The most significant of the ancient Nigerian cultures known to archeologists is that of the Nok people, who flourished from the fourth century B.C. to the second century A.D. The Nok were the first West Africans to smelt iron.

The farthest back Nigerian history can be traced through oral tradition is the 9th century A.D. In the southwestern region, Yoruba city-states grew into powerful kingdoms, the first of which was Ife. In the 15th century Benin and Oyo emerged as the strongest of the Yoruba kingdoms.

In northern Nigeria, Hausa city-states emerged around the 11th century. Kano, one of the earliest, was followed by Gobir, Katzina, Zaria, and others. The Hausa city-states remained small and divided, and never developed into kingdoms. During the 14th and 15th centuries the Hausa were converted to Islam.

The Kanuri, in the Lake Chad area, founded the kingdom of Kanem in the 9th century and were converted to Islam in the 11th century. The kingdom in the 15th century grew into the powerful Kanem-Bornu empire. By the 18th century the empire was in decline.

In 1804, the Fulani, who had settled in the Hausa city-states during the 13th to 16th centuries, launched an Islamic holy war against the Hausa rulers, whom they saw as lax in their faith. Led by Usman dan Fodio, the Fulani conquered all the Hausa states by 1810 and formed the Sokoto caliphate. Sokoto was a confederacy of emirates, created from the former Hausa states and headed by Fodio, who ruled as caliph.

During the 1830's, following a series of conflicts among the Yoruba kingdoms called the Yoruba Wars, Ibadan emerged as the most powerful Yoruba kingdom.

Important dates in Nigeria
c. 500 B.C.-A.D. 200 The Nok civilization thrived in what is now central Nigeria.
c. A.D. 1000-1400's Various kingdoms, including Benin, Kanem-Bornu, Ife, and the Hausa states, began to develop in different parts of Nigeria.
Late 1400's The Portuguese became the first Europeans to reach Nigeria.
1851 Britain seized control of Lagos.
1914 The British formed the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.
1960 Nigeria became an independent federation.
1966 In January, military leaders overthrew Nigeria's government. In July, a second revolt established a new military government in Nigeria.
1967 Nigeria's Eastern Region declared itself an independent republic called Biafra. Civil war broke out between Biafra and the rest of Nigeria.
1970 Biafra surrendered, and the civil war came to an end.
1979 Civilian rule was restored in Nigeria.
1983 Military leaders took control of Nigeria's government.
1999 Nigeria returned to civilian rule.