They command considerable influence and can be the bridge between the old and the new way. Our colonial masters understand the greatness of these institutions and have preserved theirs to strengthen their democracy. There are more than 200 ethnic groups in Nigeria. Before the arrival of the British in the late 19th century, the history of the area was turbulent, with periods when empires such as Oyo, Kanem-Borno and Sokoto gained control over large areas. It was common for each town or collection of towns to have a recognised ruler, who might in turn be subordinate to the ruler of a larger polity. Thus the Sokoto caliphate was divided into emirates, with the emirs loosely subordinate to the Sultan of Sokoto.
Europeans traded with the coastal states, primarily exchanging cotton and other manufactured goods for slaves and palm oil products at centres such as Calabar, Bonny and Lagos. During the period 1879–1900 the Royal Niger company made a concerted effort to take control of the interior, using disciplined troops armed with the Maxim gun, and making treaties of “protection” with the local rulers.