Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa, is situated in West Africa with a coast line on the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. It shares land borders with Benin to its west, Chad and Cameroon to its east and Niger to the north. The history of what is now Nigeria can be traced back to around 800 BCE when the area was settled by a Neolithic civilisation known as the Nok although archaeological remains have been found dating back to 9000 BCE. Over the ensuing centuries, city states and kingdoms emerged including the Hausa (above) and Borno kingdoms in the north and the Oyo and Benin kingdoms in the south.
As ever, our understanding of the area developed with the arrival of Portuguese explorers and traders in the fifteenth century after they reached the mouth of the River Niger in 1470 and sent stories home of amazing African artefacts and the splendour of Benin's Oba or King. From 1806 until the end of that century the British were busy exploring the area, charting its territory and rivers and preparing it for trade, mainly in palm oil which it was hoped would provide financial compensation for the loss of the slave trade that had seen millions of Nigerian slaves shipped to America during the 16-18th centuries. (Ironically, local chiefs went on to enslave more Nigerians to meet the demand for this palm oil trade.)
After the Napoleonic Wars had ended, Britain once again turned its attention to expansion within Nigeria. Given its involvement in the area, The Berlin Conference of 1884, effectively rubberstamped the area as ripe for British control and development (although there were ongoing tensions with France over Nigeria's western border with French controlled Dahomey) and, as such the British government established the Royal Niger Company in 1885, then on 1st January 1901 made Nigeria a British protectorate. Just 14 years later the area was formally titled the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, whereby Nigeria was subject to indirect rule through tribal leaders; a status it held until 1st October 1954 when, as momentum for independence was sweeping across Africa, the colony became the autonomous Federation of Nigeria. In 1922 a section of the German colony Kamerun was added to Nigeria under League of Nations mandate. The colony was finally given full independence as The Federation of Nigeria on the 1st October 1960 with Jaja Anucha Wachuku as the Nigerian Parliament's first black speaker after independence (Wachuka was a close friend of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson.) Then, in October 1963, Nigeria became the Federal Republic of Nigeria with Nnamdi Azikiwe (below) as its first President.
Within seven years the country's first Prime Minister had been assassinated, his successor killed in a counter-coup and a bloody civil war had broken out when three of Nigeria's eastern states seceded from the country in an attempt to establish themselves as the Republic of Biafra. Since that time, Nigeria's 250 ethnic/tribal groups have continued to provide not just powerful tensions in a multi layered society, tensions that even today spill over into religious violence particularly between Muslim and Christian communities with often fatal outcomes as many in Nigeria see themselves as belonging to an ethnic/religious groups rather than as a citizen of Nigeria itself. The three areas most Nigerians align themselves to are the Yoruba (westerners), Igbo (easterners) and Hausa (northerners). Explore Nigerian history further in the video (below).
Nigerian History: Volunteer in Nigeria
Nigerian History: Nigeria Children
Nigerian History: Child Sponsor Nigeria
Nigerian History: Nigeria Country Profile
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