Northern Nigeria: Precolonial documents preservation scheme - major project (EAP535)

Aims and objectives

This project will digitise materials held in the National Archives Kaduna (NAK), which was established as the major repository for Northern Nigeria in 1957. The targeted materials include Arabic and Hausa manuscripts from the nineteenth century, and early colonial reports. The latter are comprised of the Secretariat Northern Provinces, provincial files, records from Divisional and District offices, court records, maps, and photographs, and date from 1897 to 1920. The Arabic and Hausa language materials include local chronicles, private correspondence, legal documents, and religious literature, most of which is uncatalogued and ranges in date from the late 18th century to 1903.

The early colonial records have been used extensively by students and scholars and are now in very poor condition. The Arabic and Hausa material has not been so heavily used but natural factors such as pests, mould and humidity have led to the crumbling of some of documents and left the remainder in a vulnerable condition. Storage facilities are very poor, without environmental protection and often in rooms without electricity. Many documents are on the floor and many have been misplaced, lost or even stolen. One component of this proposal therefore it to conduct an inventory to determine exactly what is present.

These materials are of high importance as they document the social, economic and political history of the Sokoto Caliphate (the largest 19th century Islamic empire in West Africa) as well as the early years of British colonial rule in Northern Nigeria, when many features of Caliphate economy and society were researched by colonial officials. They detail colonial policy formation and demonstrate the extent to which officials understood Islam, slavery and unfree labour and how they were trying to shape colonial Northern Nigeria through reform of Caliphate institutions. Finally, the documents are of value to historians of Africa in general, because such resources deal with labour, culture, intellectual history and inter-group relations in the African pre-colonial era. Such documentation is relatively scarce.

The Director of the National Archives of Nigeria, and also serving as the archivist overseeing the National Archives Kaduna, Mr AO Umar, will serve as consultant in this project. He has given this project his full support and will be responsible for advising other team members on the principles of data preservation and ensuring that digitised documents are of high standard and worthy of deposition. He will also be invaluable in helping to resolve any issues that may arise, such as resources and prioritisation.

By the end of the project an updated NAK catalogue related to the targeted materials will have been produced. Materials will be preserved in accordance with the British Library standards and copies these items will be deposited with the National Archives Kaduna and the British Library.


The project succeeded in creating an updated catalogue of materials that focus on the pre-colonial and early colonial history of Northern Nigeria. This catalogue contains 2,376 items dealing with diverse topics including colonial policies, slavery, religion, labour, agriculture, and culture. All the items listed on the catalogue have been digitised, comprising 62,177 digital images. Copies of all the digitised materials have been deposited at the National Archives Kaduna and at the British Library.

Read online the open access article: Convict labour in early colonial Northern Nigeria: a preliminary study, published in the EAP Anniversary publication From Dust to Digital. The article can also be downloaded as a PDF (684KB).

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:

Blog: National Archives Kaduna Collection, 4 January 2016