Great civilizations existed in northern Nigeria before the West ever set foot there. The Kanem Bornu Empire (700-1900) stretched to present-day Chad, Libya, Niger and Cameroon, and was bound by trade and ethnic similarities and religion.
Present day Northern Nigeria is home to the large Hausa ethnic group. The Hausa language is spoken by more than 50 million people across the present-day Sahel (north Central Africa, spanning much of Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Togo, Chad, and Sudan). Hausa is still the region’s second language of trade; the primary languages come from the region’s colonizers: English, French and to a degree, Arabic.
In the early 19th century, a towering Islamic figure, Sheikh Uthman ibn Fodio (1754-1817), emerged in what is now northwest Nigeria. Although of ethnic Fulani extraction, he galvanized support across the Hausa-dominated regions and parts of the old Kanem Bornu Empire. In this multi-ethnic region, he had a uni-directional purpose: Islamic evangelism, imperialism and dominance. He ended up creating an Islamic Caliphate.