In another week, Nigerians will be commemorating Independence Day – on October 1 – for it was on this day in 1960 that the country got her independence from Great Britain. But how did Nigeria come to be a British colony? What was life like for the indigenous people before colonisation? And how did she get her name and corporate system she operates?

Shall we dig in?

Nigeria Before Colonisation

According to a Wikipedia article, archaeological research shows that people were already living in south-western Nigeria, specifically Iwo-Eleru in present-day Ondo State from as early as 11000 BC, and perhaps earlier at Ugwuelle-Uturu, Okigwe in present-day Imo State.

The Nok people, famous for their terracotta sculptures are believed to have lived on the Jos Plateau between 500 BC and 200 AD, followed by the Kanuris, the Hausas, and subsequently the Fulanis, who migrated to the northern part of the country from the Senegal River valley. 

Before the British came to the part of West Africa now called Nigeria, there were several kingdoms and self-governing states. North of the Niger river, there was the Hausa Kingdom which comprised seven states  – Daura, Kano, Katsina, Zazzau (Zaria), Gobir, Rano and Biramthe Kanem Bornu Empire, and the Borgu Kingdom among the popular ones.

South of the Niger, there was the Benin Empire, the Nri Kingdom of the Igbos, and the Oyo Empire of the Yorubas among the popular ones.

Arrival of the British

By the 1600s, even before the arrival of the British, the coastal regions of what is now modern-day Nigeria had established trade relations with Europeans. People of these regions traded in humans (these were taken as slaves to the Americas), and when slave trade was abolished, they traded in palm oil, timber etc. in exchange for what the Europeans brought.

Lagos (Eko in Yoruba) was captured by British forces in 1851 and became a colony in 1861. In 1884, Calabar came under the protection of the British and was the capital of the Niger Coast protectorate until 1906. In 1897, the Benin Empire fell to the British and also became a colony. 

In 1886, the Royal Niger Company was chartered under the leadership of Sir Geroge Taubman Goldie, and in 1900, the territory under the control of this company (which covered territories on both sides of the Niger River from the Atlantic Ocean to Lokoja) as well as what would later come to be known as Northern Nigeria came under the control and administration of the British Empire.

On 1 January 1901, all the parts of modern-day Nigeria became a British protectorate and was grouped into Lagos Colony, Niger Coast (also known as Oil River Protectorate), and the Northern Protectorate. But for ease of administration and control, the Northern Protectorate, and the Southern Protectorate (made up of Lagos Colony and Niger Coast) were amalgamated in 1914.

Thus came into existence the country presently known as Nigeria. In 1897, the name “Nigeria” was coined by a journalist, Miss Flora Shaw, from the name of the largest river of the region – the Niger river. She would later become the wife of Frederick Lord Lugard.

The March Towards Independence

As time went on, the indigenous people of Nigeria started to call for independence from British colonial rule. 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.

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

Their struggles later bore fruits because on October 27 1958, Britain agreed that Nigeria would become an independent state; and at the turn of the clock at 12am on October 1 1960, Nigeria became an independent country. Hence, the Union Jack – the British national flag – was lowered, and hoisted in its place was the new Nigerian flag; just as the national anthem was changed from “God Save the Queen” to “Nigeria, We Hail Thee”.

Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was elected as the first Prime Minister, while Nnamdi Azikiwe became the new Governor-General. When Nigeria became a republic in 1963, Azikiwe became the first President.

Upon independence, Jaja Wachuku became the First black Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, replacing Sir Frederick Metcalfe of Great Britain. Notably, as First Speaker of the House, he also received Nigeria’s Instrument of Independence – also known as Freedom Charter – on October 1, 1960, from Princess Alexandra of Kent, the Queen’s representative at the Nigerian independence ceremonies.

See Also: A Look Into the History of Children’s Day