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The History And People Of Nigeria History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The Federal Republic of Nigeria is located on the coast of West Africa. It shares borders with Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger with the Gulf of Guinea on its Southern border. It was formerly under British control and became an independent country on October 2, 1960. Nigeria is listed in the World Almanac and Book of Facts (2009) as having a population of approximately 146,255,306 and a land area of 356,669 square miles. There are three major geo-political regions, the North, West, and East. Nigeria’s population includes over 250 distinct ethnic nationalities. The most populous of these are the Hausa – Fulani (29%) located predominately in the North; the Yoruba (21%) located predominately in the West, and the Igbo (18%) located predominately in the East. All groups are found throughout the country. There are 36 states and the federal capital territory of Abuja. President Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as President on May 5, 2010 after serving as Acting President since February 9, 2010 due to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s an incapacitating illness and consequent death. Nigeria’s political history includes periods of military and civilian rule. The latest period of civilian rule began in 1999.


Nigeria is a resource rich nation with a petroleum based economy. Petroleum and petroleum based products constitute 95% of exports. Other Nigerian industries include minerals, palm oil, and peanuts. Lead agriculture products include cocoa and rubber. Other industry and agricultural products include: peanuts, palm oil, corn, rice, sorghum, millet, cassava, yams, livestock and fish, hides and skins, textiles, cement and construction materials, footwear, chemicals, fertilizer, printing, ceramics, steel, small commercial ship construction and repair.

The United Nations Statistics Division (2009) reported Nigeria’s main export partner as the United States receiving 42.5% of Nigeria exports. India, Brazil, Spain, and France were other export partners; each receiving less than 10% of Nigeria’s exports. In contrast Nigeria’s import partners were more varied with China leading at 15%, the United States at 8.2% and Belize at 7.2% with 15 other countries completing its import partner list. Primary imports include machinery and transport equipment (46.3%), a variety of manufactured goods (24%), and chemicals and related products (12.2%). Nigeria experienced a trade surplus from 2006 – 2008.


As of 2009 Nigeria was the 8th most populous country in the world based on United Nation Statistics Division data. With 250 ethnic nationalities, diversity is the norm within Nigeria. Each of these groups have histories that date back thousands of years prior to Nigeria’s formation as a nation. Each ethnic nationality includes several linguistic sub-groups who account for no fewer than 450 distinct languages spoken within Nigeria’s borders. While the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, and Igbo are the most populous ethnic nationalities respectively; several groups also have significant populations including the Ijaw (10%), Kanuri (4%), Ibibio (3.5%), and Tiv (2.5%). English is Nigeria’s official language, but mother tongue language learning is promoted through the K-12 education. Secondary students are required to test in Hausa, Yoruba, or Igbo as part of their exit exams. Pidgin English is also a lingua franca of both urban and rural areas across Nigeria. Diversity in culture and language is a hallmark of Nigerian life.


World Almanac 2009 data indicate major religious affiliations in Nigeria as Muslim 50%, Christian 40%, and Traditional (indigenous) beliefs 10%. In practice these religions are often not completely distinct from one another. Elements of Traditional religions are frequently practiced within or alongside Christian and Muslim practices. Traditional religions are ethno nationality specific in their histories, theologies, and practices. Due to Traditional religions’ all encompassing nature this syncretic (blending) process often occurred when Islam or Christianity was introduced to a group.

By the 11th century King Hume of Kanem-Bornu (present day Northeastern Nigeria and Northwestern Chad) adopted Islam as a means to strengthen and maintain Trans-Saharan trade relations. Islam spread gradually across the area and was integrated with many Traditional beliefs and practices to vary degrees across different ethnic nationalities. Religious syncretism also occurred with Judeo-Christianity which was introduced along the coast during the 15th century by Portuguese monks. From the 15th to 18th centuries some trade partners and coastal residents within the pre-colonial setting converted to Christianity as interaction with Europeans increased over this period. Christianity did not spread significantly beyond the coast until the 19th century. As with Islam Nigerian people retained or integrated a range of Traditional beliefs and practices with Christianity. These syncretic religions are often referred to as Africanized Islam or African Christian theology. The variety and variation of religious affiliation and practice is another manifestation of diverse Nigerian life.


Nigerian history is described by three major periods, Pre-Colonial, Colonial, and Post-Colonial or Independent. The pre-colonial period dates back to the beginnings of civilization in the West African Savanna region. As groups developed and expanded some moved into the Forest Regions and along the Southern coast, while other remained in the Savanna and Sahel regions located to the north.

Major civilizations began to appear by the 10th century. Some of the key Nigerian empires included the Kanem-Borno people which began as two distinct civilizations and merged by the 13th century. They controlled a major East -West route within the Trans-Sarahan Trade network. The Yoruba civilization appears early on and solidifies by the 11th century. The Yoruba Empire is first centered at Ife as their spiritual capital; but by the 17th century there is a shift in power to Oyo. The Hausa-Fulani of the North and the Edo people of the Benin Empire will also develop major civilizations during this same period that remain intact throughout colonial times. While their political power is minimized during colonialism; their societal institutions remain intact due to a British policy of Indirect Rule.

The British have initial contact with Benin as early as 1553. At this time Benin’s empire stretched from present day Lagos east to the Niger Delta. Benin maintained its control of the area until 18th century. This weakened period allowed the British to expand trade agreements beyond the Benin people and provided openings for military invasions. In 1861 Britain captured Lagos, but did not expand beyond the Lagos Protectorate until the 1880s. The British National African Company virtually controlled all palm oil trade out of the Niger Delta region by this time, so at the Berlin Conference of 1884-5 the British were given the right of influence/control over what would become Nigeria. The British moved through the area and with military threat and several treaties the British expanded the Lagos Protectorate and established another Protectorate in the North. The Yoruba Empire entered a treaty in 1893 signed by the Queen mother of Ibadan. In 1897 British troops sacked Benin city. The Sokoto Caliphate in Hausaland officially agreed to Protectorate status by 1903. It is significant that none of these groups lost their internal structure as a result of these takeovers. A dual system was developed with nominal parliament representation in the British colonial government was provided to these forced constituencies within the Protectorates and later to the Colony. It was not until the British outmaneuvered the Eastern Igbo groups in 1910 that Nigeria was completely under British control. North and the South were governed as two distinct protectorates until 1946 when the Protectorates were merged into the British Colony of Nigeria.

The fight for independence began as each treaty was signed in the 1800s and lasted until the official endorsement of Nigeria as a nation on October 2, 1960. Britain maintained strategic control of Nigerian people and resources with little show of weakness until the post World War II era. War time experiences along with increased British formal education within the colony provided knowledge and opportunity for Nigerians to negotiate effectively with the British. This culminated in a mandate to realize what Nnamdi Azikiwe called the African Renaissance, a call to unite Nigerians to claim their nation for themselves and develop and control their national institutions. In 1953 a transition to independence was agreed upon and three regional leaders, Ahmadu Bello from the North, Nnamdi Azikiwe from the East, and Obafemi Awolowo from the West led the process. After 2 revisions a national constitution was ratified in 1960.

Regional differences and resource conflicts resulted in the Biafra War (1967 – 1970). In 1966 several thousand Igbo people were killed in ethnic or religious attacks throughout parts of Northern Nigeria. Also a military coup in 1966 placed General Yakubu Gowon as the first military leader of Nigeria. In 1967 the East under Igbo leadership seceded from the Republic. This sparked civil war and resulted in millions of civilians starving due to ravaged crops and military attacks. Estimates range from 1 to 3 million war causalities. The Eastern region was reintegrated with the Republic. Regional tensions continue as a stressor on political and economic developments.

The last period of military rule under Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (1983 – 1993) and Gen. Sani Abacha (1994 – 1998) created economic and political instability across the nation resulting in increased corruption, underdevelopment, and mismanagement of Nigeria’s infrastructure. An era of civilian rule was introduced in 1999 and strategies were implemented to combat corruption and improve infrastructure. As President Jonathan takes the reins of office it he promised to support transparency in government and in the economy, while investing in the development and maintenance of Nigeria’s infrastructure to ensure a sound national future.

Jamaine M. Abidogun

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