Explore Nigeria’s Rich History, from Slavery to Democracy
Want to learn about Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country? Let’s uncover the fascinating history of this nation – a land brimming with incredible facts that sadly, are not so well-known in the Western world.
Here we will dive into Nigeria`s diverse history and identity: More than 200 million people speaking 500 different languages; the religion of Islam and Christianity strongly represented in each of its 100 million adherents; three beautiful geographical regions – coastal lowlands, savanna lands and hilly lands; and since the late 17th century up to 42 percent of all African slaves shipped for colonies were from Nigerian trade routes!
Not only that, but you will also discover how battles over oil resources fueled political corruption throughout most of the 20th century, along with ups and downs faced while returning back to democracy.
The facts behind Nigeria’s incredible past can instill in us all greater awareness, respect, and hope for its future.
Precolonial Nigeria: A Complex History of Nations, Kingdoms, and Village Communities
There is evidence that people have been living in the region now constituting Nigeria for thousands of years.
The oldest material found – two ancient rock shelters in southwest Nigeria – dates back to around 9000 BCE.
Pottery could be seen all over the area by 3000 BCE, and people were beginning to transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture around 4000 and 1000 BCE.
This period saw the emergence of decentralized village groupings as well as centralized states emerging, with urban centers developing and politics, trade, and culture flourishing along with them.
With Islam arriving at the turn of the 10th century CE, these states adopted it as their state religion and began trading with other Islamic states throughout the world.
By 1500 CE, intraregional trading had been established within what is now modern Nigeria – an integrated regional economy had begun to take shape.
It’s a reminder that our ancestors have been living in this region for thousands of years before colonizers stepped foot on its soil.
The Trans-Saharan Slave Trade and European Expansion Led to an Explosion of Slavery in Nigeria
By the nineteenth century, slavery had become a cornerstone of the Nigerian region’s economy.
Institutionalized slavery had existed in the Nigerian region long before the fifteenth century, and both Hausa-speaking leaders and the neighboring Borno Empire had taken part in raiding and warring to take as many slaves as possible to expand their economic and political clout.
Then, with slave traders coming into the coastal regions at the end of the fifteenth century, profits from the slave trade began to boom.
Exportation of slaves transformed into a major industry for most of these southern states, while elsewhere slots were used as essential social classes.
They occupied military and bureaucratic positions within society, while some slaves became wealthy enough themselves to accumulate power.
As any historians will tell you today, it’s estimated that between 1600 and 1800, ports situated on Nigeria’s south coast shipped out 1,473,100 slaves – making up about 42 percent of all slaves who were sent out from Africa in that time period.
In this way, by the nineteenth century slavery really had become an integral part of Nigeria’s economy – its ‘backbone’, if you will.
The British Abolition of Slavery Leads to Increased Involvement in Nigerian Affairs
Throughout the nineteenth century, the Nigerian region experienced great social, political and economic change.
A major milestone was the formation of the Sokoto Caliphate, under which Muslim northern Nigeria was united with other parts of the religiously diverse south.
Unprecedented commerce developed, as well as enforced uniformity under Sharia law.
Unfortunately, while peace spread in the north due to the Sokoto Caliphate’s rule, much of southern Nigeria outside its borders still faced difficulty economically due to a decline in slave trading caused by British anti-slavery laws in 1807.
However, a slow recovery was made possible by an increase in palm oil production that stemmed from new sources of exports for merchants on the Nigerian coast.
Though slavery had been outlawed by this point, it was not completely abolished – instead being more deeply entrenched as more labor forces were required for palm oil production.
Many people came out of this downturn improved socially and economically as a result of their involvement in this endeavor.
Ultimately, these moments throughout history lead to British government and military intervention into Nigerian affairs as they sought to establish their presence across all corners of West Africa.
Britain Completely Colonizes Nigeria Through a Combination of Treaties, Christianization and Military Superiority
In the early nineteenth century, British colonialism in the region of modern-day Nigeria began when economic instability caused by slavery abolition led to various wars and political instabilities.
As the British palm oil trade was threatened, Britain sought to stabilize the situation by sending in its own military, missionaries and political officials.
The conquest of the region became part of the Europe-wide “scramble for Africa” which saw many empires like Britain, France and Germany striving to gain control of African natural and human resources.
A number of tactics were used by Britain to subdue local populations including providing protection to local leaders requesting military assistance.
Additionally, Christian missionaries were sent to introduce Christianity as a means of social control with treaties being signed gifting Britain sovereign rights over these regions.
However, it was ultimately raw military power that was most effective in subjugating the locals leading to vast majority of Southern Nigeria falling under colonial rule by late 19th Century while Northern Nigeria fell shortly thereafter with a campaign against Sokoto Caliphate ending with their leader assassinated.
In consequence, modern day Nigeria eventually emerged as a result of this period British colonialism.
The Women’s War of 1929 Sparked Resistance That Later Led to Nigerian Independence
Throughout the early 20th century, Nigeria experienced many major changes as a result of British colonialism.
The most notable was the 1914 unification of Northern and Southern Nigeria Protectorates to form the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.
This state was led under what its British Governor-General Frederick Lugard labelled as the “Dual Mandate” system – which involved indigenous self-governance at local levels as long as decisions made did not interfere with British interests.
This period also saw an increase in British economic interests in the territory – colonial authorities aimed to ‘civilize’ locals by introducing European values – but this ultimately resulted in a decrease in standards of living for many Nigerians.
The Dual Mandate transformed traditional smallholder supply practices into large-scale trading operations controlled by British investors leading to thousands flocking to cities looking for new job opportunities with higher wages paid in British currency.
The rapid transition to capitalism led to much unrest among Nigerians fron all walks of life and violence became increasingly common.
Then, when the Wall Street Crash struck in 1929, widespread dissatisfaction became coated in anticolonial resistance culminating appositely with 1929 Women’s War, when women rose up against taxation from colonial authorities.
From then onwards, Nigerians focussed on achieving independence from Britain rather than just finding ways to improve life under colonialism.
The Story of Nigerian Nationalism: From British Colonialism to a Fragile Peace
1960 marked a momentous year in the history of Nigeria, as nearly 100 years of British colonialism was brought to an end through the hard fought efforts of Nigerians and their nationalist movements.
These movements, which spanned from pan-Nigerianism groups like the Nigerian Youth Movement, to regional groupings that were centered around ethnic lines, all strove for one goal – self-governance, outside of European influence.
Leaders like Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was known across Nigeria as ‘the Great Zik’, helped organize actions such as the 1945 General Strike to increase public pressure on colonial authorities and ultimately pursue independence.
While some reforms were accepted by London in the wake of World War II, eventually it became clear that independence was inevitable.
In 1960 this largely peaceful resistance movement ended in success and Nigeria achieved its sovereignty once again.
After Independence, Nigeria Struggled to Unify the Country and Forge a National Identity Amid Regional Rivalries
When Nigeria gained independence in 1960, people were full of optimism.
With its large population and newfound abundance of oil wealth, it was expected to soon become a powerhouse in both African and global affairs.
Unfortunately, these expectations weren’t met due to a number of issues.
The foundation of “Nigeria” had been the result of colonial map-drawing, with little thought given to the distinct ethnicities, languages and religions that would inhabit the region.
This lack of unity was further exacerbated by consolidation of power amongst major ethnic groups (the Hausa & Fulani in the north; Yoruba in the south-west; Igbo in the south east).
Consequently, many Nigerians didn’t feel any real sense of being Nigerian citizens or “nationhood”.
Desperate attempts were made throughout the 1960s to try and unify Nigerians – from the arts & literature scene to state-led economic initiatives – but these efforts failed mainly due to rampant corruption across all levels of government and vicious regional rivalries between different ethnic groups.
This finally came to a head when a military coup overthrew Nigeria’s central government in 1966, followed closely by an attempt at secession by Igbo-majority Southeast Nigeria.
This led to a deadly civil war which lasted for more than three years before eventually resulting in reunification.
A Decade of Military Rule in Nigeria Leads to Wide Spread Corruption, Poverty and Inequality
During the 1970s, Nigeria was plagued by its dependence on the revenue it gained from oil, as well as rampant corruption at all levels of government.
In 1974, 82 percent of Nigerian government revenue stemmed from petroleum, and this made Nigeria Africa’s wealthiest nation at the time.
However, due to corruption and mismanagement in government circles, only a few people actually profited from the revenue generated by petroleum.
As a result, traditional sectors such as agriculture were neglected and Nigeria even needed to start importing food staples like palm oil.
The effects of dependence on oil revenue combined with widespread corruption had serious ramifications for ordinary Nigerians.
Global fluctuations in oil prices meant that buying power dropped drastically for most people in the region, leading to unemployment, crime and inflation.
These issues proved ultimately too much for General Yakubu Gowon’s rule (1966-1975), with another military coup eventually taking place which saw General Murtala Mohammed come to power (1975).
His successor General Olusegun Obasanjo made some efforts to reduce corruption but ultimately failed, handing over civilian rule back to the nation in the form of Shehu Shagari in 1979.
This would turn out to not be enough either however, with yet another coup taking place due to increasing discontent across Nigeria aided by recessionary conditions created partly due to decreased global demand for petroleum – kicked off by Major General Muhammadu Buhari (1983).
Despite Efforts at Reinstating Democracy, Nigeria Struggled to Meet the Needs of its People During Obasanjo’s Reign
After over 15 years of authoritarianism and militarized rule, the people of Nigeria were finally granted their democratic rights again in 1999.
This period was marked by increased corruption, economic stagnation, and a general sense of oppression among Nigerians.
This was due to the combined effects of several former military dictators who had stripped away the rights of citizens while plundering state coffers and tightening their grip on power.
The resulting suffering led many ordinary Nigerians to turn to crime just to survive, as well as bribery and smuggling activity that only worsened an already dire situation.
Western forces were not helpful either, imposing harsh austerity measures such as trade deregulation, with theStructural Adjustment Program causing further strain on inflation and reducing access to basic needs like healthcare and education.
Yet these hardships also led to a strengthening of civil society organizations who stepped in to fill gaps left by government inaction, leading to a collective push for lasting change through peaceful protest and demonstrations that eventually paid off in 1997 with a new two-year transitional period culminating in 1999 — when democracy returned to Nigeria in full force with the election of Olusegun Obasanjo as President.
Hope Peers Through the Illusion of Stability: The 2007 Nigerian Elections
For the first time in post-colonial Nigerian history, the 2007 elections saw a peaceful transfer of power from one civilian to another.
Olusegun Obasanjo had reached his constitutional two-term limit and Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua was elected as president.
This transition of power bode well for the country’s stability and signaled that Nigeria may be on its way towards becoming a stable and democratic nation.
Just prior to the election, Nigerian officials had conducted an effective anticorruption purge, leading to many powerful politicians being charged with crimes against the state; however, the election itself was marred by vote-rigging and other irregularities.
Despite this, many Nigerians were hopeful that if oil wealth was distributed more evenly and less corruptly, it would lift citizens out of poverty.
Unfortunately, as of 2008 when A History of Nigeria by Richard Dowden and Asma Zubairi was published, not much had changed for ordinary Nigerians.
The Christian-Muslim divide between Nigeria’s north and south is still a cause of deep division in the country as well as extreme poverty despite its vast oil resources.
Yet there is still hope that Nigeria can eventually realize its potential.
The fact that power was peacefully transferred from one civilian to another signifies progress towards long-term stability in the country – although much more needs to be done regarding poverty reduction, education improvements, health care availability, infrastructure developments and fighting corruption.
The A History of Nigeria book offers a comprehensive look at the history of this fascinating nation.
It covers topics ranging from pre-colonial societies to the effects of British colonialism and its transition to independence in 1960.
It highlights the many ethnic divisions that plagued much of Nigeria’s post-independence history, contributing to political strife, military coups and poverty.
Ultimately, though, it also offers a hopeful outlook on the future, showing how the nation has made progress in recent years through successful transitions to democratic government and increased opportunities for economic development.
With all this information gathered together in one place, A History of Nigeria provides readers with an invaluable overview of the nation’s past and present.