On October 1, 1960, Nigeria became the 3rd country in Africa after Ghana and Somalia to gain its independence from the British marking total control of governmental and economic affairs by the local government. In 1851, Lagos was seized by the British starting the gradual capture of the country under the crown.
In 1901, the country officially became a British protectorate but took its actual national shape in 1914 when the British successfully merged Southern and Northern Nigeria.
Before the invasion of the British, what is now known as Nigeria existed as several kingdoms. According to history, the area that is now known as Nigeria hosted most of the kingdoms and smaller states in West Africa as well as some of the most powerful kingdoms.
Many of these kingdoms still exist today with strong monarchs who are very much respected and revered in modern Nigeria; one of the oldest being the Nok Empire which is largely referred to as the Nok Civilization.
Here are 5 of the most powerful kingdoms to have existed before the amalgamation of Nigeria.
The Kingdom of Benin
The Kingdom of Benin is identified as one of the oldest and most advanced kingdoms in West Africa and Africa as a whole established by the Edo people who referred to their kingdom as Igodomigodo. The Kingdom dates back to the 11th century lasting until the 19th century and flourishing in wealth and dominance. By the 14th century, the Kingdom of Benin was at its peak with a strong military and social structure as well as dominating trade in the whole of West Africa.
The people of Benin traded in palm oil, ivory, rubber, textiles, coconut and cattle among other resources. The Oba, who is known as the King became a significant figure in West African history and had the people develop their own written language as well as textile which is now known as tie-dye. They also had a well-developed metal and artwork to which many bronze monuments are a reflection of.
The great wall of Benin, one of the longest man-made structure ever built protected the kingdom from attacks and especially western invaders who wanted to have total control of the land rather than just trade. By the 17th century, the Kingdom of Benin had total political control of western and parts of Southern Nigeria but started to decline towards the start of the 18th century due to the trade dominance of the British and several attacks by westerners to have total control over the lands.
In 1897, the British army defeated the Kingdom of Benin, killing and setting the kingdom on fire and looting many of its resources including several bronze monuments. The attack saw the end of one of Africa’s most successful kingdoms lost to the British. The kingdom still exists in Nigeria in what is now known as Edo state. The monarchy is also very functional with a powerful Oba (King).
The Nri Kingdom was an interesting kingdom known as the oldest kingdom in Nigeria and the cradle of the culture and civilisation of the Igbo tribe. It started in the 9th century and existed until it collapsed in 1911 on account of internal disputes, the slave trade, colonisation, British invasion and expansion of kingdoms like the Benin Kingdom.
The Nri Kingdom was established in the 9th century by Eze Nri, a traditional and spiritual leader who ruled for many years. The kingdom was founded on the principles of oneness with the Divine Creator. To attain such oneness, the people were expected to live their lives based on justice, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, peace and harmony.
The kingdom provided itself as a safe haven for exiled criminals, rulers or people from other kingdoms as well as runaway slaves seeking refuge and freedom again. The kingdom grew and flourished in trade until internal disputes weakened it and it was taken over by the Benin Empire in 1911.
The Hausa Kingdoms dominated what is now northern Nigeria reaching into parts of Mali and Ghana. For many centuries, the Hausa took over parts of Nigeria and expanded into other parts of West Africa thanks to their advanced army and brutal wars.
According to several academics, the Hausa land gained its power and dominance through the expansion of the Hausa trading people during the first millennium. The Hausa state developed mainly due to its advancement in trade and education of its people.
The Kingdom began as seven states started by rich merchants and traders with royal lineage who bought off smaller settlements. The history of the Hausa Kingdoms is rich, lengthy and complicated due to the existence of these seven states that contributed to the expansion of the kingdom at different times. Through extensive records, much of the history of the kingdom can be accounted for.
The Kingdoms fell due to internal wars between the seven states for absolute dominance met with external wars from the west to take over the kingdom. By the turn of the 19th century, the states had been weakened and taken over by the Fulani Empire and shortly after, by the British.
Kingdom of Onitsha
This is the most powerful Igbo state to have existed in ancient Nigeria between the 16th and 19thcentury. The city was founded by Igbo settlers who relocated from the Great Benin Empire at the start of internal conflicts between tribes. By the 18th century, other tribes had settled in the land expanding it and making it very industrious.
The people worshipped nature and other deities and had a powerful army that protected them. The Kingdom of Onitsha, through its Benin roots, was highly advanced and adapted easily to westernization through trade. Through its trade in oil, the Kingdom became very rich and powerful controlling much of the oil trade at the fall of the Benin Empire.
Many of its original settlers travelled and settled in other parts of the country and the language of the people of Onitsha now has different variations. Through the invasion of the British, the kingdom was destroyed and now exists as a city in Anambra state with an existing Oba (king) of the Onitsha monarchy.
The Yoruba Kingdoms
The Yoruba Kingdoms first started with the establishment of the Ile Ife Kingdom as far back as the 4th century. According to oral history, the Yoruba are one of the oldest known settlers in Africa. They trace back to the 7th century BC at the start of the Kingdom of Ile Ife which is now present-day Osun state. The Kingdom was a powerful one, trading with Egypt and other ancient Kingdoms in oil, cowries, copper, pepper and iron.
They worshipped God and other deities and had a King who they believed was chosen by God and served as a communicator between the living and the supreme being. The King was therefore very powerful and revered in the whole of West Africa.
At the turn of the 15th century, the Oyo Kingdom rose from the Ile Ife Kingdom to become a stronger and better-organized kingdom and taking over trade and military power in West Africa. The Kingdom rose and became stronger despite being exiled from the Yoruba state in the 16thcentury. It took control over the Fon Kingdom in modern-day Benin and established dominance over West Africa at the turn of the 17th century.
After a while, the king could not control the Kingdom due to its vast expansion thus a political system was organized. Its sophisticated political system is very similar to the western governance system with a Prime minister, council, governors and statesmen.
The Yoruba Kingdom saw its demise in the 19th century after a series of fights against the British. In 1851, when Lagos was captured, the British gained control over trade and by 1905, the last ruler of the independent Oyo state died.