Nigeria officially referred to as the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a federal state in West Africa. It borders Cameroon and Chad to the East, Benin to the west, and Niger to the north. It also has a coast in the south that lies on the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. Nigeria is made up of 36 cities and the Federal Capital Territory, where Abuja, the capital city is situated.
Nigeria has a lot of historic empires and cultures compared to other countries in Africa. The history of Nigeria can be traced back to as early as 11,000 BC when a number of ancient African communities inhabited the area that now makes Nigeria. The greatest and the well-known empire that ruled the region before the British arrived was the Benin Empire whose ruler was known as Oba of Benin. Other tribes such as the Nri Kingdom also settled in the country, especially in the Eastern side. The Songhai Empire also settled in some of the country’s territory. By the 11th century, Islam had arrived in Nigeria via the Hausa States. In 1851, the British forces seized Lagos, which was later annexed officially in 1861. In 1901, Nigeria was made a British protectorate and was colonized until 1960, when the country gained independence.
In 1963, Nigeria became a republic but fell under military rule in 1966 as a result of a coup d’état. In 1967, the Republic of Biafra was formed and this led to the three-year Nigerian Civil War. The country became a republic again in 1979 after a new constitution was drafted. The republic, however, did not last for long because the military under the leadership of Major General Muhammadu Buhari seized the country four years later. A new republic was formed in August 1993 after Buhari was overthrown but was once again dissolved in November the same year by General Sani Abacha who passed on in 1998, leading to the creation of a forth republic in 1999.
With the above in mind, the country’s history will be discussed in brief below.
Early History of Nigeria (500BC – 1500)
Bronze casting of Oduduwa, 12th Century, Between 500 BC and 200 AD, the Nok civilization living in Northern Nigeria thrived in the territory.
They made life-sized terracotta sculptures which are among the earliest recognized figures in Sub-Saharan Africa. Other cities further north such as Katsina and Kano also have a history that dates to around 999AD. During this era, the Kanem-Bornu Empire and the Hausa kingdoms flourished as trade points between West and North Africa.
In the 10th century, the Igbo people of the Nri Kingdom merged. The kingdom, however, lost its power to the British in 1911. The city if Nri is believed to be the cornerstone of Igbo culture. In the 12th and 14th centuries respectively, the Yoruba kingdoms of Ife and Oyo in the southwest region of Nigeria attained prominence. The first evidence of human civilization at Ife’s present-day location go way back to the 9th century whose main culture included bronze and terracotta sculptures.
Middle Ages in Nigeria (1500 – 1800)
In the late 17th to early 18th centuries, Oyo was at its zenith and was able to expand its influence form western Nigeria to present-day Togo. The Benin Empire had sovereignty over the region between the 15th and the 19th centuries. The Fulani Empire, also referred as the Sokoto Caliphate, was then developed at the beginning of the 19th century by Usman dan Fodio who led a successful jihad. The empire ruled over what is currently central and northern Nigeria and its sovereignty lasted until 1903 when it was broken up into a number of European colonies.
People in the territory traded a lot with merchants from North Africa and the cities in the region were transformed into regional centers for the trade routes that extended to West, Central, and North Africa. It was in the 16th century when Portuguese and Spanish explorers began direct trade with the locals in Calabar and the port they named Lagos. It was these trade interactions that led to the Atlantic slave trade and the port of Calabar became one of the biggest slave trading stations in West Africa during the transatlantic slave trade period. Other slave stations were Bonny Island on the Bight of Biafra and Badagry, Lagos on the Bight of Benin.
British Nigeria (1800 – 1960)
1901 Nigeria stamp number of European states and non-state actors, for instance, Portugal, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and private organizations, as well as a number of African countries and non-states actors were actively involved in the slave trade business. It was in 1807 when Great Britain abolished the transnational slave trade. After the Napoleonic Wars, Britain created the West African Squadron in an effort to put an end to the transnational slave trade.
In 1851, British bombarded Lagos while intervening in the Lagos Sovereignty power struggle, deposed Oba Kosoko who favored slave trade and in his place appointed Oba Akitoye. On 1 January 1852, the treaty between Great Britain and Lagos was signed and in August 1861 Lagos was annexed as a Crown Colony via the Lagos Treaty of Cession.
In 1856, Britain chartered the Royal Niger Company and in 1900 the company’s region came under the leadership of the British government which then consolidated its control over the area of present-day Nigeria. Nigeria was then made a British protectorate on 1 January 1901 thus becoming a section of the British Empire. Towards the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th centuries, the sovereign kingdoms that would later become Nigeria fought against Britain’s attempts to enlarge its territory. Benin was conquered by the British in 1897 who also overpowered other opponents in the Anglo-Aro War that took place from1901-1902.
The Niger was officially merged as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria in 1914. Nigeria remained administratively divided into the Southern and Northern Protectorates and Lagos Colony. Western learning institutions were established in the Protectorates by Christian missions. The Christian missions were, however, not encouraged to operate their missions in the northern region of the country which was Islamic.
After World War II there were demands for independence by the locals and consecutive constitutions established by Britain helped move Nigeria towards a self-government. Towards mid-20th century a big wave for sovereignty was sweeping across the African continent and Nigeria attained its independence on 1 October 1960. The government was made up of an alliance of conservative parties: the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, dominated mostly by Christians and Igbo people, and the Nigerian People’s Congress (NPC) which was dominated by people of Islamic faith and Northerners. The opposition party was made up of the liberal Action Group (AG) which was dominated by the Yoruba. The first Federal Republic was created in 1963 and in 1965 elections were held and the Nigerian National Democratic Party assumed power in the western region of the country.
Military Juntas in Nigeria (1970-1999)
In the 1970s Nigeria experienced an oil boom. The country joined OPEC and the oil revenues generated helped enrich the economy. Much was, however, not done to improve the standards of living for the locals; the military government did not invest in infrastructure or help businesses grow thus leading to a political struggle in the country.
In 1979, power was returned to the civilian regime led by Shehu Shagari but his government was viewed as corrupt. In 1984, a military coup led by Muhammadu Buhari was executed and people thought of it as a positive development. Major reforms were promised by Buhari but his government was no better and he was overthrown in 1985 by another military coup.
Ibrahim Babangida became the new president and in his tenure, he enlisted Nigeria in the Organization of the Islamic Conference. He also introduced the International Monetary Fund’s Structural Adjustment Program to assist in repaying the country’s debt.
On 12 June 1993, the first free and fair elections were held since the military coup of 1983 and the presidential victory went to the Social Democratic Party after defeating the National republican Convention. The elections were, however, cancelled by Babangida. This led to civilian protests which eventually led to the shutting down of the nation for weeks.
On 5 May 1999, a new constitution was adopted and it provided for multiparty elections.
Democratization of Nigeria (1999-present)
Democracy was regained by the county in 1999 after Olusegun Obasanjo was selected as the President of Nigeria. He was re-elected again in 2003. In the 2007 general elections, Umaru Yar’Adua came to power under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He passed on in May 2010 and was replaced by Dr Goodluck Jonathan who won the 2011 general elections but was defeated in the March 2015 general elections by Muhammadu Buhari.