Was Calabar Really the First Official Capital of Nigeria?

By Adaobi ON

Abuja has been the capital of Nigeria since 1991, but prior to that, there have been other official and unofficial capitals.

Lagos was the first official capital of Nigeria before the capital was moved to Abuja. See the other states that have claimed to have been capitals and why.

Calabar is the capital city of Cross River state, Nigeria and the tourism capital of Nigeria.

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The city was originally named Akwa Akpa, in Efik, but was renamed during the Atlantic slave trade era. The area had some of the first interactions with Europeans as it was a major international seaport in the transportation of palm oil and African slaves. It was named Calabar by the Spanish.

On September 10, 1884, England signed a Treaty of Protection with the King and Chiefs of Akwa Akpa, known to Europeans as Old Calabar, taking control over the entire territory of Calabar.

Calabar is considered as the first capital of Nigeria because it served as the first capital of the Southern Protectorate, the Oil River Protectorate, and Niger Coast Protectorate. This was until the late nineteenth century, when the administrative centre of the Southern protectorate was moved to Lagos in 1906.

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After Lagos served as the capital of Nigeria for many years, even after amalgamation and independence, religious and ethnic divisions caused the Nigerian government to begin searching for a capital that seemed neutral to all major ethnic parties and in close proximity to the regions of Nigeria. Lagos was also becoming very overcrowded.

Abuja, then Suleja, was chosen as Nigeria’s capital in the early 1970s as it signified national unity. In 1991, after basic structures had been put up, Abuja was declared as the capital of Nigeria.

Other unofficial capitals

Calabar as the first capital of Nigeria is however very controversial. Asaba and Lokoja are also claimed to be unofficial capitals of Nigeria.

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Asaba, the current capital of Delta state, is believed to have been where the British colonial masters started their administration. It was also where the British Royal Niger Company preferred to hold its treaties before incorporation.

Lokoja, the current capital of Kogi state, was where the first Governor-general of Nigeria, Lord Frederick Lugard , ruled from, after the Southern protectorates and Northern protectorates were amalgamated to form one Nigeria. It was also where Lady Flora Shaw came up with the name Nigeria.

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