What Britain Did to Nigeria

A Short History of Conquest and Rule

February 2021 9781787383845 408pp
8 pp b&w illus


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.


‘Brings [a] much needed African viewpoint to [Nigeria’s] colonial history.’ — Financial Times

‘[A] fascinating new study… offering a cogent analysis of the development of slavery and the lucrative trade in rubber, in palm oil… and the wholesale exploitation involved.’ — RTÉ Culture Online

‘Siollun’s evenhanded assessment of the roughly 60 years of colonial rule that followed is … absorbing’. — Foreign Affairs

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

‘The British Empire is often presented as an endeavour that conquered territory, carried out atrocities and looted resources. Max Siollun’s What Britain Did to Nigeria provides some evidence to support that case. But Siollun also provides much-needed nuance: British colonialism in Nigeria was characterised by a tension between the colonial government and the work of missionaries.’ — History Today

‘Max Siollun offers a bold rethink: an unromanticised history, arguing compellingly that colonialism had few benevolent intentions, but many unjust outcomes. […] This is a definitive, head-on confrontation with Nigeria’s experience under British rule, showing how it forever changed the country–perhaps cataclysmically.’ — BookAuthority, ’23 Best New Slavery Books To Read In 2021′

‘An intriguing new history of the British presence in Nigeria…Max Siollun writes a powerful corrective to the historical record, one that successfully argues that we cannot understand Nigeria today without examining its colonial past.’ — Georgetown Security Studies Review

‘A humanising and unyielding account of the actors who partook in the making of modern Nigeria, emphasising the scandals and clandestine colonial operations absent from mainstream narratives. It is an unvarnished account of the abuse of power by what was once the most powerful empire on the planet. By the end of this book, the line between savagery and civilisation becomes indelibly blurred.’ — Gimba Kakanda, writer, foreign policy analyst and columnist, Daily Trust

‘Balanced and illuminating… Siollun shatters the comfortable assumption that the transition from pre-colonial to colonial government in what became Nigeria avoided… monstrous bloodshed.’ — The Article

‘A must-read for anyone interested in the story of Britain’s colonial encounter with Nigeria. Siollun tells this complex story from a Nigerian perspective while never once abandoning his objective eye, the mark of the truly-committed historian. […] His 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 colonialism in all its human complexities and contradictions. A fantastic accomplishment.’ — Remi Adekoya, University of York, author of Biracial Britain: A Different Way of Looking at Race

‘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.’ — Toby Green, author of A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution


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.

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