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Colonial Nigeria (1901 - 1960)

Last modified: 2013-10-26 by bruce berry
Keywords: british colony | seal of solomon | six-pointed star | blue ensign | red ensign | union flag | edwardian crown | tudor crown |
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On 01 January 1901 Nigeria became a British Protectorate.  Prior to that the area was under the influence of the Royal Niger Company.  In 1914 the British formally united the Niger area as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.  Administratively the Nigeria remained divided into the northern and southern provinces and the Lagos Colony.  The Colony obtained independence on 01 October 1960 and became the Federal Republic of Nigeria on 01 October 1963, remaining within the Commonwealth.
Bruce Berry, 07 Nov 2008

Description and Usage of the Colonial Flags and Badge

The badge of this protectorate has a red field, upon which are imposed two interlocked triangles in the form of a six-pointed star. In the center is the crown of the British Empire.

The union jack is the national flag of the colonies as well as of the mother countries and, although it is a rule observed more in the breach than in its observance, no other flag is to be displayed ashore. According to British flag law, the union jack, in its plain condition and without emblazonment or badge, is the only flag an individual or corporation in British realms may properly fly. However, since the shipping of the principal colonies is accustomed to fly the red ensign with the badge of the colony represented in the fly, this flag is frequently, if not indeed usually, displayed by the people of the several colonies as their particular flag. Vessels bearing colonial governors or other administrative officials of badge-possessing rank fly the union jack with a badge of the colony placed within a wreath at the intersection of the crosses. Vessels of the colonial public service display the blue ensign with the badge of the colony from which it hails in the fly  (Source National Geographic, Oct. 1917 [gmc17]).
Josh Fruhlinger 13 Feb 1996

My Ibo friend, Dr Ude Ojuku, after talking to his father, told me, the retired Dean of the School of Engineering at the University of Nigeria, to ask him about the flags of British Nigeria. Dean Ojuku had previously informed me through his son that he had not only seen the Blue Ensign defaced with the Nigeria Badge, but also the Red Ensign, but without the Badge and with the green six pointed star containing the Tudor Crown (he just called it a golden crown) in the center and the words Nigeria written beneath the crown in the center of the star in white letters; this was always at 'the edge' [sic], i.e., the fly, of the flag.

Dean Ojuku now informed me, again through his son, that he became very familiar with both the Blue and Red Ensigns when he worked for a District Commissioner, a senior civil servant who had administrative, political, and judicial functions over a geographic area; this position was commonly found in most British colonies.

Dean Ojuku joined the Nigerian civil service after completing his secondary education, following in the footsteps of his father, who had spent most of his life in the service. The senior Ojuku used his influence to get his son transferred to Onitsha, a port city on the Niger River where he himself was based; both Ojukus worked in the Riverine Section. This section was responsible for regulating all water borne commerce on the Niger River; even though Onitsha was not a center of the Ibo people the British preferred to employ Ibos throughout the Nigerian Civil Service because of their high degree of literacy.

Dean Ojuku said that as a young junior clerk it was his responsibility to inspect every vessel which touched at Onitsha. These included diesel, gasoline, and steam powered motor launches (these had originally belonged to the Royal Navy), small river steamers, including some paddle wheelers, and even canoes or rafts. All vessels actually engaged in commerce were required to fly the Nigerian Red Ensign, and one of the young Dean Ojuku's tasks was to insure that these vessels complied with this requirement. He said that he had never seen the badge of British Nigeria enclosed in any sort of frame, and the and his father were never asked to enforce this rule; as long as the flag had the design of the badge that was considered sufficient.

He reported an additional version of the Nigerian Blue Ensign as well: The most heavily armed vessel on the river was a former Royal Navy motor launch which was used both by the Nigerian Police and also by the District Commissioner. When the DC was aboard on a voyage of inspection or on some other official function the launch flew the British Blue Enmsign with the Badge of Nigeria, but when it was used as a police vessel that version of the Blue Ensign was not flown. Instead, a version with the initials N P in large golden letters at 'the edge' [sic], i. e., the fly, was flown. I have asked Dr Ude Ojuku to let me know if his father remembers whether there were full stops (periods) after the letters or not.
Ron Lahav, 17 Nov 2008

It's quite possible that a Nigerian red ensign would have been made with the defacement placed in the lower fly quarter. I have a photograph in a book of such a Kenyan red ensign and have a Cape Colony red ensign in my collection with the quartered badge. And there's also the Straits Settlements red ensign with the quartered badge that I spotted in Penang (Malaysia).

Placing badges in the lower fly quarter on an ensign, (as opposed to the center of the fly), guarantees better visibility of the badge under actual use conditions.
Clay Moss, 19 Nov 2009

Origin of the Badge

Badge detail pre-1953
[Colonial badge, pre-1953] image by Clay Moss, 8 Nov 2008

I came across an explanation in one of the 1949 editions of a magazine called Nigeria, which had an extract from a letter written in April 1940 by Lord Lugard

"The design of the interlaced triangles is I think commonly called Solomon's Seal. I do not know if and when it was adopted as the seal of Islam but it was found on the lid of a very handsome goblet or jug of brass and copper covered with designs, which was captured by the troops when the Emir of Kontagora, the principle slave-raider in Northern Nigeria was defeated. I thought it an appropriate badge for Northern Nigeria and as far as I can remember it was my own suggestion. On amalgamation of North and South it was adopted as the emblem of united Nigeria.

D.Prothero, 23 March 1998

Among the Ibo traditions is one which claims that the original nomadic herdsmen were exposed to Jewish culture and traditions by Jews traveling south from Timbuktu through the Tibesti range and down to eastern abd central Nigeria, where they traded in ivory and some agricultural products. Timbuktu was a major center of medieval Jewish culture as the climate was much different during this period then at present, being more savanna then desert. In fact, there is allegedly a large library of Jewish manuscripts in Timbuktu which have been preserved virtually intact by the desert climate but which the Malian government, which is rather militantly Muslim, refuses to allow anyone to even examine, much less remove.

In any event, according to a friend, the green six-pointed star, which except for its colour closely resembles the Magen David, is a major symbol of Ibo culture; it figures prominently as a motif on the regalia of clan and even tribal chiefs, among others. He therefore wishes to know who actually designed the badge of British Nigeria, and if he (for we can assume that at that date the designer would most probably have been a man) was familiar with the significance of the green six pointed star to the Ibo people. It apparently plays no role in the traditions and cultures of other Nigerian peoples such as the Yoruba, Hausa, etc. He thinks, and on the basis of what he has told me, that the use of this design was therefore more than coincidental.

He says that there is a real problem with Lord Lugard's description. The design may well have been on a 'handsome goblet of brass and copper covered with designs, which was captured by the troops when the Emir of Kantagora, the principle [sic] slave-raider in Northern Nigeria, was captured,' but Dr Ojukwu says that the object which Lord Lugard described was actually a ceremonial vessel for anointing a Paramount Chief of the Ibo upon his accession to a position of authority and actually had no connection either with Islam or with the Hausa. The anointing was in two parts, and there should have been two goblets; one would contain water which had been filtered through silk or gauze so as to make it as clear as possible, while the second goblet would contained palm oil, which would have been used for the actual anointing of the Chief. The designs could very probably have actually been an attempt to write Hebrew script. The knowledge of how to write such script would have been lost by the midst of the 18th Century, but designs which vaguely suggest such script can be found on Ibo metalwork and even pottery as late as the early 1920s. The object which Lord Lugard describes was very probably an Ibo ritual object which had been taken as booty by the Emir or one of his predecessors and had belonged to an important Ibo leader. The Ibo term for the emblem roughly translates as 'Seal of Majesty' or some similar synonym, and ritual objects of this type could have been found in many museums in eastern Nigeria before the Biafra War. This ritual of anointing of a senior chief is one of the features of Ibo culture which they claim links them to Judaic influences in the past if not to an actual connection with Judaism.

There is every likelihood that the goblet was originally booty taken from a slaving raid on an Ibo settlement and which had originally belonged to a senior Ibo Chief. Dr Ojukwu says that his particular clan of the Ibo have a proverb which roughly translated is more or less 'Those who came from the North found us a People and left us a Nation. They brought with them the Wisdom of the Great God who is above all, and charged us with the task of remembering Him in all that we do.' Many Ibo rituals, such as anointing, circumcision of males after eight days (but no female circumcision, which is unusual for Africa), the wearing of fringed garments on ceremonial occasions, etc, have strong similarities to Jewish customs. It is generally believed that the Jewish traders first csme to the Ibo lands sometime around the early 13th Century and ceased their visits sometime after the mid-15th Century when the climate of the Sahel changed radically from savanna to arid desert. As for the Magen David emerging as a Jewish symbol in Eastern Europe, we have been unable to find any information as to the origins of this symbol in North and West Africa and when it became identified as an Ibo if not a specifically Jewish symbol. The Ibo remain firmly convinced that it testifies to the Judaic links to their culture.

Thanks for at least partially corroborating the information from my Ibo contact concerning the origin of the Six-Pointed Star as a traditional Ibo/Igbo symbol. I think that we may safely say that Lord Lugard, for all his estimable work as the Colonial Governor of Nigeria, may possibly have jumped to a hasty conclusion regarding the origin of the emblem which he incorporated into the Badge of the colony. Obviously further research needs to be done on this point, which is probably not flag related but certainly is anthropological. Lord Lugard's description of the six pointed star to a Hausa Emir might have been somewhat hastily made. He may well have lacked the more detailed knowledge that we have now, and I think that without definitely ascribing the emblem to the Ibo some mention should be made of the fact that it is more an Ibo rather than a Hausa symbol.
Ron Lahav, 3-4 Nov 2008

British Nigeria before 1953

   [Colonial badge pre-1953] images by Clay Moss, 08 Nov 2008

The Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria flew a British Blue Ensign with the Colonial badge in the fly.

The Tudor Crown could differ in detail and proportion between its various applications. It is also very true that the Tudor Crown could sometimes (but by no means always) be quite drastically simplified in the process of manufacturing an actual flag.
Chris Southworth, 09 Nov 2008

[British Nigeria Red Ensign pre-1953] image by Clay Moss, 18 Nov 2008

There was also a Red Ensign version for use at sea.
Clay Moss, 18 Nov 2008

The Governor's Flag followed the same pattern as used elsewhere in the British Empire at that time, being a British Union Flag defaced in the centre with the Colonial badge surrounded by a laurel wreath.
Clay Moss, 18 Nov 2008

[British Nigeria Union Flag pre-1953] image by Clay Moss, 16 November 2008

Quartered Red Ensign (variant)

[British Nigeria Quartered Red Ensign pre-1953] image by Clay Moss, 16 Nov 2008

British Nigeria (1953 - 1960)

[British Nigeria Blue Ensign 1963-1960] [Colonial badge 1963-1960] images by Clay Moss, 08 Nov 2008

[British Nigeria Red Ensign 1963-1960] image by Clay Moss, 18 Nov 2008

[British Nigeria Union Flag 1963-1960] image by Clay Moss, 16 Nov 2008

Quartered Red Ensign (variant)

[British Nigeria Quartered Red Ensign 1963-1960] image by Clay Moss, 16 Nov 2008

From the time of King Edward VII the Tudor Crown (the British Imperial State Crown in its heraldic guise) was customarily used as the depiction of the Royal Crown.  At the beginning of her reign, Queen Elizabeth II requested that the St. Edward's Crown, with which she had been crowned, should in future be used in designs embodying the Royal Crown.  Accordingly, the crown depicted on the colonial Nigerian ensigns would have reflected this change after 1953.

I am not sure if these flags actually flew, but theoretically they should have.
Martin Grieve, 08 Nov 2008

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