The Nok people of central Nigeria produced the earliest terracotta sculptures ever to be found in the country. A Nok sculpture resident at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, portrays a sitting dignitary wearing a "Shepherds Crook" on the right arm, and a "hinged flail" on the left. These are symbols of authority associated with ancient Egyptian pharaohs, and the god Osiris, and suggests that an ancient Egyptian style of social structure, and perhaps religion, existed in the area of modern Nigeria during the late Pharonic period.
In the northern part of the country, Kano and Katsina had recorded history dateing back to around 999. Hausa kingdoms and the Kanem-Bornu Empire prospered as trade posts between North and West Africa. At the beginning of the 19th century under Usman dan Fodio the Fulani leaded the centralised Fulani Empire which continued until 1903 when the Fulani population and land were divided into various European colonies. Between 1750 and 1900, between one to two-thirds of the entire population of the Fulani jihad states consisted of slaves.
The Yoruba kingdoms of Ifẹ and Oyo in the southwestern block of Nigeria became prominent around 700-900 and 1400 respectively. However, Yoruba mythology states that Ile-Ife is the source of the human race and that it predates any other civilisation. Ifẹ also produced terra cotta and bronze figures and Ọyọ once extended from western Nigeria to Togo. Arguably the most powerful and prominent kingdom in the whole of Nigeria's history was also located in southwestern Nigeria, the Kingdom of Benin. Benin's power lasted between the 15th and 19th century. Their dominance reached as far as the city of Eko (a Bini name later changed to Lagos by the Portuguese) and further.
In southeastern Nigeria the Kingdom of Nri of the Igbo people flourished from the controversial date of around the 10th century until 1911, making it the oldest kingdom in Nigeria. The Nri Kingdom was ruled by the Eze Nri. The city of Nri is considered to be the foundation of Igbo culture. Nri and Aguleri, where the Igbo creation myth originates, are in the territory of the Umeuri clan, who trace their lineages back to the patriarchal king-figure, Eri.
Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to begin trade in Nigeria in the port they named Lagos and in Calabar. The Europeans traded with the ethnicities of the coast and also negotiated a trade in slaves, to the detriment and profit of many Nigerian ethnicities. Following the Napoleonic Wars, the British expanded trade with the Nigerian interior. Consequently many of the citizens of the former slave nations of the British Empire are descended from a Nigerian ethnic group.
In 1885 British claims to a West African sphere of influence received international recognition and in the following year the Royal Niger Company was chartered 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 January 1, 1901 Nigeria became a British protectorate, part of the British Empire, the foremost world power at the time. Many wars against subjugation had been fought by the states of what later became Nigeria against the British Empire in the late nineteenth and early 20th century. Notably of those were the British Conquest of Benin in 1897 and the Anglo-Aro War from 1901-1902. The restraint or complete destruction of these states opened up the Niger area to British rule.
In 1914, the Niger area was formally united as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. Administratively, Nigeria remained divided into the northern and southern provinces and Lagos colony. Western education and the development of a modern economy proceeded more rapidly in the south than in the north, with consequences felt in Nigeria's political life ever since. Slavery was not finally outlawed in northern Nigeria 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 was granted full independence in October 1960 under a constitution that provided for a parliamentary government and a substantial measure of self-government for the country's three regions. From 1959 to 1960, Jaja Wachuku was the First black Speaker of the Nigerian Parliament – also called the House of Representatives. Wachuku replaced Sir Frederick Metcalfe of Great Britain. Notably, as First Speaker of the House, Jaja Wachuku 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.
The federal government was given exclusive powers in defence, foreign relations, and commercial and fiscal policy. The monarch of Nigeria was still head of state but legislative power was vested in a bicameral parliament, executive power in a prime minister and cabinet, and judicial authority in a Federal Supreme Court. Political parties, however, tended to reflect the make up of the three main ethnic groups. The NPC (Nigerian people's Congress) represented conservative, Muslim, largely Hausa interests, and dominated the Northern Region. The NCNC (National Convention of Nigerian Citizens), was Igbo- and Christian-dominated, ruling in the Eastern Region, and the AG (Action Group) was a left-leaning party that controlled the Yoruba west. The first post-independence National Government was formed by a conservative alliance of the NCNC and the NPC, with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a Hausa, becoming Nigeria's first Prime Minister. The Yoruba-dominated AG became the opposition under its charismatic leader Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
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