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This page gives a brief summary of the history of Nigeria as a country in 'general'. There are other sections of the site that you may be interested in if you are looking for more specific history on different concepts. Some of them are:
Before 1914, before there was ever a country called "Nigeria", the people in what is known as "Nigeria" consisted of 4 different 'empires', some of them extending into parts that are not part of current-day Nigeria, like parts of current-day Ghana, and current-day Cameroon.
THE NORTHERN EMPIRE was composed of the Borno empire, some Hausa states (Zazzau, Gobir, Kano, Katsina, Birori, Daura) and some other groups (Gwari, Kebbi, Nupe, Yelwa...)
THE CALABAR KINGDOM is the oldest kingdom, and had the oldest contact with the Europeans. It is believed to have been founded around 1000 A.D., and has the oldest chuch built in Nigeria dating back to 1850. The belief is that this kingdom was founded by twins, and it stretched into parts of current-day Cameroon.
THE ODUDUWA EMPIRE consisted of two main groups. One of them was the indigenous people, whose central religious and cultural center was Ile-Ife, who now make up the Yoruba people. The other group were the Berbels, who eventually formed the Hausa states and the Borno states. (This empire has a lot of interesting stories and legends attached to it. For instance, Oduduwa is considered the creator of the earth, and the ancestor of the Yoruba kings. According to myth, Oduduwa founded the city of Ife and dispatched his sons to establish other cities, where they reigned as priest-kings and presided over cult rituals.)
THE BENIN EMPIRE was also powerful, and stretched to reach some of current-day Ghana. It was very well known for it's African sculpturing.
In the 1800s, the British started to reside in parts of these kingdoms and empires. In 1914, Nigeria was formed by combining the Northern and Southern Protectorates and the Colony of Lagos. For administrative purposes, was divided into four units:
Some parts of current-day Cameroon were still considered part of Nigeria at that time.
Between 1914 and 1922, Nigeria was presided over by a Governor-General. In 1922, as part of the constitution of the time, the British introduced the principle of direct election into the Legislative council.
In 1951, a new constitution elevated the provinces to regional status. The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) had control of the Eastern Region government, the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) had control of the Northern Region, and the Action Group (AG) had control of the Western Region. By 1957, the Eastern and Western Regions attained self-governing status. In 1959, the Northern Region attained self-governing status.
On October 1 1960, Nigeria obtained it's independence. At this time, Northern and Southern Cameroon were given the option of staying as part of Nigeria or leaving Nigeria. Southern Cameroon decided to leave Nigeria, but Northern Cameroon stayed.
Also, on October 7, 1960, Nigeria was admitted to the United Nations as the 99th member. One of the earliest and most signification contributions to the UN was to furnish troops for the peacekeeping opearting in Zaire in the the early 1960s. Later on, the main thrust of Nigeria's activism on the world stage was to eradicate apartheid and racism from Africa.
In 1960, a Federal Government based on the Parliamentary system was created. More information about the government's history can be found in the Government section of this site. Only the parts that aid with the explanation of the history will be covered in this section.
In 1963, Nigeria became a republic.
By 1964, the Nigerian army units had formed the backbone of the UN force.
In January of 1966, a group of army officers, consisting mostly of the Ibo peoples, and led by General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, overthrew the central and regional governments, killed the prime minister, took control of the government, and got rid of the federal system of government to replace it with a central government with many Ibos as advisors. This caused a lot of riots and a lot of Ibos were killed in the process. In July of the same year, a group of northern army officers revolted against the government (it seems this started a long history of military coups), killed General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, and appointed the army chief of staff, General Yakubu Gowon as the head of the new military government.
In 1967, Gowon moved to split the existing 4 regions of Nigeria into 12 states.
However, the military governor of the Eastern Region (Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu) refused to accept the division of the Eastern Region, and declared the Eastern Region an independent republic called Biafra. This led to a civil war between Biafra and the remainder of Nigeria. The war started in June 1967, and continued until Biafra surrendered on January 15, 1970 after over 1 million people had died. During the early 1970s a lot of time was spend reconstructing the areas that were formerly part of Biafra.
Around this time, the petroleum industry was booming, and the economy was recovering from the effects of the civil war, though there were still problems with inflation, high unemployment, decline in the price of peanuts and cocoa, and a drought. (More on the economics of Nigeria can be found on the economics page of this site.)
In 1971, Nigeria joined the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
However, the prolonged drought in 1973 led to the death of thousands of livestock, the suffering of farms, and the fishing industry. This, in combination with the oil boom, made a lot of people move into away from the farms, and more towards the cities.
Though the oil boom in the early 1970s brought a lot of revenue to Nigeria, this seemed to stay mostly in government.
In 1976, Nigeria was further broken down into 19 states, and plans to move the capital to Abuja were in the works. In 1987, 2 more states were created. In 1991, 9 more states were created, leading to 30 states at the time (please note that new states were taken as parts of existing states, so the total size of Nigeria remained the same). Also in 1991, Abuja was formed as a new (more central) section of the country, and the capital of Nigeria was officially moved from Lagos to Abuja. Abuja took portions of then Niger, Kogi, and Plateau states to form the territory. (Recently, 6 more states were added, leading to a total of 36 states. A map showing all the states, as well as the names of the states and their capitals can be found in the geography section of this site.)
Though Biafra was the most deadly and violent of the wars in Nigeria, there have continued to be disputes in Nigeria due to land, ethnic differences, religious differences. For example, in 1992 there were major clashes in the north between Christians and Muslims, and over 3000 people were killed in the clashes. Also, there was a possibility of Nigeria going to war with Cameroon in 1993. Even today, I keep reading about clashes in Oshun state over land, and it is killing dozens of people with each new headline, including women and children.
Part of where oil was rich in Nigeria were the Ogoni lands. In 1993, 300,000 Ogoni marched peacefully to demand a share in oil revenues and some form of political autonomy. They had formed an organization called MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People), and they also asked the oil companies to begin environmental remediation and pay compensation for past damage. They were a minority and felt that they were not being given their human rights, and they were being tortured just so the country could make money off the oil that was on their land.
This started a lot of opposition from the government, and the leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa was imprisoned on several occasions. In November of 1993, Abacha took over the government, and this is when the real trouble started for the Ogonis. The military started terrorizing Ogoniland with arrests, rapes, executions, burnings and lootings. It is believed that the Shell oil company was working with the government, and that is part of the reason there were many protests worldwide to boycott them. In May 1994 Saro-Wiwa was abducted from his home and jailed along with other MOSOP leaders and charged with the murder of four Ogoni leaders. By this time, the world was involved in the issue, and dismissed these charges as fraudulent. While Ken was in detention, he was denied legal or medical help (which if you do a lot of reading, is unfortunately common in Nigerian prisons), and he had 4 heart attacks while in jail. On October 31, 1995, the military government tried him and the other 8 people, and found them guilty of the murder of the 4 Ogoni people. The sentence immediately drew an international outcry by concerned persons and organizations, including Earthlife Africa, Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the United Nations, and others. They urged the government to spare the lives of the environmentalists, and they called on Shell to intervene, but on November 10, 1995, Saro-Wiwa and the others were executed anyway. Their execution resulted in more international outcry, a lot of which you can read more about on the web, and Nigeria was almost immediately suspended from the Commonwealth.
The names of those executed were
Maybe because of the economy or because of the image, but then Abacha aided Sierra Leone and Liberia against their military, and set up a plan for Nigeria's transition to democratic rule. However, when the time came for Nigeria's transition, he was the only candidate running for the elections which were to take place in August of 1998, with a 'return to democracy' set for October 1, 1998. However, in June of 1998, he died of a heart attack (or maybe it was the prostitutes), and Abubakar took his place as the interim president. By that time, there was not much chance of making the previously-promised date of October 1, 1998 for a democratically elected president (and the only candidate was dead), so Abubakar set out a new plan of transition to democracy which is supposed to return the country to democracy by May 29, 1999. So far, he has also taken some positive steps in the nation which include releasing some political prisoners, trying to get the economy back up, investigating the Abacha regime's assets for corruption and trying to recover some of the money that Abacha stashed in other countries, fighting against further corruption of the upcoming officials, convinced some of the exiles to come home (including Wole Soyinka). The nations of the world are giving Nigeria the benefit of a doubt, and they are convinced enough of Abubakar's intentions, and they have temporarily removed sanctions against the country, and temporarily reinstated Nigeria into the Commonwealth, all to aid with the transition to democracy. Abubakar has also visited South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and seems to be improving International Relations. The United States Congress even approved an aid of two million dollars for the transition, saying that they had seen enough cause for USAID to step up its activities in Nigeria, and that they view the events in Nigeria with "cautious optimism".
In the meantime, oil troubles continue to plague Nigeria. Environmental activists are still speaking up and protesting against oil companies in parts of Nigeria because it is ruining their environment. These protests and attacks have led to oil production losses of over 400000 a day in September and October of 1998.
Even though Nigeria is a leading producer of oil and petroleum, the masses have had a hard time getting them, and some of them take desperate measures to obtain the petroleum. In October of 1998, some people tried to obtain oil from a burst pipeline, which erupted, and killed hundreds of people, not just the ones that had sabotaged the pipeline, but also men, women and children that were trying to get some of the oil in their containers, and nearby inhabitants that were asleep in their homes.
At this time, many eyes are watching Nigeria to see if things take a turn for the better.
In addition, or for other information not covered on this site, you can also check some other links.
Here are a few that might be of special interest:
And here are some articles that might also be of interest: Back to top
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