After the Napoleonic wars, the British expanded trade with the Nigerian interior and in 1885, the British claims to a West African sphere of influence received international recognition.
In the following year, the Royal Niger Company was chartered under the leadership of Sir George Taubman Goldie. In 1899, the charter for the Royal Niger Company was revoked by the British Government, and the sum of £865.000 was paid to the company as compensation. Subsequently, the entire territory of the Royal Niger Company came into the hands of the British Government.
On the 1st of January 1900, the British Empire created the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and the Northern Nigeria Protectorate.
In 1914, the area that was known as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria became amalgamated and was called Nigeria. Administratively, Nigeria remained divided into the Northern and Southern Provinces and Lagos Colony.
The amalgamation led to the development of a modern economy which proceeded more rapidly in the South than in the North. There was also a rise in Western education in the region.
After 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. Colonization came with many cultural effects including the substitution of local religions, traditions, and culture with the European ones. As a result of these changes, Nigerians began to agitate for freedom after so many years of the British rule.
Some courageous men started struggling for the awakening of the Nigerian national spirit. Although the British tried to stem the tide by creating several new constitutions that were supposed to calm down people’s rebellious moods. But these efforts were not effective enough to make people forget about their life under the colonial rule and abandon their intention to have freedom.
Consequently, the independence process started on the 27th of October 1958 when Britain agreed that Nigeria would become an independent state on 1 October 1960. This led to a series of changes. For instance, from 1959 to 1960, Jaja Wachuku was the First Nigerian Speaker of the Nigerian Parliament, also called the “House of Representatives.” Jaja Wachuku replaced Sir Frederick Metcalfe of Britain. Notably, as First Speaker of the House, Jaja Wachuku received Nigeria’s Instrument of Independence, also known as Freedom Charter, on 1 October 1960, from Princess Alexandra of Kent, The Queen’s representative at the Nigerian independence ceremonies.
On the 1st of October 1960, the Federation of Nigeria was granted full independence under a constitution that provided for a parliamentary government and a substantial measure of self-government for the country’s three regions.
The Federal government was given exclusive powers in defense, 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.
The political parties reflected the makeup of the three main ethnic groups. The Nigerian People’s Congress (NPC) represented conservative Muslims which were largely Hausa and Fulani people in the Northern Region. The Northern region comprises three-quarters of the land area and more than half the population of Nigeria. As a result of the population, it was easy to see why the North dominated the federation government from the beginning of independence. During the 1959 elections which was held in preparation for independence where the NPC captured 134 seats in the 312-seat parliament.
On the other hand, the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) captured 89 seats in the federal parliament making it the second largest party in the newly independent country. The NCNC represented the interests of the Igbo and Christian dominated people of the Eastern Region of Nigeria. There was also the Action Group (AG) which represented the interests of the Yoruba people in the West. In the 1959 elections, the AG obtained 73 seats.
The first post-independence national government was formed by a conservative alliance of the NCNC and the NPC. Upon independence, it was widely expected that Ahmadu Bello the Sardauna of Sokoto, the undisputed strong man in Nigeria who controlled the North, would become Prime Minister of the new Federation Government. However, Bello chose to remain as premier of the North and as party boss of the NPC, selected Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a Hausa, to become Nigeria’s first Prime Minister.
The Yoruba-dominated AG became the opposition under its charismatic leader Chief Obafemi Awolowo. However, in 1962, a faction arose within the AG under the leadership of Ladoke Akintola who had been selected as premier of the West. The Akintola faction argued that the Yoruba peoples were losing their pre-eminent position in business in Nigeria to people of the Igbo tribe because the Igbo-dominated NCNC was part of the governing coalition and the AG was not. The Federal Government Prime Minister, Balewa agreed with the Akintola faction and sought to have the AG join the government. The party leadership under Awolowo disagreed and replaced Akintola as premier of the West with one of their own supporters. However, when the Western Region parliament met to approve this change, Akintola supporters in the parliament started a riot in the chambers of the parliament. Fighting between the members broke out, chairs were thrown and one member grabbed the parliamentary Mace and wielded it like a weapon to attack the Speaker and other members. Eventually, the police with tear gas were required to quell the riot. In subsequent attempts to reconvene the Western parliament, similar disturbances broke out. Unrest continued in the West and contributed to the Western Region’s reputation for, violence, anarchy, and rigged elections.
Over the years, Nigeria as an independent nation has faced several problems; one of such was the civil war which took place between 1967 and 1970. However, the country has managed to stay together for 59 years of independence.