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Specialty in Colonial Governance: the Place of Political Agents in Northern Nigeria
Political agents were special among African employees who were directly employed in the British colonial administration of northern Nigeria, as distinct from traditional ruling officials. Political agents were unique, as they commanded knowledge of local languages and cultures as well as some knowledge of English and thereby bridged the communicative gap between the foreign rulers and the indigenous people. In their intermediary role agents performed special duties including the management of government diplomacy with the traditional rulers, production of intelligence for policy decisions, and administrative tasks including waiting on political officers and mediating their deliberations with visiting indigenous elites and the people. Agents were effective in their roles, and thus became the “eyes and ears” of the colonial authorities. Accordingly, some agents were deployed on special roles as government representatives in the subordinate indigenous administration where they served in the capacity of district head, community native treasurer, and alkali, thereby assisting the consolidation of the subordinate administration in colonial overrule. Agents were special in their position and diverse roles in the British colonial administration of Northern Nigeria.