The slave trade was joined by Great Britain and France. The colonial era is considered to date from 1800, when, with rising anti-slavery sentiment at home, Great Britain abolished its international slave trade in 1807 together with the United States. Following the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain established the West Africa Squadron in an attempt to halt the international traffic in slaves. It stopped ships of other nations that were leaving the African coast with slaves; sometimes it would take the freed slaves to Sierra Leone, its colony in West Africa, rather than return the people to the risk of renewed slavery in other coastal states.
In 1885, British claims to a West African sphere of influence received recognition from other European nations. The following year, it chartered the Royal Niger Company under the leadership of Sir George Taubman Goldie. In 1900 the company’s territory came under the control of the British government, which moved to consolidate its hold over the area of modern Nigeria. On 1 January 1901, Nigeria became a British protectorate, part of the British Empire, the foremost world power at the time. The independent kingdoms of what later became Nigeria fought many wars against the British Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries trying to regain independence. By war, the British conquered Benin in 1897, and in the Anglo-Aro War from 1901—1902 defeated other opponents. The restraint or complete destruction of these states opened up the Niger area to British rule.
In 1914, the British formally united the Niger area as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. Administratively, Nigeria remained divided into the northernand southern provinces and Lagos Colony. The people of the South, with more interaction with the British and other Europeans due to the coastal economy, adopted Western education and developed a modern economy more rapidly than in the north. Many of its elite’s sons went to Great Britain for education. The regional differences continue to be expressed in Nigeria’s political life as well. For instance, northern Nigeria did not outlaw slavery until 1936.
Following World War II, in response to the growth of Nigerian nationalism and demands for independence, successive constitutions legislated by the British government moved Nigeria toward self-government on a representative and increasingly federal basis. By the middle of the 20th century, the great wave for independence was sweeping across Africa. Nigeria became independent in 1960.
On 1 October 1960, Nigeria gained its independence from the United Kingdom. Nigeria’s government was a coalition of conservative parties: the Nigerian People’s Congress (NPC), a party dominated by Northerners and those of the Islamic faith; and the Igbo and Christian-dominated National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) led by Nnamdi Azikiwe, who became Nigeria’s maiden Governor-General in 1960. Forming the opposition was the comparatively liberal Action Group (AG), which was largely dominated by the Yoruba and led by Obafemi Awolowo.The cultural and political differences among Nigeria’s dominant ethnic groups: the Hausa (‘Northerners’), Igbo (‘Easterners’) and Yoruba (‘Westerners’), were sharp.
An imbalance was created in the polity by the result of the 1961 plebiscite. Southern Cameroon opted to join the Republic of Cameroon while northern Cameroon chose to remain in Nigeria. The northern part of the country was now far larger than the southern part. The nation parted with its British legacy in 1963 by declaring itself a Federal Republic, with Azikiwe as its first president. When elections were held in 1965, the Nigerian National Democratic Party came to power in Nigeria’s Western Region.
The disequilibrium and perceived corruption of the electoral and political process led in 1966 to several back-to-back military coups. The first was in January and led by a collection of young leftists under Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. It was partially successful; the coup plotters murdered Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Premier Ahmadu Bello of the Northern Region and Premier Ladoke Akintola of the Western Region. Despite this, they could not set up a central government. President Nwafor Orizu was then pressured to hand over government to the Nigeria Army, under the command of General JTU Aguyi-Ironsi.
The coup was counter-acted by another successful plot, supported primarily by Northern military officers and Northerners who favoured the NPC, it was engineered by Northern officers, which allowed Lt Colonel Yakubu Gowon to become head of state. This sequence of events led to an increase in ethnic tension and violence. The Northern coup, motivated by ethnic and religious reasons, resulted in the deaths of many military officers and civilians, especially those of Igbo descent.
The violence against the Igbo increased their desire for autonomy. By May 1967, the Eastern Region voted to declare independence as a state called the Republic of Biafra, under the leadership of Lt Colonel Emeka Ojukwu. The Nigerian Civil War began as the Nigerian (Western and Northern) side attacked Biafra (South-eastern) on 6 July 1967 at Garkem. The 30 month war, with a long siege of Biafra and its isolation from trade and supplies, ended in January 1970. Estimates of the number of dead in the former Eastern Region are between 1 and 3 million people, from warfare, disease, and starvation, during the 30-month civil war .
During the oil boom of the 1970s, Nigeria joined OPEC, and the huge revenue generated made the economy richer, although the military administration did nothing to improve the standard of living of the population, or to help the small and medium businesses, or even invest in the infrastructure. As oil revenues fueled the rise of federal subventions to states, the federal government became the centre of political struggle and the threshold of power in the country. As oil production and revenue rose, the Nigerian government created a dangerous situation as it became increasingly dependent on oil revenues and the international commodity markets for budgetary and economic concerns; it did not build economic stability. That spelled doom to federalism in Nigeria.
Beginning in 1979, Nigerians participated in a brief return to democracy when Olusegun Obasanjo transferred power to the civilian regime of Shehu Shagari. The Shagari government became viewed as corrupt and incompetent by virtually all sectors of Nigerian society. The military coup of Muhammadu Buhari shortly after the regime’s fraudulent re-election in 1984 was generally viewed as a positive development by most of the population. Buhari promised major reforms, but his government fared little better than its predecessor. His regime was overthrown by another military coup in 1985.
Nigerian soldiers in October 2004, part of the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur, prepare to embark on a U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo plane.
The new head of state, Ibrahim Babangida, declared himself president and commander in chief of the armed forces and the ruling Supreme Military Council. He set 1990 as the official deadline for a return to democratic governance. Babangida’s tenure was marked by a flurry of political activity: he instituted the International Monetary Fund‘s Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) to aid in the repayment of the country’s crushing international debt, which most federal revenue was dedicated to servicing. He enrolled Nigeria in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which aggravated religious tensions in the country.
After Babangida survived an abortive coup, he pushed back the promised return to democracy to 1992. Free and fair elections were finally held on 12 June 1993, showing a presidential victory for Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. Babangida chose to annul the elections, leading to mass civilian violent protests which effectively shut down the country for weeks. This forced Babangida to keep his promise to relinquish office to a civilian-run government, but not before appointing Ernest Shonekan as head of the interim government. Babangida’s regime has been considered the most corrupt, and responsible for creating a culture of corruption in Nigeria.
Shonekan’s caretaker regime was overwhelmed in late 1993 by the military coup of General Sani Abacha. Abacha oversaw brutal rule using violence on a wide scale to suppress the continuing civilian unrest. He shifted money to offshore accounts in various western European banks and voided coup plots by bribing army generals. Several hundred million dollars in accounts traced to him were discovered in 1999. The regime came to an end in 1998 when the dictator was found dead amid questionable circumstances. His successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, adopted a new constitution on 5 May 1999, which provided for multiparty elections. On 29 May 1999 Abubakar transferred power to the winner of the elections, Obasanjo, who had since retired from the military.