Economic factor as the central motive of British imperialism in Africa, 1800 – 1900: the Nigerian experience

  • Sandy Ojang Onor
Keywords: Imperialism, humanitarianism, capitalism, dependency, abolition


The motives of Britain in abolishing the slave trade used to be hotly debated by two schools of thoughts led by Sir Reginald Coupland and Eric Williams. While Coupland presented British abolition as the triumph of humanitarianism over economic self-interest, Williams argued strongly that the factors that conduced to the abolition of the slave trade were economic in character. The balance of current opinion is in support of Williams as being much nearer to the point than Coupland. This paper goes beyond the abolition debate by examining British imperialism in Nigeria from 1800 to 1900. It is argued here that though British imperialism in Nigeria had a multi-purpose agenda in which could be discerned humanitarian, religious, nationalist and geo-strategic calculations, economic motive was over-riding. It was economic considerations that made Nigeria attractive to the British government and industrial capitalist pressure groups throughout the period covered by this study.

Keywords: Imperialism, humanitarianism, capitalism, dependency, abolition


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eISSN: 1119-443X