Abstract: Background to the Bornu Extension Railway: The Political Economy of Britain's Decolonization and Railway Development in Nigeria, 1919-1958

Tokumbo Aderemi Ayoola


In the late 1950s, it seemed clear that Britain would soon grant Nigeria her independence. However, to guarantee its economic and strategic interests in independent Nigeria, Britain sought to manipulate the decolonization process. One key strategy employed was to side with the fraction of the Nigerian petty bourgeoisie whose political, economic, and class interests were in agreement with its own, and this was the Northern Nigeria political elite. But unfortunately, the fraction's economic base was weak. Although the largest and the most populated region, it was the poorest. Thus, the fraction could not develop its region or talk much of guaranteeing British interests—unless its economic base was further developed. One key sector that the economy's attention was focused on was agriculture. However, the greatest obstacle to further agricultural production was the inefficiency of the existing transport system, particularly the railway. From the early 1950s, the Northern establishment began to pressure the central colonial government to construct a railway extension into the potentially agriculturally rich Bornu province. The pressure worked, and the Bornu Extension project was adopted despite concern for its viability and lack of finance for it. The 400-mile extension was eventually constructed and opened in 1964.