Nigeria, a vibrant and dynamic nation in West Africa, boasts a rich and intricate history spanning millennia. From ancient civilizations and flourishing empires to colonial rule and the fight for independence, Nigeria’s past is a tapestry of diverse cultures, political upheavals, and remarkable resilience. Embarking on a journey through Nigeria’s history is akin to navigating a treasure trove of cultural heritage, political struggles, and the unwavering spirit of its people.
You will see a chronology of major events and dates in Nigeria’s history in this article. The details listed here include every significant political, legal, and territorial development that has taken place throughout the history of Nigeria’s origin until this present time.
EARLY HISTORY: PRE-1500 AND THE NOK CULTURE
Nigeria’s early history can be traced back to the pre-1500 period, where various civilizations and cultures flourished. One of the most significant and influential cultures during this time was the Nok culture, which thrived in Northern Nigeria between 500 B.C. and 200 A.D. The Nok civilization is renowned for its advanced ironworking technology and its exceptional artistic traditions.
The Nok people were skilled ironworkers, producing intricate tools, weapons, and ornaments. Their mastery of iron smelting and forging techniques was remarkable for its time. Additionally, the Nok culture showcased its artistic prowess through the creation of exquisite terracotta sculptures. These sculptures, representing human figures, animals, and other forms, provide valuable insights into the rich cultural and artistic heritage of the Nok people.
The Nok culture’s artistic achievements are particularly significant as they predate many other ancient cultures in West Africa. The sculptures exhibit great attention to detail, capturing the physical features and expressive qualities of the subject matter. These artifacts, discovered in diverse archaeological sites across Nigeria, not only showcase the artistic talents of the Nok people but also shed light on their social and religious practices.
|8000 BC||Oldest artifacts and stone shelters created in Nigeria. Igbo land occupied by Bantu and other tribes, primarily foragers.|
|3000 to 600 BC||Agricultural development in Nigeria begins. Full-scale farming, especially yam cultivation, becomes prominent. Animal husbandry also practiced.|
|500 BC to AD 200||Nok culture dominates the northern part of Nigeria during this period.|
|400 to 100 BC||Nigerians engage in full-scale ironwork development, with Opi, a community in the eastern part of Nigeria, notably active in iron smelting since 750 BC.|
THE RISE OF IGBO, YORUBA, EDO, AND MUSLIM CIVILIZATIONS
Around 700 A.D., significant civilizations began to emerge in Nigeria, including the Igbo, Yoruba, Edo, and Muslim civilizations. These civilizations played a pivotal role in shaping the cultural, political, and social landscape of the region.
THE IGBO CIVILIZATION
The Igbo civilization was characterized by its complex social structure and sophisticated agricultural practices. The Igbo people developed a decentralized system of governance, with numerous independent communities called “Igbo villages.” These villages were organized around clan systems and were known for their vibrant art, trade, and religion.
THE YORUBA CIVILIZATION
The Yoruba civilization was centered in Ilé-Ifẹ̀, a city that emerged as a hub of art, religion, and commerce. The Yoruba people developed a system of city-states, each with its own ruler known as an “oba.” The Yoruba civilization was renowned for its artistic traditions, including intricate bronze sculptures, terracotta pottery, and vibrant textiles.
THE EDO CIVILIZATION
The Edo civilization thrived with the establishment of the Kingdom of Nri. The kingdom, located in present-day Anambra State, was known for its centralized political system and its influence on the surrounding regions. The Edo people developed an intricate system of governance and had a rich cultural heritage encompassing art, religion, and social customs.
THE ISLAMIC STATE OF BORNO
Around 1100, the Islamic state of Borno emerged in northeastern Nigeria. This powerful empire, initially known as the Kanem-Bornu Empire, spanned across the Lake Chad region and played a crucial role in the spread of Islam in West Africa. The Borno civilization thrived with trade, scholarship, and Islamic influence, leaving a lasting impact on the region’s history.
|770 AD||Early Ijaw settlement in Nigeria. Ijaw is one of the last ethnic groups to settle in the region.|
|800 AD||Yoruba civilization established with 13 farming villages centered at Ile-Ife. Igbo-Ukwu forms a megastate with a complex social structure and produces bronze artifacts.|
|1000 AD||Kingdom of Nri begins in Nigeria.|
|1100 AD||Islamic state of Borno is established in the northern part of Nigeria.|
|120-0 AD||Ile-Ife is recognized as the Yoruba metropolis.|
|1255 AD||Oba Ewedo becomes the king in the Benin Empire.|
|1450 AD||European contact on the Atlantic coast begins, marking the start of the slave trade.|
|1500 AD||Nominally Muslim Hausa Kingdom is established in the northern part of Nigeria.|
NIGERIA IN THE 17TH CENTURY
The 17th century was a dynamic period of political, economic, and cultural transformation in Nigeria. The region witnessed the rise and fall of empires, the expansion of trade networks, and the emergence of new artistic and intellectual movements.
Oyo Kingdom was the biggest kingdom in Nigeria by the 17th century. The Benin Kingdom, Sabe Kingdom, Borgu Kingdom, Nupe Kingdom, Zamfara Kingdom, Kabi Kingdom, Katsina Kingdom, Igala Kingdom, and Igbo Kingdom—which consists of up to 50 autonomous states—were among the other formed kingdoms. Only a small portion of the former Oyo kingdom, Borgu, Nupe, and Benin regions—including Igbo states—remain in modern-day Nigeria.
The 17th century in Nigeria was a period of remarkable changes and developments that shaped the region’s history and laid the groundwork for future transformations. The political landscape, economic systems, and cultural expressions of this era continue to influence modern-day Nigeria.
NIGERIA IN THE 18TH CENTURY
Below are some important occurrences in Nigeria during the 18th century:
In the 18th century, Nigeria came under British colonial rule, paving the way for the establishment of various Nigerian kingdoms. This period saw significant changes in the political landscape as the British sought to exert control over the region. While the British presence had a profound impact on Nigeria’s history, it also led to the emergence of powerful indigenous kingdoms, each with its unique cultural heritage and governance structure.
One of the notable Nigerian kingdoms that flourished during the British period in the 18th century was the Hausa Kingdoms in Northern Nigeria. The Hausa people, known for their rich heritage in trade, Islamic scholarship, and artistic traditions, established a network of city-states that played a vital role in regional politics and commerce. The Kingdom of Benin, renowned for its exceptional bronze artistry and sophisticated political system, also thrived during this era. Additionally, the Kingdom of Lagos emerged as a significant center of trade and became a crucial hub for British colonial administration in West Africa.
The mighty Oyo Empire first attacked Dahomey, which is today the Benin Republic, in 1728 AD. Also during this period, there was a massive killing on the Calabar River occurred in June of 1767 AD as a result of British slavery. The northern Sokoto Caliphate started jihad around 1800 AD. At this point, they engaged in combat with the Yoruba states. It also caused Ilorin to fall to the Fulanis.
NIGERIA DURING THE 19TH CENTURY
Below are major events that happened in Nigeria during the 19th century:
|1803||Igbos at Georgia, USA, take control of the ship, leading to mass suicide, symbolic in African American folklore.|
|25th March, 1807||Enactment of the Slave Trade Act 1807, prohibiting British subjects from engaging in slave trafficking.|
|1833||End of the Oyo Empire.|
|1841||Niger Expedition of Christian Missionaries.|
|1846||Church Missionary Society (CMS) sets up a Christian mission in Abeokuta, marking early CMS influence in Nigeria.|
|1st January 1852||Treaty signed between Lagos and Great Britain.|
|6th August 1861||Lagos Treaty of Cession; British annexation of Lagos and naming it Crown Colony.|
|1864||Samuel Ajayi Crowther becomes the first Anglican Bishop of African origin.|
|1879||George Taubman Goldie amalgamates British ventures to form the United African Company, later Royal Niger Company.|
|1880||British conquest of southern Nigeria begins.|
|1885||Berlin Conference acknowledges British ownership of Nigeria.|
|1887||King Jaja of Opobo exiled by the British to West Indies.|
|1891||John Payne Jackson starts publishing the Lagos Weekly Record newspaper.|
|1892||British defeat the Ijebu Kingdom, using maxim guns, leading to dominance in the southwestern part of Nigeria.|
|1893||British incorporate all parts of Yorubaland into a new protectorate.|
|1894||Revolt in Brass against the Royal Niger Company.|
|29th January 1895||Royal Niger Company attacked by King Koko; British decline redress, leading to a counter-attack by the Royal Navy.|
|1900||All parts of Nigeria under British rule; Protectorate of Northern Nigeria created.|
|1914||Amalgamation of northern and southern protectorates to form Nigeria.|
|1931||Nigerian Union of Teachers formed.|
|1936||Nigeria Youth Movement founded.|
|1944||National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons founded by Nnamdi Azikiwe.|
|1945||General strike occurs across Nigeria.|
|1946||Decolonization period begins in Nigeria.|
|1950||Conference of southern and northern delegates held in Ibadan.|
|1951||Formation of MacPherson Constitution; Chief Obafemi Awolowo founds the Action Group political party.|
|1953||Violence breaks out between north and south in Kano.|
|1956||Shell Petroleum discovers major crude oil deposits at Afam and Olobiri.|
|1959||First national election held in Nigeria; majority seats won by northern politicians.|
|1960||Nigeria becomes an independent country.|
|1963||Nigeria severs ties with Britain and becomes a republic.|
|1965||Election held in the western region of Nigeria.|
|1966||First military coup on 15th January brings Aguiyi Ironsi to power; counter-coup on 29th July brings Yakubu Gowon to power.|
|1967||Genocide against Igbo Christians; Nigeria-Biafra civil war begins on 30th May.|
|1970||Civil war ends.|
|1971||Nigeria becomes a member of OPEC.|
|1975||General Murtala Mohammed overthrows General Yakubu Gowon.|
|13th February 1976||Assassination of Murtala Mohammed.|
|1976||Beginning of the Second Republic and adoption of an American-style government.|
|1983||Shagari wins presidential reelection; on 31st December, ejected via a coup, and Muhammadu Buhari becomes president.|
|August 1985||Buhari is overthrown, and Badamasi Babangida becomes the military Head of State.|
|April 1990||Gideon Orkar’s unsuccessful coup takes place.|
|12th June 1993||MKO Abiola wins the presidential election, but Babangida annuls the election.|
|1993||Abacha administration begins after ousting Shonekan.|
|1998||Abacha dies of a heart attack.|
|1999||Obasanjo is elected as President, marking the start of the 4th Republic.|
NIGERIA DURING THE 21st CENTURY
|2003||Obasanjo won the election for a second term as president.|
|2007 (15th March)||24 candidates were approved by INEC to contest the presidential election.|
|2007 (21st April)||Umaru Yar’Adua was elected president under the umbrella of PDP.|
|2009 (5th May)||Musa Yar’Adua was declared dead.|
|October 1, 2010||Nigeria celebrated its 50th independence anniversary.|
|2011||Goodluck Jonathan was elected president.|
|2015||Muhammadu Buhari became president under the umbrella of APC.|
|2023||Bola Ahmed Tinubu became president under the APC after a controversial election.|
While it would be virtually impossible to keep all records of event that occurred within Nigeria, we have managed to keep records of these major events for historical purposes. As more unfolds, we will update the list. Kindly share as you have learnt.