A few citizens of South Africa don’t know who Nigerians are.
Although black South Africans suffered immensely due to racist ideas and racist oppression, I have observed that racism has become internalized by some, not all, South Africans and those individuals are unable to see greatness in others, only absurd stereotypes about Nigerians.
So, allow me to re-introduce us, particularly the Nigerians you haven’t met yet, who have no plans to come to your country.
We are Africa’s most populous country and its largest economy. Nigeria makes up 3% of the world’s population, 20% of Africa’s population, and is the 7th most populous country on earth.
We accommodate at least 372 nations; people groups each with its own unique languages, cultures and shared histories. There is no other African country with this level of diversity.
Some of the smartest, richest and most creative Africans come from Nigeria. Achievements are not new to Nigeria.
Largest African Empires of all time
The largest Empire in African history was founded by a native from among the Faru people of Sokoto, Sonni Ali. Under his rule, Songhai Empire reached a size of over 1,400,000 square kilometers, exceeding the peak size of the Axumite kingdom.
The extent of the Songhai Empire at its peak under Sonni Ali
The second largest Empire in African history was founded by a Fulani man from Nigeria, Usman Dan Folio. Usman Dan Folio was a Fulani who was born in Gobir. He belonged to the Toronkawa clan. The state he founded in 1804 would go on to shape Nigeria later in 1914 when the Southern Protectorate of Nigeria was merged with the Northern Protectorate of Nigeria.
While South Africans are proud of the Zulu kingdom, it will shock you to discover that over the last 3,500 years Nigeria has produced more than 100 political states.
- Nok civilisation
- The Aro Confederacy
- The Benin Kingdom
- The Hausa kingdoms (Gobir, Katsina, Zaria etc.)
- The Ife Kingdom
- The Igala kingdom
- The Itsekiri Kingdom
- The Kanem Bornu Empire
- The Kwararafa Federation
- The Nri Theocracy
- The Nupe kingdom
- The Oyo Empire
An illustration of the Benin kingdom, a pre-colonial empire located in what is now southern Nigeria. Pic credit: Melanin Mind
Largest cities in Africa
Lagos is the most populous state in Nigeria and also the most populous state in the whole continent of Africa. Lagos is 35% of the size of the whole of South Africa. Lagos is also one of the fastest growing cities in the World, and a major financial centre in all of Africa. The Lagos city was settled in the 15th century and founded by the Awori subgroup of the Yoruba. The city has a total population of 21 million people and has an area coverage of 452.23 square miles (1,171.28 square kilometers) and a population density of 17,800 per square mile (6,871 per square kilometer). The population growth rate of Lagos is between 2 to 3% annually. Lagos also generates about $90 billion annually to the GDP of the country, the economy, unlike most areas in the country, is not dependent on oil production but depends on manufacturing, transportation, construction, and other sectors of the economy. The GDP of Lagos is 26% of the entire GDP South Africa managed in 2019.
Kano is one of the top 15 largest cities in Africa. Kano city is the capital of Kano state in the North Western part of Nigeria. The origin of Kano (and the concomitant Hausa states) dates back to between the 5th and 7th century of our era, the earliest recollection of female queen and matriarch called Queen Magajiya Kofana, Queen of the Kufufu. Modern Kano city is regarded as the commercial center of the Northern part of the country and also the second largest city in Nigeria after Lagos. Geographically, it is located in the Sahelian region, south of the Sahara.
Largest People Groups in Africa
4 of the largest tribes in Africa are to be found in Nigeria. These include the Fulani (the sixth largest in Africa with 40 million people), the Igbo (3rd largest with 45 million people), the Yoruba (the 2nd largest with 47 million people) and the Hausa (with 74 million people).
Other Great Historical Icons of Nigeria
Herbert Macualay (1864 – 1946)
Macauley was a founding member of the first majority-indigenous political party – the The Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP).
The party was formed to be able to partake in the 1923 elections after Nigerians secured a new 1922 Constitution which included an elective principle allowing Nigerians to take part in government decision-making. Herbert Macauley’s political organisation with its Newspaper Lagos Daily News, championed the national cause during its time. Impressed by the various activities of his organisation he was dubbed “The Moses of our age” by the Royal House of Buguma of the Kalabari Kingdom in South-South Nigeria. And is considered by most Nigerians as the founder of nationalism in Nigeria.
Some notable activities of the organisation at the time include: demands for the colonial government to develop the country’s resources; the reform of the provincial courts; criticizing the colonial government over the income tax of 1927; extension of the indirect rule to Lagos; demand for equal economic opportunities for Nigerians; demand for compulsory education for Nigerians; demand for the development of higher education institutions in the country, this led to the establishment of Yaba College in 1932 and marked the beginning of the emergence of higher education institutions in Nigeria.
The NNDP paved the way for later movements such as the National Youth Movement (NYM), founded by professor Eyo Ita in Lagos 1934 and the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC).
Sir Tafawa Balewa
Independence Leader, and first Prime Minister of Nigeria
Chief Obafemi Awolowo GCFR
Chief Obafemi Jeremiah Oyeniyi Awolowo, GCFR, played a key role in Nigeria’s independence movement, the First and Second Republics and the Civil War. He was also a former Finance Minister of Nigeria.
Olusegun Obasanjo (1937 to present)
Olusegun Obasanjo has twice served as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa. Each time he has left power peacefully, handing over a democratically elected government. He coordinated the writing of the 1979 constitution and the 1999 constitution (2 out of the 13 constitutions used by the people of Nigeria since it was amalgamated by Britain). Few African presidents have made positive contributions to their countries and left power peacefully. Olusegun Obasanjo is remarkable for having done so twice.
Oranyan (12th / 13th century AD)
Founded the Oyo Empire (1200 to 1840)
The first Kabara (queen) of Daura and the earliest known monarch of the Hausa states (5th century AD to 1804 AD).
Oba (king) Igodo
The earliest known king of the Benin Kingdom (lived around the 4th century).
The earliest king of the Kanem-Bornu Empire (lived around the 8th century ~785AD). There is a complete kings list from 785 AD to 1893 AD.
Founder of the Nri Kingdom of the Igbo (948 to present). There are two ideas about the origin of Eri. One theory goes that Eri was a divine being sent by Chukwu (God), to make peace, cleanse abominations and provide foods for the Igbo people. Thus in this theory, he descended from the sky. The second claim is that Eri is a foreigner that intermarried with the two igbo women: Nneamaku, and Oboli who were the first and second wife respectively. These women are the matriarchs of the Igbo people of Nigeria.
Queen Aissa of Kanem Bornu
Queen Aissa is famous for ruling one of the largest and most populous medieval African Empires successfully. The Kanem Bornu Empire existed from 1380 to 1893. Queen Aissa Koli’s reign maintained the Empire’s stability and prosperity, based chiefly on commerce. And at a time when women feared to venture alone in major European cities like London and Paris for fear of attack, the villages and towns of the Bornu Empire maintained their safety, security and continued to be peaceful and prosperous. The Kanem Bornu empire had a seven-year limit on the reign of heads of states. At the end of her term, Queen Aissa handed over power peacefully.
Queen Amina of Zaria
Queen Amina commanded 20,000-foot soldiers, 1,000 cavalry troops, was undefeated against her enemies and increased the number of fortified cities in her territory. A later ruler had the following to say about her, when Sultan Bello of Sokoto wrote:
Strange things have happened in the history of the seven Hausa States, and most strange of these is the extent of the possessions which God gave to Aminatu, daughter of the ruler of Zazzau. She waged war in the Hausa lands and took them all so that the men of Katsina and the men of Kano brought her tribute. She made war in Bauchi and against the other towns of the south and of the west, so that her possession stretched down to the shores of the sea [i.e. the Niger].
Queen Amina of Zaria (Zazzau), artist illustration.
Queen Amina, warrior queen, with her 1,000 cavalry troops.
Odinigwe Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu MBE, better known as Ben Enwonwu, is a famous painter and sculptor. His artworks go for £1m+.
Ben Enwonwu MBE
Ben Enwonwu sculpts a Bronze statue of Queen Elizabeth II
Ben Enwonwu with Queen Elizabeth II and his bronze statue of her. Pic. Credit: The Ben Enwownu Foundation
Full Body sketch of Queen Elizabeth II by Ben Enwonwu
Yinka Shonibare MBE
Yinka Shonibare is a world-renowned painter and sculptor.
This artwork by Yinka Shonibare is called Cake Man III. Location: Stephen Friedman Gallery
Firsts in the world
- Domestication of Kola nuts (the cola in Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola)
- Top 4 earliest developers of ironworking in Africa
Northeast Central African Republic
Enugu state, Southeastern Nigeria
2,153–2,044 BCE and 2,368–2,200 BCE
- First Black person to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
- The Mande people developed Africa rice, one of the only two types of rice in the world. The other type is Asian rice.
Architecture and Engineering achievements
First TV stations in Africa. The first terrestrial television broadcast signals in Africa occurred on Saturday October 31, 1959 and belonged to the Western Nigeria Television Service (WNTS). This was a critical milestone in Television history and today Africa boasts of over 600 television stations (excluding repeater stations).
Longest bridge in Africa. The 3rd mainland bridge used to be the longest bridge in Africa. It measures about 11.8 km in length. It was completed by Nigeria in 1990. Later in 1996, Egypt completed the 6th October bridge which is 20.5 km long.
Longest road in Africa. Trans-African Highway 7 (TAH 7), the Dakar-Lagos Highway, measuring 4,010 km (2,490 mi): also known as the Trans–West African Coastal Road, which is about 80% complete is the longest road in Africa.
The ancient Kano walls were built between 1095 and 1134 during the reign of Sarki Gijimasu (King Kijimasu) and completed in the 14th century; and measure 40 ft. thick at base, 30 to 50 ft. in height (15m) with 15 gates.
Walls of Benin. Work first began around 800 AD and continued up until around 1460. The structure upon completion comprised of moats and ramparts, covered a border distance of about 16,000 kilometres, the 16,000 sq. kilometres and enclosed about 6,500 square kilometres of community land in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlements. Altogether this was double the length of the Ming Great Wall of China, which measured 8,851 kilometres. The new official length of 21,196 kilometres was announced on June 5th 2012, after the discovery of the Walls of Benin displaced the Great Wall of China, under its old measurements. You can see from the image below what China did to reach 21,196 km from 8,851 km.
Richest black man in the world (2013 – 2021): Aliko Dangote
Richest black woman in the world (2015 – 2021): Folorunso Alakija
Power & politics
Most powerful black man in Africa – Aliko Dangote
1st most powerful black woman in Africa – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
2nd most powerful black woman in Africa – Folorunso Alakija
First opposition Presidential candidate to defeat an incumbent from a different political party – Muhammadu Buhari (2015).
Most complex democracy in Africa. With 774 local government areas, Nigeria runs the most complicated democracy in Africa having to balance the interest of 372 tribes and 350+ language speakers. For comparison the United Nations has 193 member states. Apart from
The Bantu speakers of Africa came from the region of Nigeria and Cameroon
Nigeria is founding member of Organization for African Unity.
Led boycott of Apartheid, when black South Africans were still oppressed.
UN Peacekeeping missions: Since the 1960s, Nigeria has been a major contributor of troops and police to United Nations peace operations, having served in dozens of missions. Most recently, Nigerian troops were the military backbone of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), from 2003-2018, helping to restore security throughout a country that had undergone a brutal civil war.
Non-UN Peacekeeping missions:
Nigeria led missions of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) to:
- End the First and Second Liberian Civil Wars, 1990–1995 and 2003 respectively.
- End the Sierra Leone Civil War, 1997-2000. The Organisation of African Unity endorsed the Nigerian-led West African peacekeeping force in 1998.
- Guinea-Bissau in 1999
- Guinea/Liberia border in 2001.
Mathematics, Computing and Science
World class intelligence in 18th century:
Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Fullani al-Kishnawi lived in Katsina (now Nigeria) (died 1741), but spent most of his mathematical career in the Middle East. Muhammad travelled to Egypt and wrote a manuscript (in Arabic) of procedures for constructing magic squares up to order eleven. Muhammad was a man of many talents. He was an astronomer, mathematician, mystic, and astrologer. He was also a member of the Fulani people, a group of Africans that are extremely devoted to Islam.
Global Mathematics Competition:
15-year-old Faith Odunsi beat other contestants in the Global Open Mathematics competition from Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the United States to emerge the winner with 40 points, with the second runner tailing her with 10 points.
Innovations in Mathematics:
12-year-old Nigerian Chika Ofili made a new discovery in Mathematics. Chika Ofili, who is based in the UK, was awarded over the weekend at the TruLittle Hero Awards for discovering the new formula for divisibility by seven in mathematics.
Philip Emeagwali (born 23 August 1954) is a Nigerian computer scientist. He won the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize for price-performance in high-performance computing applications, in an oil reservoir modelling calculation using a novel mathematical formulation and implementation.
Tanitoluwa Emmanuel Adewumi (born September 3, 2010) is a Nigerian-American chess player who lives in New York City. A chess prodigy, he won the 2019 K-3 New York State chess championship at the age of 8, after playing the game for only a year, while living with his refugee family in a homeless shelter in Manhattan.
Bennet Ifeakandu Omalu, Nigerian-American physician, forensic pathologist and neuropathologist. Dr Omalu was the first to discover and publish findings on a new disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy affected American Football players. For gained acceptance by the medical community against opposition from commercial interests, Dr Omalu in 2016 received the highest honour bestowed by the American Medical Association, the Distinguished Service Award. The Medal for Distinguished Services is an annual medal awarded to pioneering and deserving American doctors.
During the Atlantic slave trade many cures and medicines were discovered from West Africans and Central Africans. For instance, one doctor, Thomas Winterbottom, recommended that Europeans should learn more from west African remedies for dysentery:
‘But their most celebrated remedy, and one which deserves more particular attention from Europeans, is the bark of a large tree, called by the Foolas, bellenda; and by the Soosoos and Mandingoes, bembee; rondeletia Africana It is employed either in powder mixed with boiled rice, or is used in a strong infusion. This bark is an agreeable astringent, possessing somewhat of a sweetish taste. A quantity of this bark was sent to me at Free Town, from the Rio Nunez, where it had been used with very great success in an epidemic of dysentery which prevailed among the slaves in the factories of that river. I had not an opportunity of trying its effects in dysentery, as a case of that disease did not occur in the colony from the time I received the bark until I left the country; but in several instances of diarrhoea it shewed itself very effectual. After my arrival in London I gave some of it to my friend Dr. Willan, who made trial of it in agues, fevers, sore throat and dysentery, very much to his satisfaction.’ (Winterbottom, vol 2, 1803, p45–6)
Chiwetel Umeadi Ejiofor CBE. Known for 12 Years A Slave, Dr. Strange, Serenity, The Lion King, The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind etc.
David Oyelowo. Known for Selma, Interstellar, A United Kingdom etc.
Professor Wole Soyinka. First Black person to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Grammy award for Global Music Album – Burna Boy
Grammy award for Best Music Video for his song with Beyoncé; Brown Skin Girl, from Lion King: The Gift album – Wizkid
Fela Anikulapo Kuti (15 October 1938 – 2 August 1997). You know who he is.
400m Olympic champion and World champion – Christine Oghorogu
Pro-boxing World Heavyweight Champion, Commonwealth Heavyweight champion and Olympic Heavyweight champion – Anthony Joshua.
He is a two-time unified world heavyweight champion, having held the WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, and IBO titles since December 2019, and previously between 2016 and June 2019. At regional level, he held the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles from 2015 to 2016.
Winter Olympics. Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga are the first African bobsled team competing in the games.
Atlantic Slave Trade Abolitionists
Further Reading on Sunni Ali. There is no full-length biography of Ali. A chapter on him, translated from a French source, appears in P. J. M. McEwan, ed., Africa from Early Times to 1800 (1968). Other sketches of Ali’s life can be found in Lavinia Dobler and William A. Brown, Great Rulers of the African Past (1965), and Adu Boahen, Topics in West African History (1966). Important general sources are E. W. Bovill, The Golden Trade of the Moors (1958; 2d ed. 1968); J. Spencer Trimingham, A History of Islam in West Africa (1962); and J. O. Hunwick, “Religion and State in the Songhay Empire, 1464-1591,” in the International African Seminar, Islam in Tropical Africa, edited by I. M. Lewis (1966). ↑