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Nigeria Profile (A Brief History)

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

Nigeria, officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is Africa’s most populated country with a population of over 200 million people. Nigeria sits on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa and is bordered by Niger and Chad to the north, Cameroon to the east, and Benin to the west. The modern borders of Nigeria dates to 1914 when the British empire joined the Northern Nigeria Protectorate and Southern Nigeria Protectorate into one colony. The country later became independent on October 1, 1960 and adopted a republican constitution in 1963. A multinational state Nigeria is home to more than 250 ethnic groups with over 500 distinct languages and a wide variety of cultures. The three largest ethnic groups are the Hausa-Fulani in the north, Yoruba in the west and Igbo in the east which comprises over 60% of Nigeria’s population.

Early history of Nigeria

Archaeological research shows that people were living in Nigeria at least 100,000 years ago. The earliest recorded history of Nigerian ancestry can be dated to 1500 BC to about 200 AD and the Nok civilization of northern Nigeria. The Nok civilization was famous for life-sized terracotta figures that are some of the earliest known sculptures of Sub-Saharan Africa. The Nok civilizations iron smelting would later be discovered throughout Nigeria.

Rise of Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Edo

The Hausa Kingdoms were a collection of states founded by the Hausa people situated between the Niger River and Lake Chad in northern Nigeria believed to be descendants of the Nok civilization which disappeared in about 300 AD. The Hausa Kingdoms would coordinate production according to resource locations and divide the labor among the states. The Kingdom became primarily known for the production of cloth, weaving and dying before shipping it for trade. The Hausa Kingdoms eventually were conquered in the 19th century and became part of Hausa-Fulani Sokoto Caliphate.

The Yorubaland people who can be found in modern day Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and parts of Ghana grew the Oyo Empire to be one the most organized and wealthiest states in western Africa from about the 8th to the 17th century. The Yoruba people were the among the most urbanized and most populous of Africa. For centuries before the arrival of the British the well-structured and fortified city-states of the Yoruba people became powerful economic hubs.

The kingdom of Nri is the foundation of the Igbo cultural. The kingdom dates to about the 9th century and was created as a theocratic state. Famous for its peace mandate from the Nri religion the kingdom did not practice slave ownership or trade and eventually would be a sanctuary for slaves.

The Edo Kingdom also known as the Benin Kingdom was roughly formed around the 11th century. The city state famously known for its protective moat/walls flourished into an economic powerhouse. The Kingdoms would dominate trade from the Western Delta to the Kingdom of Accra or modern-day Ghana. The kingdoms trade domination would eventually lead to the formation of the Atlantic Slave Trade with Portugal that would send slaves across the Atlantic to colonies in the Americas.

Colonialization of Nigeria

Beginning in the early 1700’s European powers began expeditions into Africa with settlements and forts off the coast of West Africa. These settlements and forts were mostly used for trading purposes and shipping goods back to Europe. As the slave trade with the Americas grew and became more profitable for Britain, by the late 1700’s British traders became the largest exporters of slaves from West Africa.

Under immense pressure from the religious communities, most notably the Quakers, the Parliament of the United Kingdom in 1807 enacted the Slave Trade Act, which forbid British subjects from participating in the slave trade. Eventually Britain would go on to pressure the rest of Europe to do the same.

After the Napoleonic Wars ended in the early 1800’s, Britain no longer had an enemy in its forefront and so it began looking towards Africa. In 1807 Britain began signing anti-slavery treaties with West African powers that prohibited the sale of slaves enforceable by military action. Some of the treaties contained language that required these African powers to abide by British rule and prohibited diplomacy without British permission. These treaties also allowed for naval expeditions and reconnaissance throughout the region. Britain started enforcing the anti-slavery treaty and released the rescued slaves into a newly created port city of Freetown off the coast of Sierra Leone, one year later Britain annexed Freetown declaring it a Crown Colony in 1808.

The treaties would allow British expedition’s throughout West Africa in a survey of the lands, people, and goods. By the mid-19th century Britain began overthrowing kingdoms with attacks on Lagos and eventually annexing Lagos as a Crown Colony in 1861. In 1884, at the Berlin Conference also known as the Congo Conference, which regulated European colonization of Africa, Britain was giving authority to conquer Western Africa. In 1892 Britain began a military campaign that would eventually conquer all West Africa. Using mostly Hausa soldiers, which have been training since the annexation of Lagos, by 1900 Britain had colonized all of Nigeria. The Royal Niger Company, a mercantile company chartered by the British government, formed in 1879 effectively became the colonial administrator of Nigeria. It was common practice among the European powers to create mercantile companies aided by military support to govern colonies. The company would later be absorbed by the United Africa Company which would later be purchased by Unilever, a modern-day company.

Independence of Nigeria

Nigeria received its Freedom Charter from Great Britain on October 1, 1960, and a parliament was elected to govern the country. Queen Elizabeth II was still monarch of Nigeria and Head of State and Nigeria was a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. The Federal government was given exclusive powers in defense, foreign relations, commercial and fiscal policy. In October 1963 Nigeria proclaimed itself the Federal Republic of Nigeria and former Governor-General Nnamdi Azikiwe became the countries first President. From 1963 until the Fourth Republic of the late 1990’s Nigeria had suffered through the Civil War of 1967 and a series of military coups that deposed elected civilian leaders and non-elected military leaders. During this period of unrest millions of Nigerians died and the economy of Nigeria deteriorated.

Fourth Republic

In August of 1998, General Abdulsalami Abubakar of the Military Provisional Ruling Council released political prisoners and appointed the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct elections for local government councils, state legislators and governors, the national assembly, and president. The first Federal elections were held on December 5, 1998 and the final election was held on February 27, 1999. After the elections the Provisional Ruling Council promulgated a new constitution and on May 29, 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo become the first elected President of the new democracy.

Economy of Nigeria

Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and the world’s 27th largest economy with an estimated annual GDP of 668 billion dollars.


The Nigerian economy is dominated by crude oil, which accounts for about 10% of GDP, 70% of government revenue, and 83% of the country's total export revenues according to OPEC. Nigeria is the world’s 8th largest oil exporter and its oil reserves are estimated to be 35 billion barrels. More recently the country has become a lead exporter of liquefied natural gas which accounts for 15% of exports.


Agriculture accounts for 21% of Nigeria’s GDP and employs 36% of the workforce. The Southern and Central regions of the country produce yam, rice, and maize while the norther regions produce sorghum, millet, rice, and livestock farming. Other major crops include beans, sesame, cashew nuts, cassava, cocoa beans, rubber, soybeans, and bananas.


The industrial sector makes up about 26% of the GDP and employs 12% of the workforce. The largest industries in the country are the petroleum industry, tourism, agriculture, and mining. The country extracts tin ore and coal for domestic use. Nigeria’s other natural resources include iron ore, limestone, niobium, lead, and zinc.


Services industry represents 52% of GDP and employs 52% of the population. The Financial, telecommunications, retail, and tourism industries are thriving and continue on an upward trajectory.

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