The history of Nigeria can be traced to settlers trading across the middle East and Africa as early as 1100 BC. Numerous ancient African civilizations settled in the region that is known today as Nigeria, such as the Kingdom of Nri, the Benin Empire, and the Oyo Empire. Islam reached Nigeria through the Bornu Empire between (1068 AD) and Hausa States around (1385 AD) during the 11th century, while Christianity came to Nigeria in the 15th century through Augustinian and Capuchin monks from Portugal. The Songhai Empire also occupied part of the region. From the 15th century, European slave traders arrived in the region to purchase enslaved Africans as part of the Atlantic slave trade, which started in the region of modern-day Nigeria; the first Nigerian port used by European slave traders was Badagry, a coastal harbour. Local merchants provided them with slaves, escalating conflicts among the ethnic groups in the region and disrupting older trade patterns through the Trans-Saharan route.
Lagos was occupied by British forces in 1851 and formally annexed by Britain in the year 1865. Nigeria became a British protectorate in 1901. The period of British rule lasted until 1960, when an independence movement led to the country being granted independence. Nigeria first became a republic in 1963, but succumbed to military rule three years later, after a bloody coup d'état. A separatist movement later formed the Republic of Biafra in 1967, leading to the three-year Nigerian Civil War. Nigeria became a republic again after a new constitution was written in 1979. However, the republic was short-lived, as the military seized power again in 1983 and later ruled for ten years. A new republic was planned to be established in 1993, but was aborted by General Sani Abacha. Abacha died in 1998 and a fourth republic was later established the following year, which ended three decades of intermittent military rule.
Archaeological research, pioneered by Charles Thurstan Shaw, has shown a long history of human settlement in Nigeria. Excavations in Ugwuele, Afikpo and Nsukka show evidence of habitation as early as 6,000 BC. Shaw's excavations at Igbo-Ukwu revealed a 9th-century indigenous culture that created highly sophisticated work in bronze metalworking, independent of Arab or European influence and centuries before other sites that were better known at the time of discovery.
The earliest known example of a fossil human skeleton found anywhere in West Africa, which is 13,000 years old, was found at Iwo-Eleru in Isarun, western Nigeria, and attests to the antiquity of habitation in the region.
The Dufuna canoe was discovered in 1987 not far from the Komadugu Gana River, in Yobe State. Radiocarbon dating of a sample of charcoal found near the site dates the canoe at 8,500 to 8,000 years old, linking the site to Lake Mega Chad. It is the oldest boat discovered in Africa, and the second oldest known worldwide.
Stone axe heads, imported in great quantities from the north and used in opening the forest for agricultural development, were venerated by the Yoruba descendants of Neolithic pioneers as "thunderbolts" hurled to earth by the gods.
Nok Culture and early Iron Age
The Nok culture thrived from approximately 1,500 BC to about 200 AD on the Jos Plateau in north and central Nigeria and produced life-sized terracotta figures that include human heads, human figures, and animals. Iron smelting furnaces at Taruga, a Nok site, date from around 600 BC. The Nok culture is thought to have begun smelting iron by 600-500 BC and possibly some centuries earlier. Kainji Dam excavations revealed iron-working by the 2nd century BC. Evidence of iron smelting has also been excavated at sites in the Nsukka region of southeast Nigeria in what is now Igboland: dating to 2,000 BC at the site of Lejja and to 750 BC at the site of Opi. The transition from Neolithic times to the Iron Age apparently was achieved indigenously without intermediate bronze production. Others have suggested that the technology moved west from the Nile Valley, although the Iron Age in the Niger River valley and the forest region appears to predate the introduction of metallurgy in the upper savanna by more than 800 years. The earliest iron technology in West Africa has also been found to be contemporary with or predate that of the Nile valley and North Africa, and some archaeologists believe that iron metallurgy was likely developed independently in sub-Saharan West Africa.
Nok seated figure; 5th century BC – 5th century AD; terracotta; 38 cm (1 ft. 3 in.); Musée du quai Branly (Paris). In this Nok work, the head is dramatically larger than the body supporting it, yet the figure possesses elegant details and a powerful focus. The neat protrusion from the chin represents a beard. Necklaces form a cone around the neck and keep the focus on the face.
Nok artwork; 5th century BC – 5th century AD; length: 50 cm (19.6 in.), height: 54 cm (21.2 in.), width: 50 cm (19.6 in.); terracotta; Musée du quai Branly. As in most African art styles, the Nok style focuses mainly on people, rarely on animals. All of the Nok statues are very stylized and similar in that they have arched eyebrows with triangular eyes and perforated pupils.
Nok male head; 550-50 BC; terracotta; Brooklyn Museum (New York City, USA). The mouth of this head is slightly open. It might suggest speech and that the figure has something to tell us. This is a figure that seems to be in the midst of a conversation. The eyes and the eyebrows suggest an inner calm or an inner serenity.
Early states before 1500
The early independent kingdoms and states that make up present-day state of Nigeria are (in alphabetical order): Benin Kingdom, Borgu Kingdom, Fulani Empire, Hausa Kingdoms, Kanem Bornu Empire, Kwararafa Kingdom, Ibibio Kingdom, Nri Kingdom, Nupe Kingdom, Oyo Empire, Songhai Empire, Warri Kingdom, Ile Ife Kingdom, and Yagba East Kingdom.
Oyo and Benin
During the 15th century Oyo and Benin surpassed Ife as political and economic powers, although Ife preserved its status as a religious center. Respect for the priestly functions of the oni of Ife was a crucial factor in the evolution of Yoruba culture. The Ife model of government was adapted at Oyo, where a member of its ruling dynasty controlled several smaller city-states. A state council (the Oyo Mesi) named the Alaafin (king) and acted as a check on his authority. Their capital city was situated about 100 km north of present-day Oyo. Unlike the forest-bound Yoruba kingdoms, Oyo was in the savanna and drew its military strength from its cavalry forces, which established hegemony over the adjacent Nupe and the Borgu kingdoms and thereby developed trade routes farther to the north.
The Benin Empire (1440–1897; called Bini by locals) was a pre-colonial African state in what is now modern Nigeria. It should not be confused with the modern-day country called Benin, formerly called Dahomey.
The Igala are an ethnic group of Nigeria. Their homeland, the former Igala Kingdom, is an approximately triangular area of about 14,000 km2 (5,400 sq mi) in the angle formed by the Benue and Niger rivers. The area was formerly the Igala Division of Kabba province, and is now part of Kogi State. The capital is Idah in Kogi state. Igala people are majorly found in Kogi state. They can be found in Idah, Igalamela/Odolu, Ajaka, Ofu, Olamaboro, Dekina, Bassa, Ankpa, omala, Lokoja, Ibaji, Ajaokuta, Lokoja and kotonkarfe Local government all in Kogi state. Other states where Igalas can be found are Anambra, Delta and Benue states. The royal stool of Olu of warri was founded by an Igala prince.
During the 16th century, the Songhai Empire reached its peak, stretching from the Senegal and Gambia rivers and incorporating part of Hausaland in the east. Concurrently the Saifawa Dynasty of Borno conquered Kanem and extended control west to Hausa cities not under Songhai authority. Largely because of Songhai's influence, there was a blossoming of Islamic learning and culture. Songhai collapsed in 1591 when a Moroccan army conquered Gao and Timbuktu. Morocco was unable to control the empire and the various provinces, including the Hausa states, became independent. The collapse undermined Songhai's hegemony over the Hausa states and abruptly altered the course of regional history.
Borno reached its pinnacle under mai Idris Aloma (ca. 1569–1600) during whose reign Kanem was reconquered. The destruction of Songhai left Borno uncontested and until the 18th-century Borno dominated northern Nigeria. Despite Borno's hegemony the Hausa states continued to wrestle for ascendancy. Gradually Borno's position weakened; its inability to check political rivalries between competing Hausa cities was one example of this decline. Another factor was the military threat of the Tuareg centred at Agades who penetrated the northern districts of Borno. The major cause of Borno's decline was a severe drought that struck the Sahel and savanna from in the middle of the 18th century. As a consequence, Borno lost many northern territories to the Tuareg whose mobility allowed them to endure the famine more effectively. Borno regained some of its former might in the succeeding decades, but another drought occurred in the 1790s, again weakening the state.
Ecological and political instability provided the background for the jihad of Usman dan Fodio. The military rivalries of the Hausa states strained the region's economic resources at a time when drought and famine undermined farmers and herders. Many Fulani moved into Hausaland and Borno, and their arrival increased tensions because they had no loyalty to the political authorities, who saw them as a source of increased taxation. By the end of the 18th century, some Muslim ulema began articulating the grievances of the common people. Efforts to eliminate or control these religious leaders only heightened the tensions, setting the stage for jihad.
According to the Encyclopedia of African History, "It is estimated that by the 1890s the largest slave population of the world, about 2 million people, was concentrated in the territories of the Sokoto Caliphate. The use of slave labour was extensive, especially in agriculture."
Northern kingdoms of the Sahel
Trade is the key to the emergence of organised communities in the sahelian portions of Nigeria. Prehistoric inhabitants adjusting to the encroaching desert were widely scattered by the third millennium BC, when the desiccation of the Sahara began. Trans-Saharan trade routes linked the western Sudan with the Mediterranean since the time of Carthage and with the Upper Nile from a much earlier date, establishing avenues of communication and cultural influence that remained open until the end of the 19th century. By these same routes, Islam made its way south into West Africa after the 9th century.
By then a string of dynastic states, including the earliest Hausa states, stretched into western and central Sudan. The most powerful of these states were Ghana, Gao, and Kanem, which were not within the boundaries of modern Nigeria but which influenced the history of the Nigerian savanna. Ghana declined in the 11th century but was succeeded by the Mali Empire which consolidated much of western Sudan in the 13th century.
Following the breakup of Mali, a local leader named Sonni Ali (1464–1492) founded the Songhai Empire in the region of middle Niger and western Sudan and took control of the trans-Saharan trade. Sonni Ali seized Timbuktu in 1468 and Djenné in 1473, building his regime on trade revenues and the cooperation of Muslim merchants. His successor Askia Muhammad Ture (1493–1528) made Islam the official religion, built mosques, and brought Muslim scholars, including al-Maghili (d.1504), the founder of an important tradition of Sudanic African Muslim scholarship, to Gao.
Although these western empires had little political influence on the Nigerian savanna before 1500 they had a strong cultural and economic impact that became more pronounced in the 16th century, especially because these states became associated with the spread of Islam and trade. Throughout the 16th-century much of northern Nigeria paid homage to Songhai in the west or to Borno, a rival empire in the east.
The Golden Age
During the 14th and 16th centuries, the demand for gold increased due to European and Islamic states wanting to change their currencies to gold. This led to an increase in trans-Saharan Trade.
Borno's history is closely associated with Kanem, which had achieved imperial status in the Lake Chad basin by the 13th century. Kanem expanded westward to include the area that became Borno. The mai (king) of Kanem and his court accepted Islam in the 11th century, as the western empires also had done. Islam was used to reinforce the political and social structures of the state although many established customs were maintained. Women, for example, continued to exercise considerable political influence.
The mai employed his mounted bodyguard and an inchoate army of nobles to extend Kanem's authority into Borno. By tradition, the territory was conferred on the heir to the throne to govern during his apprenticeship. In the 14th century, however, dynastic conflict forced the then-ruling group and its followers to relocate in Borno, as a result the Kanuri emerged as an ethnic group in the late 14th and 15th centuries. The civil war that disrupted Kanem in the second half of the 14th century resulted in the independence of Borno.
Borno's prosperity depended on the trans-Sudanic slave trade and the desert trade in salt and livestock. The need to protect its commercial interests compelled Borno to intervene in Kanem, which continued to be a theatre of war throughout the 15th century and into the 16th century. Despite its relative political weakness in this period, Borno's court and mosques under the patronage of a line of scholarly kings earned fame as centres of Islamic culture and learning.
The Hausa Kingdoms were a collection of states started by the Hausa people, situated between the Niger River and Lake Chad. Their history is reflected in the Bayajidda legend, which describes the adventures of the Baghdadi hero Bayajidda culminating in the killing of the snake in the well of Daura and the marriage with the local queen magajiya Daurama. While the hero had a child with the queen, Bawo, and another child with the queen's maid-servant, Karbagari.