Nigeria Overview Part IV

European colonization

In the second half of the 15th century, Portuguese navigators came into contact with the coastal kingdoms, and soon established an intense and prosperous slave trade for plantations on the American continent. The governors of the coastal states captured the slaves in the interior of the country, where the populations were less politically organized. This activity created a great demographic void in the central zone of present-day Nigeria, which persisted until the time of independence. Navigators from all European colonialist countries participated in the slave trade, which only began to decline with the ban on trafficking in the early 19th century, a period when the British moved naval forces to Nigeria and began occupation.

The slave trade was replaced by that of products from large plantations, especially palm oil. The conference held in Berlin by the colonial powers recognized, in 1885, British rule over Nigerian territory. Its administration was entrusted to the Royal Company of the Niger and in 1900 the British protectorate of Northern Nigeria was created. Six years later, the coastal zone became the protectorate of southern Nigeria. After the first world war, the Cross River basin, which was part of the German colony of Shrimp, was annexed to British-controlled territory, and remained unified under the denomination of Nigeria.


After a provisional period of indirect administration, on October 1, 1960, Nigeria became an independent state associated with the British Commonwealth of Nations. Three years later the republic was proclaimed. The new state consisted of four federal regions with wide autonomy. The instability caused by ethnic conflicts, however, led General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi to seize power in January 1966, and to establish a unitary state. A few months later, a new coup passed the power to Colonel Yakubu Gowon, who implanted a federation of 12 states.

In May 1967 there was a secession of the Ibo, which constituted the Republic of Biafra, with its capital in Enugu, in the southeastern part of the country. In the conflict that followed, great powers and foreign groups, especially oil companies, took part in disputing the deposits discovered on the east coast. The Ibo people, the most progressive in the region, maintained their positions for almost three years, but the isolation inflicted by federal troops devastated them through famine and major killings. In January 1970 Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, leader of the rebellion, fled to Côte d’Ivoire. Despite the civil war, in which more than one and a half million people died, pacification and economic reconstruction were rapid.

In July 1975 General Gowon was deposed. His successor, Brigadier Murtala Ramat Mohamed, was assassinated in 1976, after calling general elections, which took place in 1979, under the rule of General Olusegun Obasanjo. A constitution was promulgated and elected president Alhaji Shehu Shagari, reelected in 1983. A new military coup gave power to a Supreme Military Council, replaced in 1984 by a government of civil majority, chaired by general Mohamed Buhari.

In 1985, General Ibrahim Babangida seized power, promised to restore the constitutional system and started a financial sanitation program. The story of the young Nigerian democracy has become a long succession of coups. In 1993, the general election, with a view to redemocratization, was annulled by the Defense and National Security Council, in the face of the victory of the opposition Moshood Abiola.

Society and culture

Primary and secondary education is the responsibility of the states, which have managed to significantly raise the level of schooling of children in the decades after independence. Higher education also experienced a great expansion.

More than half of the Nigerian population is Muslim, but animist influences persist. The Christian population, the majority in the southeast of the country, has a greater number of Catholics. Islamism, in full expansion, is deeply rooted in the north, in addition to being a majority in the capital and in the Yoruba territory. The Nigerian state recognizes freedom of worship.

Hospital facilities and medical services are insufficient for the country’s needs. The uncontrolled growth of cities, surrounded by huge slums lacking elementary means and services, creates additional public health problems. Infectious and endemic diseases are a major cause of mortality.

Nigeria’s official language is English, but each ethnic group has its own language, with different dialects. The most spoken languages ​​in the country are Hausa, Yoruba and Ibo, in that order. Hausa is the most widely spoken because, between 1951 and 1967, it was the official language of the northern states. The country’s continued domination by hauçás and fulas also contributed to spreading it. The creation of new states has led to the proliferation of written languages, as radio stations broadcast the news in the main languages ​​of each state, in which some newspapers and magazines are also written. The translation of the Bible into several Nigerian languages ​​served to increase the number of written languages.

According to, Nigerian cultural heritage comes from three sources: the indigenous culture of the people who originally inhabited the territory; the Arab influence that, coming from the Sahara, was manifested during the second millennium of the Christian era; and European culture, present in the coastal kingdoms of the 15th century. Folklore and indigenous traditions, neglected during the colonial period, were recovered in the second half of the twentieth century, although they lost some of their features. Many radio and television stations use different local languages ​​and dialects, and traditional arts and music are objects of study and updating.

Nigeria Society and culture