The Nigeria we know today has an origin dating as far back as 1100 BC. That is, people have been found living in the territory that is now known as Nigeria since that period. Stating it more clearly, for instance, people were found to have been living in areas like Nsukka since about 100,000 years ago.
Over the centuries, the country has grown from groups of people ‘scattered’ around the expanse of land (now called Nigeria) to protectorates, to regions, and now, to states, hence making one whole nation – Nigeria.
Nigeria is a Federal Republic comprising of thirty-six states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) at Abuja, which also doubles as the nation’s capital.However, Abuja did not become the nation’s capital until the year 1991. Historically, Nigeria has had two states declared as capital at different times.
Calabar was the base of the Europeans in the 18th century as it was close to the port, so it was made the first headquarter of the Niger Coast Protectorate (the name given to the country by the British in the 19th century). ‘Headquarter’ in that century is the equivalent of ‘capital’ now. Hence, Calabar was the capital of Nigeria between 1884 and 1906.
After slave trade was banned at Calabar, the British moved to Lagos to colonize and possess the city. Following a threat of force by Commander Beddingfield, Oba Dosunmu of Lagos signed the Lagos Treaty of Cession document, 11 days after facing a threat of violence on Lagos. Thence, Lagos was made an annex on August 6, 1861, and in February 1914, Lagos (Colony) became the capital of the protectorate of Nigeria.
ABUJA, THE CURRENT CAPITAL
Although it is widely accepted that the idea to move the capital of Nigeria was initiated by former Military Head of State, late Gen. Murtala Muhammed, a source states that Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd.), a former Nigeria Military Head of State, in an interview,revealed that the idea of developing a new capital was conceived by his government in 1974. He also explained further on how he commenced a search for a suitable city until he discovered Abuja and laid down the template for the project’s continuity even after he left office.
Some of the biases that led to the founding of a new capital are as follow:
- Security: it is believed that Lagos is more susceptible to both air and sea attacks, considering its geographical location. Hence, it was necessary to move the capital to a city that was safe from such invasive attacks, thereby enabling the president, who also doubles as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, to plan and strategize, and not be caught unaware.
- Political factor: the city of Lagos had governors at the time but this was deemed unnecessary. Therefore, it was thought to build a city that would be independent of a gubernatorial office. Abuja only has a Minister that oversees the administration of the city, and the only Local Government Area in the city is Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC).
- Location: another criterion that was considered was the centrality of the former capital. Lagos is located in the South-western part of Nigeria. It was thought that the country could easily be claimed by the Yorubas if Lagos continued to be the capital. Hence, a new city that was at the central and not predominantly ‘owned’ and/or inhabited by a Nigerian tribe was sought. Abuja met the condition.
Having considered those biases and Abuja was picked out; the project of building the city (Abuja) began in the 1980s. The capital (seat of central government) was thereafter officially moved from Lagos to Abuja on December 12, 1991.