Early (500 BC – 1500)
Northern Nigeria’s Nok civilization thrived between 500 BC and AD 200, creating life-sized clay figurines that are among the oldest known sculptures in Sub-Saharan Africa. Kano and Katsina, located farther north, have a documented history going back to about 999 AD. As trade routes between North and West Africa, Hausa kingdoms and the Kanem-Bornu Empire flourished.
The Kingdom of Nri of the Igbo people was established in the 10th century and lasted until 1911, when it was annexed by the British. Nri was governed by the Eze Nri, and the city of Nri is regarded as the birthplace of Igbo culture. The Umeuri tribe controls Nri and Aguleri, the origins of the Igbo creation story. Clan members may trace their ancestors back to the patriarchal king-figure Eri. The earliest bronzes produced in West Africa utilizing the lost-wax technique were from Igbo Ukwu, a city influenced by Nri.
In the 12th and 14th centuries, the Yoruba kingdoms of Ife and Oyo in southern Nigeria rose to prominence. The earliest human habitation indications at Ife’s present location date back to the 9th century, and its material culture included terracotta and bronze figurines.
Middle Ages (1500–1800)
Oyo, during its geographical apex in the late 17th to early 18th century, spanned western Nigeria to modern-day Togo. The Edo’s Benin Empire was established in southern Nigeria. Benin’s dominance lasted from the 15th to the 19th century. Their dominion extended as far as Eko (an Edoname subsequently renamed to Lagos by the Portuguese) and beyond.
Usman dan Fodio conducted a victorious jihad and established and governed the centralised Fulani Empire at the beginning of the nineteenth century (also known as the Sokoto Caliphate). The area ruled by the resulting state encompassed most of modern-day northern and central Nigeria; it lasted until the Empire was divided into different European possessions in 1903.
Various peoples in modern-day Nigeria dealt overland with merchants from North Africa for millennia. Cities in the region became into regional hubs for a vast network of trade routes that covered western, central, and northern Africa. Spanish and Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to establish substantial, direct commerce with peoples of modern-day Nigeria in the 16th century, in the ports of Lagos and Calabar. Europeans exchanged products with coastal peoples; coastal commerce with Europeans also heralded the start of the Atlantic slave trade. During the transatlantic slave trade, the port of Calabar on the ancient Bight of Biafra (now known as the Bight of Bonny) became one of the biggest slave trading ports in West Africa. Other important slaving ports in Nigeria were Badagry, Lagos on the Benin Bight, and Bonny Island on the Biafra Bight. The vast majority of people enslaved and transported to these ports were seized during raids and battles. Captives were usually brought back to the conquerors’ area as forced labor; after a while, they were occasionally acculturated and integrated into the conquerors’ civilization. Several slave routes were constructed across Nigeria, connecting the hinterlands to the main coastal ports. The Oyo Empire in the southwest, the Aro Confederacy in the southeast, and the Sokoto Caliphate in the north were among the most prominent slave traffickers.
Slavery occurred throughout the areas that comprise modern-day Nigeria; its reach was at its widest at the end of the nineteenth century. The Encyclopedia of African History states that “It is believed that by the 1890s, the Sokoto Caliphate had the world’s biggest slave population, numbering about 2 million individuals. Slave labor was widely used, particularly in agriculture.”
A shifting legal necessity (Britain banned the transatlantic slave trade in 1807) and economic imperative (a desire for political and social stability) drove most European countries to encourage extensive cultivation of agricultural goods for use in European industry, such as the palm.
British Nigeria (1800–1960)
European state and non-state entities such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Portugal, and commercial enterprises, as well as numerous African governments and non-state players, participated in the slave trade. With growing anti-slavery sentiment at home and shifting economic realities, the United Kingdom banned the international slave trade in 1807. Following the Napoleonic Wars, the United Kingdom created the West Africa Squadron in an effort to stop the worldwide slave trade. It prevented ships from other countries from the African coast with slaves; the captured captives were sent to Freetown, a West African colony founded to relocate freed slaves from Britain. Britain interfered in the Lagos Kingship power struggle by bombing Lagos in 1851, deposing the slave trade-friendly Oba Kosoko, assisting in the installation of the amenable Oba Akitoye, and signing the Treaty of Lagos on January 1, 1852. With the Lagos Treaty of Cession, Britain acquired Lagos as a Crown Colony in August 1861. British missionaries increased their activities and traveled further into the country. Samuel Ajayi Crowther became the Anglican Church’s first African bishop in 1864.
At the Berlin Conference in 1885, several European countries recognized Britain’s claim to a sphere of influence in West Africa. The next year, it established the Royal Niger Company, led by Sir George Taubman Goldie. The land of the business was taken over by the British government in 1900, as it sought to strengthen its grip over modern Nigeria. Nigeria became a British protectorate and a part of the British Empire, the world’s leading power at the time, on January 1, 1901. The autonomous kingdoms of what would become Nigeria fought a series of wars against the British Empire’s attempts to extend its territory in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The British captured Benin through force in 1897 and overcame other opponents in the Anglo-Aro War (1901–1902). The British gained control of the Niger region when these nations were restrained or conquered.
The British officially unified the Niger region as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria in 1914. Nigeria remained administratively split between the Northern and Southern Protectorates, as well as the Lagos Colony. Because of the seaside economy, residents in the southern area maintained greater economic and cultural contact with the British and other Europeans.
In the Protectorates, Christian missionaries built Western educational institutions. The Crown did not promote the functioning of Christian missions in the northern, Islamic portion of the nation under Britain’s strategy of indirect control and endorsement of Islamic culture. Some children of the southern aristocracy traveled to the United Kingdom to further their education. Regional disparities in contemporary educational access were noticeable by the time the country gained independence in 1960. The legacy lives on, although in a more subdued form, until the current day. Imbalances between the North and South were also seen in Nigeria’s political life. Northern Nigeria, for example, did not abolish slavery until 1936, while slavery was eliminated in other areas of Nigeria shortly after colonization.
Following World War II, in response to the rise of Nigerian nationalism and calls for independence, successive constitutions enacted by the British administration pushed the country toward self-governance on a representative and more federal system. By the mid-twentieth century, a massive wave of freedom was spreading throughout Africa. Nigeria gained its independence in 1960.
Independent Federation and First Republic (1960–1966)
On October 1, 1960, Nigeria achieved independence from the United Kingdom as a Commonwealth Realm. The Nigerian People’s Congress (NPC), controlled by Northerners and Muslims, and the Igbo and Christian-dominated National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), headed by Nnamdi Azikiwe, formed the country’s administration. In 1960, Azikiwe became Nigeria’s first Governor-General. The opposition was headed by Obafemi Awolowo’s relatively liberal Action Group (AG), which was dominated by Yoruba. The cultural and political divides between Nigeria’s three main ethnic groups – Hausa (‘Northerners,’ Igbo (‘Easters,’ and Yoruba (‘Westerners’) – were stark.
The outcome of the 1961 referendum produced an imbalance in the political system. Northern Cameroons decided to stay in Nigeria, whereas Southern Cameroons chose to join the Republic of Cameroon. The northern portion of the nation had become much bigger than the southern part. The country formed a Federal Republic in 1963, with Azikiwe as its first president. When elections were conducted in Nigeria’s Western Region in 1965, the Nigerian National Democratic Party took control.
Civil war (1967–1970)
The disarray and alleged corruption of the election and political processes resulted in back-to-back military coups in 1966. The first coup was conducted by Igbo troops commanded by Majors Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu in January 1966. The coup plotters were successful in assassinating Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Northern Region Premier Ahmadu Bello, and Western Region Premier Ladoke Akintola. However, the coup plotters were unable to establish a central administration. President Nwafor Orizu delegated authority to the Army, which was then led by another Igbo leader, General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi.
Later, the 1966 counter-coup, led mainly by Northern military men, paved the way for Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon to become President. Tensions increased between the North and the South; Igbos in Northern cities were persecuted, and many fled to the Eastern Region.
Under the leadership of Lt. Colonel Emeka Ojukwu, the Eastern Region proclaimed independence as the Republic of Biafra in May 1967. The Nigerian Civil War started on July 6, 1967, when the official Nigerian government side (predominantly troops from the North and West) invaded Biafra (Southeastern) at Garkem. The 30-month conflict concluded in January 1970, after a lengthy siege of Biafra and its isolation from commerce and supplies. During the 30-month civil war, the number of deaths in the former Eastern Region is estimated to be between 1 and 3 million people due to fighting, illness, and hunger.
Behind the scenes, France, Egypt, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, Israel, and others were heavily engaged in the civil war. The major military supporters of the Nigerian government were Britain and the Soviet Union, while France and others supported the Biafrans. Nigeria’s air force relied on Egyptian pilots.
Military juntas (1970–1999)
During the 1970s oil boom, Nigeria joined OPEC, and the enormous oil profits it generated boosted the country. Despite these earnings, the military administration did nothing to enhance the population’s quality of life, assist small and medium-sized companies, or invest in infrastructure. As oil funds drove an increase in federal payments to states, the federal government became the focal point of political conflict and the apex of power in the nation. As oil output and income increased, the Nigerian government’s reliance on oil earnings and international commodities markets for budgetary and economic issues grew. It did not create other income streams in the economy to ensure economic stability. That marked the end of Nigerian federalism.
Beginning in 1979, when Olusegun Obasanjo handed over control to the civilian government of Shehu Shagari, Nigerians saw a return to democracy. Almost all segments of Nigerian society saw the Shagari administration as corrupt. Inspectors from the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) started to observe “the gradual poisoning of our country’s waterways” in 1983. The military coup led by Muhammadu Buhari, which occurred soon after the regime’s re-election in 1984, was widely seen as a good event. Buhari promised significant changes, but his administration has performed no better than its predecessor. In 1985, another military revolution deposed his government.
Ibrahim Babangida, the new head of state, proclaimed himself president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces as well as the governing Supreme Military Council. He established 1990 as the formal date for a restoration to democratic government. Babangida’s presidency was characterized by a frenzy of political activity: he established the Foreign Monetary Fund’s Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) to assist in the repayment of the country’s overwhelming international debt. At the time, the majority of government income was devoted to debt service. He enrolled Nigeria in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which exacerbated religious conflicts in the nation.
Babangida survived an attempted coup and then delayed a promised return to democracy until 1992. The first free and fair elections since the military coup of 1983 were conducted on June 12, 1993, with Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola of the Social Democratic Party winning the presidency with 58 percent of the vote, beating Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention. However, Babangida declared the elections null and void, sparking huge citizen demonstrations that essentially shut down the nation for weeks. Babangida eventually fulfilled his pledge to hand up power to a civilian administration, but not before selecting Ernest Shonekan as temporary president. Babangida’s administration is often regarded as the most corrupt, and it is blamed for instilling a culture of corruption in Nigeria.
Shonekan’s caretaker government was overthrown in late 1993 by General Sani Abacha’s military coup, which employed massive military force to quell the ongoing public discontent. He diverted funds to offshore accounts in Western European banks and foiled coup attempts by paying army generals. In 1995, the government executed environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa on fabricated accusations related to the murders of four Ogoni elders. Lawsuits under the American Alien Tort Statute were resolved out of court against Royal Dutch Shell and Brian Anderson, the chief of Shell’s Nigerian operation, with Shell continuing to deny responsibility.
In 1999, several hundred million dollars in accounts linked to Abacha were uncovered. The dictator’s reign came to an end in 1998, when he died at the mansion. On May 5, 1999, his successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, enacted a new constitution that included multiparty elections. On May 29, 1999, Abubakar handed over authority to the election winner, Obasanjo, who had subsequently resigned from the military.
Nigeria re-established democracy in 1999, when Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military ruler, was elected President. This brought to an end almost 33 years of military rule (from 1966 to 1999), omitting the brief second republic (from 1979 and 1983) by military dictators who took power in coups d’état and counter-coups during the Nigerian military juntas of 1966–1979 and 1983–1998. Despite the fact that the elections that brought Obasanjo to power in 1999 and again in 2003 were deemed unfree and unfair, Nigeria has made significant progress in its efforts to combat government corruption and accelerate development.
Some of the country’s problems include ethnic conflict over control of the oil-producing Niger Delta area and insufficient infrastructure. In the 2007 general election, Umaru Yar’Adua of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was elected president. The world community has been monitoring Nigerian elections in order to promote a free and fair process, and this one has been criticized as highly defective.
Yar’Adua passed away on May 5, 2010. On 6 May 2010, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as Yar’Adua’s successor, becoming Nigeria’s 14th Head of State, and his vice-president, Namadi Sambo, an architect and former Kaduna State governor, was elected by the National Assembly on 18 May 2010. His confirmation came after President Jonathan nominated Sambo for the post.
Goodluck Jonathan served as Nigeria’s president until April 16, 2011, when a fresh presidential election was held in Nigeria. Jonathan of the PDP was declared the winner on 19 April 2011, having received 22,495,187 votes out of a total of 39,469,484 votes cast, ahead of Muhammadu Buhari of the main opposition party, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), who received 12,214,853 votes out of a total of 39,469,484 votes cast. In comparison to past elections, the foreign media claimed that the elections went off without a hitch, with minimal violence or voting fraud.
Muhammadu Buhari beat Goodluck Jonathan by about 2 million votes in the March 2015 election. The election was largely seen as fair by observers. Jonathan was widely commended for admitting defeat and reducing the likelihood of civil upheaval.