Europeans undertook exploration, trade and mission activities along the west coast of Africa in the 15th century. The Portuguese were the first to do so, building trade with the Kingdom of Benin, Lagos and other areas along the coast. The Portuguese domination of these trade routes was dominated in the 16th century by the British, the French and the Dutch, with the slave trade becoming very important. The slaves were taken from Nigeria to work in the plantations of the Americas. During this period, the territorial landscape known today as Nigeria has lost a large number of people in the slave trade. Some estimate that more than 3.5 million slaves were sent from Nigeria to the Americas.

The British governed the slave trade off the Nigerian coast in the 18th century. But with the rise of the industrial revolution in Britain in the nineteenth century, the focus on trade shifted from “slaves” to “raw materials” for factories. Most of these raw materials needed in new industries were important in African soils, which fueled the European desire to invade African soil. In the 19th century, Britain began to penetrate into Nigeria, encountering much resistance from indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples could not compete with the superior firearms of Britain.

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It should be noted that many other European countries fought for control of Nigeria’s territorial lands before Britain took control. Lagos was the first part of Nigeria to conquer and declared a British colony in 1861. From there, the strategy to gain additional parts of what would become Nigeria was planned and executed until the major part of what is now Nigeria was under British control in 1905. The entire southern part of Nigeria was conquered from about 1850 to 1897 and the northern part of the country from about 1900 to 1914.

When the British moved to Nigeria, they encountered a lot of resistance from the native people who lived there. For example, Oyo and the kingdom of Itsekiri in the south experienced a great fight before submitting to the military forces of Great Britain. To the north, the British High Commissioner for Northern Nigeria, Captain Lugard was appointed and began to conquer the northern territories. Their military forces found great resistance in Sokoto, Kano, and many other cities. In these places, many people demonstrated around Islam to resist the British. Most of northern Nigeria at that time was part of the Sokoto caliphate, which was formed by a series of jihad in the 19th century. The British were often regarded as infidels and their conquest as possible signs of the end of time. Ironically, many British settlers thought Africans were infidels, who had to convert to Christianity. In the end, military resources and British tactics of division and conquest made them conquerors.

After all, northern and southern Nigeria has been conquered to control them. Lord Lugard first joined northern and southern Nigeria in a single colony in 1914. Lord Lugard set up a system of indirect government in Nigeria, which allowed the British to govern through customary authorities and structures. This system tended to work better in the north, but it has encountered some problems in the south. Part of the problem was that the British had invented customary “chiefs” in the south of the country, which the population had not necessarily recognized or respected. It should be noted that the European invasion of African soil was born only for selfish reasons and never for the well-being of indigenous peoples. This fueled the agitation of indigenous peoples for independence.


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