Map showing some of the kingdoms of Nigeria in the pre-colonial period. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

Nigeria has been the site of several indigenous pre-colonial kingdoms since the second millenium BC. One of the most famous of these was the Nok civilisation which developed significantly between 1500BC and 200AD. Many of these kingdoms thrived pre-colonisation, with significant trading routes and outposts. In the sixteenth century Portuguese explorers made direct trade in southern Nigeria, and the port of Calabar in particular became sites for trading enslaved peoples. The development of the Oyo, Kanem-Bornu, Onitsha, and Hausa-Fulani kingdoms during the period of transatlantic slave trading was sometimes directly linked to their participation in the trade: others were concerned with internal conflicts. Throughout these kingdoms, women were an essential part of rulership, with not only wives as active participants, but mothers, sisters, and daughters as well.

When slavery was outlawed by Britain in 1807, the trade of enslaved peoples decreased but continued illegally. In 1861 Britain annexed Lagos as a crown colony, and towards the end of the nineteenth century continued its colonisation in the surrounding areas. Once under British rule, Nigeria’s monarch was formally that of Britain, however local indigenous groups maintained local leaders. Even after independence in 1960, Elizabeth II, queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, was nominal head of state as queen of Nigeria. The monarchy was abolished on 1 October 1963 when Nigeria established a president as its head of state.

You can find out more about some of the indigenous female rulers in Nigeria below!


Achebe, Nwando. Farmers, Traders, Warriors, and Kings: Female Power and Authority in Northern Igboland, 1900-1960. Westport: Praeger, 2005

Achebe, Nwando. Female Monarchs and Merchant Queens in Africa. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2020

Falola, Toyin, and Akintunde Akinyemi, eds. Enecylopedia of the Yoruba. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016

Falola, Toyin, and Matthew M. Heaton, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Nigerian History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022

Nast, Heidi J. Concubines and Power: Five Hundred Years in a Northern Nigerian Palace. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

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