In this post we will be looking at History of Nigeria, Prehistory, A British sphere of influence and Independence.



Nigeria stood as the biggest black country on the globe because of its estimated population of 200,000,000. On the coast of West African, an area of 356,669 square miles has been covered, which was known officially as the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1963. History will not forgive if we failed to discuss Nigerian history before and after independence. Before independence, there was an increase of trade in agricultural produce from Africa to Europe, especially palm oil from the West African Coastal region which was prevalent after the removal of the slave trade.

In the year 1861, the coastal enclave of Lagos State became a British colony which leads to a massive increment in the section of British trade, influence of politics and missions in the country. The emergence of Pan-Africanism, not forgetting the nationalism of Nigeria became the limelight because of the important function Lagos State played as its center for an educated West African elite during the late 19th century and 20th century.

An aggressive military expansion in the region by Britain was brought to an end in the 19th century. In the year 1900, the Northern area of Nigeria has Protectorate declared upon them. The little change in Nigeria’s way of life that was brought in by a Nominal British Rule was enabled through the strong political and cultural primitive even though the sovereignty is lost. The second half of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century marked the era Nigeria came under the colonial rule of the United States. Although some areas were under the German Controlled is the Kameron present-day Nigeria was captured and colonized by the British.


History of Nigeria

The history of Nigeria can be traced to the earliest inhabitants whose remains date from at least 13,000 BC through early civilizations such as the Nok culture which began around 1500 BC. Numerous ancient African civilizations settled in the region that is known today as Nigeria, such as the Kingdom of Nri,

the Benin Empire and the Oyo Empire. Islam reached Nigeria through the Bornu Empire between (1068 AD) and Hausa States around (1385 AD) during the 11th century, while Christianity came to Nigeria in the 15th century through Augustinian and Capuchin monks from Portugal. The Songhai Empire also occupied part of the region. From the 15th century, European slave traders arrived in the region to purchase enslaved Africans as part of the Atlantic slave trade, which started in the region of modern-day Nigeria; the first Nigerian port used by European slave traders was Badagry, a coastal harbour. Local merchants provided them with slaves, escalating conflicts among the ethnic groups in the region and disrupting older trade patterns through the Trans-Saharan route.

Lagos was occupied by British forces in 1851 and formally annexed by Britain in the year 1865. Nigeria became a British protectorate in 1901. The period of British rule lasted until 1960 when an independence movement led to the country being granted independence. Nigeria first became a republic in 1963, but succumbed to military rule after a bloody coup d’état in 1966. A separatist movement later formed the Republic of Biafra in 1967, leading to the three-year Nigerian Civil War. Nigeria became a republic again after a new constitution was written in 1979.

However, the republic was short-lived, as the military seized power again in 1983 and later ruled for ten years. A new republic was planned to be established in 1993 but was aborted by General Sani Abacha. Abacha died in 1998 and a fourth republic was later established the following year, which ended three decades of intermittent military rule.



Archaeological research, pioneered by Charles Thurstan Shaw, has shown a long history of human settlement in Nigeria. Excavations in Ugwuele, Afikpo and Nsukka show evidence of habitation as early as 6,000 BC. Shaw’s excavations at Igbo-Ukwu revealed a 9th-century indigenous culture that created highly sophisticated work in bronze metalworking, independent of Arab or European influence and centuries before other sites that were better known at the time of discovery. The earliest known example of a fossil human skeleton found             anywhere in West Africa, which is 13,000 years old, was found at Iwo-leru in Isarun, western Nigeria, and attests to the antiquity of habitation in the region.

The Dufuna canoe was discovered in 1987 not far from the Komadugu Gana River, in Yobe State. Radiocarbon dating of a sample of charcoal found near the site dates the canoe at 8,500 to 8,000 years old, linking the site to Lake Mega Chad. It is the oldest boat discovered in Africa, and the second oldest known worldwide. Stone axe heads, imported in great quantities from the north and used in opening the forest for agricultural development, were venerated by the Yoruba descendants of Neolithic pioneers as “thunderbolts” hurled to earth by the gods.


Nok Culture and early Iron Age

The Nok culture thrived from approximately 1,500 BC to about 200 AD on the Jos Plateau in north and central Nigeria and produced life-sized terracotta figures that include human heads, human figures, and animals. Iron smelting furnaces at Taruga, a Nok site, date from around 600 BC. The Nok culture is thought to have begun smelting iron by 600-500 BC and possibly some centuries earlier. Kainji Dam excavations revealed iron-working by the 2nd century BC. Evidence of iron smelting has also been excavated at sites in the Nsukka region of southeast Nigeria in what is now Igboland: dating to 2,000 BC at the site of Lejja and to 750 BC at the site of Opi. The transition from Neolithic times to the Iron Age apparently was achieved indigenously without intermediate bronze production.

Early states before 1500

The early independent kingdoms and states that make up present-day state of Nigeria are (in alphabetical order): Benin Kingdom, Borgu Kingdom, Fulani Empire, Hausa Kingdoms, Kanem Bornu Empire, Kwararafa Kingdom, Ibibio Kingdom, Nri Kingdom, Nupe Kingdom, Oyo Empire, Songhai Empire, Warri Kingdom, Ile Ife Kingdom, and Yagba East Kingdom.

Oyo and Benin

During the 15th century Oyo and Benin surpassed Ife as political and economic powers, although Ife preserved its status as a religious center. Respect for the priestly functions of the oni of Ife was a crucial factor in the evolution of Yoruba culture. The Ife model of government was adapted at Oyo, where a member of its ruling dynasty controlled several smaller city-states. A state council (the Oyo Mesi) named the Alaafin (king) and acted as a check on his authority. Their capital city was situated about 100 km north of present-day Oyo. Unlike the forest-bound Yoruba kingdoms, Oyo was in the savanna and drew its military strength from its cavalry forces, which established hegemony over the adjacent Nupe and the Borgu kingdoms and thereby developed trade routes farther to the north. The Benin Empire (1440–1897; called Bini by locals) was a pre-colonial African state in what is now modern Nigeria. It should not be confused with the modern-day country called Benin, formerly called Dahomey.

Savanna states

During the 16th century, the Songhai Empire reached its peak, stretching from the Senegal and Gambia rivers and incorporating part of Hausa and in the east. Concurrently the Saifawa Dynasty of Borno conquered Kanem and extended control west to Hausa cities not under Songhai authority. Largely because of Songhai’s influence, there was a blossoming of Islamic learning and culture. Songhai collapsed in 1591 when a Moroccan army conquered Gao and Timbuktu. Morocco was unable to control the empire and the various provinces, including the Hausa states, became independent. The collapse undermined Songhai’s hegemony over the Hausa states and abruptly altered the course of regional history. Borno reached its pinnacle under mai Idris Aloma (ca. 1569–1600) during whose reign Kanem was reconquered. The destruction of Songhai left Borno uncontested and until the 18th-century Borno dominated northern Nigeria. Despite Borno’s hegemony the Hausa states continued to wrestle for ascendancy.

Northern kingdoms of the Sahel

Trade is the key to the emergence of organized communities in the sahelian portions of Nigeria. Prehistoric inhabitants adjusting to the encroaching desert were widely scattered by the third millennium BC, when the desiccation of the Sahara began. Trans-Saharan trade routes linked the western Sudan with the Mediterranean since the time of Carthage and with the Upper Nile from a much earlier date, establishing avenues of communication and cultural influence that remained open until the end of the 19th century. By these same routes, Islam made its way south into West Africa after the 9th century. By then a string of dynastic states, including the earliest Hausa states, stretched into western and central Sudan. The most powerful of these states were Ghana, Gao, and Kanem, which were not within the boundaries of modern Nigeria but which influenced the history of the Nigerian savanna. Ghana declined in the 11th century but was succeeded by the Mali Empire which consolidated much of western Sudan in the 13th century.


Historically, the Yoruba people have been the dominant group on the west bank of the Niger. Their nearest linguistic relatives are the Igala who live on the opposite side of the Niger’s divergence from the Benue, and from whom they are believed to have split about 2,000 years ago. The Yoruba were organized in mostly patrilineal groups that occupied village communities and subsisted on agriculture. From approximately the 8th century, adjacent village compounds called ile coalesced into numerous territorial city-states in which clan loyalties became subordinate to dynastic chieftains. Urbanization was accompanied by high levels of artistic achievement, particularly in terracotta and ivory sculpture and in the sophisticated metal casting produced at Ife. The Yoruba are especially known for the Oyo Empire that dominated the region. The Oyo Empire held supremacy over other Yoruba nations like the Egba Kingdom, Awori Kingdom, and the Egbado. In its prime, they also dominated the Kingdom of Dahomey (now located in the modern-day Republic of Benin).

Igbo Kingdom

Nri Kingdom

The Kingdom of Nri is considered to be the foundation of Igbo culture and the oldest Kingdom in Nigeria. Nri and Aguleri, where the Igbo creation myth originates, are in the territory of the Umueri clan, who trace their lineages back to the patriarchal king-figure, Eri. Eri’s origins are unclear, though he has been described as a “sky being” sent by Chukwu (God). He has been characterized as having first given societal order to the people of Anambra. Archaeological evidence suggests that Nri hegemony in Igboland may go back as far as the 9th century and royal burials have been unearthed dating to at least the 10th century. Eri, the god-like founder of Nri, is believed to have settled in the region around 948 with other related Igbo cultures following in the 13th century. The first Eze Nri (King of Nri), Ìfikuánim, followed directly after him. According to Igbo oral tradition, his reign started in 1043. At least one historian puts Ìfikuánim’s reign much later, around 1225.

Akwa Akpa

The modern city of Calabar was founded in 1786 by Efik families who had left Creek Town, farther up the Calabar river, settling on the east bank in a position where they were able to dominate traffic with European vessels that anchored in the river, and soon becoming the most powerful in the region extending from now Calabar down to Bakkasi in the East and Oron Nation in the West. Akwa Akpa (named Calabar by the Spanish) became a center of the Atlantic slave trade, where African slaves were sold in exchange for European manufactured goods. Igbo people formed the majority of enslaved Africans which were sold as slaves from Calabar, despite forming a minority among the ethnic groups in the region.

From 1725 until 1750, roughly 17,000 enslaved Africans were sold from Calabar to European slave traders; from 1772 to 1775, the number soared to over 62,000. With the suppression of the slave trade, palm oil and palm kernels became the main exports. The chiefs of Akwa Akpa placed themselves under British protection in 1884 From 1884 until 1906 Old Calabar was the headquarters of the Niger Coast Protectorate, after which Lagos became the main center. Now called Calabar, the city remained an important port shipping ivory, timber, beeswax, and palm produce until 1916, when the railway terminus was opened at Port Harcourt, 145 km to the west.


A British sphere of influence

Following the Napoleonic Wars, the British expanded trade with the Nigerian interior. In 1885, British claims to a West African sphere of influence received international recognition; and in the following year, the Royal Niger Company was chartered under the leadership of Sir George Taubman Goldie. On the 31st of December 1899 the charter for the Royal Niger Company was revoked by the British government, and the sum of £865,000 was paid to the company as compensation.

The entire territory of the Royal Niger Company came into the hands of the British government. On 1 January 1900, the British Empire created the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and the Northern Nigeria Protectorate. In 1914, the area was formally united as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. Administratively, Nigeria remained divided into the Northern and Southern Provinces and Lagos Colony.

Western education and the development of a modern economy proceeded more rapidly in the south than in the north, with consequences felt in Nigeria’s political life ever since. Following World War II, in response to the growth of Nigerian nationalism and demands for independence, successive constitutions legislated by the British government moved Nigeria toward self-government on a representative and increasingly federal basis.

On 1 October 1954, the colony became the autonomous Federation of Nigeria. By the middle of the 20th century, the great wave for independence was sweeping across Africa. On 27 October 1958 Britain agreed that Nigeria would become an independent state on 1 October 1960.


The Federation of Nigeria was granted full independence on 1 October 1960 under a constitution that provided for a parliamentary government and a substantial measure of self-government for the country’s three regions. From 1959 to 1960, Jaja Wachuku was the First Nigerian Speaker of the Nigerian Parliament, also called the “House of Representatives.” Jaja Wachuku replaced Sir Frederick Metcalfe of Britain. Notably, as First Speaker of the House, Jaja Wachuku received Nigeria’s Instrument of Independence, also known as Freedom Charter, on 1 October 1960, from Princess Alexandra of Kent, the Queen’s representative at the Nigerian independence ceremonies.

Queen Elizabeth II was monarch of Nigeria and head of state, and Nigeria was a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. The Federal government was given exclusive powers in defense, foreign relations, and commercial and fiscal policy. The monarch of Nigeria was still head of state but legislative power was vested in a bicameral parliament, executive power in a prime minister and cabinet, and judicial authority in a Federal Supreme Court. Political parties, however, tended to reflect the makeup of the three main ethnic groups.

The Northern People’s Congress (NPC) represented conservative, Muslim, largely Hausa and Fulani interests that dominated the northern region of the country, consisting of three-quarters of the land area and more than half the population of Nigeria. Thus, the North dominated the federation government from the beginning of independence. In the 1959 elections held in preparation for independence, the NPC captured 134 seats in the 312-seat parliament. Capturing 89 seats in the federal parliament was the second-largest party in the newly independent country the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC).

The NCNC represented the interests of the Igbo- and Christian-dominated people of the Eastern Region of Nigeria. and the Action Group (AG) was a left-leaning party that represented the interests of the Yoruba people in the West. In the 1959 elections, the AG obtained 73 seats.

Democracy Day

Nigeria’s Democracy Day was originally celebrated on May 29, every year since General Olusegun Obasanjo emerged President in 1999. However, on June 12, 2018, General Muhammadu Buhari, as president, announced a shift in this date from May 29 to June 12, as from the year 2019. This was to commemorate the June 12th election of 1993, and the events that surrounded it


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