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Brief History of Nigeria

Nigeria is a blessed country. With a population of nearly 190 million persons, it stands as the most populous Black Country on Earth.

The history of Nigeria is lined with several occurrences of ethnic disputes, military ruler ship, corruption, inconsistence in leadership, and several other issues. At some point in the past, the country suffered a bloody civil war, but has since recovered from its devastating effects.

Nigeria existed since several centuries ago. Archaeological findings have indicated that there were indeed human settlers in the area now called Nigeria, since as far back as 1100 BC. Several ancient civilizations also inhabited the land, before the colonial industrialization set in. Before this time, it was simply referred to as the ‘Niger Area’; but, in 1914, the name ‘Nigeria’ was given it by the Lady Flora Shaw.

The history of Nigeria is divided into three distinct segments: Pre-colonial era, Colonial era, and the Post-colonial era.

Pre-colonial era

Nigeria’s pre-colonial era dates as far back as the 100,000 years ago, when many human settlers dwelt in the large expanse of land now referred to as Nigeria. At that time, all that these inhabitants ever did was farming and hunting, as evidenced by the specialized farming and hunting tools that have been excavated by archaeologists, in selected areas around the Eastern and Southern parts of the country. Nigeria may have also had the earliest settlers on the African continent, as the oldest human fossil ever found in Africa, a 13,000-year-old human skeleton fossil, was discovered somewhere in the western part of Nigeria.

One major highlight of the pre-colonial era was the introduction of religion in the country. Islam first came into Nigeria in 1068 AD, while Christianity was introduced by Portuguese missionaries in the year 1500. Ever since then, both religions have gained popularity amongst the population, and have established themselves as the two key religions in Nigeria.

The pre-colonial era continued until the late 19th century, when the British troops invaded the country and officially announced their presence as colonial masters.

Colonial Era

Nigeria, like many other third world countries, was colonized for several years by the British. The colonial era is a period of time that stretched from around 1851 to 1960.

In the year 1851, British forces first invaded the area of land now called Lagos; and by 1856, they had gained control of the territory well enough to establish a command base there. Slowly, the influence of the British began to grow, and they began to extend their horizon to include other parts of the country. Soon, their influence spread to other parts of the country, up till the point where they freely established a company on the land. Finally, on the 1st of January 1901, Nigeria was officially declared to be a British Protectorate.

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By 1914, the area was called the ‘Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria’. The country was divided into two halves, namely the southern and northern Protectorates. Lagos remained the administrative capital, and from there, Western education and industrialization filtered through and spread to other parts of the South.

A wave of governmental decisions and motions led to the country being recognized as an autonomous federation in 1954, and when a motion for independence was moved a few years later, specifically in 1958, the government of Britain agreed. Thus, on the first of October, 1960, Nigeria became an independent country. This brought an end to the colonial Era.

Post-colonial era

One key aspect of the now-independent government was the restructuring of the administrative assembly. The British handed over a constitution that included provisions for a parliamentary government. Thus, the structure of the government included a Parliament, or the House of Representatives, headed by a ‘Speaker’. The first speaker of the House of Representatives in post-colonial Nigeria was Jaja Nwachukwu.

Nigeria’s first Prime Minister was also selected, in person of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

First Republic

On 3rd October, 1963, Nigeria became a federal republic. Nnamdi Azikiwe was appointed as the first President of the country, in this era. However, the Republican regime was cut short by a military coup that resulted in General Aguiyi Ironsi ascending to power. He aimed to dissolve the existing government structure and to implement a new and lasting one, but his plans failed woefully. Rather than unite the country, it divided it even further, and ultimately resulted in the outbreak of the country’s first ever civil war. It lasted from 1967 to 1970, having being led gallantly by Lt. Col. Emeka Ojukwu, who was the military administrator of the Eastern region at that time.

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After General Yakubu Gowon’s famous speech in 1970 brought an end to the war, he decided to stay in government for a period, to help stabilize the country’s frail condition, and to also facilitate a return to civilian rule. Unfortunately, he did not stay long enough in power to make it happen; as, in 1975, he was staged out of power by one of his generals, General Murtala Mohammed. The latter, appearing to share the same intentions as the former in facilitating a smooth transition to civilian rule, became head of government in the same year, but was assassinated the following year. His next in command, General Olusegun Obasanjo, assumed office as the country’s head of state.

Second Republic

The failed state of the first Republic necessitated the establishment of a new constitution. This was done in 1978, and the following year, the first elections in this new era held, with Alhaji Shehu Shagari emerging as the country’s president. One key feature of this second Republic era is the Oil boom. Oil had been found in several parts of the country, and several global economic and geographical conflicts led to the rise of the price of oil, which meant that Nigeria’s oil-wealth began to increase exponentially. By the end of 1979, Nigeria had become one of the world’s top ten producers of crude oil, while raking in massive revenues of nearly $30 billion yearly.

By 1984, after President Shagari won a re-election as president, he was again ousted from office by the military. Major General Muhammad Buhari emerged as the new military leader of the country, but even his reign was cut short less than two years later by General Ibrahim Babangida.

Third Republic

Upon assuming office as Nigeria’s head of state in 1985, General Ibrahim Babangida promised to facilitate the transition to civilian rule by the year 1999, through Democratic elections. New political parties were formed, and the process was underway. However, some glitches surfaced, and the 1990 Target as the date for transitioning to civilian rule was changed to 1993. Later in 1990, a coup aimed at ousting General Babangida from office failed woefully, leading to the military execution of all the perpetrators at the time.

True to his word, he facilitated elections the popular June 12 elections in 1993. Yoruba Icon M.K.O Abiola won decisively; but, for some reason, General Babangida dismissed the peoples‘ verdict, annulled the results and refused to hand over power. However, after rioting and bloodshed took place, he agreed to hand over to an interim government, headed by Ernest Shonekan, a prominent businessman. Under those circumstances, there was little Mr Shonekan could do to turn the country’s fortunes around, except to hold on to power and organize elections the following year. However, with the country’s economy and government in shambles, General Sani Abacha forcefully seized power and forced Shonekan to resign. Abacha implemented Military rule in all areas of government, all around the country.

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This resulted in heavy sanctions and travel restrictions being imposed on the country by her Western counterparts. Meanwhile, M.K.O Abiola publicly declared himself as president, but eventually fled for his life. Soon, he was founded, arrested and detained by Abacha, and Nigerians began to grow frustrated with Abacha’s dictatorial rule. The National Labour Congress embarked on strike, to protest Abiola’s detention and to demand the handing over of power from Abacha to Abiola, who was democratically elected as President. Unfortunately, their moves ended badly, as the Sani Abacha-led government dissolved the leadership of the NLC and replaced them with military administrators.

Over the next few years, Abacha would execute all those who spoke against his government, while he also arrested, detained and executed dozens of senior military officers and other civilians for alleged coup-plotting. Asides these, Abacha was also notorious for his dictatorial rule, characterized by unlawful arrests and convictions, violations of human rights, human abuse, and several more. Abacha eventually died of heart failure in 1998, and he was succeeded by General Abdulsalami Abubakar.

Fourth Republic (1999 – date):

The country’s fourth republic began with the Democratic election of former military administrator, General Olusegun Obasanjo as president of Nigeria. This was after General Abdulsalami’s regime. Obasanjo went on to serve two terms, before peacefully handing over power to Umaru Musa Y’aradua, in 2007. Y’aradua’s tenure was cut short by illness, and he was succeeded by Goodluck Jonathan.

Good luck Jonathan eventually handed over power to incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.

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