The history of Nigeria’s Independence from the United Kingdom is incomplete without considering the history of Nigeria through the ages.
Home to over 200 million people, one-quarter of the entire African continent’s citizens, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation. Nigeria officially referred to as the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal state in West Africa.
It borders Cameroon and Chad to the east, Benin to the west, and Niger to the north. It also has a coast in the south that lies on the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. Nigeria comprises 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Nigeria has many historical empires and cultures compared to other African countries. The history of Nigeria can be traced back to as early as 11,000 BC when several ancient African communities inhabited the area that is now Nigeria.
The most powerful and best-known empire that ruled the region before the British arrived was the Benin Empire, whose ruler was known as the Oba of Benin. Other tribes, such as the Nri Kingdom, also settled in the country, especially on the eastern side. The Songhai Empire also settled in some of the country’s territory, and by the eleventh century, Islam had arrived in Nigeria via the Hausa States.
In 1851, the British forces seized Lagos and officially annexed it in 1861, and in 1901, Nigeria was made a British protectorate and was colonised until 1960, the year of Nigeria’s Independence.
Early age in Nigeria (500 BC to 1500)
The history of Nigeria dates back to the early ages. In Northern Nigeria, the Nok civilisation flourished between 500 BC and 200 AD. They made full-sized terracotta sculptures, among the earliest recognised records in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Other cities further north, such as Katsina and Kano, also have histories that date to around 999 AD. During this era, the Kanem-Bornu Empire and the Hausa kingdoms flourished as trade points between West Africa and North Africa.
In the tenth century, the Igbo people of the Nri Kingdom merged; the kingdom, however, lost its power to the British in 1911. The city of Nri is believed to be the cornerstone of Igbo culture.
In the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, the Yoruba kingdoms of Ife and Oyo in the southwest region of Nigeria attained prominence. However, the first evidence of human civilisation at Ife’s present-day location dates way back to the ninth century, when the central culture included bronze and terracotta sculptures.
Middle age in Nigeria (1500–1800)
In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Oyo was at its zenith and could expand its influence from western Nigeria to present-day Togo. The Benin Empire had sovereignty over the region between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The Fulani Empire, also referred to as the Sokoto Caliphate, was then developed at the beginning of the nineteenth century by Usman dan Fodio, who led a successful jihad. The empire ruled over modern-day central and northern Nigeria, and its sovereignty lasted until 1903 when it was broken into several European colonies.
People in the territory traded a lot with merchants from North Africa, and the cities in the region were transformed into regional centres for the trade routes that extended to West, Central, and North Africa.
Portuguese and Spanish explorers began direct trade with the locals in Calabar and the port they named Lagos in the sixteenth century. These trade interactions led to the Atlantic slave trade, and the port of Calabar became one of the biggest slave trading stations in West Africa during the transatlantic slave trade period.
Other slave stations were Bonny Island on the Bight of Biafra, Badagry, and Lagos on the Bight of Benin.
Late modern age in Nigeria (1800-1900)
By the 1600s, even before the arrival of the British, the coastal regions of modern-day Nigeria had established trade relations with the Europeans. In addition, several European states and non-state actors, such as Portugal, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, private organisations, and several African countries, were actively involved in the slave trade business.
It was in 1807 that the United Kingdom abolished the transnational slave trade. After the Napoleonic Wars, Britain created the West African Squadron to end the transnational slave trade.
In 1851, Lagos was captured by British forces, who intervened in the Lagos Sovereignty power struggle and deposed Oba Kosoko, who favoured the slave trade, and in his place, appointed Oba Akitoye. On Jan. 1, 1852, the treaty between the United Kingdom and Lagos was signed, and in August 1861, Lagos was annexed as a Crown Colony via the Lagos Treaty of Cession.
Under the leadership of Sir George Taubman Goldie, Britain chartered the Royal Niger Company in 1886. In 1900, the company’s region, which covered territories on both sides of the Niger River from the Atlantic Ocean to Lokoja as well as modern-day Northern Nigeria, came under the leadership of the British government, which then consolidated its control over the area of present-day Nigeria.
On Jan. 1, 1901, Nigeria was made a British protectorate. It was grouped into the Lagos colony, the Niger Coast (also known as the Oil River Protectorate), and the Northern Protectorate, thus becoming a section of the British Empire.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, the sovereign kingdoms that would later become Nigeria fought against Britain’s attempts to expand its territory. Benin was conquered by the British in 1897, who also overpowered other opponents in the Anglo-Aro War from 1901 to 1902.
The Niger was officially merged as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria in 1914. However, Nigeria remained administratively divided into the Southern and Northern Protectorates and the Lagos Colony.
In 1897, the name Nigeria was coined by a journalist, Miss Flora Shaw, from the name of the largest river in the region. Western learning institutions were established in the protectorates by Christian missions. However, the Christian missions were not encouraged to operate in the country’s northern part, which was Islamic.
Contemporary age in Nigeria- Finally, Nigeria’s Independence
After World War II, there were demands for independence by the locals, and consecutive constitutions established by Britain helped move Nigeria towards self-government. As a result, a large wave of sovereignty swept across the African continent in the mid-twentieth century.
Between 1922 and 1959, notable Nigerians like Sir Herbert Macaulay, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, Sir Ahmadu Bello, and Chief Anthony Enahoro, to mention a few, led the struggle for Nigerian nationalism.
However, to allow Nigerians some measure of control over their land, the British came up with different constitutions to assuage the people’s feelings. The constitution included the Clifford Constitution of 1922, the Richards Constitution of 1946, the Macpherson Constitution of 1951, and the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954.
Although this did not stop the continuous demand for total independence from colonial rule.
Finally, on October 27, 1958, Britain agreed to Nigeria’s Independence, and on October 1, 1960, Nigeria became an independent country.
There was an Executive Council made up entirely of Nigerians, led by Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who delivered the independent speech at Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos at the Independence Ceremony.
Also, Jaja Wachukwu, Nigeria’s first indigenous speaker, received Nigeria’s instrument of freedom (also called the “Freedom Charter”) from Princess Alexandra of Kent, a member of the British royal family who represented Queen Elizabeth at the ceremony.
In addition, the Union Jack, the British national flag, was lowered, and hoisted in its place was the new Nigerian flag designed by Taiwo Akinkunmi in 1959. Likewise, the national anthem was changed from “God save the Queen” to “Nigeria We Hail Thee,” written by Lillian Jean Williams, a British expatriate who lived in Nigeria then.
To conclude the celebration of the anticipated freedom, the sky above Tafawa Balewa Square was animated with a colourful display of fireworks and shouts of happy independence later that evening. Dance troupes and masquerades of different Nigerian ethnic groups also displayed their dancing prowess and thrilled the audience with acrobatic displays. A state banquet was also held, where dignitaries from Nigeria and other countries mingled, wined, and danced.