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Sir Ahmadu Bello

Sardauna of Sokoto


Presidents & Heads of State in Nigeria since Independence


Arewa House Event Honors Sir Ahmadu Bello and Dr. Martin Luther King


Genealogy of Sardauna (Gamji)






The Fulani Empire of Sokoto was the last of the five great empires that rose and fell in the Sudan between the eighth and twentieth centuries. It was founded by three men of the same family, and it developed a society which, in its heyday, was perhaps better governed and more highly civilized than any other that Africans had until then evolved:


Flag of Nigeria


  1. Background

  2. Geography

  3. People

  4. Government

  5. Economy

  6. Communications

  7. Transportation

  8. Military

  9. Transnational Issues

The history of the Shariah movement in Nigeria  











Tafawa Balewa

Murtala Mohammed

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Dr. BJ Adamu


Early history

The first known civilisation in Nigeria was that of the Nok. The Nok were an iron age people existing from 500 BC until about 200 AD on the Jos plateau in north-eastern Nigeria.


The Kanem-Bornu Empire near Lake Chad dominated northern Nigeria for over 600 years, prospering as a terminal of north-south trade between North African Berbers and forest people. In the early 19th century, Usman dan Fodio brought most areas in the north under the loose control of an Islamic empire centred at Sokoto.

The kingdoms of Ife and Oyo in the southwest and Benin in the south developed elaborate systems of political organisation in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Ife and Benin are noted for their prized artistic works in ivory, wood, bronze, and brass.


In the southeast, the populous village-networks of the Igbo and other acephalous groups like the Ibibio were mostly governed by indigenous African notions of egalitarianism and democracy. Some of the oldest artwork found in West Africa was recovered in this region, with the Igbo-Ukwu bronze sculptures being among the most famous.


Colonialism and pre-independence

In the 17th through 19th centuries, European traders established coastal ports for the increasing traffic in slaves destined for the American continent. Commodity trade replaced slave trade in the 19th century.

The Royal Niger Company was chartered by the British government in 1886. Northern and Southern Nigeria became British protectorates in 1901 and were amalgamated into a single colony in 1914. In response to the growth of Nigerian nationalism following World War II, the British moved the colony towards self-government on a federal basis.




Nigeria won full independence in 1960, as a federation of three regions, each retaining a substantial measure of self-government. At the time of Nigeria's first elections in 1959, there were a number of prominent parties: Nnamdi Azikiwe's National Council of Nigerian and the Cameroons (NCNC) which had control of the Eastern Region; Ahmadu Bello's Northern People's Congress (NPC), which had control of the Northern Region; and Obafemi Awolowo's Action Group (AG) which had control of the Western Region.

When no party won a majority during the 1959 elections, the NPC combined with the NCNC to form a government, and when independence arrived in 1960, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was made the Prime Minister, and Nnamdi Azikiwe was made the Governor General.

As with much of Nigerian history, severe conflicts developed within the ruling coalition. In 1962, part of the Action Group split off to form the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), led by S.I. Akintola. In 1963, the Mid-Western Region was formed from part of the Western Region. When Nigeria became a Republic in 1963, Nnamdi Azikiwe was made the President of the Federal Republic. However, in 1964, a great controversy broke out, over the 1963 population census, with the NCNC claiming that there was an overestimatation of the number of people in the Northern Region, thus giving the north a greater representation in the federal parliament.



Army coups of 1966

In 1966, two successive coups by different groups of army officers brought the country under military rule. In January of that year, a number of junior army officers staged a coup d'état to overthrow the government, in the process killing Balewa, Bello, Akintola and some senior officers. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi who successfully stopped the coup, was put in charge of the military government which was to be the first of many. Despite the fact that this coup was tremendously violent, the new government did promise a progressive agenda – a return to civilian rule determined by elections and vowed to stamp out corruption and stop violence, and this particularly appealed to the youth. Furthermore, Aguiyi-Ironsi tried to restore discipline within the army. He suspended the regional constitution with its different regions, dissolved all legislative bodies, banned political parties, and formed a Federal Military Government with the aim of centralising governance. A decree was issued, that March, to abolish the federation, and unify the federal and regional civil servants. Many accused Aguiyi-Ironsi of favouring the Igbos over other ethnic groups and the fact that the military government did not prosecute the officers that killed the northern leaders stirred further rage. Though Aguiyi-Ironsi had some concessions like protecting the northerners from southern competition in the civil service, many northerners felt like the coup was a plot to make the Igbos dominant in Nigeria. Fighting broke out for a while between the northerners and the Igbo, and in July of the same year, northern officers staged another coup, killing Aguiyi-Ironsi and many other Igbo officials. The Muslim officers chose Yakubu Gowon (who was a Christian) as the new ruler. Gowon had not actually been involved in the coup, but they felt he would be a compromising candidate to head the Federal Military Government. His first steps included restoring federalism, and releasing Awolowo (jailed in 1964 for treason), from prison.


Gowon vowed to start Nigeria along the road to civilian government. However, now the Igbos were becoming more and more afraid of their position in Nigeria. In 1967, when Gowon moved to split the four existing regions into 12 states, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, the leader of the Eastern Region refused to accept this, and declared that the Eastern Region would become its own independent republic, named Biafra. This was not accepted, and in June 1967, a civil war broke out between Biafra and the remainder of Nigeria.



Civil war

Main article: Nigerian Civil War

Following the creation of Biafra, war broke out between the Federal Government and the Igbo dominated eastern region. Under Brigadiers Adekunle, Obasanjo and Murtala Mohammed, a systematic battle plan that comprised saturated air bombings and starvation forced the Biafran rebels to capitulate. On 15 January 1970, left with the choice of surrender and the total destruction of the Biafran populace, Philip Effiong, Chief of Staff of the rebel army accepted the terms of surrender before Yakubu Gowon, Head of the Northern-dominated federal government.



Military government, 1974-1979

In 1974, Gowon broke his promise to return the nation to civilian rule, and in July 1975, there was yet another military coup, the first of many bloodless coups. This brought the hugely popular Murtala Ramat Mohammed to power. As his predecessors had done, Murtala Mohammed promised to lead Nigeria back into civilian rule. In February 1976, there was an attempted coup by Buka Dimka, and though it was unsuccessful, Muhammed was killed. So, Olusegun Obasanjo was chosen to take his place as the new ruler, and promised to continue what Muhammed had started. During his term, he raised University fees, and this led to student riots. The government then banned student organisations, restricted public opposition to the regime, controlled union activity, and nationalised land. Controversy trailed his indigenisation of foreign businesses perceived to be much to the advantage of his own Yoruba people who were the larger population in the then capital Lagos and the increased oil industry regulation. However, in 1978, Obasanjo did set up a new constitution, one that would return the country to the much awaited state of civilian rule. Elections were finally held in 1979, bringing Shehu Shagari into office as the new President of Nigeria.



Army coup of 1983

While Shagari was able to serve his entire term and was, in fact the victor of the 1983 elections, many people believed the elections were rigged and the rightful leader was Obafemi Awolowo. This set the stage for yet another coup, this time on December 31, 1983. The new military government, under Muhammadu Buhari was welcomed at the time, because many felt that the nation had further deteriorated into more shameless corruption and economic mismanagement, under the supposedly democratically elected government of Shehu Shagari. Buhari set out to try to revive the economy, and this took priority over everything else, including returning the country to civilian rule. He also took security of the government as a high priority, restricted freedom of the press, suppressed criticism of the government, and outlawed many organisations. Moreover, he declared a "War Against Indiscipline" to deal with such aspects as public behaviour, sanitation, public appearance, corruption, smuggling, and patriotism. He also took many other measures of austerity that made it difficult for some companies to run, and this eventually led to high inflation and thus a much higher cost of living.



Army coup of 1985

Yet another bloodless coup took place on August 27, 1985. This time Ibrahim Babangida (Buhari's chief of army staff before the coup) was named the ruler. Babangida claimed that Buhari's regime was insensitive to the feelings of the Nigerian masses, especially with regards to the restrictions imposed on the press. He started his rule claiming to be a human rights activist, but this image faded with time. Though he released some of the politicians that Buhari incarcerated, he also hounded opposition interest groups, and detained many radical people for various offenses, and even had a decree to facilitate some oppressive acts. As concerns his economic policy, Babangida introduced market reforms, freeing exchange and interest rates, and this led to a sharp drop in the value of the Nigerian currency, while raising lending rates to more than 40 percent.

In April 1986, there was another attempted coup by Mamman Vatsa, and him and his followers were executed. On April 22, 1990, there was yet another attempted coup by Gideon Orkar that failed, but almost killed Babangida, whose bedroom had been bombed. Unlike previous coups and attempted coups, this coup was believed to have been heavily funded by civilians, suggesting that they were willing to have another military ruler over Babangida.

New constitution and failed elections

As per a new constitution that was drafted in 1990, the country was to return to civilian rule in 1992. As the date approached, there were many suspicions that this promise was not going to be kept. Pressure started mounting on the military government, and finally, in 1992, an election took place. However, the Babangida government annulled the results of that election, claiming fraud, and postponed a re-run of the elections for a year. Another election was held in June 1993, and on June 12, 1993, the winner was declared to be Moshood Abiola. Babangida again claimed fraud, and annulled the results of this election, which was believed to be the first fair election held in the history of Nigeria. This led to great unrest, all over Nigeria. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed, human rights and pro-democracy activists were arrested, and opposition newspapers were shut down. The pressure mounted anyway, and finally on August 27, 1993, Babangida resigned, and appointed Ernest Shonekan, a civilian, in place as the head of an interim civilian government.

Shonekan's rule was the shortest rule in Nigerian history, lasting less than three months. The Government was declared illegal and unconstitutional by a High Court, and General Sani Abacha took power on November 17, 1993. Abacha is believed to have been instrumental in both the 1983 and the 1985 coups, and was Babangida's defence minister. Abacha, the most infamous of the infamous Nigerian rulers brought much publicity to Nigeria from the international community. Initially, Abacha promised to return the government to civilian rule within two years. In the meantime, he dismantled all elected institutions, terminated all national and state assemblies, closed independent publications, banned all political activity, and suspended the constitution. On June 12, 1994, Abiola, backed by politicians, retired army brass, and pro-democracy activists, proclaimed himself as the president. He was imprisoned on charges of treason, and in 1996, he was placed in solitary confinement. Following Abiola's, his wife, Kudirat Abiola, launched a campaign for democracy and human rights. She held pro-democracy rallies, defied the military decree banning political associations, presented victims of military repression to international fact-finding missions, inspired many other people, especially women, and won the "Woman of the Year" awards in both 1994 and 1995. However, on June 4, 1996, she was assassinated, and quite naturally, the assassination was attributed to the military government of Sani Abacha



Attempted coup and international condemnation

On March 1, 1995 there was another attempted coup by Lawan Gwadabe. Also suspected as part of this coup were Olusegun Obasanjo (a previous president) and Shehu Musa Yar'Adua. They were sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for this. Yar'Adua died while in prison, and Obasanjo was there for the remainder of Abacha's life. Also arrested sometime during 1995 was Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, a human rights activist who had been repeatedly arrested and released, but this time was charged with treason, and sentenced to life imprisonment, which was later reduced to 15 years, even against High Court rulings, and Amnesty International. He was also in jail for the remainder of Abacha's life.

Also in 1995, was the giant controversy that brought the Ogoni people into the spotlight. Ken Saro-Wiwa, an environmentalist and playwright, had been critical of the Nigerian government for the environmental damages being inflicted on the land inhabited by the Ogoni people, due to the oil industry. Saro-Wiwa and eight other leaders were arrested on charges of conspiring to slay political opponents. On October 31, 1995, all nine leaders were sentenced to death, by hanging. Opposition for this sentence and an appeal for mercy came from all over the world, including the Commonwealth, and Nelson Mandela. However, on November 10, they were hung anyway. This stunned the world, and led to the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth, and Nelson Mandela calling for international sanctions against Nigerian oil, which account for more than 90 percent of Nigeria's foreign currency earnings.


Military intervention in Liberia and Sierra Leone

Doubtless, this hurt the already bleeding economy and Abacha tried to improve his image by portraying Nigeria as a regional peacemaker, and in 1996, even aided a peace agreement that ended Liberia's seven-year civil war and made way for elections in Liberia. Also, when a military coup took place in Sierra Leone, Abacha stepped in, and sent his army on a military assault to restore the democratically elected government. This did inspire some amount of confidence from the public who were becoming increasingly confident that he would return Nigeria to a democratic rule as he had promised. Nigerian self confidence also received a boost when the men's national soccer team became the first African team to win Olympic gold in the 1996 games in Atlanta where they defeated Argentina.

On December 21, 1997, there was allegedly another attempted coup on the Abacha government by Oladipo Diya, and he was imprisoned. Many believe that the incident was fabricated by the Abacha government to justify the subsequent persecution of Diya. In April 1998, Diya, four other officers, and a civilian were sentenced to death, while many others were sentenced to prison terms of varying lengths.


Failed elections of 1998

Elections to return to civilian rule were set for August 1, 1998, with a return date to civilian rule set for October 1, 1998. However, in April, Abacha became the only nominated candidate for the presidency. Opposition to his rule had been mounting more and more in recent months, because it was suspected that he did not intend to step down. Demonstrations and riots broke out, and many were killed.

Abacha's reign of terror came to an end when he died unexpectedly on June 8, 1998, of a heart attack. Abdulsalami Abubakar became leader of the Provisional Ruling Council. He lifted the suspension of the 1979 constitution, and was set to release Chief M.K.O. Abiola the winner of the 1993 Election before the latter died in July 1998 from what international medical experts initially described as natural causes; later this was changed to death from poisonous substance. Court cases since Abiola's death have brought to light that his tea was poisoned.


The rise of Obasanjo

In 1999, Nigeria elected Olusegun Obasanjo as President in its first elections in 16 years. Obasanjo and his party also won the turbulent elections of 2003. Although having won the election, Obasanjo has had a love-hate relationship with the Nigerian people. With the killing of Justice Bola Ige, an advocate for peace, justice and openness, many doubt the success of Nigeria's democratic dream; particularly, with the ever daunting 2007 election around the corner.

Many educated Nigerians are leaving the country, causing a massive "brain drain" on the economy. The corruption of the Nigerian political class is exemplified by the arrest and trial of the Inspector General of Police and the recent arrest of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the governor of Bayelsa State, in the United Kingdom on charges of money laundering



Main article: Politics of Nigeria

Nigeria is a Federal Republic, comprising 36 states plus the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.




Main article: States of Nigeria; For traditional states, see Nigerian traditional states

Nigeria is divided into 36 states and one territory. Each state has a unicameral House of Assembly and an elected Governor, who appoints an Executive Council.




Map of Nigeria (source: CIA's The World Factbook)

Map of Nigeria (source: CIA's The World Factbook)Main article: Geography of Nigeria

Nigeria is located on the Gulf of Guinea. Its major cities are located in southern lowlands. The central part of the country contains hills and plateaus. The north consists of arid plains that border the Sahara. Its neighbouring countries are Benin, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

Forest and woodland occurs chiefly in the southern third of the country, which is affected by seasonal rains from the Atlantic which occur from June to September. As one progresses northward the country becomes drier and the vegetation more savanna in type. The northern third of the country forms part of the semi-arid sahel region on the fringes of the Sahara desert.

Nigeria is divided roughly in three by the rivers Niger and Benue, which flow through the country from north-east and north-west to meet roughly in the centre of the country near the new capital city of Abuja. From here the united rivers flow south to the sea at the Niger Delta. Its highest point is Chappal Waddi (2,419 m), on the Cameroonian border.






A market in Lagos

Main article: Economy of Nigeria

The oil-rich Nigerian economy, long hobbled by political instability, corruption, and poor macroeconomic management, is undergoing substantial economic reform under the new civilian administration. Nigeria's rulers stole or misused £220 billion. Nigeria's former military rulers failed to diversify the economy away from overdependence on the capital-intensive oil sector, which provides 20% of GDP, 95% of foreign exchange earnings, and about 65% of budgetary revenues. The largely subsistence agricultural sector has not kept up with rapid population growth, and Nigeria, once a large net exporter of food, has since 1974, been a net importer of basic foodstuffs.

Mineral resources include petroleum, coal and tin. Agricultural products include groundnuts, palm oil, cocoa, citrus Fruits, maize, millet, cassava, yams and sugar cane.

Although not a legitimate revenue-generating activity, Nigeria has become infamous in certain Western circles for the propagation of advance fee fraud or "419" scams via email.






Peter Akinola, Primate of the Church of Nigeria

Main article: Demographics of Nigeria

The most populous country in Africa, Nigeria accounts for approximately one-quarter of the continent's people. Although fewer than 25% of Nigerians are urban dwellers, at least 24 cities have populations of more than 100,000 and 45-60% of the population are expected to reside in or around metropolitan areas by the year 2015.

The variety of customs, languages, and traditions among Nigeria's estimated 250 ethnic groups gives the country a rich cultural diversity. The dominant ethnic group in the northern part are the Hausa-Fulani, the overwhelming majority of whom are Muslim. Other major ethnic groups of the north are the Nupe, Tiv, and Kanuri.

The Yoruba people are predominant in the south, especially the south-west. Over half of the Yorubas are Christian and about a quarter are Muslim, with the remainder following mostly traditional beliefs. The Ibo (third-largest ethnic group), Efik, Ibibio/Annang, and Ijaw (the country's fourth-largest ethnic group) communities also comprise a substantial segment of the population in that area particularly the south-east.

Persons of different language backgrounds most commonly communicate in English, although knowledge of two or more Nigerian languages is widespread. Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo are the most widely used Nigerian languages.

In recent years against a background of national economic and political uncertainty, there has been a radicalisation of politics particularly in the northern part of the country. Several northern states have instituted parts of traditional Islamic Sharia law including enforcing the strict separation of the sexes and handing out mediaeval punishments for crimes such as theft and adultery.




Colleges: List of Nigerian universities



Public Health Issues


One issue which has been complicated by political chaos has been the effort of the World Health Organization to eradicate polio worldwide. Northern Nigeria was the location of half of all documented polio cases in 2003, but Muslim clerics have repeatedly inveighed against the vaccine as an effort by Westerners to sterilise young Nigerian Muslim girls. The national vaccination program was suspended in several states in August of 2003, and the disease nearly quintupled in frequency (119 cases in first quarter 2004, vs. 24 in 2003). By May 2004, polio was reported to have spread from there to several other African nations which had previously been declared polio-free. On May 18, the state of Kano agreed to resume vaccination programmes using vaccines produced in Indonesia, not the US. [1]

Obstetric Fistula

From a September 28, 2005, New York Times article:

Mostly teenagers who tried to deliver their first child at home, the girls failed at labor. Their babies were lodged in their narrow birth canals, and the resulting pressure cut off blood to vital tissues and ripped holes in their bowels or urethras, or both. Now their babies were dead. And the would-be mothers, their insides wrecked, were utterly incontinent.

This is obstetric fistula, a very painful, preventable condition. Deferred marriage, birth control and caesarian section have all but eliminated this health problem in the developed world. Also from that article:

[Obstetric fistula] is most concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty and rudimentary health care combine with traditions of home birth and early pregnancy to make women especially vulnerable. In Nigeria alone, perhaps 400,000 to 800,000 women suffer untreated fistulas, says the United Nations.

The United Nations has a campaign to treat and prevent fistulas. See endfistula.org.


Main article: Culture of Nigeria



See also

Culture and religion

Ethnic groups







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