Faculty Author Type

In Memoriam [W. Wesley Pue]

Published In

Social Identities

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



lawyers; legal profession; colonialism; British Empire; Nigeria; professionalism; legal history


This essay explores the role of the organized legal profession in relation to British Imperialism, state formation, and independence in Nigeria. Drawing on recent works in the fields of post-colonial legal studies and cultural histories of legal professions, the paper develops an understanding of lawyering and lawyers' associations as deeply implicated in the myriad cultural projects through which law simultaneously 'civilizes' provincials and mediates between centre and locale. The paper reviews new developments in theories of legal professionalism and surveys secondary literatures of lawyers in colonial processes. It assesses the historical processes linking imperialism, law, and lawyers from the establishment of British rule in Nigeria through to independence. The causes célèbres involving the traditional authority of the Eleko of Lagos and the Emir of Kano are appraised. The two cases reveal the double-edged character of legal resistance to Imperialism, and the complex matrix of Nigeria's geo-political terrain. Lawyers profoundly challenged Empire while simultaneously constituting unprecedented forms of identity: legal rights claims, articulated within western liberalism's classic legal form, sought to secure a single Nigerian nationalism, constituting a sovereign Westphalian-style state from Nigeria's diverse and far-flung peoples.

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