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Power Relations in Nigeria: Ilorin Slaves and Their Successors.

Power Relations in Nigeria: Ilorin Slaves and Their Successors. By Ann O'Hear. (Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 1997. Pp. x, 338. $65.00.)

In this volume, the author critically examines patterns of resistance and accommodation among slaves and their successors in Ilorin, a Nigerian city now in Kwara State. Formerly a predominantly Yoruba town, Ilorin is now a multiethnic city, harboring, among others, Hausa and Fulani settlers from northern Nigeria. "The city of Ilorin, grew in importance in the early nineteenth century as a frontier emirate of the Sokoto Caliphate (in Northern Nigeria), and amassed a large population of slaves. Control of this slave population was of enormous importance to the city elite" (188). Historically, the Hausa-Fulani took control of Ilorin during the nineteenth-century era of the Islamic (Fulani) jihad or holy war, hence a strong influence of Islam arose there. Since then, relations between the ruling elite and the colonized slave population have undergone various permutations.

Ann O'Hear examines this relationship in terms of a "resistance and accommodation" paradigm, a concept she borrows from studies on slavery in America and Latin America. The book is divided into eight chapters and ends with a conclusion that summarizes the major issues. In chapter one, the author provides a historiographical survey of resistance literature and accommodation among slaves and ex-slaves drawn from various areas of the world, including Africa. She examines slavery in nineteenth-century Ilorin in chapter two, while in chapters three through eight she explores the dynamics of "power relations between the slaves and their successors on the one hand, and their masters and controllers [including the British] in the Ilorin elite on the other" (1).

Slave resistance naturally assumed different forms, including, for instance, outright rebellion, which at times involved the murder of slave owners and their families. There were also cases of flight (or escape) to new areas of supposed security; rejection of both political and religious (Islamic) authority; or, in recent times, refusal to vote for the dominant political class in the modern Nigerian political system. As O'Hear points out, political protest by the underprivileged class was (and still is) very common. By the 1950s, demands for political freedom or independence from the city elite had become quite strident. O'Hear writes, "Ours is the sad story of a people who have for a long time been living in bondage and under the condemnable feudalistic system whereby `foreigners' were appointed to lord it over us, the existence of our own traditional rulers notwithstanding" (177). Civil disobedience was also widespread, at least as evinced in the refusal of farmers in the Osin Local Government Area (1980s) "to come in to Ilorin with foodstuffs for the feast of Id El-Kebir" (183).

Resistance was often tempered with accommodation. O'Hear discusses reasons for accommodation, including "the desire to improve one's condition," or the fear of harsher treatment/repression (15-19 and passim). Even in the colonial era, when slaves were freed, some freed slaves chose to remain with their masters, ostensibly because they had "nowhere to go" (75). Using the concept of resistance and accommodation in her analysis, the author discusses the different ways in which slaves and their progeny accommodated to their servile conditions. The analysis of political "resistance in accommodation" since the 1950s is of special interest. O'Hear writes,
   In the early 1950s, political consciousness was stirring in the
   Metropolitan Districts [of Ilorin], and, given the opportunity provided by
   the major local government changes, the inhabitants burst out for the first
   time into massive, open resistance to their overlords in Ilorin (189).

This "open resistance" included demands for "complete independence from Ilorin control" (189).

Political accommodation is illustrated in the voting patterns, which, the author notes, revealed "a less resistant, more divided population." In large measure, Islam appears to have been a mediating factor, promoting a "unified political consciousness and class unity." Thus, demands for "independence" failed, and the Ilorin district heads and fiefholders "continued to exercise domination over their rural population" (189-190).

Overall, this book makes an important contribution to the growing literature on slavery and the varieties of slave reactions to their social predicament. The study is based on a wide range of archival sources and enriched by the careful use of oral evidence, which is a sine qua non in studies of this genre. However, this reviewer is not convinced that the status and conditions of African slaves were exactly the same as those in the New World. Africanists should exercise caution in applying models ("slave analysis") that were developed elsewhere to interpret African phenomena.

Felix K. Ekechi

Kent State University3
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Ekechi, Felix K.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1999
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