Nigeria is an amalgam of ancient kingdoms, caliphates, empires and city-states with a long history of organised societies. Its boundaries were drawn as a result of trade (from slavery to pepper, salt and ivory) and the overseas territorial ambitions of Western European powers in the 19th century. The name Nigeria was adopted in 1898 to designate the British Protectorates on the River Niger. In 1914, the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria, and the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria were merged by Sir Frederick Lugard. The whole country then became known as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria and Lugard became its first Governor General ruling until 1919. Nigeria voted for independence from the British Crown in 1959; when its first federal elections were held. On October 1, 1960, Nigeria declared its independence from Britain.

The First Republic (October 1, 1960 - January 15, 1966)

After Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960, an all-Nigerian Executive Council lead by Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was created to lead the country. On November 16, 1960, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, a pioneer of West African nationalism, became the first Governor General of a Federation of three Regions: the North, the East and the West, with Lagos as the Federal Capital. Each of the Regions was headed by a Premier with a Governor as its ceremonial head. On October 1, 1963, Nigeria became a Federal Republic and severed what ties were left with Britain. However, the country decided to remain in the British Commonwealth of Nations. The Governor General's position was, therefore, re-designated as president.

On January 15, 1966, a group of army officers (popularly known as the Young Majors), overthrew the government and assassinated the prime minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, as well as the premiers of the northern and western regions. The bloody nature of the Young Majors' coup sparked a counter-coup led by Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi. However, the military government he instituted was unable to quiet the ethnic tensions that plagued the country or produce a constitution acceptable to all regions. Most fateful for the Ironsi government was the decision to issue Decree No. 34 on 24 May 1966. The decree, which sought to abolish the federal structure and ostensibly unify the nation, involved renaming the country the "Republic of Nigeria". Instead, it raised ethnic fears of a conspiracy by the southern tribes to take over the nation. This led to another coup by largely northern officers in July 1966 under the leadership of Major-General Yakubu Gowon.

The Nigerian Civil War

In 1967, Major-General Yakubu Gowon moved to split the four existing regions of Nigeria into 12 states. However, the military governor of the Eastern Region, Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, refused to accept the division. Coming on the heels of a number of massacres of Igbos in several northern cites, he viewed the move as a plot to destabilise the region, and declared the Eastern Region the independent Republic of Biafra. This led to a civil war between Biafra and the rest of Nigeria that started on July 6,, 1967, and continued until the Biafran secessionists surrendered on January 15, 1970. Over 1 million people died in the conflict.

End of the Second Republic

The Second Republic was the republican government which ruled Nigeria between 1979 and 1983, governed by the second republican constitution. Following the assassination of the Nigerian military head of state, General Murtala Mohammed in 1976, his successor General Olusegun Obasanjo initiated the transition process to terminate military rule by 1979. On October 1979, after more than 13 years of military administration, Nigeria returned once again to democratic rule. A new constitution, which saw the Westminster system of government that was used in the First Republic jettisoned for an American-style Presidential system, was drafted. The National Party of Nigeria emerged victorious in the presidential election held that year and Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Shagari was elected the first executive president.

However, the Shagari administration was ejected from power on New Year's Eve, 1983 by a military coup led by high-ranking military personnel. They accused the civilian government of economic mismanagement, widespread corruption, electoral fraud, and administrative incompetence as well as a general lack of concern for the problems of Nigerians. In December 1983, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was installed as the new head of state. He pledged to restore the country to prosperity and civilian rule, but his regime proved unable to deal with Nigeria's severe economic problems. Buhari was peacefully overthrown by his own Army Chief of Staff, Major-General Ibrahim Babangida, in August 1985.

The Third Republic

After an eight-year rule and several promises of a return to democratic rule, President Ibrahim Babangida finally oversaw a democratic presidential election on June 12, 1993 – with the inauguration of the new president scheduled to take place on August 27, 1993.

The historic elections, which most observers deemed to be the fairest in Nigeria's history, saw wealthy Yoruba businessman M.K.O. Abiola win a decisive victory. However, on June 23, for reasons that have never been quite clear, President Babangida annulled the election, throwing Nigeria into turmoil. Several thousands were killed in riots protesting the decision until Babangida agreed to hand over to an interim civilian government led by Ernest Shonekan, a prominent nonpartisan businessman, on August 27, 1993. Shonekan was to rule until the next democratic elections which were scheduled for February, 1994. However, on November 17, 1993, Defense Minister General Sani Abacha assumed power and forced Shonekan's resignation. Abacha dissolved all democratic institutions and replaced elected governors with military officers. Although promising the restoration of civilian rule he refused to announce a transitional timetable.

Following the annulment of the June 12 election and the nation's return to military rule, the United States and others imposed several sanctions on Nigeria, including travel restrictions on government officials and the suspension of arms sales and military assistance. On October 1, 1995, Abacha announced the timetable for a three-year transition to civilian rule. Only five political parties were approved by the regime and voter turnout for local elections in December 1997 was under 10%. On December 21, 1997 the government arrested General Oladipo Diya, along with ten officers and eight civilians on charges of coup plotting. The accused were tried before a military tribunal and Diya and eight others were sentenced to death, thus delaying the transition to democratic rule even further.

Abacha's government was accused of numerous human rights abuses, including infringements on freedom of speech, assembly, association, travel, and violence against women. He died of heart failure on June 8, 1998, and was replaced by General Abdulsalami Abubakar. The Abubakar government took steps toward restoring worker rights and freedom of association for trade unions, which had deteriorated seriously under Abacha. He also commuted the sentences of those accused in the alleged coup during the Abacha regime and released almost all known civilian political detainees.

The Fourth Republic

In August 1998, Abubakar appointed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct elections for local government councils, state legislatures and governors, the national assembly, and president. The INEC successfully held elections on December 5, 1998, January 9, 1999, February 20, and February 27, 1999, respectively. Former military head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, freed from prison by Abubakar, ran as a civilian candidate under the auspices of People's Democratic Party (PDP) and won the presidential election. The Abubakar administration had promulgated a new constitution based largely on the suspended 1979 constitutionand it included provisions for a bicameral legislature, a national assembly consisting of a 360-member House of Representatives and a 109-member Senate.

On April 21, 2007, following a controversial general election, Umaru Yar'Adua of the PDP was elected President. Following Yar'Adua's unexpected death on 5 May, 2010, his vice-president Goodluck Jonathan became the third president of the Fourth Republic. On September 15, 2010, Jonathan announced on Facebook that he had decided to run for re-election; he was the first Nigerian president to declare his re-election bid via social media. On April 18, 2011, Jonathan was re-elected as the nation's 14th head of state.

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