Nigeria had an eventful history. More than 2,000 years ago, the Nok culture in the present plateau state worked iron and produced experienced terracotta sculpture. The history of the northern cities of Kano and Katsina dates back to approximately 1000 A.D. In the following centuries, Hausa Kingdoms and the Bornu Empire became important terminals of north-south trade between North African Berbers and the forest people, exchanging slaves, ivory, and other products. The Yoruba Kingdom of Oyo was founded in 1400s. It attained a high level of political organization. In the 17th through 19th centuries, European traders established coastal ports for slave traffic to the Americas. Commodity trade, especially in palm oil and timber, replaced slave trade in the 19th century. In the early 19th century, the Fulani leader Usman dan Fodio launched an Islamic crusade that brought most of the Hausa states under the loose control of an empire centered in Sokoto.
On October 1, 1960, the Federation of Nigeria achieved independence, initially as a constitutional monarchy. In June 1961, the northern part of the United Nations Trust Territory of British Cameroons was incorporated into Nigeria’s Northern Region as the province of Sardauna, and in August 1963 a fourth region, the Mid-Western Region, was created. From the outset, Nigeria’s ethnic, regional, and religious tensions were magnified by the disparities in economic and educational development. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was adopted on October 1, 1963. At the same time, Nigeria became a member of the Commonwealth and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of the NCNC took office as first Nigerian’s first President. On January 15, 1966, a group of officers overthrew the government. In May 1967, Lt. Col. Emeka Ojukwu, the military governor, declared the independence of the Eastern Region as the “Republic of Biafra.” After General Muhammed was assassinated on February 13, 1976, Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo became head of state. Seven new states were created in 1976, bringing the total to nineteen. Several military rulers followed, ending with the sudden death of General Sani Abacha in June, 1998. He was succeeded by General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who held elections in 1999 leading to the election of Olusegun Obasanjo, who took office in May, 1999.
Nigeria is located in Western Africa bordering the Atlantic Ocean in the South. Its neighbors include Cameroon and Chad to the east, Niger to the north and Benin to the west. Nigeria is a very important country in Africa since it exports oil worldwide. Agriculture and industry constitute most of Nigeria’s economic activity. Women represent an estimated 60-80 percent of the agricultural labor force, producing about two-thirds of the food crops.
Currently, Nigeria’s population exceeds 110 million. Nearly 50 percent of the country’s population are women. Within Nigeria there are about 250 different ethnic groups that speak nearly 4000 dialects. Its religions are: Islam (50%), Christianity (40%) and traditional beliefs (10%). Ethnic problems have been common among the various tribal groups. Also, religious unrest has been seen between northern and southern regions of Nigeria.
The oil-rich Nigerian economy, long hobbled by political instability, corruption, and poor macroeconomic management, is undergoing substantial economic reform under the new civilian administration. Nigeria’s former military rulers failed to diversify the economy away from over dependence on the capital-intensive oil sector, which provides 20% of GDP, 95% of foreign exchange earnings, and about 65% of budgetary revenues. The largely subsistence agricultural sector has not kept up with rapid population growth, and Nigeria, once a large net exporter of food, now must import food. In 2000, Nigeria is likely to receive a debt-restructuring deal with the Paris club and a $1 billion loan from the IMF, both contingent on economic reforms. Increased foreign investment combined with high world oil prices should push growth to over 5% in 2000-01.
Although the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in the region that is now Nigeria, it was the British coming into the picture only in 1553 who were to play the starring role in the drama of colonization as well as Nigeria’s birth as a modern nation-state. British merchants, initially interested in the region’s gold, ivory, and pepper, soon shifted their attention to the slave trade, and quickly became the dominant foreign commercial interest in Nigeria.
In the early part of the nineteenth century, as Great Britain reaped the fruits of the Industrial Revolution, the need for African slaves became subordinate to the need for African markets and raw materials. After Great Britain outlawed the transatlantic slave trade in 1804 a decision driven less by humanitarian considerations than by economic logic that need translated into a vague policy of territorial acquisition. For British merchants based around the Oil Rivers on the coast, the top priority was to penetrate the hinterlands and establish direct links with the primary producers of palm oil, thereby dispensing with coastal African middlemen. But they faced stiff challenges from both the threatened middlemen and from nature. King Ja Ja of Opobo, for example, deployed a number of strategic devices to beat back the British campaign, including direct shipment of his oil to Europe. In 1887, when Ja Ja was lured onto a British vessel “to talk,” he was arrested, sent to the Gold Coast (now Ghana) for trial, then sentenced to a five-year exile in the West Indies, where he died.
Reforms in the late 1940s through the 1950s allowed Nigerians limited political representation, but southerners pushed for full autonomy. Yet northern political leaders, under the auspices of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), opposed a motion calling for independence by 1956, and agreed to support self-rule only after constitutional concessions were made to the North. On October 1, 1960, after years of constitutional conferences, Great Britain lowered the Union Jack, ushering in Nigerian independence.