Virtually all the native races of Africa are represented in Nigeria, hence the great diversity of her people and culture. It was in Nigeria that the Bantu and Semi Bantu, migrating from southern and central Africa, intermingled with the Sudanese. Later, other groups such as Shuwa-Arabs, the Tuaregs, and the Fulanis, who are concentrated in the far north, entered northern Nigeria in migratory waves across the Sahara Desert. The earliest occupants of Nigeria settled in the forest belt and in the Niger Delta region.
While there is no direct evidence to link the people of the Jos Plateau with the Nok culture, or the Eze Nri of today with Igbo Ukwu, the history of Borno dates back to the 9th Century when Arabic writers in north Africa first noted the kingdom of Kanem east of Lake Chad. Bolstered by trade with the Nile region and Trans-Saharan routes, the empire prospered. In the next centuries, complex political and social systems were developed, particularly after the Bulala invasion in the 14th Century. The empire moved from Kanem to Borno, hence the name. The empire lated for 1,000 years despite challenges from the Hausa-Fulani in the west and Jukun from the south.
To the west of Borno around 1,000 A.D., the Hausa were building similar states around Kano, Zaria, Daura, Katsina, and Gobir. However, unlike the Kanuri, no ruler among theses states ever became powerful enough to impose his will over the others. Although the Hausa had common languages, culture, and Islamic religion, they had no common king. Kano, the most powerful of these stats, controlled much of the Hausa land in the 16th and 17th Centuries, but conflicts with the surrounding states ended this dominance. Because of these conflicts, the Fulanis, led by Usman Dan Fodio in 1804, successfully challenged the Hausa States and set up the Hausa-Fulani Caliphate with the headquarters in Sokoto, commanding a broad area from Katsina in the far north to Ilorin, across the River Niger.
In the west, the Yoruba developed complex, powerful city-states. The first of these important states was Ile-Ife, which according to Yoruba mythology was the center of the universe. Ife is the site of a unique art form first uncovered in the 1930's. Naturalistic terracotta, bronze heads and other artifacts dating as far back as the 10th Century show just how early the Yoruba developed cities challenged Ife for supremacy, and Oyo became the most powerful West African Kingdom in the 16th and 17th Centuries. The armies of the Oyo King dominated other Yoruba cities and even forced tribute from the ruler of Dahomey. Internal power struggles and the Fulani expansion to the south caused the collapse of Oyo in the early 19th century.
Benin developed into a major kingdom the same period that Oyo was becoming dominant to the west. Although the people of Benin are primarily Edo, not Yoruba, they share with Ife and Oyo many of the same origins, and there is much evidence of cultural and artistic interchange between the kingdoms. The King of Benin was considered semi-divine and controlled a complex bureaucracy, a large army, and diversified economy. Benin's power reached its apex in the 16th century.
Pre Colonial Era
In 1713 this part of West Africa eventually became the center of the slave trade, first introduced by the Portuguese and later practiced by the French and by the British who were granted rights to the slave trade in this region by the Treaty of Utrecht. During the four centuries when slavery was practiced, upwards of ten million Africans were sold across the Atlantic. The Nigerian coast became known as the Slave Coast with the main slave-exporting centers being in Lagos, Warri, Calabar, Badagry and Bonny.
The Colonial Era
The first British Consulate was opened in Calabar in 1851 and the British subsequently seized Lagos Island in 1861 which then became the first element of present day Nigeria. During the scramble for Africa in the late 19th century which culminated in the Berlin Conference of 1885, they acquired control of the rest of the country and bound the various ethnic groups together into two political units, the Protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria. These were merged when the Federation of Nigeria was declared in 1914 although effectively administered separately until 1946. interestingly, the British allowed few white settlers, denying work permits to any foreigners who could not demonstrate that their presence in the country was absolutely necessary. In 1938, all of Nigeria was governed by only 380 British officials who administered indirectly through local village chiefs. However, the British administration did little to mitigate the inevitable regional rivalry between the three major sub divisions, dominated by the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo peoples in the north, southwest and southeast respectively.
The first truly Nigerian political party was the Nigerian National Democratic Party founded by Herbert Macaulay in the 1920's. the real move for independence had its origins in the early 1950's and independence finally came in 1960 with the first Prime Minister being Sir Abubabakar Tafawa, a moderate northerner. Nigeria was declared a republic in 1963 with an Igbo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, becoming president. The uneasy coalition of the north and east eventually broke down and the country's first military coup took place in 1966 when an Igbo military general took power. Riots and counter-coups followed which culminated in the eastern part of the country declaring the independent Igbo State of Biafara. The Biafaran war broke out in 1967, during which over one million people died and which resulted in a Federal victory in 1969. Independent Nigeria continued to have tumultuous history with no less than seven coups since 1966. The latest was in 1993 which brought General Sani Abacha to power, who eventually was assassinated in 1999, bringing democracy once again to Nigeria.