government,” and the latter was “declaring the town would have nothing to do with the whitemen.” He joined with Balogun Adamu (that is, Balogun Gambari, head of the Hausa community in Ilorin) and together they “tore away the remaining power of Momo who became a mere figure head. . . . Alanamu and Adamu ran riot over the country, seizing and selling slaves.”

In his Annual Report for 1904, Dwyer returns to the story of affairs in Ilorin at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, recounting the situation he found when he took charge of Ilorin Province in 1900, as the second British Resident. Emir Suleiman (successor to  Momo, who had been driven to suicide in 1895)[4] was a “puppet in the hands of the Baloguns or Chiefs,” the real ruler being Balogun Alanamu. “Crime was rampant in the town”; travel was unsafe for women and children, who “were more than likely to be seized and sold as slaves.” The senior Chiefs of Ilorin “held their own Courts and, seizing people, made them pay a heavy sum for their release.” When the Niger Company “broke” Ilorin, the large towns in the Province  “threw off all allegiance to Ilorin, declared themselves independent . . . and raided the smaller towns . . . for slaves and produce.” In the same report, however,  Dwyer also emphasises the “very great improvement” in the situation during 1902-1903, when the Emir “commenced to act up to his position,” with the support of the British and an income obtained from tribute.

Among the areas of improvement, Dwyer highlights especially, and in considerable detail, improvements with regard to slavery and slave dealing. In 1904, only nine slaves were liberated, and of these, only “one case referred to Ilorin, the other eight having come down countr[y] with Caravans.”  He admits to the existence of “a large number of domestic or farm slaves in the Province,” but claims that these are

happy and contented and . . . useful members of the community. . . . [T]his statement . . . is nothing but the truth. The domestic slave almost in every case works on the farms; he is obliged to make 200 heaps of earth as a days [sic] work, which is absurdly light considering an ordinary hardworking farmer can complete anything up to 1,000 heaps. As soon as the slave has completed his allotted amount he has the rest of the day to himself.[5]

Dwyer continues to paint a benign picture of the life of the farm slave:

He can till a portion of the farm for his own use, seed and spade [sic] . . . freely supplied by his master, and sell the produce . . . . [T]he proceeds . . . belong absolutely to himself. He can either use the sum so obtained to purchase his freedom or buy a wife, which is usually done. The slave is fed, clothed and housed by his master and very often looked upon as one of the family. It would be a bad day . . . if the Government insisted on the slave accepting that freedom he does not ask for. The farmers could not pay for sufficient hire[d] labour to keep the Province in its present flourishing condition. . . . [I]f these slaves were forced to be free, the old master would not be likely to feed and house them. . . . There would then be a great danger of them turning into highway robbers, as was the case when I took over. . . . As to these slaves running away, I had only five complaints during the year and in each case they were women who had gone off with some man.

It would be . . . astonishing . . . to the people at home . . . to . . . see . . . the well fed, well dressed happy men and women who live in this ‘degrading’ condition.

Dwyer completes his discussion of slavery in this report by noting that the greatest danger of slave dealing occurs during the Caravan season, when it is “impossible to keep watch on the crowds that come in from Hausaland proper”; and that it is generally believed in the Province that the slave buyers are men from Abeokuta, “which is even at this date looked upon as a big trading centre for slaves.”

In the Annual Report for 1905, Dwyer praises the “loyalty” and “good behaviour” of the Emir and Chiefs of the Province, especially “when it is remembered that Ilorin only a few years ago were [sic] a truculent slave raiding tribe.” He admits that “abuses still make their appearance,” but considering their past history, he considers that “a very satisfactory condition of affairs has been arrived at.”

The Annual Report for 1906 notes that one of his first actions in 1900, when he took charge of the Province, was to order “that anyone caught slaving or Caravan raiding would be severely punished.”

No entries for the following year are included in these Extracts. However, in the Annual Report for 1908, Dwyer notes that “As I said in my last year’s Report, so must I repeat in this, that I cannot speak too highly of the loyalty and correct behaviour of the Emir and his principal Chiefs.” Clearly, with regard to the year 1907 he is referring to those who were loyal in the face of the near-revolt at the beginning of the year. He reports for 1908 that the Baloguns “as District Heads have toured their districts and not only collected the rents from the farms under them, but have assessed and collected from those that had escaped notice. They also examined into the condition of the people and redressed abuses when they found them.” He notes the great change in the behaviour of the Baloguns in comparison with the period prior to the establishment of British rule, and observes that most of the various District Heads “are going on satisfactorily and attending to their work.”

Concluding Remarks

This collection of Extracts is something of a curiosity. I have no information about the identity of the compiler, the date of the transcription, or the reason why it was made. However, the main theme of the collection appears to be pacification, acceptance of colonial rule, and development of the Province, which would be pleasing to the British government and would cast its representatives in Northern Nigeria in a favourable light.

This would mean placing the greatest emphasis on successes and downplaying failures. Two major instances of this in the Extracts are discussed below: first, with regard to the general political system in Ilorin, and second, with regard to the more specific example of slavery.

Dwyer reports the calamitous political situation and the general devastation at the end of the nineteenth century (with the major chiefs in open revolt, the Emir powerless, and the poor people subject to all manner of ill-treatment) and contrasts it starkly with the improvements in governance made in the early years of British rule. He emphasises the progress made by the chiefs, highlighting their loyalty and good behaviour, in contrast to the past.

But  the extent of this loyalty and good behaviour is generally exaggerated. The Extracts generally consist of text that furthers the claims to development and progress: this is epitomised by the compiler’s decision to ignore the reports from 1907, in which Dwyer discusses the near-revolt at the beginning of 1907, led by disaffected chiefs: Balogun Ajikobi, Magaji Gari, and Ajia Ogidiolu. In one 1907 report he admitted that even before the near-revolt, he had been forced several times “to have these chiefs before my court and . . . inflict a fine for exerting a power they had no right to.”[6]

In his August 1904 report, Dwyer departs from his usual praises by declaring irritably that “the Chiefs of Ilorin are a most contemptible lot and would gladly once more welcome the old days when they lived on plundering the poor.”  And he was proved right by the near-revolt. It is an oddity that this almost certainly more honest assessment of August 1904 was included in the Extracts, given their usual emphasis on successes for the colonial government.

Dwyer’s treatment of slavery in turn-of-the -century Ilorin, like his treatment of the political situation as a whole, is subject to exaggeration. Dwyer, like D.W. Carnegie, who had preceded him in Ilorin, emphasises the mildness of the institution,[7] as seen in the quotations above. Such accounts, Paul Lovejoy warns, may paint an idealised picture of slavery, while in actuality “caliphate slavery was complex and sometimes contradictory.”[8] This is borne out by the Ilorin case. While the accounts given by Carnegie and Dwyer reflect “idealised norms,” modern informants’ testimonies reflect a much more complex reality, showing that “not only were caliphate and Yoruba norms not necessarily followed in Ilorin, but also that Ilorin people did not even always pay lip service to them.”[9] The picture of slavery as a mild, even beneficent institution was one which the Northern Nigerian government was promoting, to prevent massive social dislocation.[10]

Thus, the accounts given by Dwyer and Carnegie tell only a partial and simplified story, which was deemed necessary for socio-political purposes. They do not attempt to tell the story of ill-treatment and stigmatisation of slaves; of resistance to slavery by flight and resistance within accommodation. Essentially, the Extracts cited in the present essay appear to be in large part designed to publicise British projects.

For a recent, detailed discussion of Ilorin slavery and its complexity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, please see Ann O’Hear’s 1997 monograph, Power Relations in Nigeria: Ilorin Slaves and Their Successors,[11] which is reproduced in digitised form in the Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive, section 2, together with reviews of the work.


[1] “Stamped” seems an odd choice of word here. “Branded” may be a more accurate description of the process. Yoruba marks have also traditionally been created by incising.

[2] This “Home” almost certainly refers to the Freed Slaves’ Home at Zungeru, which was formally opened in January 1904. See G.O. Olusanya, “The Freed Slaves’ Homes: An Unknown Aspect of Northern Nigerian Social History,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, vol. 3, no. 3 (December 2966): 523-538. See, e.g., 527.

[3] See Ann O’Hear, “Elite Slaves in Ilorin in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” International Journal of African Historical Studies, vol. 39, no. 2 (2006): 260. This article is available in Section 2 of the Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive.

[4] See, e.g., O’Hear, “Elite Slaves,” 259, including note 56; O’Hear, Power Relations in Nigeria: Ilorin Slaves and Their Successors (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 63, including chapter 3, note 4. This monograph is available in Section 2 of the Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive.

[5] This account appears to be inconsistent with Dwyer’s own earlier report, quoted above, of a boy about 14 years old who was forced to make 400 heaps a day, and this, it may be implied, was burdensome, at least for a youngster. Dwyer’s assertion here that “an ordinary hardworking farmer can complete anything up to 1,000 heaps” seems extremely unlikely, especially given an estimate of 400 per day provided in March 1983 (information from H.J. O’Hear, following his interview with two farmers of Alara Village Area, near Ilorin). See Ann O’Hear, Power Relations, 30, and chapter 2 note 107. However, the 1983 estimate agrees with Dwyer’s previous assertion that slaves were obliged to make 200 heaps in, say, half a day, leaving time for them to farm on their own behalf and make money from what they produced.

[6] Nigerian National Archives Kaduna (NNAK) SNP 15 Acc No. 154, Judicial Ilorin [1907], P.M. Dwyer, Resident Ilorin, to High Commissioner, Zungeru, 4 February 1907, para. 1.

[7] For Carnegie’s accounts of slavery in Ilorin, see the Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive, 2.1b(ii), which is a transcription of extracts on slavery in the Ilorin area, from Ann O’Hear, “Introduction to the New Edition” of Carnegie, Letters from Nigeria; and 2.1b(iii), which is a transcription of extracts from the text of Carnegie, Letters from Nigeria.

[8] Paul E. Lovejoy, “Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate,” in The Ideology of Slavery, ed. Paul E. Lovejoy (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1981), 215.

[9] O’Hear, Power Relations in Nigeria, 33.

[10] J.S. Hogendorn and Paul E. Lovejoy, “The Reform of Slavery in Early Colonial Northern Nigeria, in The End of Slavery in Africa, ed. Suzanne Miers and Richard Roberts (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 393-394, quoting Frederick Lugard.

[11] Please see especially the following pages: 28-35 (Slave Use: On the Land); 39-44 (Treatment and Status of Slaves: Mildness, Benefits, Amelioration?; 50-59 (Flight by Slaves; Day to Day Resistance; Slaves’ Religion and Culture in Accommodation and Resistance; Women in Accommodation and Resistance); 63-66 (RNC Expedition: Slave Exodus; 71-76 (Early British Slavery Policies; Slave Exodus Renewed?; Slaves Who Remained: Reasons for Accommodation); 77-83 (Amelioration of Conditions for the Slaves: Possibilities of Renegotiating the Terms of Bondage?).