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What Was Nigeria Called Before It Became Nigeria?

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What Was Nigeria Called Before It Became Nigeria

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Nigeria, a diverse and culturally rich country in West Africa, has a long and fascinating history that dates back centuries. Before it became known as Nigeria, the land was referred to by various names by different groups of people who inhabited the region.

Understanding the historical context of Nigeria is crucial in comprehending its present-day society and culture.

In this post, we will explore the historical name of Nigeria and how it came to be known by its present-day name.

The Precolonial Era

Long before the arrival of European colonial powers, the area that is now Nigeria was inhabited by numerous indigenous ethnic groups. These groups had their own languages, cultures, and political systems. Some of the prominent pre-colonial kingdoms and empires in the region included the Kingdom of Nri, the Benin Empire, the Oyo Empire, and the Sokoto Caliphate.

The Kingdom of Nri, located in present-day southeastern Nigeria, was one of the oldest known centralized states in West Africa. It was a highly religious and political entity, known for its sacred institutions and revered rulers.

The Benin Empire, centered around the city of Benin (now in modern-day Edo State), was renowned for its advanced bronze artwork and skilled craftsmanship. The empire had a complex political structure and engaged in long-distance trade with other African kingdoms and European powers.

The Oyo Empire, situated in what is now southwestern Nigeria, was a powerful Yoruba kingdom. It had a centralized administration, a hierarchical social structure, and a renowned military force. The empire played a significant role in the transatlantic slave trade.

The Sokoto Caliphate, established in the early 19th century, was a Fulani Islamic state that covered a large part of what is now northern Nigeria. It was founded by Usman dan Fodio and aimed to spread Islam and establish a centralized administration based on Islamic principles.

These kingdoms had their own names for the land, reflecting their unique languages and cultures.

For example, the Yoruba people referred to the region as “Ile-Ife” or “Ife,” which translates to “the place of expansion” in their language. Similarly, the Hausa people called it “Gobir” or “Gwari,” while the Igbo people referred to it as “Ala Igbo” or “Igbo land.”

The Birth of Nigeria: The Royal Niger Company

Before Nigeria became a British colony, it was known by a different name. The entire territory was under the control of the Royal Niger Company, a British mercantile company established in the late 19th century.

The company’s purpose was to exploit the resources of the Niger River region, including trade in palm oil, rubber, and other commodities.

During this period, the region was referred to as the “Oil Rivers Protectorate” due to its significant palm oil production.

However, the Royal Niger Company eventually expanded its influence and control over a larger area, leading to the need for a new name.

The Emergence of Nigeria

In 1900, the British Empire took over the territory previously controlled by the Royal Niger Company. The British government decided to establish two separate protectorates: the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and the Northern Nigeria Protectorate.

The Southern Nigeria Protectorate encompassed the coastal regions and the territories around the Niger Delta, while the Northern Nigeria Protectorate covered the vast northern regions of the country.

These two protectorates were distinct in terms of their administration, culture, and demographics.

Over time, the British administration recognized the need for a unified administration in Nigeria.

The diverse ethnic groups, languages, and cultures within the country posed challenges to governance and prompted discussions about a more cohesive approach.

The Amalgamation of Nigeria

In 1914, the British government made a significant decision that would shape Nigeria’s future.

The Southern Nigeria Protectorate and the Northern Nigeria Protectorate were amalgamated into a single entity called the “Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.”

This amalgamation aimed to create a more centralized administration and facilitate economic development throughout the country.

However, it also had its challenges, as it required harmonizing the different systems of governance, legal frameworks, and cultural practices.

Following the amalgamation, Nigeria continued to evolve politically and socially. The country gained increasing autonomy and self-governance, leading to its independence from British colonial rule on October 1, 1960.

Nigeria’s Present and Future

Since gaining independence, Nigeria has faced various political, economic, and social challenges.

The country’s diverse ethnic and religious composition, along with economic disparities, have contributed to internal tensions and conflicts.

However, Nigeria also possesses immense potential for growth and development.

With its large population and abundant natural resources, the country has the opportunity to become a regional powerhouse and contribute significantly to Africa’s progress.

Efforts are being made to address the country’s challenges and build a more inclusive and prosperous Nigeria.

The government, civil society organizations, and the Nigerian people themselves are working towards fostering unity, promoting economic diversification, and improving social welfare.

The Meaning of Nigeria

The word “Nigeria” itself does not have a specific meaning in any of the local languages. It is believed to have been coined by Flora Shaw, the wife of the British colonial administrator Lord Frederick Lugard.

Shaw suggested the name “Nigeria” to describe the region, and it was officially adopted in 1914. The name was chosen to evoke a sense of unity and identity among the diverse ethnic groups inhabiting the area.


The history of Nigeria is a complex tapestry of colonialism, cultural diversity, and resilience.

From its origins as the territory of the Royal Niger Company to the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates, Nigeria has undergone significant transformations.

Today, Nigeria stands as a nation with immense potential and opportunities.

This article was updated 5 months ago


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