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The History Of Nigeria Up To 1914

Nigeria the most populous country on the African continent only came into existence in its present form in 1914 when the two protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria were amalgamated by Sir Fredrick Lugard. The name Nigeria was first suggested in an article for the Times that the several British protectorates on the Niger be known as Nigeria1. The history of Nigeria as it is today goes back more than two thousand years. The earlier history of its peoples is contained in myths and legend, for north only, where the Kanuri and Hausa came into contact with the Arabs there any records noticed before the nineteenth country. One can say. However, reconstruct something of the history of Africa or Nigeria political division from archaeological research, which has greatly advanced in the last decades.2

Although Nigeria was the creation of Western ambitions and rivalry in West Africa; it is erroneous to believe that its peoples had little history contacts before its own boundaries were negotiated by Britain, France and Germany at the turn of the twentieth century. The Nigeria state contained not just a multiplicity of ethnic groups, but also a number of great Kingdoms that had evolved complex system of government devoid of European influence.3 The great Kingdom of Kanem-Borno, had a known history of more than a thousand years. The Sokoto Caliphate which for nearly a hundred years before its defeat by British had ruled most of the Savannah of Northern Nigeria; the Benin and Ife Kingdoms had become famous in art as amongst the most accomplished in the world. It is evident that the Empire of Oyo was once the most powerful of the States of the Guinea Coast. The Niger Delta (City States) had tremendously grown in response to European demands for slaves and later palm oil. On the other hand the Igbo-speaking peoples were known for the famous Igbo- Ukwu bronzes and terracotta’s. Before 1900, the diverse groups had in one way or the other through trade and war been in contact with each other4.

The Federal Republic of Nigeria covers an area of 570,000 square Kms and according to the last census has a population of over 150,000,000 people. The coastline stenches for 800 km from Badagry in the West of Calabar in the East, which includes the Bights of Benin and Bonny. The borders are contiguous with the Republic of Benin to the West, Niger Republic to the North and the Republic of Cameroon to the East. Despite the continuous notion that Nigerians were not consulted before the 1914 amalgamation, today Nigeria is inhabited by a large number of ethnics groups ranging in some from a few thousand to many millions, speaking between them several hundred languages. Though looking at the variety of customs, languages and social organization is confusing, they can be grouped into a number of linguistic groups which gives a honest good indication of their wider cultural relationship or affiliations.5

The Nigeria linguistic affiliation does not imply common decent, since contact between two very different groups can lead to assimilation of the linguistic system of one by the other. According to Joseph H. Greenberry, the majority of Nigeria’s inhabitants speak one of the large groups of languages of Niger-Corgo family that form part of the larger Congo-Lordofanion family. 6The Kwa family which Nigeria is concerned is sub family of Niger-Congo family. The Yoruba, the Edo, Nupe and Igbo speak language classified as Kwa 7


A crucial look at Nigeria issues and problem has be alluded to the 1914 amalgamation of Southern and Northern Nigeria as one state. In 1914, the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria and the protectorate of Northern Nigeria were united together by Lord Fredrick Lugard on 1st January 1914, thus becoming the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. The year 1914 has attracted so much importance in analyzing the politics of Nigeria as it marks the turning point in the evolution of the Nigeria state and also making Nigeria a political entity. A lot has been given as the reason for the amalgamation of South and North8. However, the immediate reason for the decision to amalgamate the two Nigeria was economic expediency or idea.  9The Northern Protectorate was running at a severe deficit, which was taken care of by Southern protectorate subsidy with British imperial Grant-in-Aid of about £300,000 a year. This was a departure from the age old policy of colonial autonomy, especially in financial matters.

Also, there were the pressing issues to coordinate railway policy, which at times was not in existence. The singular action by Lugard influenced the whole future of Nigeria. 10These actions would have been averted if Lord Lugard had listened to better judgment of a man who knew Nigeria well. E. D Moral, at that time editor of the African Mail. A known critic of the colonial policy, he proposed the division of the country into four large provinces; namely Northern, Central, Western and Eastern Provinces. While Temple, the then Lt. Governor of the Northern Protectorate suggested the division of Nigeria into seven with three each at North and South respectively, Lagos as the last of the seven.

          However, the decision of Lord has inevitably led Nigeria to political crisis and peace. At the era of Nigeria independence, it’s clear to note that the seeming unity of Nigeria was at low ebb. The events that preceded the October’s 1st 1960 have attracted serious question on the amalgamation of the North and South in 1914.11


          The Richard’s Constitution of 1947 marked the actual turning point in Nigeria’s road towards independence, though the constitution received serious attacks from every side of Nigerian nationalists.12 The very objectives of the constitution signified unity, providing unity for the diverse elements that make up Nigeria and to ensure much participation by Africans in the discussion of their affairs. The most striking feature of the Constitution was the inclusion of the North in the Central legislature, a move seen as an effort at ensuring unity. Though they were mainly restricted to discussion, the creation of Regional Assemblies in the Constitution has been seen as the foundation of tribalism in Nigeria politics.  Dike (1957) reaffirmed the nation that Richard’s constitutional development, is against the effort of unifying Nigerian towards a centralized state and the realization of a common nationality.13

          However, it has been argued that if Lord Sir Arthur wanted to contain regional and ethnic differences he would have followed the notion proposed by Moral and Temple, also later by Zik. This whole action set a precarious situation of a very unwieldy federation with one region twice the size in area and population of the other two. The events that followed the introduction of the constitution show a great deal of damage it had caused to the unity of Nigeria. The decision made at the Ibadan conference 1948 must be seen in the context of the great increase in ethnocentrism. The origin of this tribal feeling was the source of much bitterness and recrimination by Nigeria political parties; an issue that later climaxed on party polities leading to a coup which led to Nigeria Civil War in years to come.14

          In fact originally, the increase in tribalism, as Ezera showed, was resisted by circumstance rather than design and only later was it seized upon by politician. This trend continued to dictate the politics then, as later it also led to crisis in the Nigeiran Youth Movement (NYM) Tribal feeling had set in the quarrel between Zik and then older members of the Nigerian Youth Movement on the candidature of Samuel Akinsanya for a seat on the legislative council; Zik left the group. By 1949, the Northern People’s Congress, a cultural Congress like Egbe Omo Oduduwa set in an era of tribal party politics posing a greater danger to the Nigeria polity in years to come. 15The events at the coal miners’ strike in which the police opened fire on the strikers leading to the death of about twenty one led to the need for a new Constitution that was thought of arresting the regional politics. Again the Minority reports which would have ensured national building and national character were dropped aside leading to events that occurred in 1956.16

          On 1st April 1956 an Action Group backbencher, Anthony Enahoro moved a motion demanding self government in 1956. It was clear that the Northern members would not support the motion as they were not yet prepared. The question here is whether the colonial authority would have approved if the Western region people wanted self government. This would have arrested the violence that followed the motion. The Kano riot gave a final blow to the seeming unity in the theory of 1914 amalgamation. It clearly sent a signal that all was not well despite all efforts at ensuring unity through the Macpherson Constitution of 1951. Though the Macpherson’s Constitution was much more liberal in its look than it’s predecessor, and much more in keeping with the needs of Nigeria which inevitably led to the end of colonial rule in Nigeria.17

          The issues that coloured the motion for self government continued to shape Nigeria politics long after independence. Uncertainty and lack of trust became the order of the day in Nigeria politics. At the immediate post motion of self government, seeking alliance between the West and East Nigerian unity collapsed leading to more complex regional politics. At the height of the crisis among the North, West and East, the North demanded the dissolution of the Federation.18 The immediate result of the riots and the motion in the Northern House was the realization by the Colonial Secretary, Mr. Oliver Lyttelton that his earlier complacent statement that what Nigeria needs is a period of reflection to let the dust die down was a departure from the truth.

          The London conferences of 1956 seemed almost impossible.  The various parties sent delegations to the conferences with many misgiving against this unpromising background; it is remarkable how much agreement was in fact reached by the delegates to the London Conferences.

          The all important question of self government in 1956 was cleverly, side stepped by offering self-government to those region that wanted it in 1956, but not to the federation as a whole, thus leaving it open to the North choice for self government. The bitterest issue of the conference, which broke the N.C.N.C., Action Group Alliance, was whether Lagos should be part of Federal territory. The N.C.N.C. which had many members in Lagos, also felt that a federation should have a true Federal Capital, while the AG wanted it to be part of the Western Region. Once again a conference about which most people had been very pessimistic was a striking success.19

          In so far, the two conferences presented a framework that led to a Constitution under which Nigeria was governed till the military take-over in 1966.

The Coup to Coup (January 1966 to July 1966)

          On October 1, 1960 Nigeria became an Independent member of the International Community.  There was clear optimism about its future both within the country and outside, particularly the European powers. The Independence was achieved through patient negotiation between Nigerian leaders and the colonial masters, not by violent revolution. The three governing parties of the regions namely N.P.C in the North, the N.C.N.C. East and A.G. in West all ensured western-style parliamentary democracy. The N.P.C. and N.C.N.C. formed alliance with Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe as Governor-General and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister. The tension that had preceded independence seemed over as Nigeria appeared in its first year of sovereign nationhood, a sea of tranquility in reference to the situation in Congo20. In the early years of independence, the constitution was able to contain the various strains to which it was subjected. This is supported by one Nigeria newspaper which put it succinctly, “Nigeria seemed to have perfected the art of walking to the brook of disaster without falling in". However, the complete breakdown of law and order in the western region in late 1965 led the military to take over the government and suspend every democratic institution.

          Many factors have been given, including the historical, regional and ethnic differences that led to the breakdown of the political order in Nigeria. First, by the end of 1965, the politicians had earned increased contempt for their corruption and profligacy in dealing with Nigerians. Secondly, the gap between wealthy and the growing wage earning closes grew rapidly greater during the next first years. Thirdly, the growing discontent between Balewa and the elite as regard the west. Fourthly, the continued policy by the government to disregard the provision of the constitution and lastly the census of 1952-3, had created a slight overall majority was, however, the failure of the politicians to respect both the letter and spirit of the constitution that led to chaos which precipitated the January 1966 coup. The coup of January set the road for another coup in July, 1966.

          The coup in January was mainly seen as an Eastern coup by the North. The North subsequently saw the unification of regional and federal public services as policy to dominate by the Igbos. Also they saw the killing of Northern military personnel as an attempt to dominate the military. In July, Northern officers staged a coup in which Ironsi on a visit to Ibadan was killed together with his host, Governor Fajuyi. Finally the Army Chief of Staff, Lt Col. Yakubu Gowon a Northerner took over as Head of State. The legitimacy of Gowon as Head of State caused civil unrest leading to conflict and killing between the North and Igbos. The continued rejection of Gowon by Lt. Col. Ojukwu led to chaos that plugged into a thirty-month-long civil war, with the Igbos declaring their Republic of Biafra.21

          Conclusively, the colonial rule in Nigeria set a standard that started in 1914. The constitutional framework at bringing unity to Nigeria did not engender peace in the State. The war that ensued in Nigeria has in the colonial legacy which the master left in the hand of Nigerians the word is independence.


1.       A.H.M. Kirk-Green: Who coined the name Nigeria? West African, 22nd December 1956

2.       Prof. Thurstan Shaw field research in Nigerian Archaeology, Journal Historical Society of Nigeria (JHSN) II, 41963 pp 449-64 provides a survey of the state of archaeology research in Nigeria up to Independence

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