Nigeria lies between latitudes 40N and 140N and Longitudes 20 east and 150 east of the Greenwich Meridian. This is an area of 922,200 square kilometers (356,000 square miles). To travel from the west to the east is a distance of 1,120 kilometers (700 miles) from the south to north of the country about 1,040 kilometers (650 miles). It is bounded in the north by the Sahara Desert and in the south by the Gulf of Guinea, an arm of the Atlantic Ocean. Seen on a map, Nigeria can best be described as an approximately square expanse of vast territory divided into three unequal parts by a rough letter Y, which is formed by the confluence of that majestic African river, the Niger, with its chief tributary, the Benue, on its coastward journey to the Atlantic Ocean, into which it merges in the mangrove forests that line the intricate network of the Niger Delta.
Nigeria, being the most populous country in Africa, has been described as “the giant of Africa, benevolent hegemony”, etc. Nigeria with a population of approximately 150 million divided among three hundred and fifty ethnic groups practicing the two dominant monotheistic religions of Islam and Christianity and with a few still devoted to their African gods. Nigeria is also phenomenally endowed country with billions of barrels of crude petroleum and huge gas deposits, one of the largest in the world, abundant agricultural land and sunshine, untapped solid mineral of all kinds, coal rivers that are harnessed for hydro-electricity and above al, a virile and highly sophisticated and educated people.
Nigeria is indeed a land inhabited by a people of varied ethnic origin and culture, whose ancestors settled in the area that is now known as Nigeria in successive waves over many centuries. Among the chief ethnic groups that occupy Nigeria are the Hausa, Yoruba, Ibo, Kanuri, Fulani, Ibibio, Tiv, Ijaw, Edo, Efik, Nupe, Urhobo, Ekoi, Borgu and a host of other smaller groups each with its own tongue and specific cultural practices. However, underlying the diversity of the various group/peoples of Nigeria, is the deep current of cultural unity characteristic of all black Africa. At the north, east and west borders of Nigeria are Nigeria, Cameroon/Chad and Benin Republic respectively. Aggressive coastal erosion and flooding of the coastal villages and towns, a ravaging gully and bad land erosion of the eastern region characterized the land mass.
There is aggressive desert encroachment from the north due to climatic changes and human activities (such as deforestation from fuel wood and overgrazing).
There is frequent flooding when rivers overflow their banks. Reservoir flooding is also a common occurrence. Besides, Nigeria gained independence in October 1st 1960. Since the first coup d’ et al in 1966, the country has been unstable, with so many coups. However, Nigeria was divided into four main geographical zones: Zone 1 is along the coast where rainfall mostly of swamps.
The area is served by many rivers and creeks. Rainfall is high and spread over about eight (8) months in the year; Zone 2 is the forest region where rainfall is also heavy and the vegetation is made up mostly of the thick forest; Zone 3 is the semi-Savanna Zone which lies between the forest Zone and; Zone 4 the true Savanna Zone, in the north. Here the main geographical features are grassland and the low incidence of rainfall. The Sahara desert is not far away. It is important to note at this juncture, however, the special position which the River Niger has held in the country. It is not surprising that the country has taken its name from the river.
We must note that the river is unlikely to have taken its name from the colour, black or niger, used to describe Simeon of the period of the Apostles (Acts 13:1), or from the Afro-Americans carried across the Atlantic as human cargoes. It was once suggested that the river had been called Nigeir or Nigir from the second century and derived from the Latin word “black”. Other suggestions have been that Nijer was the name given by an African community to the river, or that the Greek word for river is Naghar. Whatever the root of the word “Niger”, it is sufficient for us to note that the word Nigeria was first used to describe the country by a British Lady, Flora Shaw. Needless to say, the peoples of Nigeria have a history which stretches far back into the past; in the Savannah Lands and plains north and west of the river Nigeri, the Kanuri, Hausa, Fulani, Borgu, Nupe, Jukun and Yoruba people evolved well organized states of varying size, while the powerful Benin state lay in the forest lands immediately west of the Niger, and the Ibos, the Efiks and the people of the Niger Delta occupied the eastern bank of the Niger in political units of varied nature and size.
One of the greatest medieval empires to establish itself in the grassland of the western Sudan was that of Kanem-Bornu, which was first, establish in the Lake Chad region towards the eight century, and whose latter-day rulers, the Kanuri, now live mostly in the north eastern part of Nigeria. Bornu’s position at the receiving end of one of the most ancient trade routes across the Sahara from Cairo through the Fezzan to Lake Chad enabled it to develop rapidly as a leading commercial and political centre. Several centuries of development under the able leadership of Shehu El Kanemi in the nineteenth century, Bornu was the only major state in northern Nigeria to withstand the Fulani Jihad of Usman Dan Fodio.
To the west of Bornu were the seven Hausa states – Daura, Kano, Zau Zau (Zaria), Gobir, Katsina, Rano and Biram which had a history only a little less ancient than that of Bornu itself. Each of the Hausa states traced its origin to a common ancestor, called Bayajidda (or Abuyazidu) who is said to have come across the desert to Bornu from Arabia and gone from thence to Daura where he killed a sacred snake that had long prevented the people of Daura from drawing water from the local well. The queen of Daura married him and bore him a son, Bawo, who in turn had six sons who became the Kings of Daura, Kano, Zau Zau, Gobir, Katsina and Rano. These were known as the Hausa Bakwai (the seven Hausa states), the seventh being Biram. There is however no doubt that the history of the Hausa – speaking peoples stretches much further back than this, and it would appear that Hausa states had been in existence for a long time before the advent of Bayajidda. Although there are considerable ethnic and cultural differences among the various Hausa speaking groups, the seven Hausa states developed a common language, Hausa, and retained a close form of association in which the western state of Gobir was entrusted with the task of defending of other states from invasions from the west, while Kano, Katsina Rano and to a lesser extent Daura were commercial and industrial centres and Zaria was to guard Hausa land against the pagan people to the South.
In addition, the Hausa believe that a number of other states, to which they refer as Banza Bakwai (illegitimate Hausa) and which are listed as Kebbi, Nupe, Gwari, Yauri, Yoruba and Kwararafa (Jukun) have related origins to the Hausa states. One source even identifies the Queen of Daura who married Abuyazziri as a decedent of Lamurudu, who is the father of the legendary ancestor of the Yoruba people. In the nineteenth century, the Fulani, a pastoral people partly settled in Hausa land, rose in a holy war against the Habe ruler of the Hausa states, and under the inspired leadership of Othman Dan Fodio succeeded in conquering all of Hausa land which they welded into a vast empire that the descendants of Othman Dan Fodio ruled from the new capital of Sokoto. To the south were the Yoruba kingdoms, also with a very long historical past.
The Yorubas would appear to be the descendants of two main groups of people, one, an older indigenous stock whose religious centre was the city of Ife, and the other of the name stock as the founders of Bornu and the Hausa states. A myth of origin which reflects the latter element states that the Yoruba kingdoms were founded by Oduduwa, son of an Arabian or Nubian king name Lamurudu. As a result of internal strife, Oduduwa was driven out of his father’s kingdom in the east (possibly in the region of Nubia). After long wandering, he conquered the people of Ife and settled there. Out of his seven children, six became the crowned rulers of Yoruba land and another, the ancestor of the rulers of Benin. by the sixteenth century, the Yoruba kingdom had developed into a highly organized empire under the sway of the state of Oyo, and at its height this empire covered an area reaching from the banks of the Niger to the present boundaries of Togo. In the nineteenth century the Yoruba kingdoms fell victim to civil-wars and suffered immensely from the demand of the slave trade, while part of the northern reaches of the Empire were conquered by the Fulanis.
Further south in the first hands, the kingdom of Benin which claimed relations to the Yorubas, had also developed into a highly organized state in medieval times. Benin was one of the first Nigerian state to visited by the Portuguese, and the Oba of Benin sent an ambassador to the court of Portugal early in the sixteenth century. All the states whose history we have briefly discussed, as well as a host of others including Nupe, Borgu, and Jukun people, as well as the Ibo – Benin States of Onitsha and Asaba on the River Niger attained a high level of material property and cultural development. Thus, although present-day Nigeria is a new country with arbitrarily carved out frontiers, it is by no means an agglomeration of petty tribes with few relations between each other, but on the contrary contains people with a long historical past who had achieved remarkable political organization in the past and had long been in contact with each other.
History is essentially a dynamic and continuous process. The West Africa we observe today represent a specific moment in time, just as a photograph of athletes in the middle of a race freezes the runners in one specific moment in time. We may admire the photograph and the attitude of the athletes caught in that moment of time but it is not complete by itself and can only be fully appreciated if one knows that the athletes are in the middle of a race at that given moment and have not been standing all their lives in the position in which the photograph was taken. Similarly, West Africa has a long history behind it and the physiognomy we observe at present is by no means a frozen reality, but a moment in the flow of history.
Africa has known in the past great nations and empires that brought together within their fold a wide variety of peoples. The nation-building process continued over several centuries before the European conquest. One after the other, the great empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai had brought together many of the peoples of the Western Sudan in one single political entity. Askia Mohammed Toure, the greatest of the Songhai emperors, ruled over an empire that covers virtually the whole of West Africa from the Atlantic Coast in the West to Northern Nigeria as far as Agades in the East. Even as late at the Nineteen century, the Fulani Jihad had unified the Hausa speaking peoples of northern Nigeria in a vast empire ruled from Sokoto which extended as far south as the northern fringes of Yoruba land westward into the northern part of present-day Dahomey. British colonization of Nigeria was only different from the past attempts at setting up large-size nations in that the unifying element came from an external force, but this is by itself nothing new in history.
A nation may be formed in two ways: internal conquest by one group which imposes its rule on the other component groups and than evolves a unified political entity with their participation, or external conquest by an outside group which forces the dominated groups into a new political entity forming part of its empire. The former may be said to be a case in countries like Japan, China or Russia, while the latter is true of countries like Britian or India. The British colonization may best be described as a unifying element which, although provided by an external factor, nevertheless had the result of welding the peoples of Nigeria into a single political unit. The point that must be stressed here is that although no Africa disputes the fact that the present boundaries of African states are in a sense artificial, the general desire is to break down these barriers to form larger units, not to regress by falling back into a multitude of mini-states.
The apparent diversity of Africa ethnic groups is fundamentally misleading: underlying this apparent diversity there is in fact a very deep cultural unity. Within Nigeria itself, we have seen has in the Hausa myth of origin a number of other Nigerian peoples ranging from the Yoruba to the Jukun, the Nupe, etc, are said to be an offshoot of the Hausa-speaking tribes, while the Benin ruling dynasties are of Yoruba origin. Similarly, some of the Ijaw people in the Niger Delta claim to have come from Ife, the Yoruba spiritual home, while the Onitsha and Asaba Ibos claim to have originated from Benin. Many of the Nigerian languages belong to the same language groups, and animist, religious practices are basically similar all over Africa. It is against this background of deep cultural unity that the apparent diversity of African peoples must be viewed: Africa is in fact fundamental one.
Be that as it may, its role in the development of international organizations in Africa cannot be over emphasized. Nigeria over the years, have been an active player in the development of international organizations in Africa and in other parts of the globe and in conflict prevention, management and resolution in Africa and the rest of the world despite the myriads criticisms from many countries including those in Africa and their non-appreciation of the role of Nigeria in the development of Africa, and their claims that Nigeria is playing host to many contradictions, socially, politically and economically, to the extent that Nigeria’s quest for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council is seen as inconsistent with the domestic situation Nigeria has been championing the case of the whole of Africa. The survival and the development of international organization would have been futile without Nigeria as catalytic agent.
Nigeria’s contributions and her role in the reversal of the phantom coup in Sao Tome and principle during the Leon Sullivan Summit in Abuja in 2003 is a case in point. Emphasis must also be made on her role under the fourth republic, as well as the critical areas of Nigeria’s intervention, such as the Chairmanship of the African Union (AU) under President Olusegun Obasanjo, Africa Peer Review Mechanism, coverage of the African Union in the Nigerian press, peacemaking and peacekeeping among others. To understand Nigeria’s decision to promote the establishment of a West African Economic Community and other organisations, one must first understand the evolution of Nigeria’s foreign policy since independent.
Nigeria played a crucial, if not critical role in the movement that culminated in the establishment of ECOWAS. The motivation for this commitment to a West African Economic Community lies more in politics than in economics in the short run. Although the economic gains of integration are not discounted, it appears the diplomatic leverage have in what was perceived as an increasingly polycentric world, featured more in the calculations of those who actively championed the establishment of ECOWAS. By the time of her independence, Nigeria’s foreign policy guidelines had been formulated by the departing colonial power. These were embodied in a maiden foreign policy statement made by the first civilian prime minister on 20 August 1960 just a few months before formal independence. According to him, Nigeria would follow an independent policy founded on Nigeria’s interest and consistent with the moral and democratic principles on which our constitution is based. Paradoxically, it is Nigeria’s own dominant position in the region and the implication of her leader’s commitment to the western model of development in circumstances (National as well as Global) hostile to such a course that may well be the most formidable obstacle to the emergence of the community. Indeed, it can be argued that ECOWAS drew considerable strength from the successful negotiation which had been concluded by the EEC with the combined representatives of African, Caribbean and Pacific states as contained in the Lome convention.
This unity in the face of a strong and equality United Europe (not withstanding some minor differences within the EEC) impressed, Nigerian leaders in a way that an Economic Community of West Africa, modeled after the European Economic Community, was an immediate imperative. This conviction led Nigeria to expand a lot of her resources in the campaign for the establishment of ECOWAS.