You are currently viewing A Geographical Introduction to the History of Nigeria

A Geographical Introduction to the History of Nigeria

What is Geography?

Over the years, the physiographical features had determined the dispersions and migrations of human populations at a particular period of time, including the pattern of settlement, occupation, and socio-cultural, religious and political dispositions are hugely influenced by geography.

Nigeria’s land and climate have related some contents of Nigerian history. In other words, some historical facts can be deduced from the topographical features of Nigeria.

Nigeria, latitudes 40N and 140N, is a country in the western part of Africa, shared bordered with the Sahara in the north, and the Gulf of Guinea and an arm of the Atlantic Ocean in the south. The implication of this geographical position lies in the course of migration, and also, the pattern of settlement used by the early settlers in Nigeria.

With the dry Sahara in the far north, the northern part of Nigeria has features like hot, water scarcity, scanty human settlement, among others, while the south has exactly the deserts opposite features; wet, much rainfall, presence of rivers, streams, and increase in population. There had been movements across the Sahara over time, that is, southwards migrations of people.

Ad, keep reading below

In the course of migration, there were displacements and intermingling of people, as powerful groups matched to occupy and set up settlements in areas primarily occupied by another group of people.

The availability of water, and secondly, the presence of physiographical barriers which would serve as bulwarks against external aggressions, were the two major factors leaders of migrating groups considered to settle in a particular place.

Also, the physical environment’s condition determines or limits the economy of these people. That is, they actually established their survival on the provision of the physical environment gave to them. For an instance, the Ijo of the Niger Delta in a region of swamps and countless waterways, as well as creeks, had fishing and salt-making as a traditional economy.

Also, the transportation is restricted to canoes (and other riverine vehicles developed afterwards). The early immigrants unarguably passed through navigable waterways, and this region attracts few populations because of the condition of the physical environment.

More importantly, during the obnoxious trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the palm oil trade, the prosperity of this group was short-lived due to its geographical location. For instance, due to the delay the interlinked seas caused to commercial penetration, there was loss of its middlemen position in the trade between the offshore European traders and local districts in the interior.

There is an easy passage, large-scale movements of people through the western and northern borderlands of Nigeria because of the absence of physical barriers.

Often refers to as artificial political boundaries, the absence of clear physical barriers like mountains, rivers, streams, and others, have led to different sorts of inter-tribal wars, and disputes. For instance, there had been age-long inter-group conflicts in the Lake Chad region, and Niger-Niger borderlands.

As refugees flee from more formidable intruders/invaders, they used hills or rocky mountains as defensive outposts against attack. There are several hills on the surface of Nigeria’s plateau. For instance, there are hills (of natural defensive outposts) like the Idanre hill, Oke-Iho in Oyo, Ishan and Udi Nsukka plateaus, and others.

Ad, keep reading below

The Nike people also used escarpment stressing from Awgu-Enugu to Orokan in Idoma facing Cross River plains. It is over 180m (600 feet); this escarpment serves as a natural defence outpost against external aggressions.

The open nature of the landscape of Nigeria in the northern part has influenced the migration of people and also their pattern of settlement. However, the differences in the physical environment of Nigerian societies do not limit the cultural ties. The relations between the Hausa in Nigeria and Hausa in Niger are more than that of Hausa and Jukun, both of Nigeria.

Climatic Factor

The length of raining season decreases from south to north. The south enjoys more rainfall than the north. This climatic factor influences and limits their economic activity.

Crops produced in the north are grains, such as millets, corn, and guinea, while root crops (tuber crops) like yams, cocoyam, and cassava are cultivated in the south, and the Middle Belt region enjoys shuttle climates between the north and the south.

In terms of exportation, the far north exports short-growing season crops such as groundnuts, while the south exports long-growing season (perennial ) crops like cocoa, oil palm and rubber.

The limitation of cattle rearing to the north is because of the availability of grassland, and also, the absence of tsetse fly, unlike the wetter south. This would tell us more in the next years why the Oyo Empire could not make use of a cavalry army like the states in the savanna region. Including the spread of diseases, the climatic factor influences all.      

Changing the Environment

We’ve learned that the topographical features, including climatic factors, determine the engagements of the early settlers in Nigeria. The examination shows environment as a primary and the most significant determinant of all other ramifications. However, man, over the years, have changed, reshaped their physical environment to their preferences. This occurrence usually happened during the course of migration, or in times of the need of necessities in the settling processes.

These impacts are referred to as anthropogenic impacts on the physical environment. That is, the far north (which receives influence from the Sahara) to the north, and refugees of the north moved to the south, a forested region.

A powerful group could willingly expand its territories by waging wars against nearby territories, merging them and building walls or bulwarks round the new settlement against external attacks. In this cause, a new pattern settlement would begin to emerge.

For instance, the Yoruba (now in the forest) were the then grassland people; the Shua Arabs were originally nomadic people, but now, they cultivate land after losing many cattle to diseases, and the Ijo fishing people migrated from the inland forest settlement.

Ad, keep reading below

Changing the natural environment is a continuous happening. This is evidenced with the changes in vegetation and micro-climate. Some deep forests have been converted to timber, cocoa or oil palm dominated forests, and also, recently the destruction of the Ozone layer.

According to geographical and archaeological evidence, the Sahara and Lake Chad had humid climates in prehistoric times, about the late Ice Age. The Sahelian drought of 1973 evidenced the changes in the climate in the far north of Nigeria.

Overgrazing and soil deterioration resulting from the cattle rearing in the Sudan savanna is another evidence of change in the physical environment.

The bushfire and intensive cultivation of land around the regions of Sokoto and Kano had led to soil spoilage and deterioration. The natural rainforests in Abaka, Owerri, and Ikot Ekpene to man-constructed forests of oil palms rubber, and cocoa also evidence this change.


Conclusively, the appreciation of the geography of Nigeria is a significant exercise to examine the (early) history of Nigeria, because the geographical features determined the course of migration, the pattern of settlement, and the socio-cultural, religious and political dispositions. However, it is also related that man is an agent of change, as evidenced by the series of changes that had happened to the natural environments of Nigeria during the course of migrations of different groups, and afterwards, their development in terms of survival, and others.

Tadese Faforiji. A Geographical Introduction to the History of Nigeria. Tadexprof. November 11, 2021. Available at


  • Groundwork of Nigerian History. Book by Obaro Ikime. Available on
  • Geography of Nigeria – Wikipedia
  • Nigeria | History, Population, Flag, Map, Languages, Capital …Britannica

Tadese Faforiji

I am Tadese Faforiji, a history student of the prestigious Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State- 21st-century University, properly called. I am a blogger and an avid writer.