What Britain Did to Nigeria

A Short History of Conquest and Rule

Max Siollun

An exposé of the British Empire’s shameful impact on Africa’s most populous state.

Bibliographic Details
What Britain Did to Nigeria Hardback
February 2021£20
8 pp b&w illus

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Most accounts of Nigeria’s colonisation were written by British officials, presenting it as a noble civilising mission to rid Africans of barbaric superstition and corrupt tribal leadership. Thanks to this skewed writing of history, many Nigerians today still have Empire nostalgia and view the colonial period through rose-tinted glasses.

Max Siollun offers a bold rethink: an unromanticised history, arguing compellingly that colonialism had few benevolent intentions, but many unjust outcomes. It may have ended slavery and human sacrifice, but it was accompanied by extreme violence; ethnic and religious identity were cynically exploited to maintain control, while the forceful remoulding of longstanding legal and social practices permanently altered the culture and internal politics of indigenous communities. The aftershocks of this colonial meddling are still being felt decades after independence. Popular narratives often suggest that the economic and political turmoil are homegrown, but the reality is that Britain created many of Nigeria’s crises, and has left them behind for Nigerians to resolve.

This is a definitive, head-on confrontation with Nigeria’s experience under British rule, showing how it forever changed the country—perhaps cataclysmically.


Max Siollun is a historian and author who specialises in Nigeria's history. He has written some of the most acclaimed books on Nigeria's history, and has been described as standing 'unchallenged, in contemporary times, as the Chronicler-in-Chief of the Nigerian military' by the Special Assistant on New Media to Nigeria's President Buhari, Tolu Ogunlesi.


What Britain Did to Nigeria is a nuanced, informative and timely book that powerfully captures the complexity of the colonial impact.’ — Professor Olivette Otele, author of African Europeans: An Untold History (Hurst, 2020)

‘Max Siollun has conducted extraordinary research which places the history of one of the most important English-speaking countries on earth in a new light. This is a compelling, brilliant and brave history of Nigeria and British colonialism.’ — Professor Toby Green, author of A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution, Winner of the American Historical Association’s Prize in World History 2020

‘A must-read for anyone interested in the story of Britain’s colonial encounter with Nigeria. Crucially, Siollun manages to tell this complex story from a Nigerian perspective while never once abandoning his objective eye, the mark of the truly-committed historian. Meticulously researched, What Britain did to Nigeria explores many hitherto unknown historical events in the colonial encounter, most especially those detailing the various wars of resistance waged by Nigerians during Britain’s long drawn-out conquest attempts. He also goes further than previous historians in unearthing the specific circumstances, actors and motivations behind the 1914 formation of Nigeria, the largest black nation on earth and one of the most diverse and complex societies in the world. Siollun’s vast knowledge and down-to-earth writing-style have combined to produce a book that is both educative and enjoyable to read. One that shows the colonial encounter in all its human complexities and contradictions. What Britain did to Nigeria is a fantastic accomplishment.’ — Dr Remi Adekoya, University of York, author of Biracial Britain: A Different Way of Looking at Race (Little, Brown), (2021)

‘As the British Empire expanded in the nineteenth century, bringing with it firearms and gunpowder, and later an alien governing system and the Bible, into the constellation of kingdoms that would become present-day Nigeria, it left a trail of blood in its wake. Although the stories of Britain’s desperation to preserve its imperial interests in those anarchic centuries have been almost overstressed, the most dominant are by colonial apologists who airbrushed the extent of the devastation from mainstream history. In this poignant interrogation of colonial Britain’s historical interactions with Nigeria, Max Siollun digs deep into the grave of that haunting past—from the curious trips of death-defying explorers to the bloody military campaigns to supress the rebellious colony—in making sense of the partnerships, betrayals, and transgressions that set in motion a series of conflicts that are still manifest in Nigeria. What Britain Did To Nigeria is a humanizing and unyielding account of the actors who partook in the making of modern Nigeria, emphasising the scandals and clandestine colonial operations absent in mainstream narratives. It is an unvarnished account of the abuse of power by what was once the most powerful empire on the planet. At the end of this book, the line between savagery and civilisation becomes indelibly blurred.’— Gimba Kakanda, writer, foreign policy analyst and columnist, Daily Trust newspaper