Nigerian history at a glance
Attempts to unite the Nigerian people behind a common flag can hardly succeed without a deep analysis and appreciation of the rich and challenging history of the country. Since many of us hardly have time to read extensive documentations, we have produced a rundown of major events that shaped Nigeria and continue to impact developments in our country today.
To understand where we are heading, it is crucial that we appreciate our origins and how far we have come. This summarised account of Nigerian history is based on extracts from Historyworld.net, Infoplease.com, countrystudies.us/nigeria/5.htm and other sources. Accounts on major developments in Nigerian history have been reproduced in the authors’ own words to maintain their originality and meaning.
Since we are not sure how much time you have at hand to readthe full length of this documentation, we thought it wise and helpful to arm you with an important information to start with. Let it be known that way before the arrival of the colonial powers, the present day Nigeria was home to a number of sophisticated and influential societies. “Among the most important were the north-eastern kingdom of Borno, the Hausa city-state/kingdoms of Katsina, Kano, Zaria, and Gobir in northern-central Nigeria, the Yoruba city-states/kingdoms of Ife, Oyo, and Ijebu in south-western Nigeria, the southern kingdom of Benin, and the Igbo communities / Nri Kingdom of eastern Nigeria. Extensive trading networks developed among these societies and northwards across the Sahara” (iss.co.za).
The Yoruba are of mix origin and the dominant group on the west bank of the River Niger. The “Yoruba were organized in patrilineal descent groups that occupied village communities and subsisted on agriculture, but from about the eleventh century A.D., adjacent village compounds, called ile, began to coalesce into a number of territorial city-states in which loyalties to the clan became subordinate to allegiance to a dynastic chieftain. This transition produced an urbanized political and social environment that was accompanied by a high level of artistic achievement, particularly in terracotta and ivory sculpture and in the sophisticated metal casting produced at Ife. The brass and bronze used by Yoruba artisans was a significant item of trade, made from copper, tin, and zinc either imported from North Africa or from mines in the Sahara and northern Nigeria.
Ife was the center of as many as 400 religious cults whose traditions were manipulated to political advantage by the Oni (king) in the days of the kingdom’s greatness. Ife also lay at the centre of a trading network with the north. The Onisupported his court with tolls levied on trade, tribute exacted from dependencies, and tithes due him as a religious leader. The Oni was chosen on a rotating basis from one of several branches of the ruling dynasty, which was composed of a clan with several thousand members. Once elected, he went into seclusion in the palace compound and was not seen again by his people. Below the Oni in the state hierarchy were palace officials, town chiefs, and the rulers of outlying dependencies. The palace officials were spokesmen for the Oniand the rulers of dependencies who had their own subordinate officials. All offices, even that of the Oni, were elective and depended on broad support within the community. Each official was chosen from among the eligible clan members who had hereditary right to the office. Members of the royal dynasty often were assigned to govern dependencies, while the sons of palace officials assumed lesser roles as functionaries, bodyguards to the Oni, and judges”(http://countrystudies.us/nigeria/5.htm).
The Ife model of government was adapted at Oyo, where a member of its ruling dynasty consolidated several smaller city-states under his control. A council of state, the Oyo Mesi, eventually assumed responsibility for naming the Alafin (king) from candidates proposed from the ruling dynasty and acted as a check on his authority. Oyo developed as a constitutional monarchy; actual government was in the hands of the Basorun (prime minister), who presided over the Oyo Mesi. The city was situated 170 kilometers north of Ife, and about 100 kilometers north of present-day Oyo. Unlike the forest-bound Yoruba kingdoms, Oyo was in the savanna and drew its military strength from its cavalry forces, which established hegemony over the adjacent Nupe and the Borgu kingdoms and thereby developed trade routes farther to the north.
Edo Kingdom of Benin
At the peak of its power, the Yorubaland established agricultural communities in the Edo-speaking area east of Ife. By the fifteenth century, Edo Kingdom took an independent course and became a major trading power in its own right, blocking Ife’s access to the coastal ports as Oyo had cut off the mother city from the savanna. “Political power and religious authority resided in the Oba (king), who according to tradition was descended from the Ife dynasty. The Oba was advised by a council of six hereditary chiefs, who also nominated his successor. Responsibility for administering the urban complex lay with sixty trade guilds, each with its own quarter, whose membership cut across clan affiliations and owed its loyalty directly to the Oba. At his wooden, steepled palace, the oba presided over a large court richly adorned with brass, bronze, and ivory objects. Like Ife and the other Yoruba states, Benin, too, is famous for its sculpture.
Unlike the Yoruba kingdoms, however, Benin developed a centralized regime to oversee the administration of its expanding territories. By the late fifteenth century, Benin was in contact with Portugal. At its apogee in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Benin even encompassed parts of southeasternYorubaland and the small Igbo area on the western bank of the Niger. Dependencies were governed by members of the royal family who were assigned several towns or villages scattered throughout the realm, rather than a block of territory that could be used as a base for revolt against the Oba” (http://countrystudies.us/nigeria/5.htm).