The Suffering Subject: Flogging Scandals in Colonial Northern Nigeria and a Humanitarian Public Sphere, 1912-1933

Danford Room 2nd floor Arts Building (R16 on the campus map)
Wednesday 17 January 2018 (16:30-18:30)

Speaker: Steven Pierce, University of Manchester 

Shortly after the start of colonial rule in Northern Nigeria, a series of scandals over flogging brought the territory to international attention. By the second decade of the twentieth century, a network of newspapers across coastal west Africa, metropolitan Britain, and the African diaspora was regularly reporting on flogging cases, particularly those involving women and educated, often Christian, Africans from outside the north. International attention focused on these cases as humanitarian outrages. The Nigerian administration and the Colonial Office attempted to deflect the scandals through a shifting series of strategies: justifying flogging as an appropriate and humane means of disciplining “primitives,” attempting to ensure floggings were only administered by African systems of justice and then claiming that the practice was therefore culturally appropriate, carefully regulating the practices of flogging, and investigating cases of flogging to exculpate the officials responsible.

These scandals ultimately led to a reform of the criminal justice system in 1933 that eliminated the scandals as an imperial scandal. However, the situation had long-lasting effects. It further entrenched the trope of whipped bodies as a particularly “African” humanitarian outrage. It helped to institutionalize the notion that particular judicial and governmental techniques were culturally specific. It politicized the question of people’s areas of origin. Even today, the rhetoric in which we describe human rights violations depends on the tropes of African atrocities which was shaped by the Nigerian scandals, and the issues of indigeneity that continue to bedevil Nigerian politics were shaped by the politics of court jurisdiction and penalty emerging from early twentieth-century flogging.

Steven Pierce is Senior Lecturer in Modern African History at the University of Manchester.  His most recent book is Moral Economies of Corruption: State Formation and Political Culture in Nigeria (Duke, 2016). 

Part of the Africa Talks Seminar Series Spring 2018.

Talks are held in the Danford Room, 2nd floor, Arts Building (R16 on the campus map). 

All welcome. 

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