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Political History of Nigeria

The earliest known inhabitants of what is now Nigeria were members of the ancient Nok culture. The Nigeria-Cameroon border was home to peoples who spoke the Bantu group of languages, which are spoken in most African countries south of the Sahara Desert.

Over 2,000 years, different kingdoms were established, including the northeastern kingdom of Kanem-Borno, the Hausa kingdoms of Katsina, Kano, Zaria and Gobir in northern-central Nigeria, the Yoruba kingdoms of Ife, Oyo and Ijebu in southwestern Nigeria, the southern kingdom of Benin, and the Ibo communities in the east.

Iron smelting and forging technologies may have existed in West Africa among the Nok culture of Nigeria as early as the sixth century B.C. In the period from 1400 to 1600, iron technology appears to have been one of a series of fundamental social assets that facilitated the growth of significant centralized kingdoms in the western Sudan and along the Guinea coast of West Africa. The fabrication of iron tools and weapons allowed for the kind of extensive systematized agriculture, efficient hunting, and successful warfare necessary to sustain large urban centers.

In Nigeria, iron was fundamental to the rise of several important kingdomsóDahomey, Benin, and the Yoruba kingdoms, including primarily Ife and Oyo. All of these Nigerian kingdoms had a great deal of contact with one another and therefore share similar spiritual beliefs concerning the attributes of iron and ironworking methods. Ogun, the god of iron, is an important deity recognized by all of them. Ogun is credited with introducing iron as well as being the first hunter and warrior, the opener of roads, clearer of fields, and founder of dynasties. The iron sword of Ogun, a central symbolic motif, is associated with both civilizing and aggressive actions.

Iron had significant ritual status in all these Nigerian states, in which the forge functioned as both a ritual shrine and sanctuary. The anvil was often used for the taking of an oath or as a sacrificial altar. Ironworking demanded great proximity to supernatural powers, thus smiths were both admired and feared. The highly specialized skills of ironworkers were so prized that such artisans were often itinerant and moved where they were needed, or even traveled with armies into battle. This traffic expanded the social contact that occurred between Nigeria's major kingdoms and therefore fostered the rapid exchange of knowledge and spiritual beliefs.

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