The Royal Niger Company was a mercantile company chartered by the British government in the nineteenth century. It was formed in 1879 as the United African Company and renamed National African Company in 1881 and later as Royal Niger Company in 1886.
The company which existed between 1879 to 1920 was instrumental in the formation of Colonial Nigeria as it enabled the British Empire to establish control over the lower and upper River Niger against the German competition that was led by Bismarck during the 1890s.
In 1900, the company controlled territories became the Southern Protectorate of Nigeria which was in turn united with the Northern Protectorate of Nigeria to form the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria in 1914. Richard Lander first explored the area of the River Niger in 1830 with his brother John Lander.
In 1832 the Lander Brothers returned again to establish a trading post for the “AFRICAN STEAMSHIP COMPANY” at the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers in Lokoja, the expedition failed with 40 of the 49 members dying of fever and wounds from native attacks, one of the survivors Macgregor Laird continued to fund the expeditions to River Niger even as he opposed the failed Niger expedition of 1841.
But the success of the Pleiad’s first mission in 1854 under Baikie laid the foundation of Lokoja in 1857 at the Niger–Benue confluence, the establishment of West African Company was soon followed by several other firms, the competition reduced prices to the point that profits were minimal, after arriving River Niger in 1877 George Goldie argued for the amalgamation of the surviving British firms into a single monopolistic chartered company.
By 1879 George Goldie helped James Crowther of West Africa Company, David Macintosh of Central African Company, William Brothers and James Pinnock’s firms into a single UNITED AFRICAN COMPANY UAC.
The firm saw a renewed competition as two French firms the French Equatorial African Association, Senegal Company and another English companies the Liverpool and Manchester Trading Company started establishing trading posts on the river Niger as well.
The Local natives attack on the UAC outpost at Onitsha in 1879 was repulsed with help from Her Majesty Gun Ship, the British administration subsequently denied George Goldie attempt to procure a government charter in 1881 on the grounds that the international rivalry might coursed unnecessary conflict and the company was undercapitalized for a genuine colonial administration.
George Goldie began addressing the administration’s concerns by increasing the company’s capitalization to £100 000, he then managed to accrued £1 000 000 in investments in a new National African Company that bought the UAC and its interests in 1882. The death of Leon Gambetta in 1882 deprived the French companies of their support within the French government and the strong subsidies it had been providing.
George Goldie’s cash flow from National Africa Company had been able to maintain *30 trading posts along the river Niger with Baro as a warehouse port in 1906,* by October 1884 this monopoly permitted Britain to resist French and German calls *to internationalize trade on the Niger river during the negotiations at the 1884–1885 Berlin Conference on African colonization.*
George Goldie also attended the meetings and successfully argued for including *RIVER NIGER AS A GOLDMINE* to be part of National Africa Company operations within the British sphere of interest, the National Africa Company’s over 400 treaties with local leaders obliged the local natives to trade solely with the company.
Large tariffs and license fees eliminated competing firms from the area, the terms of these private contracts were made into general treaties by the British consuls whose treaties incorporated River Niger, even when King Jaja of Opobo organized his own trading network and even began running his own shipments of palm oil to Britain he was lured onto a British warship and shipped into exile as part of ” *treaty breaking” and “obstructing commerce”* in River Niger.
In July 1886 the British government passed a charter of the National African Company becoming the Royal Niger Company Chartered with Lord Aberdare as Governor and George Goldie as Deputy Governor, on 1st January 1900 the Royal Niger Company transferred its territories to the British Government for the sum of £865,000 that had been formed into two protectorates of northern and southern Nigeria.
The Royal Niger company changed its name to Niger Company Limited in 1929 and became part of the United Africa Company UAC, the United Africa Company came under the control of Unilever in the 1930s and continued to exist as a subsidiary of Unilever until 1987 when it was absorbed into the parent company.
_This Commentary is written by Niger State Ministry of Information and Strategy_