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The role of chiefs under British colonial Rule

With the help of the Council of Elders, the traditional rulers administered their area of jurisdiction. They took decisions in line with British colonial policy and ensured that they were implemented. The traditional rulers passed bye-laws, maintained law and order, supervised communal labour and projects. Note that where there were no recognized chiefs, the British appointed Warrant Chiefs.

Formulation and execution of policies
The traditional rulers were made a part of the colonial administrative system. The traditional rulers formulated and executed colonial policies in their areas of jurisdiction. However, this was done under the supervision of and the based on the advice of British resident officials, though they remained in the background.

Judicial functions
There was a native court established by the British. Under the system, the traditional rulers had the power to settle disputes. They tried offenders of the law and imposed the appropriate punishment, all these under the supervision of British officials. Three different laws were applied. These included customary law, Islamic law in the case of Northern Nigeria, and sometimes English common laws.

Collection of taxes
The British colonial authorities gave powers to the traditional rulers to collect taxes. These taxes were paid into a Native Treasury which was established. The Native Treasuries provided funds to finance the local administration and development projects. They also issued licenses for which fees were paid and market tolls. Court fines were also paid into the Native Treasury.

Custodians of land
The traditional rulers served as the custodians of the lands. They were authorized to distribute land to the people for purposes of various projects including, but not limited to farming, building of houses, and building of markets and for other economic activities.

Acted as law-makers
Some of the traditional rulers were appointed into the Legislative Council. This was the case under the Guggisberg Constitution of 1925. Under the constitution, six paramount chiefs served in the Legislative Council. These chiefs in the Legislative Council, partook in law-making for their respective colonies.

Signed Treaties
In the periods leading to the formation of the colonies into what they became before their respective independence, some chiefs were involved in the signing of pledges, treaties and conventions with the British. One of these treaties was the Bond of 1844.

1. Highlight six roles of the traditional rulers under the British colonial system in West Africa.
2. What were the six functions performed by the traditional rulers under the British Colonial rule in West Africa?

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