Letters detailing Nigerian leaders financial contribution to the British war effort


This collection of 36 letters were translated from originals sent by Muslim rulers (including emirs, sarkins, shehus and chiefs) of northern Nigeria at the outbreak of the First World War, offering to contribute a total of over £42,000 to the British war effort. This was intended to provide resources for local security and Nigerian supported campaigns in Cameroon and East Africa.

In a memorandum at the beginning of the file, the Lieutenant Governor of the Northern Provinces, Charles Temple, recommends accepting £38,000 instead. This was increased annually throughout the war, reaching a peak of £54,000 in 1916.[1]

The First World War and Nigeria

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Nigeria was a British colony under the system of ‘indirect rule’. London’s Colonial Office allowed Nigerian leaders to govern local regions, but under the control of the British. The war involved Nigerian troops and carrier corps, and affected areas of trade, security and the economy.

War funds and the Beit-el-Mal

Beit-el-Mal, an Arabic phrase meaning ‘House of money’, also referred to here as the ‘Native Treasury’, was a tool of indirect rule used by the British in Nigeria. While rulers (emirs or serikins) and district heads (chiefs) led the administration of each region, they were then taxed by the colonial government. Roughly, half of the tax would go to the government, whilst the other half would go to the Beit-el-Mal. This pot of money was overseen by the area’s ‘resident’ (chief civil officers appointed by the British) and was intended to pay for administration salaries and public works.[2]

Within these letters, some emirs, serikins and chiefs ask that the Beit-el-Mal assigned to the public works (education, sanitation, road and rail works) be contributed to the war effort instead.

The letters display apparent loyalty. Some leaders owed their positions entirely to the British administration.[3] However, this support largely stemmed from the security risk posed by the military campaign in neighbouring Cameroon. Both Sarkin Gombe Umoru and the Emir of Kontagora specifically mention the capture of Douala, a city in South-West Cameroon. At the same time, due to the nature of indirect rule, it is difficult to determine to what extent these leaders were pressed by British colonial officers into donating the Beit-el-Mal.

The Endangered Archives Programme

This item was digitised as part of the Northern Nigeria: Precolonial documents preservation scheme (EAP535), supported by the Endangered Archives Programme.


[1] Akinjide Osuntokun, Nigeria in the First World War (London, 1979), pp. 141–42, 163.

[2] A E Afigbo, ‘The consolidation of British imperial administration in Nigeria: 1900 – 1918’, Civilisations, Vol. 21, No. 4 (1971), pp. 436–59.

[3] Akinjide Osuntokun, Nigeria in the First World War (London, 1979), p. 141.

Full title:
'Native chiefs-letters of minutes for War contribution [1914]'
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