Fishwick Collection: Nigerian Independence Celebrations, 01/10/1960

This film is held by the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum (ID: 2001/087/001).


The film includes sequences in and around Gwoza including markets, a palm plantation, villages and drilling for artesian wells. The majority of the film is shot during independence celebrations held in Maiduguri, Bornu Province, Northern Nigeria, and shows the visit of Princess Alexandra to the town in the second week of October 1960, where she and various other dignitaries (including the Shehu of Bornu, the new High Commissioner to Nigeria, and various members of the new Nigerian Government) were honoured with a magnificent Durbar parade of district heads and their splendidly arrayed cavalry contingents. NB: Some of the film is out of focus and there is double exposure on a 2 minute section of Princess Alexandra.

Production / Donor Details: Film taken by forester Robert W. Fishwick in Northern Nigeria, 1960.



From the 15th century onwards Bornu, located in the north-eastern part of Nigeria, was the seat of the 900-year-old Saifewa dynasty whose former state, Kanem, on the northeast side of Lake Chad, had once stretched eastwards to the Sudan and as far north as the Fezzan. The Saifewa had relocated to Bornu in the 14th century, and though never as large or powerful as Kanem in its pomp, the Sultanate of Bornu in its heyday was an expansionist, martial Islamic state, its wealth built up from warfare and the connected trade in slaves and horses with peoples to the east and north (the areas association with horses and horsemanship is such that the Hausa saying ‘taking horses to Bornu’ carries the same meaning as ‘taking coals to Newcastle’).

The Sultanate declined after clashes with Fulani jihadists in early 19th century, and the Saifewa dynasty was replaced by that of the Al-Kanemi around mid-century, but by the time that the area came under British colonial control in 1900 as part of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria, the emirate was in a state of general disrepair. Frederick Lugard, the first High Commissioner of the Northern Protectorate and the chief architect of the ‘indirect rule’ policy, reinstated a scion of the Al-Kanemi dynasty as the Shehu of Bornu in 1902 and thereafter, as elsewhere in the large and populous Muslim north, British administration was achieved through the authority of the Emir. The capital city of the erstwhile Sultanate was at this time relocated from Garzagamo to Yerwa, and renamed Maiduguri (Oyewole and Lucas, 2000, Mukhtar 2005, 157). Throughout the colonial period, relations with the British in Bornu were in general good, though until the end of colonial rule the area had a (perhaps undeserved) reputation for underdevelopment and corruption, and the autocratic nature of its Emirs (McClintock, 1992, 3-7).

As pressure for full independence mounted during the 1950s, the Northern Region of Nigeria, with its large population and area – bigger than the Eastern and Western regions combined – was in part responsible for applying a brake to the process. It was the last of the three regions to ask for self-government, and in 1956 it was objections by the Northern delegation that saw moves toward full independence pushed back after the Action Group had tabled a motion in the Central Legislature requesting self-government that same year. At the 1957 Constitutional Conference in London, the Eastern and Western Regions secured self-government; a further conference in 1958 was required to arrange self-government in the Northern Region, and the area took up its new right in March 1959. With all three regions self-governing, the British Government agreed that, should a formal request for independence be passed in the new Federal Parliament, it would be granted. A resolution requesting independence was duly passed in January 1960 at the Nigerian Parliament’s first session, and September 1960 saw the British Government pass the Nigerian (Constitution) Order in Council, granting Nigeria full independence from 1 October, 1960.

Princess Alexandra of Kent represented the Queen in Lagos at the independence celebrations, after which she was scheduled to tour the country over a period of nearly a fortnight. The Times carried reports and photographs of her visit, including a picture of her taken in the North at Bida on the 13 October (‘Princess Alexandra Begins Nigeria Regional Tour’, 3 October; ‘Conducted Tour’, 13 October). The tour was due to finish in the North at Kano; despite rioting in Kaduna and elsewhere, including Maiduguri (where it seemed to have been inspired by a local party, the Bornu Youth Movement, that was opposed to Federation: McClintock, ibid, 178-80), it passed without mishap, though The Times reported on 23 September that the itinerary was altered as a result of the rioting (‘Princess’s Nigeria Tour to be Cut’).



The Fishwick collection consists of a single reel of 8mm colour stock, shot by Robert W. Fishwick during the first fortnight of October 1960. The first half of the film, which opens with a shot of the Nigerian flag and some images of Nigerian newspapers hailing independence, was taken in and around the town of Gwoza, and appears to document prospecting and drilling for artesian water, and some installed artesian wells. There are also some market and village scenes; much of this footage appears to have been shot in remote bush and desert. The extract presented here is the second half of the film. Shot in Maiduguri, it records the arrival of Princess Alexandra and the magnificent Durbar held in her honour. It seems very probable that this section of the film contains footage from two different cameras, taken simultaneously by two different cameramen – one camera located in the crowd recorded the Durbar proper, while another cameraman ‘backstage’ (possibly Mike Barber - see below) has captured the riders’ preparations, and groups of riders leaving for and returning from the parade ground.

The District Officer in Bornu from 1950-1960 was N. C. McClintock, whose account of his time in Bornu, Kingdoms in the Sand and Sun: An African Path to Independence (McClintock, 1992), contains a precise account of the events captured in the second half of R. W. Fishwick’s film. McClintock’s position meant that arrangements for the Princess’s visit were largely his responsibility, and he records that the work of preparation had been going on for months before the official visit was due. His description of the Durbar itself, held on the red earth square or ‘Dandal’ in front of the Shehu’s palace, gives a detailed account of who was in attendance, who sat on the dais with the Princess, and which district heads and cavalry contingents were present (ibid., 190-3). McClintock is specific enough to allow some of the various district heads or groups seen in Fishwick’s footage to be identified – Yerima Mustapha of Geidam, for instance, can be identified by his trademark squadron of horsemen armed with polo sticks, and the oxen seen late in the footage are evidently the ‘Shuwa Arab contingent of twenty oxen, each carrying a magnificent palanquin in which was seated a young bride dressed in many coloured silks and velvets’ (ibid., 193). The footage in this section of the film is sometimes out of focus, and a section of the film has unfortunately been double-exposed. Nevertheless, the beautiful refinement of the costumes, the splendour and pride of the participants, and the dramatic power of the choreographed parade are all evident from Fishwick’s footage, which constitutes a unique record of an extraordinary event.

Although Durbars of this kind were a traditional honour paid to the Northern Emirs, it is noteworthy that, according to McClintock, Bornu province had in fact never attempted to stage one on this scale, and its organization was overseen by the District Officer in conjunction with the ‘native authority and provincial staff [who] worked untiringly for [the] great occasion’ (ibid., 190). The ‘traditional’ event to mark independence was thus in fact orchestrated by the outgoing colonial administration, and was a very well organised operation: ‘For weeks the contingents who would be taking part in the Durbar had been gathering in Maiduguri…A special camp had been prepared close to where the railway station now is, and Mike Barber had taken charge of it. Water had been laid on, shelters had been erected and latrines dug. A dispensary had been established, and as he arrived every man was vaccinated and any ailments he might confess to were treated’ (ibid., 190-1).

The mention of Mike Barber in this context is of interest in relation to the Fishwick film. Barber is discussed earlier in McClintock’s account – a geologist with a team of around five others working for the unlikely sounding ‘Balakhany Black Sea Oil Exploration Company’, he was engaged in finding artesian water in the dried bed of Lake Chad north-east of Maiduguri (ibid., 169-72). McClintock describes Barber’s successful search for artesian water at some length – it was hoped that the discovery of artesian water for drinking would be ‘the key that opened up to profitable use the whole of this wide and fertile area’, turning Bornu into ‘the granary of Nigeria’ (ibid., 171). It seems very likely that the drilling and artesian wells seen in the early part of the Fishwick film are related to this project headed by Barber. This in turn would seem to suggest that the parts of Durbar film which apparently take place in the preparation camp before and after the parade may have been shot by Barber, who worked closely with Mr. Fishwick in Nigeria, and whom McClintock had placed in charged of the camp.

Francis Gooding (April 2010) (with thanks to Bob Fishwick and Cindy Wyatt)


Works Cited

McClintock, N. C. Kingdoms in the Sand and Sun: An African Path to Independence (London: Radcliffe Press, 1992).

Mukhtar, Yakubu, ‘Borno (Bornu)’ in Shillingdon ed., 2005, 157.

Oyewole, Anthony and Lucas, John ‘Bornu’ 112-3 Historical Dictionary of Nigeria (London: Scarecrow, 2000).

Shillingdon, Kevin ed. Encyclopaedia of African History vol 1 (London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005).

‘Princess’s Nigeria Tour to be Cut’, The Times, 23 September 1960.

‘Princess Alexandra Begins Nigeria Regional Tour’, The Times, 3 October 1960.

‘Conducted Tour’, The Times, 13 October 1960.



  • Fishwick Collection: Nigerian Independence Celebrations, 01/10/1960 (Archive)
Series Title:
Fishwick Collection

Technical Data

Running Time:
approx 30m
Film Gauge (Format):
8mm VHS

Production Credits

Production Details
See synopsis