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African Kingdoms

West Africa


Modern Nigeria
AD 1960 - Present Day
Incorporating Heads of State (1960-2023), Federation of Nigeria (1960-1963), First Republic (1963-1966), Federal Republic of Nigeria (1966-1979), Republic of Biafra (1967-1970), Second Republic (1979-1983), Military Rule (1983-1999), & Third Republic (1999-On)

Nigeria is located on the southern coast of West Africa, one of a jumble of smaller states along the Gulf of Guinea, although in fact Nigeria is just about the biggest of these. The state is bordered to the east by Cameroon, to the north-east by Chad, to the north by Niger, and to the west by Benin. The modern 'Federal Republic of Nigeria' has its capital at Abuja, virtually dead-centre in the country, which has its own administrative area called the 'Federal Capital Territory'.

Modern Nigeria is an amalgam of several older states (or parts of states), many minor tribal kingdoms, and even more tribes, all of which were largely merged together by imperial British control into two regions: the 'Southern Nigeria Protectorate' and the 'Northern Nigeria Protectorate'. The southern protectorate was itself a merger of the 'Niger Coast Protectorate' and territories which were under the control of the Royal Niger Company. The 'Lagos Colony' was added to this in 1906.

After 1900 the northern protectorate encompassed territory from the former Benin empire and the later Sokoto caliphate (with the latter covering much of what is now northern Nigeria). To this were added areas of the defeated Bornu empire which formerly had been under the command of the Zobeir dynasty from 1902. This territory lay to the immediate north-east of the aforementioned caliphate, that corner of modern Nigeria which borders Chad and Niger. Amalgamation in 1914 between the northern and southern protectorates was largely due to financial necessity, with the north running a deficit.

With the advent of independence from Britain in 1960 (the transition process was completed in 1963), Nigeria's Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa led a coalition government during the remainder of the 'Federation of Nigeria' period (formed in 1954), and the 'First Republic' period. However, in 1961, the Nigerian region of South Cameroon decided to join the neighbouring republic of Cameroon, while North Cameroon remained within Nigeria.

On 24 May 1966 the parliamentary system was abolished when the 'Federal Republic of Nigeria' was declared. This was the country's first coup, but it immediately set a precedent which would be repeated time and time again until the end of the twentieth century.

In the following year, 1967, the eastern region of the country - comprising three states - seceded as the 'Republic of Biafra', although this was generally not internationally recognised. These areas had lain outside the former Benin empire and Sokoto caliphate, and its people felt that they could not be dominated by these more populous regions. While this break-away territory was eventually pulled back into Nigeria (largely non-violently after a brutal war), elements in the Sokoto north have caused longer-lasting problems with their wish for an Islamic-dominated state.

Since independence the titular oba has had no political power. However, as a surviving relic of the Benin empire he is still recognised as a symbol of authority. Successive holders of the title are shown below with a shaded background to highlight the fact that they have been sidelined. Several military seizures of official power have been headed by army officers, and these are shown with a normal background as it was these people who ran the country. Rival claimants to control of the nation are shown with a shaded background and with their names in green text. Biafra leaders are shown in red text.

Gulf of Guinea Africa

(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information from Washington Post (2 October 1993, 9 June 1998, Biafra War (27 February 1999), Obituary of Muhammadu Maccido (1 November 2006), Digest (18 March 2010), Nigerian president loses battle with heart ailment (6 May 2010), Digest (11 January 2013 & 12 January 2013), Digest (10 March 2015), Nigeria's neighbors join war on extremists (1 April 2015), Ex dictator wins Nigerian election (12 April 2015), and The center of Boko Haram's brutality (19 January 2017)), and from External Links: Premium Times of Nigeria (dead link), and History of the Newly Elected / Appointed Oba of Benin (Daily Mail - dead link), and BBC Country Profiles, and Abacha leader with an iron grip (BBC News), and The Ooni of Ife (dead link), and Nigeria (Rulers.org), and Nigeria (Zárate's Political Collections (ZPC)), and Bola Tinubu to become Nigeria's president (The Guardian), and Abuja - FCT (Villa Afrika).)

1960 - 1978

Akenzua II

Titular Benin oba from 1933. No political power. Died 1 Dec.

1960 - 1963

Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe

Native governor-general during transition. NCNC.

1961 - 1963

On 1 October 1961, the southern part of the British-controlled Cameroons territory unites with the new nation state of Cameroon to form a federal republic. The northern part of the British-controlled Cameroons territory remains within the new Nigerian state. Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe becomes its first president in 1963, when full independence is achieved.

Nigerian independence celebrations
As so often in Africa when granted independence from a colonial empire, Nigeria's 1960 start on the transition period towards full independence in 1963 was greeted with festivals and celebrations, but violence set in within just six years

1963 - 1966

Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe

Former governor-general. Now first president. Overthrown.


In January, Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa is assassinated during a coup. Major-Gen Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi is now in command of a military administration, ending the brief 'First Republic' period (1963-1966).


Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi

Army major-general who lead a coup (Jan-May). Killed.


The 'Federal Republic of Nigeria' is declared on 24 May 1966 (and lasts until 1979). A counter-coup is launched in July and Ironsi is killed. This time Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon heads up the administration.

1966 - 1975

Yakubu Gowon

Army lieutenant-colonel who lead a counter-coup. Usurped.


Partially in response to ongoing regional ethnic tension and external attacks in 1966, the Ibo people of three eastern states secede from the country to form their own independent state. This is known as the 'Republic of Biafra' but it is not internationally recognised except by a few other African states. Nevertheless the act does spark a bloody civil war, known as the Biafran War or Nigerian Civil War.

Biafra in Nigeria
Nigerian troops are seen here in Port Harcourt in 1968, following fierce fighting over one of Biafra's main cities

1967 - 1970

C Odumegwu Ojukwu

Biafra president and military leader. Died 2011.


Philip Effiong

President (8-12 Jan only). Fled to Ivory Coast. Died 2003.


The Washington Post amongst many others covers the military defeat of forces which have been fighting on behalf of the republic of Biafra. The three eastern regions are reintegrated into Nigeria after its leaders surrender, but face ongoing problems with deliberate isolation and minimal investment on Nigeria's part.


Yakubu Gowon is overthrown and flees to Britain. He is replaced by Brigadier Murtala Ramat Mohammed, who begins the process of moving the federal capital to Abuja at the very centre of Nigeria.

1975 - 1976

Murtala Ramat Mohammed

Army brigadier. Assassinated.


Mohammed is assassinated during a failed coup attempt. He is replaced by his deputy, Lieutenant-General Olusegun Obasanjo, who helps to introduce an American-style presidential constitution.

1976 - 1979

Olusegun Obasanjo

Army lieutenant-general. Oversaw the move to elections.

1979 - 2016


Son of Akenzua. Born 22.06.1923. Died before 29.04.2016.


Elections bring Alhaji Shehu Shagari to power and, perhaps remarkably, he manages to retain it. This ends the 'Federal Republic of Nigeria' period which had started in 1966, and begins the 'Second Republic' period which lasts until 1983.

The Nigerian capital of Abuja
Since the late 1970s the 'Federal Capital Territory' (FCT) of Abuja has served as the capital of Nigeria, now being one of the wealthiest urban areas in Africa which is home to some of the richest people on the continent

1979 - 1983

Alhaji Shehu Shagari

President, elected freely and fairly. Usurped by coup.


Ghanaians have been migrating into the country during a period of disruption in their own country, but in January 1983 the government expels more than one million foreigners, mostly of them Ghanaians, stating that they have overstayed their visas and are taking jobs from Nigerians.

The move is condemned abroad but proves popular in Nigeria. Between August-September 1983, President Shagari is re-elected amid accusations of irregularities. The situation boils over in December when Major-General Muhammad Buhari seizes power in bloodless coup. The 'Second Republic' is ended.

1983 - 1985

Muhammad Buhari

Army major-general. Seized power in a coup. Deposed.


Muhammad Buhari now curtails political activity as various forms of military rule replace a democratic republic until 1999. The 1970 constitution is suspended amid claims that 'a flawed democracy is worse than no democracy at all'.


Ibrahim Babangida seizes power in another bloodless coup, and he also curtails political activity. Buhari is imprisoned for a time, but is eventually released unharmed (and returns as a democratically-elected president in 2015).

1985 - 1993

Ibrahim Babangida

Army major-general. Seized power in a coup.

1993 - 1998

In June 1993, the military annuls elections when preliminary results show a victory for Chief Moshood Abiola. In August power is transferred to an interim 'National Government'.

General Ibrahim Babangida of Nigeria
General Ibrahim Babangida, known as IBB, ruled Nigeria between 1985-1993 after displacing Muhammadu Buhari in a coup, but prior to that he served the Nigerian army during the Nigerian Civil War and was also involved in several other coups

General Sani Abacha emerges from obscurity in November to take over the presidency. He is the latest in a long line of military rulers in post-independence Nigeria and, like his predecessors, he is determined to maintain an iron grip on power.

He proves himself to be a master of political craftsmanship by establishing five political parties, and then having them all approve his unopposed candidacy for an elected presidency. Only his death following a spell of ill health in 1998 ends his 'elected' rule.

1993 - 1998

Sani Abacha

Army general. Took over 'elected' presidency. Died.


Sani Abacha faces a minor crisis when Moshood Abiola declares himself president. Abiola is arrested, and dies in custody in 1998. Curiously (or not), this is just a month after the death of Sani Abacha himself.

Nigeria is being run very much like a medieval monarchy, with seizures of the throne and eligible (or otherwise) contenders proclaiming their own position at the top and then being defeated and imprisoned.

However, the former regions of Biafra are now witnessing a more militant brand of secessionists. They each want Biafra to be restored and their number includes the 'Indigenous People of Biafra', the 'Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra', and the 'Biafra Zionist Front'.

General Sani Abacha
General Sani Abacha secured power during the transfer to an interim government and the elections of 1993, but turned out to be no different from any of the military officers who had seized power in the past


Moshood Abiola

Claimant to the presidency. Arrested and died.

1998 - 1999

Abdulsalami Abubakar

Army major-general. Oversaw elections in 1999.


Parliamentary and presidential elections are held in 1999, with Olusegun Obasanjo being sworn in as president. Despite the apparent return of democracy in a 'Third Republic', the country's misery has not yet ended.

1999 - 2007

Olusegun Obasanjo

President. People's Democratic Party.


This year sees the adoption of Sharia law by several northern states in the face of opposition from Christians. Tension over the issue results in hundreds of deaths in clashes between Christians and Muslims.


Tribal war flares up in Benue state in 2001 (located in eastern-central Nigeria). This displaces thousands of people. Troops which are sent to quash the fighting manage to kill more than two hundred unarmed civilians, apparently in retaliation for the abduction and murder of nineteen soldiers.


In early August 2003, Nigeria leads an African peacekeeping force into Liberia in order to help separate the opposing parties in that country's ongoing civil war.

Nigerian peacekeeping forces in Liberia in 2003
Nigerian peacekeepers (including women amongst their number) were generally welcomed by the Liberian populace

2006 - 2007

In August 2006, Nigeria agrees to cede sovereignty over the disputed Bakassi peninsula to neighbouring Cameroon under the terms of a 2002 International Court of Justice ruling. In April 2007, Umaru Yar'Adua of the ruling People's Democratic Party is proclaimed the winner of the presidential election.

2007 - 2010

Umaru Yar'Adua

President. People's Democratic Party. Died in office.


Despite Nigeria having agreed in August 2006 to cede sovereignty over the disputed Bakassi peninsula to neighbouring Cameroon, it takes two years to achieve this. In August 2008, following agreement in March that year, Nigeria finally hands over the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, ending a long-standing dispute.

2009 - 2010

Hundreds die in north-eastern Nigeria after the Boko Haram Islamist movement launches a campaign of violence in a bid to have Sharia law imposed over the entire country. The movement is loosely modelled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, but it suffers an early setback when security forces storm Boko Haram's stronghold and kill its leader. Violence between Muslims and Christians continues elsewhere in the country.

In May 2010 May, President Umaru Yar'Adua dies after a long illness and is succeeded by Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, who has already been fulfilling the duties of the president during the progression of the late president's illness.

Boko Haram
In 2009 Boko Haram carried out a spate of attacks on police stations and other government buildings in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state in far north-eastern Nigeria

2010 - 2015

Goodluck Jonathan

President (acting until 2011). Former vice-president.


In December, Christmas Eve bomb attacks near the central city of Jos kill at least eighty people. Further attacks which are claimed by Boko Haram spark even more clashes between Christians and Muslims. Some two hundred are killed in reprisal attacks.


In March 2011, Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan wins the presidential elections, confirming him in the role he has already performed for a year or more.

In August a suicide bomb attack on the UN headquarters in Abuja kills twenty-three people, with Boko Haram again claiming responsibility. Following December 2011 Christmas Day bomb attacks by Boko Haram on churches, President Jonathan declares state of emergency in an attempt to contain the violence.

2014 - 2015

The violence has not been contained. In April 2014 more then two hundred schoolgirls are kidnapped from a boarding school in the northern town of Chibok. In August, Boko Haram proclaims a caliphate in territory which it controls in the north-east, and in November the group launches a series of attacks in north-eastern Nigeria, capturing several towns near Lake Chad and running raids into neighbouring Chad and Cameroon in early 2015.

Girls captured by Boko Haram
Boko Haram's seizure of two hundred girls from a northern Nigerian boarding school won it worldwide news coverage and a whole new wealth of enemies, although little could be done to free the girls - in the meantime some of the girls have escaped or have been found

This forces Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger to form a military coalition against Boko Haram, which claims successes in pushing it back in all of these countries. The Nigerian army captures Gwoza, which it believes is Boko Haram's main stronghold, in late March 2015, leaving the armed group with only two towns under its control.


The winner of Nigeria's presidential poll is Muhammadu Buhari, the country's former military dictator between 1983-1985. He hails his victory as proof that the nation has embraced democracy. He is the first opposition candidate to win a presidential election in Nigeria.

His opponent, Goodluck Jonathan, congratulates him and relinquishes power peacefully, urging his supporters to accept the outcome. The threat of Boko Haram in the north has played a large part in the election's outcome.

2015 - 2023

Muhammadu Buhari

President. All Progressives Congress.


The death of Oba Erediauwa of the former Benin empire is announced on 29 April 2016, but without stating precisely when he had died or of what causes. As the oba and also a former federal permanent secretary to the government, his death is accorded reverential national coverage, even though it is believed by many Nigerians that his passing (seemingly related to an illness) had taken place long before the formal announcement.

The late Odo Erediauwa of Nigeria
Born on 22 June 1923, Oba Erediauwa was christened Prince Solomon by his grandfather, Oba Eweka II, after his then-crown prince and heir apparent, Oba Akenzua II, presented him as a newborn

2016 - Present

Eheneden Erediauwa / Ewuare II

Son of Erediauwa. Born 1953. 39th oba of Benin.


Bola Tinubu is declared the winner of the country's elections on 25 February 2023. The overall turn-out of twenty-nine percent is the lowest in Nigeria's democratic history. The result is challenged in the courts by Labour presidential candidate Peter Obi, who comes third, and by the second-placed opposition People's Democratic party (PDP) which is led by Atiku Abubakar.

2023 - On

Bola Tinubu

President. All Progressives Congress.

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