Nigerian History- The Journey to Independence

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Nigerian History has its root in early civilization of prominent artistry. The Plateau area was the meeting point for cultural influences and agricultural trades. By 500BCE Nok culture flourished. Nok Society (Plateau People) were Agriculturalists making tools and weapon of Iron known for their Terracotta heads and figures.

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In the North, Strong state system based on divine kingship developed. The people reared horses, cattle, grew cereals, cotton and made fabrics and Iron. Two Empires arose (Hausa-Bokwoi CE 100-1000 and Kanem-Borno 11th Century). The Northerners converted to Islam, traded in gold and slaves across the Sahara.

The Yoruba found in the South-west founded Ife before CE 1000. Benin culture highly connected to Ifemproduced bronze sculptured by the ‘lost wax’ technique. This art became a major contributor to the world’s artistic heritage. South-eastern settlers heavily attacked by slave traders from the north and along the coast moved into the forest to avoid their captors.

Colonial Period (1900-1960)

In 1472, Portuguese explorers Joao de Santarem, Pero Escobar, Lopo Goncalves and Fernao do Po discovered a country with an established civilization.  The country ruled by four kingdoms (Hausa, Borno, Oyo and Benin Kingdom) had indigenous industrial, agricultural and artistic cultures. In the 15th century, the Benin Kingdom began to trade with the Portuguese selling slaves in exchange for spices, firearms, the art of writing and Christian religion. The 18th Century, the British replaced the Portuguese as leaders of the slave trade. In 1807, Missionaries brought in Christianity and campaigned against slavery leading to a ban on the trade. The missionaries also brought in quinine to control malaria. The economies of southern Nigeria became powerful as a result of Palm oil trade.

The holy war (Jihad) by the Fulani Emirs against the Hausa state of Gobir in the 19th century created new empires and city-states resulting in the spread of Islam. The Yoruba drew closer to the Britain who occupied Lagos in 1861 and by 1900 Britain had control of Nigeria. In 1954, Nigerian became a federation after the 1951 constitution gave a balance of Power to Nigerians.  Lady Flora Shaw wife to Lord Federick Lugard coined the name ‘Nigeria’ on her post to TIMES newspaper describing the ‘river Niger’.

Independence

The Nigerian history will be incomplete without the mention of how the country got its independence. The Federation of Nigeria gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1960. Led by the Northern people’s congress (largely Hausa and Muslims) and Nigeria council of Nigerian citizens (Igbos and Christians). The British noticed that the independence drive had started to gain grounds 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 the first President.

The first coup which led to the death of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in January 1966 established the first military rule with Major General Aguiyi Ironsi an Army commander as the leader of the new administration. July 1966, Northern troops struck back with another coup killing Aguiyi Ironsi. Lt-Colonel Yakubu Gowon assumed office. He replaced the four regions with 12 states and restored a federal state. He promised to bring back democracy by including civilians to the government. In 1983, A brief democratic government was put to an end by the military coup. In 1998, Nigeria became a democratic state with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as the first civilian president under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Historical Facts About Nigeria

  • May 1967, Lt-Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojokwu declared eastern Nigeria an independent state named ‘The Republic of Biafra’
  • October 1, 1960, Nigeria gained independence from Britain
  • October 1, 1963, Nigeria became a republic, Nnamdi Azikiwe became the first president.
  • 1961, Southern Cameron ceases to be part of Nigeria.
  • January 15, 1966, The Nigerian army staged its first coup
  • May 29, 1966, Massive rioting against Igbo minority by major towns of Northern Nigeria.
  • 1970-1979, Military rulers like Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo and Murtala Mohammed ran Nigeria and altered the constitution creating 19 states.
  • 1979-1983, the Second Republic of Nigeria under Shehu Shagari
  • July 1995, Former president Olusegun Obasanjo is sentenced to 25 years in prison by a secret military tribunal for alleged participation in the plan to overthrow the government.

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