THE ROBBERY OF AFRICAN TREASURES

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The Robbery of African Treasures After the abolition of the Slave Trade at the beginning of the nineteenth century British attention on the West African coast was turned towards 'legitimate trade' supplying trade goods in return for raw materials or semi processed commodities, in particular palm oil, a major lubricant for the industrial revolution. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, following the carve up of Africa into 'spheres of influence' by the European powers, the British had an established presence along the coast of present day Nigeria, with some areas administered directly from Whitehall and others under trading company control. Spheres of influence were defined by European powers in relation to each other, and often had little meaning on the ground, being based on ambiguous treaties entered into with traditional rulers. The Niger Coast Protectorate included the Niger Delta and the trading ports to the east. By 1895 the Protectorate government had established its authority, frequently by use of force, over all the major trading centres except the ancient kingdom of Benin which insisted on retaining sovereignty and trading independence. A 'trade and protection' treaty had been concluded with Benin in 1892 by Capt. Gallwey on the first official visit to the city in thirty years. But trade, conducted via the intermediary of the coastal Itsekiri people, was less profitable than expected and the Protectorate administration was feeling the pressure from the rival British administrations of Lagos Colony and the Royal Niger Company, both desiring to 'open up' the hinterland to trade. Ralph Moor, the Consul General of the Niger Coast Protectorate, felt hampered by the Foreign Office's reluctance to allow him to mount an armed expedition against the kingdom of Benin. This is the background against which the events of 1987 occurred, when Moor was on leave in England and a newly arrived Acting Consul General, James Phillips took up his post. The ''official version' of these events was that a brave and humanitarian mission was massacred because of African treachery and barbarity. A small but successful war of colonial conquest then punished the perpetrators and freed the populace from the depredations of a 'Fetish-Priest-King' and his rule of terror. Much was made of the practice of human sacrifice in Benin as a justification for interference: The King of Benin in the treaty he signed with captain Gallwey, had agreed to place himself and his county under H.M.. Protectorate and it was becoming a perfect disgrace that in the Protectorate ... so terrible a state of affairs continued as that in what was not very improperly called the City of Blood. Captain Boisragon, Phillips' c

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