3 History of Nigeria (1500-1800)


History of Nigeria (1500-1800)

The Savanna States

During the 16th century the Songhai Empire reached its peak, stretching from the Senegal and Gambia rivers and incorporating part of Hausaland in the east. Concurrently the Sayfawa dynasty of Kanem-Bornu reconquered its Kanem homeland and extended control west to Hausa cities not under Songhai authority. Largely because of Songhai's influence, there was a blossoming of Islamic learning and culture. Songhai collapsed in 1591 when a Moroccan army conquered Gao and Timbuktu. Morocco was unable to control the empire and the various provinces, including the Hausa states, became independent. The collapse undermined Songhai's hegemony over the Hausa states and abruptly altered the course of regional history.

Kanem-Bornu reached its apogee under "mai" Idris Aluma (ca. 1569-1600) during whose reign Kanem was reconquered. The destruction of Songhai left Borno uncontested and until the 18th century Borno dominated northern Nigeria. Despite Borno's hegemony the Hausa states continued to wrestle for ascendancy. Gradually Borno's position weakened; its inability to check political rivalries between competing Hausa cities was one example of this decline. Another factor was the military threat of the Tuareg centered at Agades who penetrated the northern districts of Borno. The major cause of Borno's decline was a severe drought that struck the Sahel and savanna from in the middle of the 18th century. As a consequence Borno lost many northern territories to the Tuareg whose mobility allowed them to endure the famine more effectively. Borno regained some of its former might in the succeeding decades, but another drought occurred in the 1790s, again weakening the state.

Ecological and political instability provided the background for the jihad of Usman dan Fodio. The military rivalries of the Hausa states strained the regions economic resources at a time when drought and famine undermined farmers and herders. Many Fulani moved into Hausaland and Borno, and their arrival increased tensions because they had no loyalty to the political authorities, who saw them as a source of increased taxation. By the end of the 18th century, some Muslim ulema began articulating the grievances of the common people. Efforts to eliminate or control these religious leaders only heightened the tensions, setting the stage for jihad.

Calabar States: Calabar Kingdom

Calabar Kingdom is an Ancient Kingdom that existed thousands of years before Christ. The City of Calabar was the seat of power of the Calabar Kingdom. According to Obong of Calabar, Edidem (DR./Professor Nta Elijah Henshaw), Calabar Kingdom covered the entire Akwa Ibom State, Cross River State, Western Cameroon, the offshore island of Fernando Po (now Equatorial Guinea), and extended into parts of present Abia State and Imo State (Vanguard, Monday, August 2, 2004, reported by George Onah). The indigenes of the old Calabar Kingdom were referred to as Calabar people (even at present day, some Nigerians still call indigenes of Akwa Ibom State and Cross River State as Calabar people).

The old Calabar Kingdom consisted of loosely governed states. The states included: Annang, Akamkpa, Efik, Ibibio, Ikom, Ogoja, Western Camaroon and the offshore island of Fernando Po (now Equatorial Guinea). The Kingdom was ruled by the Obong of Calabar, but his power was not very strong outside Calabar, that is outside the Efik State.

Leadership power in the Calabar Kingdom was derived from a major secret societies, the Ekpe Secrete Society. The Ekpe secret society of the Old Calabar Kingdom developed one of the major ancient African script, the Nsibidi written script.

The coastal ports of the Calabar Kingdom, especially the Calabar port made them the first group in southeastern parts of Nigeria to have contact with European traders and missionaries.

The Obong of Calabar signed a treaty with the British government in the 17th century that resulted in the Southern Protectorate of Nigeria with headquarter at Calabar, thus making Calabar the first Nigerian Capital City. After Nigerian independence in 1960, Western Cameroon opted to become a part of Cameroon because of the weakness and poor political leadership and relationship of people of the then Eastern Nigeria. Hence, parts of the Calabar people got divided into Cameroon. The Calabar Kingdom produced the first Nigerian Professor, Professor Eyo Ita, who was the pioneer champion of youth movement in Nigeria for independence. He later became the first Premier of the former Eastern Region of Nigeria, and a member of the Nigerian team that negotiated Nigerian independence in Britain.

During the Nigerian Civil War, the Calabar Kingdom became one of the original Nigerian twelve states, the Southeastern State of Nigeria which was later split into two states, the Cross River State and Akwa Ibom State.

The Igbo states

The Onitsha Kingdom, which was originally inhabited by Igbo, was founded in the 16th century by migrants from Benin. Later groups like the Igalas and Igbo traders from the hinterland settled in Onitsha in the 18th century. Another Igbo kingdom to form was the Arochukwu kingdom which emerged after the Aro-Ibibio wars from 1630-1720, and went on to form the Aro Confederacy which dominated midwestern and eastern Nigeria with pockets of influence in Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.

Igbo gods, like those of the Yoruba, were numerous, but their relationship to one another and human beings was essentially egalitarian, reflecting Igbo society as a whole. A number of oracles and local cults attracted devotees while the central deity, the earth mother and fertility figure Ala, was venerated at shrines throughout Igboland.

The weakness of a popular theory that Igbos were stateless rests on the paucity of historical evidence of pre-colonial Igbo society. There is a huge gap between the archaeological finds of Igbo Ukwu, which reveal a rich material culture in the heart of the Igbo region in the 8th century, and the oral traditions of the 20th century. Benin exercised considerable influence on the western Igbo who adopted many of the political structures familiar to the Yoruba-Benin region. Ofega was the queen.


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