Nigeria; key historical events

Page last modified 24/3/2019


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9/11/2014, Islamic terrorists dressed in school uniforms set off suicide bombs at a school assembly.

14/4/2014, Islamic terrorists set off a bomb in Abuja, Nigeria, killing 70.

2/1999, Free Presidential elections took place in Nigeria, possible due to the death by a stroke of Abacha. They were won by a retired General, Olusegun Obasanjo.

1998, Under foreign pressure, Abacha agreed to ‘elections’. He authorised five ‘opposition’ parties, and funded them once they expressed support for his Presidency. Real political opponemts were imprisoned, some 7,000 in number, of whom some were shot by firing squads.

18/10/1998, 700 people died in a fire in southern Nigeria as they scavenged oil leaking from a pipeline.

10/11/1995, The Nigerian military government hanged the dissident Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists. They had been protesting against the exploitation of the Ogoni people and their lands by large oil companies. In particular, an oil leak from an old pipeline in August 1995 had polluted Ogoni lands. Oil and gas had been discovered in the Niger delta in 1957 and commercial exploitation began a year later. In 1995 oil accounted for 80% of Nigerian government earnings and 90% of foreign exchange earnings.

1993, Sani Abacha seized power in a coup. He proceeded to crush all dissent.

9/5/1987, Abufemi Awolowo, Nigerian politician, died.

27/8/1985, President Buhari of Nigeria was overthrown in a coup, and replaced by Major General Babangida.

1/1/1984, In Nigeria, a 19-member Supreme Military Council assumed power.

30/1/1983, Nigeria expelled Ghanaians from its territory.

31/7/1979, Nigeria seized British oil installations, in a bid to persuade Mrs Thatcher to take a harder line on Apartheid.

29/7/1975, A military coup in Nigeria.

12/1/1970. Nigeria’s civil war ended when the Biafran Army surrendered. The expected massacre of Biafrans by Nigerian soldiers never occurred; Gowon pursued a policy or reconciliation, with the line that Biafra had been ‘led astray’ by Ojukwu.

10/1/1970, At the last meeting of the Biafran Cabinet, General Ojukwu handed command to his Chief of Staff, General Effiong, and fled to Cote D’Ivoire. Morale in the Biafran Army finally cracked, with soldiers discarding their uniforms and mingling with refugees.

30/6/1969, The Nigerian Government seized control of all relief for Biafra. Two weeks later Nigeria decided to allow medical aid into Biafra but still banned food aid from entering.

27/3/1969, Harold Wilson arrived in Nigeria for talks with General Gowon.

2/7/1968, Britain offered famine relief to both Nigeria and Biafra. Biafra refused it whilst the Uk was still supplying arms to Nigeria.

31/5/1968, Nigerian – Biafran peace talks in Kampala, Uganda, broke down.

19/5/1968. Nigerian forces captured Port Harcourt in the civil war against the breakaway region of Biafra.

7/7/1967. Nigerian troops invaded the breakaway region of Biafra, see 30/5/1967. The Biafrans had, initially, the main oil reserves and the refinery at Port Harcourt, so were able to secure help and weapons from abroad. However they faced an overwhelmingly larger Federal Nigerian Army. The ruler of Nigeria, Gowon, faced the threat of regional secession and was determined to maintain the unity of his country.

30/5/1967. Biafra, 44,000 square miles, seceded from Nigeria under the military commander of the Eastern Ibo region, Odumegwu Ojukwu, starting a civil war. See 7/7/1967, 19/5/1968, and 12/1/1970.  Nigeria at independence in 1960 had a population of around 50 million, consisting mainly of Muslim Hausa and Fulani in the north, Catholic Ibos in the east, and Muslim Yorubas in the west. There was considerable enmity between the Ibos and the Muslims.  The Ibos had been priveliged over the northern Muslims under British rule, and enjoyed a higher standard of education.


In January 1966 a coup by Major-General Johnson Ironsi, an Ibo, replaced the civilian post-independence government, This coup provoked a massacre of Ibos in the northern Muslim regions. At end July 1966 a second coup, by northern Army officers, deposed Ironsi, who was then tortured and murdered. General Yakubu Gowon, a Christian from a minority tribe, now came to power. He tried to reassure the Ibos but hundreds of thousands of them fled to the eastern Ibo region for safety. Gowon planned to institute a 12-region federal structure for Nigeria, but the military Governor of the eastern region, Colonel Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, refused to accept this. Ojukwu was a wealthy Ibo, Oxford-educated, who declared the oil-rich Eastern Region independent on 30/5/1967 as Biafra, hoping for support from the oil multinationals. However Nigerian troops overran Biafra, over an extended time period, making Biafra a byword for mass starvation.


Biafran-controlled territory shrank, by September 1968, to a landlocked enclave 100km by 50 km. Ojukwu hired a Swiss public relations firm, Markpress, to plead his cause to the world. Markpress played the religious factor, painting (to the West) Ojukwu as a Christian under Muslim threat; Gowon countered that many on the Nigerian side, including Gowon himself, were also Christian. From August 1968 aid agencies began sending food aid to the starving Biafrans. France backed the Biafran side and sent military aid via Gabon and Cote D’Ivoire. Britain and Russia both backed the Nigerian side. Mercenaries under Colonel Rolf Steiner arrived to bolster the Biafran forces; this held back the Nogerian forces, however only prolonging the suffering of the Biafran people. Nigeria, unable to overcome Steiner’s men, settled upon bombing raids and blockade. Gowon blocked food aid, arguing it was being used as a cover for arms shipments.

29/7/1966, General Yakubu Gowon succeeded General Ironsi as ruler of Nigeria, after an army mutiny.

1/10/1963. Nigeria became a republic within the Commonwealth.

1/6/1961. Northern Cameroon joined the Federation of Nigeria.

1/10/1960. Nigeria became independent.

27/10/1959, The Queen’s Speech promised independence for Nigeria.

1937, Shell-BP began prospecting for oil in  Nigeria. Oil was discovered during World war Two, and commercial exploitation began in 1946.

11/3/1913, Britain and Germany agreed on the border between Nigeria and Cameroon.

1904, Nmandi Azikiwe, member of the Ibo community, the first President of independent Nigeria, was born at Zungeri in northern Nigeria. He was principal director of the African Continental Bank, becoming Governor General of independent Nigeria in 1960, and President when Nigeria became a Republic in 1963. He was overthrown by an army coup in 1966; the army officers were also mostly Ibo, and dod not harm Azikiwe but forced him into private retirement.

15/3/1903. The British completed the conquest of northern Nigeria.

3/2/1903, The British captured Kano from Nigerian rebels.

1/1/1900. Nigeria became a British protectorate. Previously the area had been under control of the Royal Niger Company. Frederick Legard became High  Commissioner of the territory.


999, Baguda became King of Kano (now in Nigeria).

950, The Igbo-Ukwu culture began flourishing in eastern Nigeria.


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