Often times, we tend to calculate the age of Nigeria by deducting the current year from the year the country became an independent nation.
But does that really indicate the age of a nation whose history dates back to hundreds of thousands of years ago?
Based on historical data, the geographical area which is today called Nigeria existed as far back as thousands of years ago. As a matter of fact, archaelogical research has shown that there were people already living in the south Eastern part of the country at that time.
In this post, we’ll take a look at the history of the country as a way of knowing how old Nigeria really is.
How Old is Nigeria: Pre-colonial Nigeria
History shows that ancient African settlers had already found their abode in Nigeria in the Kingdoms of Nri, Benin and Oyo by 11000 BC.
As at 6000 B.C, archaelogical evidence buttressed these with findings that indicated that the Igbo were residing in south Eastern Nigeria. These were the Igbo Ukwu, Nsukka, Afikpo and Ugwuele people.
In the early 500 BC – 1500, the Nok civilization of Northern Nigeria flourished. Between 500 BC and AD 200, the production of life-sized terracotta figures had become quite prominent. These figures were said to be one of the earliest known sculptures in West Africa.
As at 1500 A.D, Nigeria was made up of several kingdoms
- Benin Kingdom
- Borgu Kingdom
- Fulani Empire
- Hausa Kingdoms
- Kanem Bornu Empire
- Kwararafa Kingdom
- Ibibio Kingdom
- Nri Kingdom
- Nupe Kingdom
- Oyo Empire
- Songhai Empire
- Warri Kingdom
- Oyo and Benin
The kingdom of Nri of the Igbo people was consolidated as far back as the 10th century but it lost its sovereignty to the British in 1911. Generally, the Kingdom of Nri is seen as the foundation of the Igbo culture and reputed to be the oldest kingdom in Nigeria.
As a matter of fact, archaelogical findings indicate that the Nri dominance can be traced to as far back as the 9th century.
The Yoruba kingdoms of Ife and Oyo in SouthWestern Nigeria were also quite prominent in the early history of Nigeria. The Oyo Empire was at its peak between the 17th and 18th centuries. The influence of this empire was extended to modern-day Togo.
Artefacts like the Ife bronze casting of Oduduwa has been traced to as far back as the 12th century. As a matter of fact, the terracotta and bronze artefacts in Ile Ife can be traced to the 9th century. The kingdom of Ife enjoyed prominence in the 12th and 14th century.
Overall, the Yoruba people were said to be the dominant clan in the west Bank of Niger and they shared similar language with the Igala people living on the other side of the Niger’s divergence from the Benue. Presently, Yorubaland comprise Oyo State, Ondo State, Ekiti State and Ogun State amongst others.
The Benin Kingdom was also a prominent empire in ancient Nigeria. This empire was quite dominant between the 15th and 19th century. The royal Benin ivory mask is one of Nigeria’s most recognised artefacts.
In the northern part of the country, the Hausa kingdoms was said to have existed as far back as the 9th century and by the 15th century, they had become vibrant trading centres. They were involved in exporting slaves, leather, gold, cloth, salt, kola nuts, animal hides and henna,
The Fulanis began to enter the Hausa states in the 13th century. These groups were involved in tending cattle, sheep and goats. According to historical sources, the Fulanis came from the Senegal River valley where it was said that their ancestors had developed a method of livestock management based on transhumance.
One of the popular figures of the ancient Hausa kingdom was Queen Amina who ruled the first ever united Hausa nation in the 11th century. She came into power during the conquests initiated by Gijimasu of Kano.
The start of the 19th century saw the invasion of the Northern part of the country by Usman dan Fodio which led to a centralised Fulani Empire. The region is made of the modern-day Northern and Central Nigeria
How Old is Nigeria: Colonial era
The name Nigeria was coined by the British journalist, Flora Shaw in the late 19th century.
In 1851, Lagos was invaded by the British force and the region was formally annexed in 1861. Eventually, Nigeria became a British Protectorate in 1901.
With the invasion of the British, British Nigeria was formed. This period extended from 1800 to 1960. Around this time, slave trade was also quite prominent with the British, Dutch and Portuguese being central figures in the trade. However, Britain would eventually outlaw the international slave trade in 1807.
After the Napoleonic Wars, the British formed the West Africa Squadron as a means of halting the international traffic in slaves. This was done by intercepting ships that were leaving the African coast with slaves. These slaves were then taken to Freetown, a colony in West Africa. Freetown had been initially established for the resettlement of freed slaves from Britain.
In 1861, the British annexed Lagos as a Crown Colony with the Lagos Treaty of Cession. As a result of this treaty, the British missionaries were able to extend their operation to the inner lands. It would be recalled that it was around this period that Samuel Ajayi Crowther became the first African Bishop of the Anglican Church.
But by the late 19th century, the independent kingdoms in Nigeria had begun to resist the efforts of the British to expand into their territory.
Great Britain conquered these kingdoms which eventually led to them being subjected to the British rule.
Nigeria was home to a number of kingdoms and tribal states as a result, the British set up the administrative and legal structures while practising indirect rule through the traditional chiefs.
Nigeria became a part of the British protectorate on the 1st of January 1901 making the country was now a part of the British Empire.
By 1914, the British had formally united the Niger area as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. At that time, Nigeria was divided into the Northern and Southern Protectorates and Lagos Colony.
The modern structure which is today called Nigeria was developed when the British merged the Northern and Southern Protectorate in 1914.
However, the Southern Protectorates seem to have a better cultural and economic interaction with the British due to its coastal economy. Christian missions were also actively involved and many educational institutions were being established. Over the years, children of the Southern elite travelled to Great Britain to pursue their higher education.
The colonization lasted until the country gained independence in 1960. The first Governor-General was Nnamdi Azikiwe. By 1963, Nigeria had become a Federal Republic and had taken the name, ‘the Federal Republic of Nigeria.’
After independence, the cultural and political differences in the country due to the marked distinction between the Hausas, Igbos and Yoruba had begun to threaten the foundation of the newly formed nation.
The opposition group to the government of Nnamdi Azikiwe was the Action Group. This party was primarily dominated by the Yoruba and led by Obafemi Awolowo. Although the country had moved on to become a republic in 1963 with Nnamdi Azikiwe taking the reins to become the first President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Nonetheless, the country still had cracks that were growing deeper by the day.
And by 1966, a couple of coups had worsened these cracks. Eventually, the country went into a civil war which spanned from 1967 to 1970. The civil war had emanated when the Republic of Biafra declared its independence from the rest of Nigeria.
After the civil war, Nigeria continued to be ruled by the Military Government that had taken over in 1966. This continued until 1999 although, there were a several civilian regimes in between.
In 1979, Olusegun Obasanjo transferred power to the civilian regime of Shehu Shagari. However, this government didn’t last long in power as allegations of corruption led to the military takeover in 1983.
Ibrahim Babangida would later overthrow the Buhari government that had taken over in 1984. Babangia promised to hand over to a democratic government but it took him almost a decade to do so. He eventually handed over in 1993 amidst pressure from local and international quarters.
Prior to handing over to Ernest Shonekan, the Babangida government had supervised a free and fair election in 1993 which was said to have been won by Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. But the Government surprisingly annulled the result of the elections which led to protests all around the country.
This was what made the Babangida government install Ernest Shonekan as the head of an interim government. But this government couldn’t hand over to a proposed democratic regime as it was overthrown by another military government led by General Sani Abacha. It would be recalled that Sani Abacha who would later die in power in 1998.
Following the death of Sani Abacha, an interim government was appointed which was expected to oversee the country’s transition to a democratic government. This interim government was led by General Abdulsalami Abubakar.
Unlike the previous transitory government, this administration was able to successfully conduct an election and hand over to a democratic regime on the 29th of May 1999. This new government was led by Olusegun Obasanjo who became the first democratical elected president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Obasanjo was reelected in 2003 and after completing his four-year tenure, he handed over to Yar’adua in 2007.
Unfortunately, Yar’Adua died in power on the 5th of May 2010 after a protracted illness. He was replaced by his vice, Goodluck Jonathan who became the 14th Head of State of the country.
Goodluck Jonathan remained in power until the 16th of April 2011 when a new presidential election in Nigeria was conducted. He was declared the winner of this election when he defeated Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
Interestingly, Goodluck Jonathan’s opposition at the 2011 elections, Muhammadu Buhari defeated him at the March 2015 elections and he is the current president of the country.
Overall, the present day Nigeria can be divided into four republics which have been summarized below:
The First Republic
Nigeria proclaimed itself a Federal Republic on the 1st of October 1963. The Governor General at that time, Nnamdi Azikiwe became the President of the newly formed Federal Republic.
This first republic ended in 1966 after the bloody coup in January of that year which saw the military takeover.
In 1977, the constituent assembly was elected with the goal of drafting a new constitution. The constitution was published on the 21st of September 1978. This led to five political parties competing in a series of elections which saw Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria emerge as President.
Unfortunately, the civilian rule was shortlived as the military would later seize power in 1983.
There were plans of a third republic when General Ibrahim Babangida was in power which was expected to be set up in August 1993. The transition to the third republic was meant to be managed by the government of Ernest Shonekan unfortunately the military coup led by General Sani Abacha led to an abortive third republic.
After Abacha died in 1998, General Abdusalami Abubakar was appointed as the interim head of State and he drafted a new constitution which enabled a succesful transition to democracy.
The Provision Ruling Council announced this new constitution which was based predominantly on the suspended 1979 consitution. This constitution included the provisions for a bicameral legislature, the National Assembly consisting of a 360-member House of Representatives and a 109 member state. Also, 29th of May 1999 was announced as the date of handover to this government.
How Old is Nigeria: Wrapping up
Just as the age of the earth differs based on a couple of theories, we can also say that the age of Nigeria isn’t fixed due to certain factors as well.
You can either calculate the age of Nigeria based on the date of the country’s independence or you can choose to use historical data to answer this age question. But whatever the case, Nigeria as a nation was certainly not born a few years ago.