The beginnings of Nigeria
The history of Nigeria is rooted in an early civilization with outstanding art. The plateau area was the meeting point of cultural influences and agricultural trades. By 500 BC the Nok culture flourished. The Nok Society (People of the Plateau) were farmers who made iron tools and weapons known for their terracotta heads and figures.
In the North, a strong state system based on divine kingship developed. The people raised horses, cattle, grew grain, cotton, and made cloth and iron. Two empires arose (Hausa-Bokwoi 100-1000 AD and Kanem-Borno 11th century). Northerners converted to Islam, traded gold and slaves across the Sahara desert.
The Yoruba found in the southwest founded Ife before 1000 AD The culture of Benin is closely connected to the production of Ifem bronze, sculpted using the “lost wax” technique. This art became a great contributor to the world artistic heritage. Settlers from the southeast, heavily attacked by slave traders from the north and along the coast, went into the forest to avoid their captors.
In 1472, Portuguese explorersJoao de Santarem, Pero Escobar, Lopo Gonçalves and Fernao do Po discovered a country with an established civilization. The country, ruled by four kingdoms (Hausa, Borno, Oyo, and the Kingdom of Benin), had indigenous industrial, agricultural, and artistic cultures. In the 15th century, the Kingdom of Benin began trading with the Portuguese by selling slaves in exchange for spices, firearms, the art of writing, and the Christian religion. In the 18th century, the British replaced the Portuguese as leaders of the slave trade. In 1807, missionaries introduced Christianity and campaigned against slavery, leading to a ban on trade. The missionaries also brought quinine to control malaria. The economies of southern Nigeria became powerful as a result of trade inpalm oil.
The holy war (Jihad) of the Pël emirs against the Hausa state of Gobir in the 19th century created new empires and city-states that led to the spread of Islam. The Yoruba approached Great Britain who occupied Lagos in 1861 and by 1900 Great Britain was in control of Nigeria. In 1954, Nigeria became a federation after the 1951 constitution gave a balance of power to Nigerians. Lady Flora Shaw, wife of Lord Federick Lugard, coined the name “Nigeria” in her TIMES article describing the “Niger River”.
The history of Nigeria will be incomplete without the mention of how the country gained its independence. The Federation of Nigeria became independent from the United Kingdom in 1960. Led by the Northern People’s Congress (mainly Hausa and Muslims) and the Nigerian Council of Nigerian Citizens (Igbos and Christians). The British realized that the campaign for independence had begun to gain ground after World War II. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa became the country’s first prime minister. In 1963, Nigeria declared itself as the Federal Republic of Nigeria with Nnamdi Azikiwe as its first president.
The first coup that led to the death of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in January 1966 established the first military government with Major General Aguiyi Ironsi, the army commander, as the leader of the new administration. In July 1966, Northern troops struck back with another coup, killing Aguiyi Ironsi. Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon assumed the position. He replaced the four regions with 12 states and restored a federal state. He promised to bring back democracy by including civilians in government. In 1983, a military coup ended a brief democratic government. In 1998, Nigeria became a democratic state (with its fourth republic) with Olusegun Obasanjo as the first civilian president of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Nigeria’s Democracy Day was originally celebrated on May 29, every year since General Olusegun Obasanjo became president in 1999. However, on June 12, 2018, General Muhammadu Buhari, in his capacity as President, announced a change in this date from May 29 to June 12, beginning with the year 2019. This was to commemorate the election of June 12, 1993, and the events surrounding it.
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