An Atlas of African Affairs

By Andrew Boyd; Patrick Van Rensburg | Go to book overview

20. Nigeria

In October 1960 Nigeria became independent (in the Commonwealth) with a democratic parliamentary system. Its population is over 35 million people -- more than all the rest of West Africa.

Nigeria is a federation, with three regions -- North, West and East -- each with its own assembly and ministers, and a federal capital at Lagos (a fourth region based on Benin has been proposed). In the Western and Eastern regions, the Yoruba and Ibo peoples are respectively dominant; but there is more natural unity between these rain-forest regions than between them and the dry pastoral north. The Northern region, with over half the whole population, is dominated by conservatively inclined Moslem peoples, in particular Fulani and Hausa.

The Yoruba, who suffered severely from the slave trade, long maintained a centrally organized kingdom, with a tradition of urban settlement (Ibadan -- pop. 400,000 -- is the biggest truly African city); but they were largely subjugated in the 19th century by the Fulani, whose emirates in the north survived British rule. Before the Fulani conquests, there had also been long established Hausa states in the north-west. Hausa is a widely used lingua franca (C, E).

European contacts with Nigeria were long confined to slave trading posts on the coast and the lower Niger>. Lagos was annexed in 1861. In the 1880s and 1890s the chartered Royal Niger Company extended its control northward; in 1900 the British government took over and by 1906 Nigeria's frontiers were roughly established, although it took a long time to subdue the Fulani emirs. 'Indirect rule' through the emirates (the chief being Kano, Sokoto, Katsina and Bornu) and, in the west, through Yoruba chiefs, was the policy of Lugard, the first governor-general, and today the emirs still dominate northern politics.

Pressure for independence built up first in the south, where the first elected African representatives in British tropical Africa entered the legislative council in 1922. In the early 1950s the north held back, fearing domination by the south; but by 1957 there was a unanimous demand for independence, though the regions still had to settle disputes over minorities, in particular the non-Moslem 'middle belt' peoples (such as the Tiv -- C) who make up a third of the north's population.

At and after independence, the federal prime minister, Sir Abubakr Tafawa Balewa (a northerner, but not a Fulani), headed a coalition government based on the Northern People's Congress, the

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