Sir George Taubman Goldie conceived the idea of adding to the British empire the then little known regions of the lower and middle Niger River, and for over twenty years his efforts were devoted to the realization of this conception. The method by which he determined to work was the revival of government by chartered companies within the empire, a method supposed to be buried with the British East India Company. The first step was to combine all British commercial interests in the Niger, and this he accomplished in 1879 when the United African Company was formed. In 1881 Goldie sought a charter from Gladstone's government but his attempts failed.
At this time French traders, encouraged by Léon Gambetta, established themselves on the lower river, thus rendering it difficult for the company to obtain territorial rights; but the Frenchmen were bought out in 1884, so that at the Berlin Conference on West Africa in 1885, Goldie, present as an expert on matters relating to the river, was able to announce that on the lower Niger the British flag alone flew. Meantime the Niger coast line had been placed under British protection. Over 400 political treaties drawn up by Goldie were made with the chiefs of the lower Niger and the Hausa states. The scruples of the British government being overcome, a charter was at length granted (July 1886), the National African Company becoming the Royal Niger Company, with Henry Austin Bruce, 1st Baron Aberdare as governor and Goldie as vice-governor.
It was, however, evidently impossible for a chartered company to hold its own against the state-supported protectorates of France and Germany, and in consequence, on January 1, 1900, the Royal Niger Company transferred its territories to the British government for the sum of £865,000. The ceded territory together with the small Niger Coast Protectorate, already under imperial control, was formed into the two protectorates of northern and southern Nigeria.