The Gap

Northern Nigeria: History, states, population, importance and insecurity

Northern Nigeria: History, states, population, importance and insecurity in the region

Northern Nigeria is an autonomous region that is different from Southern Nigeria. The people in the North predominantly speak the Hausa language. The region is divided into North-East, North-West, and North-Central states.

Northern Nigeria has been in the news for the wrong reasons for decades. Violence, kidnapping, terrorism, and banditry, among others, have become an epidemic in the North. In fact, countries have advised their citizens who visit Nigeria to avoid the North.

This is a sad development considering the fact that before the civil war, the North was a thriving region, welcoming all and sundry to do their business in peace. Igbos, in particular, flocked to Northern Nigeria due to the region’s conducive environment and rich resources. Even after the war, the Igbos returned to the North because they simply couldn’t resist the region’s environment.

Today, things have fallen apart, and the center can no longer hold in that part of the country. However, it’s not all bad. Apart from the unfortunate events, Northern Nigeria remains one of the best places to live. The food standard of living is affordable, food is cheap, and the people are generally friendly. On that note, let’s look at everything about Northern Nigeria.

History of Northern Nigeria

Pre-colonial era

Queen Amina

The history of Northern Nigeria goes as far back as the pre-colonial era when the powerful Nok Culture dominated the region. The Nok culture is regarded as one of the greatest civilisations that ever flourished in ancient Africa. The culture is said to be linked to the Pharaohs of Egypt, whose successor to the ancient Nok culture was the great Kwararafa Kingdom. The Kwararafa ruled most of the North for more than 200 years before gradually fizzling out due to their small population.

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The Hausa people who dominated the region were made up of two major groups of seven states each. The first group included Biram, Daura, Katsina, Zaria, Kano, Rano, and Gobir, while the second group included Kebbi, Zamfara, Nupe, Gwari, Yauri, Ilorin, and Kwararafa. These were also the major trading centres. Politics and religion constituted the development of Hausa states until the beginning of the 19th century. There was also political rivalry between the two groups of states in the quest to secure more territories and build long-lasting empires.

Consequently, one empire always rose to suppress the others. By the 15th century, Zazzau, under the legendary leadership of Queen Amina, ruled the Hausa kingdoms. In fact, her rule extended as far as Benue and the Niger and in some form over Bauchi, Kano, and Daura.

Meanwhile, the Fulani was a nomadic group who had migrated westward, sometimes settling into semisedentary villages. At first, their interactions with the local farmers were mutual, a trade by barter exercise where the Fulani exchanged cattle with the farmers for their agricultural products and access to pasture.

However, conflict arose due to a rise in population and drought, which created pressures on resources. The conflict peaked in the 19th century and contributed to the Fulani-led intra-Muslim holy war by Uthman Dan Fodio, who conquered the territories and established the Sokoto Caliphate. From then on, the Fulani dominated the Hausa states, intermarried with the ruling families, and settled into the ruling households of Hausaland. By the twentieth century, the ruling elements of Hausaland were often referred to as Hausa-Fulani. The Fulani adopted the Hausa language and culture but remained fiercely proud of their heritage.

There was also the Bornu empire which was ruled by Dan Fodio’s Sokoto caliphate until they broke away. Bornu people, mostly the Kanuri, migrated from central Sahara as Muslim conquerors in the fifteenth century. They set up capital after subduing and assimilating the local Chadic speakers. By the sixteenth century, they had developed a great empire which sometimes included some Hausa states. Kanuri and Hausa cultures were somehow similar but distinctly different as well. For instance, their women’s hairstyles, complex cuisine, and identification with ruling dynasties whose names and exploits were still fresh are different from the Hausa-Fulani.

Colonial Era

Northern Nigeria during Colonial Era

Initially, the British interactions with the North revolved around trade. Then the Royal Niger Company was established, which extended as far as the Niger River and Benue River, joined at Lokoja. The company didn’t pose any threat to the kingdoms, especially the Sokoto Caliphate, until Frederick Lugard and Taubman Goldie laid down ambitious plans to unite the entire Northern region with the Southern region.

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The plan worked, and the protectorate of Northern Nigeria was proclaimed at Ida by Frederick Lugard on January 1, 1897. The 1885 Treaty of Berlin broadly granted Northern Nigeria to the British sphere of influence, based on their existing protectorates in Southern Nigeria. However, the North strongly resisted the move, especially the Sokoto Caliphate. Thus began the war between the British and emirates.

The Emirates of Kotogora and Ilorin were the first to be conquered. Then, the great fort of Kano, the seat of the Kano Emirate, was captured in February 1903; Sokoto and much of the rest of its Caliphate were soon conquered. On March 13, 1903, the Grand Shura of Caliphate finally conceded to Lugard’s demands and proclaimed Queen Victoria as suzerain of the Caliphate and all its lands.

In 1914, Lugard merged Northern Nigeria Protectorate with Southern Nigeria, creating the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. Indirect rule system was established in the North, where Emirs were allowed to operate in the name of the colonial masters. The system was successful as the people were already used to obeying orders from their local leaders.

However, agitation for independence from the radically different Southern Protectorate led to a split in the 1940s. The Richard’s constitutions granted overwhelming autonomy to the North in 1945.

Post-colonial era

Sir Ahmadu Bello

The Northern region gained self-independence on March 15, 1957. Sir Ahmadu Bello became its first Premier. He also founded the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), which dominated the parliament. After Nigeria’s independence in 1960, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa became Nigeria’s first and only Prime Minister after Bello forfeited the role, choosing to retain his position as the Premier of the North. Since then, the North has always dominated Nigerian politics.

However, the region has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. According to statistics from the World Bank, 87 per cent of the poor come from the North. This has contributed to the acute insecurity and economic issues the region suffers today.

Northern Nigeria states

Nigerian map showing the different regions and their states

There are 19 states in Northern Nigeria. However, the region consists of three main sub-regions – North-East, North-West, and North-Central.

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  • Adamawa State
  • Bauchi State
  • Borno State
  • Gombe State
  • Taraba State
  • Yobe State


  • Jigawa State
  • Kaduna State
  • Kano State
  • Katsina State
  • Kebbi State
  • Sokoto State
  • Zamfara State


  • Benue State
  • Federal Capital Territory
  • Kwara State
  • Kogi State
  • Niger State
  • Nasarawa State
  • Plateau State

Northern Nigeria population

Northern Nigeria hit an estimated population of 128.17 million. This is according to the National Bureau of Statistics’ latest report on Nigeria’s demographics, using data from the National Population Commission.

Why is Northern Nigeria important?

  • The North is the food basket of Nigeria. The region occupies 70% of Nigeria’s land mass, giving it an advantage over the South regarding agriculture, raw materials, and livestock.
  • Northern Nigeria is bigger than most African countries, which has helped Nigeria’s international standing.
  • Much of Nigeria’s water resources are from Northern Nigeria. Kainji Dam, which supplies electricity in Nigeria, is located in Niger State.
  • Northern Nigeria is rich in mineral resources which will contribute to the nation’s economy.

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Northern Nigeria economy

Northern Nigeria’s economy is predominantly based on Agriculture. In post-colonial Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello and other great leaders of the region initiated industrialization in the north in textile mills, groundnut oil mills, etc.

Although things have changed for obvious reasons, agriculture remains the core of Northern Nigeria’s economy. In fact, most agricultural produce in Southern Nigeria come from the North.

Northern Nigeria religion

Islam is the major religion of most states in Northern Nigeria, particularly in North-East and North-West. However, Christianity is predominantly practiced in most North-Central states.

Insecurity in Northern Nigeria

Insecurity is a festering sore that seems bent on destroying entire Northern Nigeria. Kidnapping, terrorism, banditry, and other insecurity issues have rendered the region unconducive to normal living. Boko Haram has taken over the Northeast, causing havoc by killing people in their thousands and kidnapping school children. Till this day, some Chibok school girls remain in the insurgents’ custody.

One cannot forget the farmers-herders clash happening in mostly North-Central states. Many have been killed in the conflicts, and others have been either kidnapped or displaced from their ancestral homes.

Also, there are numerous cases of banditry in states like Kaduna and even the FCT. The Kaduna-Abuja train attack is still very fresh in our minds. Some passengers are still in bandit’s custody as negotiations for their release are still ongoing.

Religion is another trigger of insecurity in the region. Many widely believe that a typical Hausa man is easygoing and trustworthy until you say something he doesn’t like about his religion. The recent case of Deborah Samuel, who was lynched to death by fellow students at a college of education for uttering something about the Islamic religion, has done nothing but fuel this belief.

Northern Nigeria, a once peaceful region where everyone ran to for sustenance, is now a symbol of torture and death. But there is still hope if only the government will put more effort into ridding the region of the unwanted elements by supplying more fighting resources to the armed forces and holding the army chiefs accountable. People in the region should also be sensitized through formal education and outreaches.

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Nonye is a Thespian, screenwriter, creative writer and an unapologetic lover of books, great movies and sports. She has over 10 years experience in content writing on entertainment, movies, sports and lifestyle. Nonye is currently a content writer at Blackdot Media and founder of
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