History of Nigeria before Independence (1900 – 1960)

Nigeria is the giant of Africa. And of course, this country has quite a history behind it. In this write-up, you will have the opportunity to learn about what actually transpired in Nigeria during the colonial days; that is, those days before Nigeria became an independent country. We are going to focus specially on those days between 1900 and 1960.


Nigeria was referred to as Colonial Nigeria during the era to be discussed in this write-up.  Colonial Nigeria now became independent on 1960 and became a republic in 1963.  The British prohibited slave trade in 1807 and that was the time Nigeria’s influence began to be noticed on global scale.  This also marked the end of the famous Edo Kingdom.

The British divided Nigeria into three protectorates, vis-à-vis, Lagos, Northern Nigerian and Southern Nigeria; that was in 1861. Over the 19th century, the influence of the British increased in the Niger area, including Nigeria, and they established the Oil River Protectorate in 1884.

Despite increase in the influence of the British during the era, the area was not occupied until 1885. In that particular year, all other European powers ceded the area to the British at the Berlin Conference.

The Royal Niger Company was put together by the British to oversee the affairs of the area and the Royal Niger Company was under the control of Governor George Taubman Goldie.

1900 marks the year that the Northern Nigeria Protectorate and the Southern Nigeria Protectorate were merged into one entity.  This was also the year that the region was passed to the British crown by the company. The two territories however got amalgamated in 1914 after governor Frederick Laggard urged the British crown to do it. The two territories now became the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.  Even after the amalgamation, the two territories still maintained some measure of regional autonomy among all the three major regions involved.

After the World War II, a progressive constitution was put together and this gave Nigerians more representation at the National Assembly and more Nigerians had electoral positions. The British rule during most of the colonial days was more of bureaucratic and autocratic rule.  At the earlier days, the British adopted indirect rule over Nigeria.

The Lagos colony was however merged with the Southern Nigeria protectorate in 1906.  The two were later merged with the northern Nigeria protectorate in 1914.  They later named the whole area as Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.  The white Britons were mainly the ones overseeing the military control and administration of the region during this period.  The administration and military control were carried out both in London and Nigeria.

The British later imposed an economic system on Nigeria with a view to profit from African labour, after military conquest over Nigeria.

This system was referred to as money economy and the British pound was the currency being spent in Nigeria in those days. They demanded that Nigerians pay taxes in British pound sterling or they asked them to pay to cooperative natives and they were also charged various other levies.

Internal tension however followed the 1914 amalgamation and this still persists till this very day.

The missionaries were part of the unarmed forces used by the British government to penetrate into the Nigerian minds. Nigerians embraced the churches and the western ways of life and this further quickens penetration of the Nigerian hinterlands by the British. The fact that the church was mainly involved in the abolishment of slave trade further helped matters, as it promotes their popularity among the locals. At the initial stage, operations of the churches were limited to both Lagos and Ibadan.  British officials and traders were accompanied by Portuguese Roman Catholic Priests and they scourged the West African coast to introduce Christianity to the people of this area, including those in Edo Kingdom.

While the CMS were more concentrated among the Yorubas, the Catholics worked more among the Igbos. This was one of the factors that led to the emergence of Samuel Ajayi Crowther as the very first Anglican Bishop of the Niger.

Then in 1925, a new movement began. Nigerian students studying abroad, especially in the United Kingdom, joined forces with other students from the West African sub-region to form the West African Students Union.

This union focused so much on condemning colonial rule and they also showed clear rejection of the amalgamation. They accused the British government of being responsible for backwardness of Nigeria, since they failed to give recognition to tribal and ethnic divides but instead went ahead to join all the different ethnic groups in Nigeria together.  The focus of these early nationalists was not about Nigeria, but about their individual ethnic groups.

These were the individuals that first came up with the idea of self-rule and their persistence was party one of the factors that brought an end to colonial rule in 1960. These protesters were also using churches to voice their criticism against British rule.

Various associations, like the Nigerian Union of Teachers, Nigerian Law Association, Nigerian Produce Traders’ Association and the likes started coming up in the 1920s, and Obafemi Awolowo led the Nigerian Produce Traders’ Association then.

By the middle part of 1940s, all the major ethnic groups in Nigeria had formed associations.  Good examples of such were the Egbe Omo Oduduwa and Igbo Federal Union.

Herbart Macaulay was referred to as the father of Nigerian nationalism. He was one of those that aroused political awareness in Nigerians via newspapers.  He was equally the leader of the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP).

This party dominated al the elections in Lagos from 1922 till 1938 when the National Youth Movement (NYM) was formed.  However, the party was more or less a Lagos party and its members already had various experiences in elective politics.

The NYM was the party that brought to the fore individuals like Nnamdi Azikiwe, H.O. Davies and others.  Azikiwe was more of an African man than a Nigerian man. He was more inclined towards a united African front against European Colonialism.

The political awareness were the event that set the stage for the emergence of the Action Group, the Northern People’s Congress and the National Congress of Nigeria and Cameroun.  This increased political awareness paved the way for the 1959 general elections and the independent of Nigeria from British rule in 1960.

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