Have you ever wondered where the name Nigeria came from? You’ve probably never thought much about it, but Nigeria’s name actually has an interesting origin. The area of West Africa that makes up present-day Nigeria was home to many ethnic groups with different languages and cultural practices.
The British established the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, named after the Niger River that flows through the region. Read on to learn more about the history of Nigeria, Who named her, and everything it entails.
An Overview of the Nigerian History
Nigeria has a long history and was home to many ancient and indigenous kingdoms, empires, and societies before the British arrived. The Nok, Sokoto, and Oyo empires were some of the most powerful kingdoms. Benin Kingdom, Borgu Kingdom, Fulani Empire, Hausa Kingdoms, Kanem Bornu Empire, Kwararafa Kingdom, Ibibio Kingdom, Nri Kingdom, Nupe Kingdom, Oyo Empire, Songhai Empire, Warri Kingdom, Ile Ife Kingdom, and Yagba East Kingdom are the early independent kingdoms and states that comprise the present-day state of Nigeria.
Islam arrived in Nigeria in the 11th century via the Bornu Empire between (1068 AD) and the Hausa States around (1385 AD), while Christianity arrived in the 15th century by Augustinian and Capuchin monks from Portugal to the Kingdom of Warri. Part of the territory was also occupied by the Songhai Empire. From the 15th to 19th century, the Songhai Empire was one of the largest Islamic empires in West Africa. The British later took control and unified Nigeria into one country in 1914, merging the Southern and Northern protectorates.
European slave traders began arriving in the region in the 15th century to purchase enslaved Africans as part of the Atlantic slave trade, which began in the region of modern-day Nigeria; the first Nigerian port used by European slave traffickers was Badagry, a coastal harbor. Local merchants supplied them with slaves, exacerbating disputes among the region’s ethnic groups and disrupting earlier trading routes along the Trans-Saharan route.
Lagos was formally acquired by Britain in 1865 after being seized by British forces in 1851. In 1901, Nigeria became a British protectorate. The country was under British sovereignty until 1960 when an independence movement resulted in its independence. Nigeria declared a republic in 1963 but fell under military administration after a bloody coup in 1966.
In 1967, a separatist movement established the Republic of Biafra, sparking a three-year civil war in Nigeria. Nigeria reverted to being a republic after a new constitution was drafted in 1979. The republic, however, was short-lived, as the military seized power again in 1983 and reigned for ten years. A new republic was supposed to be founded in 1993, but General Sani Abacha hindered it. Abacha died in 1998, and a fourth republic was founded the following year, in 1999, ending three decades of intermittent military administration.
The country is home to more than 250 ethnic groups who speak over 500 languages. The three largest and most dominant ethnic groups are the Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo, who make up two-thirds of the population. Nigeria has the highest population of any country in Africa and the sixth highest population in the world. With over 200 million people, Nigeria is a powerhouse in West Africa.
Who discovered Nigeria, and when?
Who discovered Nigeria, and when? Portuguese explorers first found the West African Territory, now known as Nigeria, around 1472. Joo de Santarém, Pero Escobar, Lopo Gonçalves, and Ferno do Pó were among the Portuguese explorers who explored the region in search of a sea route to Asia.
When the Portuguese explored modern-day Nigeria, they discovered established civilizations that were on par with those of Europe. When the Portuguese arrived in Nigeria, it was dominated by four great kingdoms: the Hausa and Borno kingdoms in the north and the Oyo and Benin kingdoms in the south.
These kingdoms’ indigenous industrial, agricultural, and aesthetic traditions were already advanced. The Portuguese established trading relations, particularly with Benin. This commerce eventually led to the Atlantic slave trade, which resulted in the enslavement of almost 3.5 million Nigerians.
Who Gave Nigeria Her Name?
In the late 19th century, the British established the Oil River Protectorate in the Niger Delta. The protectorate expanded and was renamed the Niger Coast Protectorate. At the same time, the Royal Niger Company was granted a charter to the lands of the Emir of Zaria in 1886. The protectorate of Northern Nigeria was proclaimed at Ida in 1897, and Southern Nigeria’s protectorate was proclaimed in 1900.
The naming of Nigeria came about on January 8th, 1897. Dame Flora Louise Shaw suggested the name ‘Nigeria’ for the British protectorate of Southern Nigeria in an article she wrote for The Times.
Using the exact words from her article in The Times on the 8th of January, 1897, she stated that “the name Nigeria, applying to no other part of Africa, may without offense to any neighbors be accepted as coextensive with the territories over which the Royal Niger Company has extended British influence and may serve to differentiate them equally from the colonies of Lagos and the Niger Protectorate on the coast and from the French territories of the Upper Niger.”
On January 1, 1914, the British formally united the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and the Northern Nigeria Protectorate into the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. The governor of both the Northern Nigeria Protectorate and the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria signed a document consolidating the two, thereby creating the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.
In summary, Nigeria, as the name of the country, was coined by Flora Shaw in 1897 and was adopted in 1914 when the Northern and Southern Protectorates were amalgamated by Lord Fredrick Lugard. The name ‘Nigeria’ was adopted as the official name in 1960 when it gained independence from Britain.
Why Was the Name “Nigeria” Chosen?
The name “Nigeria” was chosen because it highlights the country’s location along the Niger River. The Niger River is West Africa’s largest river, winding through much of Nigeria and several surrounding countries. The name “Nigeria” has been used informally since the late 19th century to refer to the region surrounding the Niger River. Upon independence, Nigeria’s leaders formally adopted the name to represent unity among Nigeria’s diverse ethnic groups and its future as an independent nation.
The name of the neighboring Republic of Niger is derived from the same river. The name Niger is thought to be an iteration of the phrase “egerew n-igerewen,” which was widely used by Tuareg residents who lived near rivers. Others think the name means “black.”
The name “Nigeria” signifies the country’s history, geography, and hopes for the future as a unified, independent country.
What was Nigeria Called Before It Was Named Nigeria?
The country we now know as Nigeria was home to many ancient kingdoms and empires, each with its own name.
The United African Company (UAC) was founded in 1879 by a British man named George Goldie, who used it to control the lower areas of the Niger River. Later, the company was given a charter to govern the whole Niger Delta. So, before Flora’s adoption of the name Nigeria, the entire territory under its jurisdiction was known as the Royal Niger Protectorate. The company’s charter was revoked a few years later, forcing George to sell his shares to the British Government.
Before Flora Shaw suggested the name Nigeria, other competing names included “Royal Niger Company Territories,” “Central Sudan,” “Niger Empire,” “Niger Sudan,” and “Hausa Territories.”
In 1914, the northern and southern protectorates were amalgamated into one colony called Nigeria by the British. The name ‘Nigeria’ comes from the Niger River, which flows through the country. The British took the name ‘Nigeria’ from the Niger River, “Niger Area” and appended ‘-ia’ to form the name of the new colony.
In summary, Nigeria has gone through many name changes and transitions throughout history based on different rulers, colonists, and events. It has evolved from individual tribes and kingdoms to protectorates and, finally, the unified Federal Republic of Nigeria that exists today.
A Brief Biography of Flora Shaw
Dame Flora Louise Shaw, Lady Lugard, was a British journalist and writer who coined the name ‘Nigeria’ in 1897. She was born on 19 December 1852 in Woolwich, London, United Kingdom. She was the fourth of fourteen children, the daughter of an English father, Captain (later Major General) George Shaw, and a French mother, Marie Adrienne Josephine.
Flora worked as a journalist for The Times of London and was their colonial editor. In her role, she wrote about colonial affairs in British West Africa. During her visit to the region in 1897, she suggested the name ‘Nigeria’ for the British protectorate along the Niger River. The name was adopted by the British and has remained since Nigeria gained independence in 1960.
Shaw was close to three men who exemplified empire in Africa: Cecil Rhodes, George Taubman Goldie, and Sir Frederick Lugard. After resigning from The Times in 1900, two years later, on June 10, 1902, she married Lord Fredrick Lugard. She joined him as Governor of Hong Kong (1907-1912) and Governor-General of Nigeria (1914-1919). He was made baron in 1928, and she was made Lady Lugard. They had no children.
Sadly, Flora died of pneumonia on January 25, 1929, at the age of 76 in Surrey, England. She continued to write books about colonialism in Africa until her death. Though Flora only visited Nigeria briefly, her legacy lives on in the country’s name, which she thoughtfully chose over 120 years ago. Her insightful articles and books helped shape Britain’s policies in West Africa during a formative time.
Frequently Asked Questions about Nigeria’s History
Many people wonder about the origins of Nigeria’s name and history. Here are some commonly asked questions and answers:
Who named Nigeria?
Nigeria was named by Flora Shaw, a British journalist and writer. Shaw suggested the name ‘Nigeria’ for the British colony in an 1897 Times article. The name was formally adopted later.
What does the name Nigeria mean?
The name Nigeria comes from the Niger River, which was named by Europeans in the 19th century. The Niger River got its name from the Latin word “Niger” meaning ‘black’ due to the dark color of the river water. So the name Nigeria literally means ‘river black’ or ‘river of blacks’.
What was Nigeria called before it became Nigeria?
Before becoming Nigeria in 1897, the area was referred to as the British Niger Territories, the Niger Coast Protectorate, and the Royal Niger Company Territories. These were all unofficial names used to describe the British claims in the region from the mid-19th century until Nigeria became the official name.
When did Nigeria gain independence?
Nigeria gained independence from Britain on October 1, 1960. Nigeria had been a British colony since 1914, so 1960 marked the end of British rule and Nigeria becoming a sovereign nation.
So there you have it, the story of how Nigeria got its name. Lord Fredick Lugard was the first Governor-General of Nigeria from January 1914 until August 1919. formally named the new nation in 1914. While the word ‘Nigeria’ itself comes from the Niger River, the river that flows through much of the country, the actual choice of the name came from Flora Shaw.
Though Nigeria has a rich history stretching back centuries before 1914, that year marked the first time the collection of tribes, kingdoms, and peoples within the British colony of Nigeria came to share a common name and identity.