For more than a thousand years before European colonial conquest in the 1800s, the area in and around
Portuguese explorers arrived off the coast by the 1470s. Soon, European powers were trading liquor, cloth and guns for slaves. Slavery existed in
The slave trade had devastating consequences. How much it reduced the total African population is disputed, but the most serious effects were social, political and economic. The slave trade helped foster wars, raiding and exploitation of the weak by the powerful. Rulers who refused to participate were pushed aside by Big Men – rulers or merchants who used the system to increase their power and profits. During the 19th century, following abolition by
Late in the century,
The slogan “Divide and Rule” guided British policy. Although the north and south were formally consolidated in 1914, disparities in education and religion were reinforced. In the north, the British limited Christian missions, restricted education, and strengthened the feudal rulers. In 1939, the British separated eastern and western
Resistance to colonial rule took many forms. Women’s resistance to taxation led to a revolt in
Nigerians, along with other West Africans, were pioneers in agitating for independence in the 1950s, with leading roles played by soldiers returned from service in World War II, workers, and both urban and rural communities.
In 1966, an attempted coup failed to bring its authors to power, but led to the government handing over power to a military government headed by an officer from the east. This was followed by massacres of easterners living in the north, and yet another coup led by northern officers. The following year, eastern leaders declared independence under the name of
Successive military governments promised to return
Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, taking power in 1985 within the military regime, again promised to restore civilian rule. But he repeatedly adjusted the timetable. He imposed two political parties created by the military, both of which chose wealthy Muslim businessmen as presidential candidates. One of the candidates, however, media magnate and philanthropist Chief Moshood Abiola, from southwestern
In a June 1993 election, Abiola won 58% of the vote. Even in the north, he won 43% and carried 4 of 11 states. But General Babangida annulled the election. This precipitated a political crisis that was used by Gen. Sani Abacha to seize power in November 1993, while Babangida retired with enormous wealth to become the behind-the- scenes king-maker.
Under Abacha both corruption and repression reached new highs. His regime detained thousands of labor leaders, pro-democracy activists and others. Protesters in the oil-producing region were brutally suppressed. In November 1995, the regime executed writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other leaders of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People.
From 1993 to 1999, Nigerian pro-democracy activists at home and in exile led a sustained campaign for a return to democracy. Inspired by Saro-Wiwa and the plight of the Ogoni in the Niger Delta, environmental activists campaigned against the complicity of multinational oil companies. International human-rights and antiapartheid groups turned their focus to
Western and African governments also joined in pressuring the Abacha regime, but they refused to impose the stronger sanctions the pro-democracy movement demanded. After the execution of
Suddenly, in June 1998 General Abacha died in the run-up to elections, and was succeeded by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar. Next, Moshood Abiola, the winner of the 1993 election, died in prison under suspicious circumstances in July 1998. With the military still in control, new presidential and parliamentary elections were held in February 1999 to return