Nigeria at 54: “The Best Man Policy” in Colonial Calabar Remembered by David Lishilinimle Imbua
Britain declared a protectorate over the coastal peoples of Calabar, Ibeno and Opobo in 1885 and as far as a central government was concerned, the territorial units whose administration embraced Old Calabar Province were the Oil Rivers Protectorate (1885-1893), the Niger Coast Protectorate (1893-1899), the Protectorate of Southern
Nigeria (1900-1906), the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria (1906-1913), and the amalgamated colony of Nigeria (as from 1914). Calabar was the headquarters of the ?rst three units and Lagos, of the last two. The strategic position of Calabar in the colonial enterprise influenced the coming together of disparate ethnic groups to taken advantage of new opportunities in the area. The heterogeneity with which the population
of Calabar came to be characterized strengthened the British insistence in pulling the best brains and talents, irrespective of place of origin, in building a society with equal opportunities for all. This was known as “The Best Man Policy”. The Calabar indigenous groups regarded this as a challenge to their birthright and an attempt to “allow the tail to wag the dog”. Despite the vehemelnce with which they expressed their displeasure at the policy, Calabar “indigenes” were to realize that British infuences in the region had made the change from ethnicity to cosmopolitanism inevitable. Consequently, they accepted the participation of “non-indigenes” in governance once “they had the ability to contribute to the development of the area”. Though Calabar still
stands in the same place, an awful lot has happened to its “strangers. ” Since Calabar is merely serving as a test case to shed light on a national problem, the paper admonishes Nigerians to shift the emphasis from where people come from to what they can do to advance society. This is the ultimate challenge as we reflect on Nigeria’s Independence.
Keywords: Ethnicity, Cosmopolitanism, Colonial Rule, Independence, Nation