Historical Background and Pre-Colonial Nigeria
Nigeria is situated on a landmass of about 925,000 hectares in the western part of Africa. With a population of about 140 million people, it remains the most populous Black nation in the world having about 250 ethnic groups. There are three groups that are recognized as dominant. These are the Hausa/Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba.
The many different indigenous communities in what is known as Nigeria came under British rule in three ways; for this reason, Nigeria was divided into three.
Prior to the advent of the European colonialists, there existed numerous indigenous communities, which organized themselves internally by different methods. In the Northern part of Nigeria, there were the all- powerful Emirs who were both political as well as spiritual heads. In the West, there were the Yorubas who had Obas who were usually assisted by their chiefs-in-cabinets but were not as strong as the Emirs autocracy. In the East, there was the government by the age grades. With these in view and perhaps to fulfill their own selfish political and economic whims, the British Colonial Government adopted indirect rule for their colonies.
With this short history at the back of our mind, it should be relatively easier to understand the intricacies that trailed the activities of the colonial masters while their rule lasted.
Attempt a brief historical background of Nigeria before the intrusion of the colonial masters.
Pre – Colonial Nigeria
The advent of the Caucasoid into Nigeria could be traced to around 1472 when the first Portuguese vessel of adventurers came into Benin. They were followed slightly over eighty years thereafter by the British whose vessels berthed at the Benin- harbor around 1553.
The adventurous Mungo Park got to the Niger in 1796. Slave trade commenced immediately afterwards and to date, the Negroid world still
feels the indelible marks of this crime against her. No doubt, the Europeans were impressed by the industrious and hospitable nature of the indigenous African and this might have been the reason why the abolitionists found it difficult and nearly impossible to abort the practice that threw some of our fore-fathers into foreign lands and their pedigree into the Diaspora.
One most significant fact worthy of note is the fact that the name ‘Nigeria’, was said to have been suggested by a certain Miss Flora Shaw, a press correspondent in Cairo. In an article in January 1897, she wrote.
“In the first place, as the title Royal Company’s Territories is not only inconvenient to use, but to some extent is also misleading, it may be possible to coin a shorter title for the agglomeration of pagan and Mohammedan status which have been brought by the exertions of the Royal Niger Company, within the confines of a British protectorate and thus for the first time in their history, need to be described as an entity by some general name.”
Further to this, she suggested that:
“The name ‘Nigeria’ applying to no other portion of Africa, may without offence to any neighbours, be accepted as co-extensive with the territories over which the Royal Niger Company has extended British influence.”
It is on record that Miss Shaw later got married to Lord Fredrick Lugard, the first colonial Governor General of Nigeria. Following the acquisition by the British Government, the sovereignty of the indigenous societies divested to Britain. Accordingly, the legislative, judicial and executive powers of these territories were vested in the imperial Government without limitation.
By virtue of a 1863 Supreme Court Ordinances, native laws which were not incompatible with the due exercise of the power and jurisdiction were rendered enforceable.
What is the origin of the name Nigeria?