Long before colonial rule, the peoples of Nigeria had established their own indigenous system of government. The various ethnic groups in Nigeria had different patterns of government. The Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba in particular had each established political systems that were distinct.
Evidence of contact between the peoples on the northern part of Africa and Nigerians can be found in the legends of some ethnic groups. The Hausas, for example, ‘have a legend which traces their ancestry to migrants from the Far-east. So also does a Yoruba legend. One can assume that as the Sahara began to desiccate, some of the groups who lived in what was changing into an inhospitable region moved out. The few who probably moved south into what became Nigeria would in turn displace those already living there, forcing the latter to repeat the process elsewhere.
The Benin Empire
The emergence of the Benin Empire goes back to prehistoric times. There were close links between the rulers of Benin and Yoruba Empires the Edos (as the Benin are known) were however distinct in their own ideas. History has it that the political systems which were monarchial were already well established before the fourteenth century. By the fifteenth century, Benin had become an important power in the region. The artists of Benin celebrated the power and authority of their rulers, Thus, they developed a special style of royal sculpture that was different from the more popular styles. In addition to producing many fine heads and figurines, the royal artists also designed and made many hundreds of brass plaques, or large rectangular pictures in metal, which were used to decorate the Oba’s palace. Many of these fine old sculptures, whether in the royal style or in the other styles, have survived and have become famous throughout the world. The sculpture of benin was mainly in brass. The symbol used for FESTAC’77, a Benin Bronze Head is a masterpiece of high quality. By the middle of the sixteenth century, the Oba of Benin ruled over an area which spread from the region of modern Lagos to the Niger Delta. Benin Empire soon became the largest of the political systems of the Guinea Coast.
Contact with the northern part of the African continent was a major factor that contributed to the size of the KanemBorno Empire and the Hausa States. Kanern-Borno was the earliest empire that came clearly into the light of history within the region. It was well placed geographically to receive ideas and probably settlers from the north. Its location around the great Lake Chad, situated at tbe extreme northeast of Nigeria, enabled the inhabitants to prosper from fishing and agriculture. Furthermore, its position at the southern terminus of an ancient and most important trade route extending through the Fezzan and the oasis of Kawan to Cairo and the Middle east, fostered a thriving exchange of goods which stimulated economic growth, leading to the emergence of the Kanem-Bono Empire. This development paralleled similar developments to the far west of Western Sudan where the Ghana Empire emerged about the same time
To the West of the Kanem Borrio empire, were Hausa states. The Hausa legend of a common origin also idenifies seven of the state – Biramo, Daura, Gobir, Kano, Katsina, Rano and Zauzau – as the oldest, while another seven – Gwari, Yoruba, Kebbi, Kororofa, Zamfara, Nupe and Yauri – are regraded as relatively more recent. The Hausa states were not united until the opening years of the 19th century, although in the 16th century the borders of the Songhai Empire extended to some of the western states. Nevertheless, their geographical position enabled them to thrive and prosper, for they were able to exploit the agricultural potentials of the northern region and to carry on a vigorous, trade with caravans from across the Sahara as well as with the people of Southern Nigeria
Like the hausa states, the Yorubas of southwestern Nigeria were organized into independent kingdoms. Although they had traditions of origin that attempted to explain their common, language, culture and political institutions from their descent through a single ancestry, Oduduwa. The Yoruba were never united under a single political authority. During the 17th century, one of the kingdoms, Oyo, began to gain influence and importance. By the 18th century it had overshadowed the other Yoruba kingdoms and absorbed some of them. Even then, at the height of its power the Oyo empire never incorporated the whole of Yoruba land. However, one of the most important unifying elements in Yoruba history is the role of Ile-Ife which is regarded by the people as their spiritual capital.
The Igbo Political System
Though the eastern part of the country was viwed as the provinces of the Igbo and the lbibio, it contained a variety of other groups such as the Efik, the Ijaw, and others. Thevillage was the largest unit of government. The kindred (a group of families held together mainly in their descent from a common ancestor) was the all-important social unit. Though each small village had its own myths and beliefs, all the Igbo groups had a sense of cultural unity.
The political entity known as Nigeria came into existence in 1914 with the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern British Protectorates and was presided over by a Governor-General. For administrative convenience, the country was divided into four units; the Colony of Lagos, the Northern, Eastern and Western provinces.
The history of Nigeria from the early 1920s is, in a sense, the history of movement towards independence. In 1922, the Clifford Constitution conceded for the first time the elective principle in the Legislative Council. In 1946, the Richardson Constitution provided a federal framework dividing the country into three regions with regional assemblies and a Central House of Representatives. It also widened the franchise and elective principle to include most Nigerians. In 1951, the constitution was revised under Governor Macpherson to provide for representative government. Regional self-government was attamed by both Eastern and Western Nigeria in 1957 while the Northern region attained the same status in 1959.
The first inhabitants of what is now Nigeria were thought to have been the Nok people (500 B.C.?c. A.D. 200). The Kanuri, Hausa, and Fulani peoples subsequently migrated there. Islam was introduced in the 13th century, and the empire of Kanem controlled the area from the end of the 11th century to the 14th.
The Fulani empire ruled the region from the beginning of the 19th century until the British annexed Lagos in 1851 and seized control of the rest of the region by 1886. It formally became the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria in 1914. During World War I, native troops of the West African frontier force joined with French forces to defeat the German garrison in the Cameroons.
On Oct. 1, 1960, Nigeria gained independence, becoming a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and joining the United Nations. Organized as a loose federation of self-governing states, the independent nation faced the overwhelming task of unifying a country with 250 ethnic and linguistic groups.
Rioting broke out in 1966, and military leaders, primarily of Ibo ethnicity, seized control. In July, a second military coup put Col. Yakubu Gowon in power, a choice unacceptable to the Ibos. Also in that year, the Muslim Hausas in the north massacred the predominantly Christian Ibos in the east, many of whom had been driven from the north. Thousands of Ibos took refuge in the eastern region, which declared its independence as the Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967. Civil war broke out. In Jan. 1970, after 31 months of civil war, Biafra surrendered to the federal government.
Gowon’s nine-year rule was ended in 1975 by a bloodless coup that made Army Brig. Muritala Rufai Mohammed the new chief of state. The return of civilian leadership was established with the election of Alhaji Shehu Shagari as president in 1979. An oil boom in the 1970s buoyed the economy and by the 1980s Nigeria was considered an exemplar of African democracy and economic well-being.
The military again seized power in 1984, only to be followed by another military coup the following year. Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida announced that the country would be returned to civilian rule, but after the presidential election of June 12, 1993, he voided the results. Nevertheless, Babangida resigned as president in August. In November the military, headed by defense minister Sani Abacha, seized power again.
Corruption and notorious governmental inefficiency as well as a harshly repressive military regime characterized Abacha’s reign over this oil-rich country, turning it into an international pariah. A UN fact-finding mission in 1996 reported that Nigeria’s “problems of human rights are terrible and the political problems are terrifying.” During the 1970s, Nigeria had the 33rd highest per-capita income in the world, but by 1997 it had dropped to the 13th poorest. The hanging of writer Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995 because he protested against the government was condemned around the world. As leader of the multination peacekeeping force ECOMOG, Nigeria established itself as West Africa’s superpower, intervening militarily in the civil wars of Liberia and Sierra Leone. But Nigeria’s costly war efforts were unpopular with its own people, who felt Nigeria’s limited economic resources were being unnecessarily drained.
Abacha died of a heart attack in 1998 and was succeeded by another military ruler, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, who pledged to step aside for an elected leader by May 1999. The suspicious death of opposition leader Mashood Abiola, who had been imprisoned by the military ever since he legally won the 1993 presidential election, was a crushing blow to democratic proponents. In Feb. 1999, free presidential elections led to an overwhelming victory for Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, a former member of the military elite who was imprisoned for three years for criticizing the military rule. Obasanjo’s commitment to democracy, his anticorruption drives, and his desire to recover billions allegedly stolen by the family and cronies of Abacha initially gained him high praise from the populace as well as the international community. But within two years, the hope of reform seemed doomed as economic mismanagement and rampant corruption persisted. Obasanjo’s priorities in 2001 were symbolized by his plans to build a $330?million national soccer stadium, an extravagance that exceeded the combined budget for both health and education. In April 2003, he was reelected.
Nigeria’s stability has been repeatedly threatened by fighting between fundamentalist Muslims and Christians over the spread of Islamic law (sharia) across the heavily Muslim north. One-third of Nigeria’s 36 states is ruled by sharia law. More than 10,000 people have died in religious clashes since military rule ended in 1999. In 2003, after religious and political leaders in the Kano region banned polio immunization?contending that it sterilized girls and spread HIV?an outbreak of polio spread through Nigeria, entering neighboring countries the following year. The Kano region lifted its ten-month ban against vaccination in July 2004. On Aug. 24, there were 602 polio cases worldwide, 79% of which were in Nigeria.
Since 2004, an insurgency has broken out in the Niger delta, Nigeria’s oil-producing region. The desperately impoverished local residents of the delta have seen little benefit from Nigeria’s vast oil riches, and rebel groups are fighting for a more equal distribution of the wealth as well as greater regional autonomy. Violence by rebel groups has disrupted oil production and reduced output by about 20%. Nigeria is one of the world’s largest oil producers and supplies the U.S. with one-fifth of its oil.
In Aug. 2006 Nigeria handed over the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, in compliance with a 2002 World Court ruling. April 2007 national elections?the country’s first transition from one democratically elected president to another?were marred by widespread allegations of fraud, ballot stuffing, violence, and chaos. Just days before the election, the Supreme Court ruled that the election commission’s decision to remove Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a leading candidate and a bitter rival of President Olusegun Obsanjo, from the ballot was illegal. Ballots were reprinted, but they only showed party symbols rather than the names of candidates. Umaru Yar’Adua, the candidate of the governing party, won the election in a landslide, taking more than 24.6 million votes. Second-place candidate Muhammadu Buhari tallied only about 6 million votes. International observers called the vote flawed an illegitimate. The chief observer for the European Union said the results “cannot be considered to have been credible.” An election tribunal ruled in February 2008 that although the election was indeed flawed, the evidence of rigging was not substantial enough to overturn the election results.