The history of Nigeria can be traced to prehistoric settlers (Nigerians) living in the area as early as 11000 BC. Numerous ancient African civilizations settled in the region that is today Nigeria, such as the Kingdom of Nri, the Benin Empire, and the Oyo Empire. Islam reached Nigeria through the Borno 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. Lagos was invaded by British forces in 1851 and formally annexed in 1861. Nigeria became a British protectorate in 1901. Colonization lasted until 1960, when an independence movement succeeded in gaining Nigeria its 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 once again after a new constitution was written in 1979. However, the republic was short-lived, when the military seized power again four years later. A new republic was planned to established in August 1993, but was dissolved once again by General Sani Abacha three months later. 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 that people were already living in south-eastern Nigeria (specifically Igbo Ukwu, Nsukka, Afikpo and Ugwuele) 100,000 years ago. Excavations in Ugwuele, Afikpo and Nsukka show evidences of long habitations as early as 6,000 BC. However, by 9th Century AD, it seemed clear that the Igbos had settled in Igboland. Shaw’s excavations at Igbo-Ukwu, Nigeria revealed a 9th-century indigenous culture that created highly sophisticated work in bronze metalworking, independent of any 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 western Nigeria and attests to the antiquity of habitation in the region.
Microlithic and ceramic industries were also developed by savanna pastoralists from at least the 4th millennium BC and were continued by subsequent agricultural communities. In the south, hunting and gathering gave way to subsistence farming around the same time, relying more on the indigenous yam and oil palm than on the cereals important in the North.
The 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 neolithicpioneers as “thunderbolts” hurled to earth by the gods.
Iron smelting furnaces at Taruga dating from around 600 BC provide the oldest evidence of metalworking in Sub-Saharan Africa. Kainji Dam excavations revealed iron-working by the 2nd century BC. The transition from Neolithic times to the Iron Age apparently was achieved indigenously without intermediate bronze production. Others suggest 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 identified iron-using Nigerian culture is that of the Nok culture that thrived between approximately 900 BC and 200 AD on the Jos Plateau in north-eastern Nigeria. Information is lacking from the first millennium AD following the Nok ascendancy, but by the 2nd millennium there was active trade from North Africa through the Sahara to the forest, with the people of the savanna acting as intermediaries in exchanges of various goods.
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 culmulating 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.
According to the Bayajidda legend, the Hausa states were founded by the sons of Bayajidda, a prince whose origin differs by tradition. but official canon records him as the person who married the last Kabara of Daura and heralded the end of the matriarchal monarchs that had erstwhile ruled the Hausa people. Contemporary historical scholarship views this legend as an allegory similar to many in that region of Africa that probably referenced a major event, such as a shift in ruling dynasties.
According to the Bayajidda legend, the Banza Bakwai states were founded by the seven sons of Karbagari (“Town-seizer”), the unique son of Bayajidda and the slave-maid, Bagwariya. They are called the Banza Bakwai meaning Bastard or Bogus Seven on account of their ancestress’ slave status.
- Zamfara (state inhabited by Hausa-speakers)
- Kebbi (state inhabited by Hausa-speakers)
- Yauri (also called Yawuri)
- Gwari (also called Gwariland)
- Kwararafa (the state of the Jukun people)
- Nupe (state of the Nupe people)
- Ilorin(was founded by the Yoruba)
The Hausa Kingdoms began as seven states founded according to the Bayajidda legend by the six sons of Bawo, the unique son of the hero and the queen Magajiya Daurama in addition to the hero’s son, Biram or Ibrahim, of an earlier marriage. The states included only kingdoms inhabited by Hausa-speakers:
- Zaria (Zazzau)
Since the beginning of Hausa history, the seven states of Hausaland divided up production and labor activities in accordance with their location and natural resources. Kano and Rano were known as the “Chiefs of Indigo.” Cotton grew readily in the great plains of these states, and they became the primary producers of cloth, weaving and dying it before sending it off in caravans to the other states within Hausaland and to extensive regions beyond. Biram was the original seat of government, while Zaria supplied labor and was known as the “Chief of Slaves.” Katsina and Daura were the “Chiefs of the Market,” as their geographical location accorded them direct access to the caravans coming across the desert from the north. Gobir, located in the west, was the “Chief of War” and was mainly responsible for protecting the empire from the invasive Kingdoms of Ghana and Songhai. Islam arrived to Hausaland along the caravan routes. The famous Kano Chronicle records the conversion of Kano’s ruling dynasty by clerics from Mali, demonstrating that the imperial influence of Mali extended far to the east. Acceptance of Islam was gradual and was often nominal in the countryside where folk religion continued to exert a strong influence. Nonetheless, Kano and Katsina, with their famous mosques and schools, came to participate fully in the cultural and intellectual life of the Islamic world. The Fulani began to enter the Hausa country in the 13th century and by the 15th century they were tending cattle, sheep, and goats in Borno as well. The Fulani came from the Senegal River valley, where their ancestors had developed a method of livestock management based on transhumance. Gradually they moved eastward, first into the centers of the Mali and Songhai empires and eventually into Hausaland and Borno. Some Fulbe converted to Islam as early as the 11th century and settled among the Hausa, from whom they became racially indistinguishable. There they constituted a devoutly religious, educated elite who made themselves indispensable to the Hausa kings as government advisers, Islamic judges, and teachers.
The Hausa Kingdoms were first mentioned by Ya’qubi in the 9th century and they were by the 15th century vibrant trading centers competing with Kanem-Bornu and the Mali Empire. The primary exports were slaves, leather, gold, cloth, salt, kola nuts, animal hides, and henna. At various moments in their history, the Hausa managed to establish central control over their states, but such unity has always proven short. In the 11th century the conquests initiated by Gijimasu of Kano culminated in the birth of the first united Hausa Nation under Queen Amina, the Sultana of Zazzau but severe rivalries between the states led to periods of domination by major powers like the Songhai, Kanem and the Fulani.
Despite relatively constant growth, the states were vulnerable to aggression and, although the vast majority of its inhabitants were Muslim by the 16th century, they were attacked by Fulani jihadists from 1804 to 1808. In 1808 the Hausa Nation was finally conquered by Usuman dan Fodio and incorporated into the Hausa-Fulani Sokoto Caliphate.
Historically the Yoruba people have been the dominant group on the west bank of the Niger. Their nearest linguistic relatives are the Igalawho live on the opposite side of the Niger’s divergence from the Benue, and from whom they are believed to have split about 2,000 years ago. The Yoruba were organized in mostly patrilineal groups that occupied village communities and subsisted on agriculture. From approximately the 8th century, adjacent village compounds called ile coalesced into numerous territorial city-states in which clan loyalties became subordinate to dynastic chieftains. Urbanization was accompanied by high levels of artistic achievement, particularly in terracottaand ivory sculpture and in the sophisticated metal casting produced at Ife.
The Yoruba paid tribute to a pantheon composed of an impersonal Supreme Deity, Olorun. The Olorun is now called God in the Yoruba language. There are 400 lesser deities who perform various tasks. According to the Yoruba, Oduduwa is regarded as both the creator of the earth and the ancestor of the Yoruba kings. According to one of the various myths about him, he founded Ife and dispatched his sons and daughters to establish similar kingdoms in other parts of what is today known as Yorubaland. The Yorubaland now consists of different tribes from different states which are located in the Southwestern part of the country, states like Oyo State, Ondo State, Ekiti State, Ogun State, among others.
The Kingdom of Nri is considered to be the foundation of Igbo culture, and the oldest Kingdom in Nigeria. Nri and Aguleri, where the Igbo creation myth originates, are in the territory of the Umueri clan, who trace their lineages back to the patriarchal king-figure, Eri. Eri’s origins are unclear, though he has been described as a “sky being” sent by Chukwu (God). He has been characterized as having first given societal order to the people of Anambra.
TO BE CONTINUED.