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Nigeria’s Independence – A Journey to Remember
Nigeria’s Independence – A Journey to Remember

By - Victoria Akindele

Posted - 01-10-2019

Home to over 200 million people, one quarter of the entire African continent’s citizens, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation. Nigeria, officially referred to as the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a federal state in West Africa. It borders Cameroon and Chad to the East, Benin to the west, and Niger to the north. It also has a coast in the south that lies on the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. Nigeria is made up of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

READ ALSO: Nigeria’s Civil War – A Homeland conflict

Nigeria has a lot of historic empires and cultures compared to other countries in Africa. The history of Nigeria can be traced back to as early as 11,000 BC when a number of ancient African communities inhabited the area that now makes Nigeria. The greatest and the well-known empire that ruled the region before the British arrived was the Benin Empire whose ruler was known as Oba of Benin. Other tribes such as the Nri Kingdom also settled in the country, especially in the Eastern side. The Songhai Empire also settled in some of the country’s territory and by the eleventh century, Islam had arrived in Nigeria via the Hausa States.

In 1851, the British forces seized Lagos, which was later annexed officially in 1861 and in 1901, Nigeria was made a British protectorate and was colonised until 1960, when the country gained her independence.

Early age in Nigeria (500BC to 1500)
Between 500 BC and 200 AD, the Nok civilisation era thrived in Northern Nigeria. They made full-sized terracotta sculptures which are among the earliest recognised records in Sub-Saharan Africa. Other cities further north such as Katsina and Kano also have histories that dates to around 999AD. During this era, the Kanem-Bornu Empire and the Hausa kingdoms flourished as trade points between West and North Africa.

In the tenth century, the Igbo people of the Nri Kingdom merged and the kingdom, however, lost its power to the British in 1911. The city if Nri is believed to be the cornerstone of Igbo culture. In the twelfth and fourteenth centuries respectively, the Yoruba kingdoms of Ife and Oyo in the southwest region of Nigeria attained prominence. The first evidence of human civilisation at Ife’s present-day location go way back to the ninth century whose main culture included bronze and terracotta sculptures.

Middle age in Nigeria (1500 – 1800)
In the late seventeenth to early eighteenth centuries, Oyo was at its zenith and was able to expand its influence from western Nigeria to present-day Togo. The Benin Empire had sovereignty over the region between the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries. The Fulani Empire, also referred to as the Sokoto Caliphate, was then developed at the beginning of the nineteenth century by Usman dan Fodio who led a successful jihad. The empire ruled over modern-day central and northern Nigeria and its sovereignty lasted until 1903 when it was broken up into a number of European colonies.

People in the territory traded a lot with merchants from North Africa and the cities in the region were transformed into regional centers for the trade routes that extended to West, Central, and North Africa. It was in the sixteenth century when Portuguese and Spanish explorers began direct trade with the locals in Calabar and the port they named Lagos. It was these trade interactions that led to the Atlantic slave trade and the port of Calabar became one of the biggest slave trading stations in West Africa during the transatlantic slave trade period. Other slave stations were Bonny Island on the Bight of Biafra and Badagry and Lagos on the Bight of Benin.

A British Nigeria
By the 1600s, even before the arrival of the British, the coastal regions of the modern-day Nigeria had established trade relations with the Europeans. A number of European states and non-state actors such as Portugal, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and private organizations, as well as a number of African countries were actively involved in the slave trade business. It was in 1807 when Great Britain abolished the transnational slave trade. After the Napoleonic Wars, Britain created the West African Squadron in an effort to put an end to the transnational slave trade.

In 1851, Lagos was captured by British forces while intervening in the Lagos Sovereignty power struggle deposed Oba Kosoko who favored slave trade and in his place appointed Oba Akitoye. On Jan. 1, 1852, the treaty between Great Britain and Lagos was signed and in August 1861 Lagos was annexed as a Crown Colony via the Lagos Treaty of Cession.

In 1886, Britain chartered the Royal Niger Company under the leadership of Sir George Taubman Goldie and in 1900 the company’s region which covered territories on both sides of the Niger River from the Atlantic ocean to Lokoja as well as the modern-day Northern Nigeria came under the leadership of the British government which then consolidated its control over the area of present-day Nigeria.

On Jan. 1, 1901, Nigeria was made a British protectorate and was grouped into Lagos colony, Niger Coast (also known as Oil River Protectorate) and the Northern Protectorate thus, becoming a section of the British Empire. Towards the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth centuries, the sovereign kingdoms that would later become Nigeria fought against Britain’s attempts to enlarge its territory. Benin was conquered by the British in 1897 who also overpowered other opponents in the Anglo-Aro War that took place from1901 to1902.

The Niger was officially merged as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria in 1914. Nigeria remained administratively divided into the Southern and Northern Protectorates and Lagos Colony. In 1897, the name Nigeria was coined by a journalist, Miss Flora Shaw from the name of the largest river in the region. Western learning institutions were established in the Protectorates by Christian missions. The Christian missions were, however, not encouraged to operate their missions in the northern region of the country which was Islamic.

Freedom at Last
After World War II, there were demands for independence by the locals and consecutive constitutions established by Britain helped move Nigeria towards a self-government. Towards mid-twentieth century a big wave for sovereignty swept across the African continent. Between 1922 and 1959, notable Nigerians like Sir Herbert Macaulay, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Chief Anthony Enahoro to mention a few led the struggle for Nigerian nationalism.

However, in order to allow Nigerians have some measure of control over their own land, the British came up with different constitutions in a bid to assuage the feelings of the people. The constitution included the Clifford Constitution of 1922, the Richards Constitution of 1946, the Macpherson Constitution of 1951 and the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954. Although, this did not stop the continuous demand for total independence from the colonial rule.

At long last, on Oct. 27, 1958, Britain agreed to Nigeria becoming an independent state and on Oct. 1, 1960, Nigeria became an independent country.

Present was an Executive Council made up entirely of Nigerians which was led by Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who gave the independent speech delivered at Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos at the Independence Ceremony. Also, Jaja Wachukwu, Nigeria’s first indigenous speaker, received Nigeria’s instrument of freedom (also called ‘Freedom Charter’) from Princess Alexandra of Kent, a member of the British royal family who represented Queen Elizabeth at the ceremony.

In addition, the Union Jack – the British national flag was lowered and hoisted in its place was the new Nigerian flag designed by Taiwo Akinkunmi in 1959. Likewise, the national anthem was changed from “God save the Queen” to “Nigeria We Hail Thee” written by Lillian Jean Williams, a British expatriate who lived in Nigeria at that time.

To conclude the celebration of the anticipated freedom, the sky above the Tafawa Balewa Square was animated with colourful display of fireworks and shouts of happy independence later that evening. Dance troupes and masquerades of different Nigerian ethnic groups also displayed their dancing prowess and thrilled the audience with acrobatic displays. A state banquet was also held where dignitaries from Nigeria and other countries mingled, wined and danced.


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