The pre-colonial area that now constitutes Nigeria consisted of a number of different societies with varying degrees of state formation. The United Kingdom gradually colonized the area from 1862, and in 1914 a united Nigerian state was declared, after the merger of two protectorates. Nigeria became independent in 1960.
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Traces of people from more than 10,000 years have been found within the borders of present-day Nigeria, and as early as the Iron Age cultures that have left traces have emerged. A common feature from ancient history to modern times is the cultural, political and economic dominance of a small number of people groups, mainly the Hausa in the north, Yoruba in the southwest and ibo (igbo) in the southeast. A fourth group of people with great prevalence and historical significance in the north is Fulani – traditionally a nomadic people. Often the Hausas and Fulanis are referred to as a common group of people, such as Hausa Fulanis.
In particular, the Hausa and Yoruba cultures developed city states and other state formations, dating from around the year 1000. From the time before this, tools have been found from the Stone Age, and early fixed-age Iron Age societies developed where the best known is enough. The Nok culture on the Jos Plateau in Nigeria is the oldest Iron Age community known to date from sub-Saharan Africa (about 500 BC – 200 AD). Nok culture is also the first known civilization in West Africa which melted iron and developed iron tools. Terracotta figures from this culture belong to the oldest finds of African art. Further north, several larger communities emerged from about 800 AD One of the most prominent was the Kanem-Bornu kingdom, which originated in local markets and remote trade across the Sahara. The Kanem empire grew in today’s Chad, but also subjugated much of northeastern Nigeria, as well as Niger, southern Libya and northern Cameroon. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of Nigeria. After a weakening, the headquarters was moved to Bornu, west of Lake Chad, in the Nigerian state of Borno, about 1396, after which the empire reached its peak in the late 16th century. It was weakened by invasion especially from the Fulani people, but as kingdoms Kanem-Bornu existed until 1893.
In the north, a number of Hausa states also emerged, as well as the seven cities of Biram, Daura, Gobir, Kano, Katsina, Rano and Zaria. The best known are Kano and Katsina. Kano was established in 999, and although it was subject to other kingdoms (Bornu, Songhai, Zazzau) for several periods, it remained a leading independent state formation until colonial Nigeria was formed in 1903. Kano’s foremost challenger to trade hegemony in the region was Katsina, and the two city states fought several wars from the late 1400s. In 1807, Kano was conquered during the jihad of Fulani – a rebellion against the ruling Hausas – and the emirate became the foremost trading power in West Africa.
British forces seized Kano in 1903 and incorporated the state into the new Nigeria. Katsina competed with Kano for its position as the foremost trading empire in the region, and in the 18th century was the economic center of gravity in Hausaland – and the largest of the seven Hausabians. Katsina defeated Songhai 1554 and Kano 1570, but was subject to Bornu even for long periods. In the 18th century, Katsina took over as the leading Islamic teaching site in West Africa after Timbuktu in today’s Mali. The town was inaugurated in 1806 and made into a fulani emirate. In 1903, it became subject to British rule as part of Kano province, and later became the main body of the federal state of Katsina.
In Northern Nigeria, around the year 1000, the Fulani people also organized a kingdom which, from the 1300s, became the center for the spread of Islam in the region. Nearly the whole of Northern Nigeria, including the Hausa states, was subjugated to the Fulan Empire, and the Fulanis constituted a significant part of the aristocracy in many of the Muslim emirates. The introduction of Islam strengthened both the monarchies in Northern Nigeria and the trade community in the north. As the Fulani led their jihad from Sokoto in 1804, this city became the capital of the Fulani kingdom in 1809, and with the subsequent establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate it also became the spiritual headquarters of the Fulani.
The south and southwest of the Hausa-controlled areas in the north dominated the Yoruba people. Here, too, several larger and a number of small states were established in pre-colonial times, the most famous of which were Ife and Oyo, as well as Benin empire in the central parts of Nigeria. Several state formations were created in Yorubaland from the 8th century. They had much in common, and culturally, originated from Ife (Ile-Ife), from which humanity according to the Yoruba tradition originated. Ife was established in the early 1000’s, and about two hundred years later the famous terracotta heads and bronze sculptures were made. Ife had great influence over the Edo kingdom in the southeast, but even came politically in the shadow of Oyo – even ife remained the Yoruba holy city. Ife went to war against Ibadan in 1882, but was even close to obliterated.
In the northern part of the Yoruba area, the Oyor Empire was created in the 1300s. With strong military and trade expansion into today’s Benin and Togo, Oyo became the dominant Yoruba state, centrally located in relation to the north-south trade. The highlight of Oyo was between the 17th and 19th centuries, until it was weakened and incorporated into the British Protectorate from 1888. The collapse of the Oyo Empire in the 19th century led to several internal Yoruba wars until 1886.
The Benin Empire of the Edo people was the dominant state formation in the central areas of southern Nigeria, peaking in the 16th to 16th centuries, stretching mostly from present-day Benin to the Niger Delta. The Benin Empire is most famous for its rich culture, documented with preserved art objects in bronze, iron, copper and ivory. The kingdom strengthened its economic position through trade with Europeans, especially Portuguese and British – and slaves became the most important export commodity for a long time, requiring military action against other states in the region. The Gulf of Benin became known as the Slave Coast. The kingdom was weakened in the 18th century, but received a boom from trading in palm oil in the 19th century. Benin opposed British protection and was captured by military force in 1897.
In southeastern Nigeria, ibo is the dominant group of people, where tooling and agricultural development early laid the foundation for one of the densest settlements in Africa. Although state formation is also emerging here, such as the kingdoms of Onitsha, Nri and Arochukwu as well as several city states, they were not as centralized and strong as in other parts of later Nigeria. As in other parts of Nigeria, there are traces of an ancient culture, shown, among other things, by bronze figures from around 900 BCE. Iboland was affected by the slave trade from the 16th century, and especially in the 1700s, to an even greater extent than other parts of Nigeria, which contributed to political, military and economic destabilization and to great human suffering.
Portugal was the first European power with interests in the area, and the first Portuguese contact with Nigerian kingdoms occurred in the second half of the 15th century. Trade interests were soon established, and partly diplomatic contact; In the early 16th century, the King of Benin sent an ambassador to Portugal, and Portuguese missionaries were sent to southern parts of later Nigeria. The first British expeditions to Benin occurred in 1553 and led to extensive trade. Especially Portugal, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands were engaged in the extensive slave trade.
The colonial past
British interests were strengthened after the cessation of the slave trade as Nigeria became a major supplier of palm oil and other commodities to the European industrial economy. Lagos was annexed as a British colony in 1862, but first managed from Freetown (Sierra Leone), then from Accra (Ghana), then to become a separate colony in 1886. In 1879, the largest companies operating in the area joined forces in United Africa Company (UAC), which gained control over ever larger areas.
At the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, it was accepted that the companies’ possessions on both sides of Niger would fall to the United Kingdom. France gained control of the territories further north, while French interests in Northern Nigeria were acquired by British capital and incorporated into the successor to the UAC, the Royal Niger Company (RNC), which became an instrument to secure British control in the north. In 1896, Britain and France regulated their borders in West Africa, and the boundaries of today’s Nigeria were tightened.
In 1900, the United Kingdom declared Northern Nigeria a protectorate, taking over the interests of the RNC by the British government. Through a military campaign, the area was brought under British control, with the conquest of Kano and Sokoto in 1903. This also abolished slavery in the caliphate, with significant social and economic consequences.
Also in the south, the British faced armed resistance, both in Yorubaland and Iboland, and the British deployed military force from 1882. The last major resistance in the south was defeated in Benin in 1897, although full control was not secured until the First World War. Among other things, the disputed people on several occasions resist. The southern parts were administered as the Southern Nigeria Protectorate from 1900 – before the whole country, the two Protectorates and the colony of Lagos, were united into one colonial area in 1914. After the conquest was completed, an “indirect rule” was practiced in the North, where the daily exercise of the colonial power took place through the traditional rulers, the emirs.
Islam was dominant in the north, and the British signed a ban on Christian mission in the north. An active missionary activity took place in the south and east. Missionaries also brought western education to the areas in the south. Economic, cultural, religious and ethnic divides were maintained or strengthened under the colonial system – also as part of British politics to control the country.
During World War I, Nigerian forces participated in the German colony of Cameroon, as well as in East Africa. The experiences of the war contributed to the rise of Nigerian nationalism. The same effect had its participation in World War II, when Nigeria was used as a base for air strikes in North Africa, and Nigerian forces fought in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, India and Myanmar.
The 1922 Constitution provided modest African representation, and several nationalist nationalist parties emerged, including the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), 1923, which, together with the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), dominated political life in the interwar period. After the Second World War, a somewhat more representative system was introduced, and three groups with a central focus differed in each part of Nigeria, and the political movements followed the ethnic and regional inequalities. In the north, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) was the leader, with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Sir Ahmadu Bello as foreground figures, and with a traditional and conservative foundation. In the west, Action Group (AG) with Chief Obafemi Awolowo dominated, while the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), with nationalist veteran Nnamdi Azikiwe as the unifying brand, originated in the east.
The regional and religious divisions dominated the first nationwide election, 1951–1952, and contributed to the struggle for independence both a battle against British rule and a struggle for power between the regions. In order to bridge the contradictions and keep Nigeria united, a constitution for a federal Nigeria was adopted in 1954, with a certain internal autonomy for the individual regions (Northern Nigeria, Western Nigeria, Eastern Nigeria, and the Federal Territory of Lagos, as well as Southern Cameroon), between 1957 and 1959. The regions, which were stronger than the central power, had different views on when Nigeria should become independent, and all three threatened to break out of the federation. Federalism has remained a mainstay of Nigeria’s constitution, with more and more states being created to cushion ethnic tensions.