History of Nigeria: Lesson for Kids

Lesson Transcript
Michael Gott

Mike is a veteran of the New Hampshire public school system and has worked in grades 1-12. He has a Master's of Education specializing in Social Studies.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

Discover the history of Nigeria, a country in West Africa. Follow the region's many changes from its earliest settlement by the Nok in 800 BCE, through the challenges of colonialism and slavery, how Nigeria gained independence, and Nigeria today. Updated: 12/21/2021

Early Residents of Nigeria

Have you ever had to choose between two options you did not like? Sometimes there's no good choice. After being controlled by England for hundreds of years, the people of Nigeria established an independent government that soon became corrupt. Most Nigerians, though, choose to support the corrupt government over the terrorist group kidnapping their children.

On the land now known as Nigeria, the earliest settlement was formed in roughly 800 BCE at the Jos plateau by the Nok people. Their civilization and culture continued to expand until the 1400s, when Portuguese explorers reached the western coast of Africa. This contact led to the Atlantic slave trade and sent millions of Africans to the Americas for the next 200 years. The Atlantic slave trade involved Europeans taking slaves from Africa and traveling to the Americas to sell them. They would return to Europe with the money before leaving for Africa again to get more slaves.

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  • 0:04 Early Residents of Nigeria
  • 0:56 England's Influence
  • 1:40 Nigerian Independence
  • 2:07 Democracy Is Established
  • 2:27 Nigeria Today
  • 3:04 Lesson Summary
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England's Influence

In the early 1800s, the tribes within Nigeria began a series of civil wars based mainly upon tribal identity and the ability to control areas of land. In this climate, the British arrived. Through sheer military force, England took control of the land. Once English dominance was established, the land became known as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. This was the first time the land was known as Nigeria in any form.

The British banned slavery and established indirect rule, meaning England chose people and groups to control areas in Nigeria. These groups were allowed to stay in power as long as they raised enough money and resources for England. These chosen groups were often accused of exploiting the people of Nigeria in order to continue paying England for the authority to rule.

Nigerian Independence

Nigeria gained its independence in 1960 and then separated into three distinct regions, with Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa overseeing them. The regions were divided for both geographical reasons and ethnic identity. However, separating along ethnic lines led to distrust. The death of Balewa in 1966 caused war to break out in Nigeria, which continued until 1975, when Murtala Ramat Mohammed took control of Nigeria.

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Additional Activities

Prompts About the History of Nigeria:

Definitions Prompt:

Provide the definitions of the terms that are in bold from the lesson (Atlantic slave trade, indirect rule, Boko Haram). Each definition should be one to two sentences in length.

Tip: It may be helpful to draw a map to illustrate the definition of the Atlantic slave trade.

Timeline Prompt:

Create a timeline that depicts the major events in the history of Nigeria. Begin your timeline in 800 BCE with the Nok settlement and end your timeline in 1983, when democracy ended in Nigeria.

Example: There was a civil war between 1966 and 1975.

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay of one paragraph that explains the European (especially British) influence on Nigeria.

Example: When the British took over Nigeria in the 1800s, they banned slavery.

Essay Prompt 2:

In one paragraph, write an essay that answers the following questions: What happened when Nigeria gained independence? Why has democracy struggled to flourish in Nigeria?

Example: Democracy has had a hard time taking hold in Nigeria because it is a nation with many ethnic and geographical divides.

Poster Prompt:

Make an informational poster about current conditions in Nigeria today. Make sure that your poster mentions the influence of Boko Haram.

Example: Military generals have been controlling Nigerian oil fields, which gives them great power.

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