Nigeria History and Politics

Nigeria History

Prehistory and Early History in Nigeria: Nok and Trans-Saharan Trade

Where the state of Nigeria is today, people lived as early as the Stone Age, initially as hunters and gatherers, later as settled farmers. In the center of today’s Nigeria, arose around 1000 BC. The Nok culture. It lasted until 300 AD.

There was trade between what is now Nigeria and the Mediterranean Sea from at least the 2nd century AD. The trade route led through the Sahara. Slaves, gold and fabrics were brought to the Mediterranean. Horses, cowrie shells and weapons took the opposite route.

Great empires in the south and north

Several empires developed in the area. This included the Oyo empire of the Yoruba in the southwest. It existed from around 1400 to 1905, was in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was at the height of power in the 19th century and was conquered by the Fulani in the 19th century. Also in the south was the Kingdom of Benin (around 600 – 1897, greatest expansion around 1500). This Kingdom of Benin has nothing to do with the current state of Benin.

In the north of present-day Nigeria (as well as present-day Niger) were the house states, which were founded by the Hausa people in the 7th century. They were captured by the Sokoto Caliphate at the beginning of the 19th century. The Fulbe founded this Islamic state in 1804. It existed until 1903. In the northeast, Nigeria was part of the Kanem Empire (around 700-1376), and in the northwest in the 16th century it was part of the Songhai Empire.

All these empires were smashed by the Europeans, who subjugated the country and took it as a colony. The new state was drawn up by these colonial rulers. They did not take into account any of the existing conditions, i.e. peoples, languages ​​or cultures.

Europeans are coming: slave trade

At the end of the 15th century, the first Europeans landed on the coast of Nigeria. It was Portuguese who began to trade especially with the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Benin. Ivory, palm oil and, increasingly, slaves were popular with the Europeans. The first British came in 1553.

The western coast of what is now Nigeria became part of what the Europeans called the Slave Coast. Although there had been slaves here for a long time, the difference to the now emerging slave trade was great: people became commodities.

As the slave trade was gradually banned in more and more countries, the trade changed too. The main product now became palm oil, which is coveted in Europe. Despite the ban, the slave trade continued even now.

The Europeans did not penetrate deeper into the country and only stayed briefly. They were afraid of getting malaria. The area was even called “the white man’s tomb”. But when the medicine improved and there were drugs against malaria, from 1850 the British penetrated further inland.

Nigeria as a British colony

In 1862 the British first declared the city of Lagos their protectorate, then in 1886 a crown colony. The trading company Royal Niger Company, which took possession of land in the center and the north and defined borders, also had great influence against French and German influence. In 1899 she sold her land to the British government. In the next few years, the rest of the country, especially the Sokoto Caliphate, was finally conquered.

First the colonies of southern Nigeria and northern Nigeria emerged. In 1914 they were combined into a single colony. Yet the country was divided. In the north, the indirect rule applied, that is, the previous rulers, for example the Caliph of Sokoto, retained their power and exercised it locally. For example, they collected taxes for the British or enforced British instructions. In return, for example, Islamic law, the Sharia, was allowed to continue to be applied. In the south, for example with the Igbo, this type of exercise of power was not possible because there were no ruling structures there (i.e. no chiefs or kings).

Especially after the Second World War, the aspirations for independence increased in many African states, including Nigeria. In the 1950s, Nigeria was divided into three regions (north, south-west, south-east), which received their own administration and parliament. In 1960 Nigeria was given independence.


The first years of independence were marked by unrest and violence. In 1966 there was a military coup that brought Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi to power. He belonged to the Igbo people. He was murdered by representatives of the north in another coup. Yakubu Gowon became president. He suppressed the Igbo.

Biafran war and coups

The governor of the eastern region (where mainly Igbo live), Ojukwu, responded by declaring the eastern region to be independent as the Republic of Biafra. That was on May 30, 1967. The Biafra War broke out, which ended in 1970 with the defeat of Biafra.

Several more coups followed in Nigeria over the next few decades. Under Sani Abacha the dictatorship raged particularly brutally. In 1995, as a country located in Africa according to dentistrymyth, Nigeria was therefore excluded from the Commonwealth of Nations and outlawed by many states.


In 1998, under Abdulsalami Abubakar, the democratization of Nigeria began. Political prisoners were released and elections were held. Olusegun Obasanjo became president in 1999. In the north, Islamic law was implemented in 2000, against the resistance of the Christian minority.

In 2007 Umaru Yar’Adua became the new president. When he fell ill, his Vice President Goodluck Jonathan took over the office and was his successor after Yar’Adua’s death in 2010. He was confirmed in office in the 2011 elections. In March 2015, Muhammadu Buhari of the social democratic party APC became the new president. He was re-elected in 2019 and began his second term.

Nigeria History