Before the first encounter of the West Africa man with the British (Europeans), the local people had their own administrative and ruling set-up. Though it was not the what the Europeans practised thus it would be arguably wrong to say or insinuate that the local people had no system of rule.
It was the pre-colonial period. There were the “centralised societies” as evidenced in the Akan societies of pre-colonial era as well as the “acephalous societies” of pre-colonial Igbo communities in Eastern Nigeria. In the tale of the centralised societies, it was more organised on solid ruling pattern and features. in the case of the pre-colonial Akans for instance, there was the paramount chief who performed military, administrative, judicial, legislative and religious functions. In fact due to the enormous influence and control of the paramount chief, he was regarded as the father of his people. He was at the apex of authority. All other chiefs within his jurisdiction owed allegiance to him.
In the next line of authority were the sub-chiefs who controlled sub-chiefdoms. The Queen mother was one prominent figure we cannot leave out. She nominated a successor to the throne to be approved by the council of Elders when the royal stool became vacant. The linguist, council of elders and ‘Asafo’ companies were also in that respective order.
The case of the Acephalous states like that of the Igbo communities of Eastern Nigeria is different from that of the pre-colonial Akans of Ghana. These societies had no distinct governments. However, each headman of a family was a chief in his right. The headman was the guardian of the land under his jurisdiction, and as well served as the spiritual head and mediator between the earth god and the people. The headman was also in charge of customary issues relating to the land.
Indeed both the rulers of the “centralised” and “acephalous” states played mammoth roles in administering and ruling their people. Little did we know that with the interaction or coming of the Europeans all these will fade away like vapour.
To prove their total dominance, the Europeans, adopted a tactical approach in dividing Africa among themselves at the Berlin Conference. This finally made each European master to know the kind of territories they were to deal with in terms of control and looting of their natural resources such as gold, diamond, and so on. This in one way or the other, also ushered in the introduction of the British rule as in the Gold Coast which was then known as “British Crown Colony”. This was the time that the British devised a system which till date has thousands of effects on our dear nation’s administrative system. The system was the introduction of “governor-generals and governors”. Initially all the four colonies from Gold Coast, Nigeria, and the Gambia were controlled by a governor-general in Sierra Leone.
Talk of Nigeria, the man whose principle of indirect rule properly known as “Lugardism” which has affected us so much, Sir Frederick Lord Lugard became the Governor-general of Nigeria between the period of (1914-1919). He formulated and implemented several policies. Subsequent governors such as Sir Hugh Clifford (1919-1925), Sir Graeme Thomson, Sir Donald Cameron Sir Bernard Bourdillon, and so on to the last British governor Sir James Robertson (1955-1960) all followed the foundations in terms of policy-making laid by Lord Lugard in the governance of Nigeria.
In the Gambia, there were the Alexander Grant (1815-1821),
Alexander Findlay (1829-1830), George Rendwall (1830-1837) Thomas Lewis Ingram (1837-1838), Charle Fritzgerald (1844-1847), Sir Robert Baxter Llewelyn (1891-1900), Edward John Cameron (1914-1962) and then finally to Sir John Warbuton Paul (1962-1968) who became the last governor of the Gambia.
In Sierra Leone, there were the B.Thompson (1787), John Taylor(1788-1789), Alexander Falconbride (1791-1792), John Clarkson (1792-1795), William Dawes (1795-1796), Sir Charles MacCharthy (1815-1820), Hugh Lumley (1827-1828), Alexander Findlay (1830-1833), Octavius Femple (1833-1834), Sir George Beres Ford Stooke (1947-1952) and finally Sir Maurice Henry Dorman (1956-1961) who became the last governor of Sierra Leone.
Finally in Gold Coast (Ghana), there were the Sir William st. John(1621-1623), Thomas Dalby (1701-1708), Thomas Llelri (1751-1756), John Roberts (1780-1781) Archibald Dalzel (1792-1798), John Hope Smith (1822-1825), Sir Hugh Charles Cliford (1912-1919), Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg (1919-1925), Sir Arnold Weinholt (1934-1941), Sir Alan Maxwell Burns (1942-1947), Sir Charles Noble Arden-Clarke and the last of the Gold Coast governors Lord Listowel (1957-1960).
All these colonial governors drew various constitutions and policies for their colonies. These constitutions they drew have had so much (or considerable) influence on the poor state of our developmental agenda, since all these were based on the methodics of “Lugardism”. In areas of economic, political, and social hardships, all these stem from the era of the ‘governorship’.
In the political events that clouded Gold Coast now Ghana, the killing of the ex-servicemen namely; Sergeant Adjetey, Corporal Attipoe and Private Ordatey Lamptey as a result of a demonstration to submit the grievances of the ex-servicemen to the colonial government were simply the immediate catalyst which sped the riots. However, it must be noticed that behind the mask were that, numerous economic, political and social injustices triggered the occasion.
The control of domestic trade which happened to solely be in the hands of foreigners including Europeans, Syrians, Lebanese as well as Indians who formed the Association of West African Merchants. The undue manipulation of prices of commodities and black marketing all were simply as a result of the colonial octopus efforts. Discrimination of Africans in areas of employment to Civil Service and education.
Now with all these developments going on, one would like to ask, couldn’t the colonial governors at the time do anything sensible to salvage the awful situations? I genuinely believe that the Sir ‘Alan Burns’ constitution of Gold Coast of 1946 created and facilitated these chronic economic, political and social damages especially in the Gold Coast. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah the leader of the Convention People’s Party in 1949 rejected the report of the Justice Henley Committee labeling it as a “Trojan Gift Horse” and as “bogus and fraudulent”.
The fact there lies in that, Nkrumah saw it as a manipulative mean by the British government to continue her dominance over the local people. It must also be noted with all the eagerness it deserves. After several years of Independence, Ghana in 1957, Nigeria in 1960, Sierra Leone in 1961 and the Gambia in 1965 and as nations we are still struggling to gain feet on our quest to see and feel real development, that should tell us where indeed our setbacks lies.
Ghana for example is embattling the canker of retail businesses to those same folks who in some way connived with their governors to detrimentally cause great economic and social distortion to our colonial days. The laws in Ghana in particular is breached constantly as day fades and night elapses by these foreigners who flout our laws with impudence as it occurred in the days of colonialism. Chinese in particular have over exploited our precious minerals (gold) in the crude method called “galamsey” causing tremendous degradation to our lands and water bodies, where as our governments, which are, a predecessors of those governor-generals haven’t done anything positive and realistic to curb this appalling phenomenon.
In the light of this, I honestly think that, today, if our nations are dominated by foreigners in areas of economic development then something should remind us of the era of the “governor-generals” and “governors” which has dealt so much seriously blows on our efforts to develop on a cheetah’s speed.