Beginning in the 17th century Europeans established ports for slave trafficking. In the early 19th century the Fulani leader Usman dan Fodio united most areas in the north under the control of an Islamic Fulani Empire centered in Sokoto.
The 17th century brought Portuguese traders to what is now the Lagos area. However, it was the British in the 19th century that established permanent settlement and control over the region. In 1901, Nigeria was made a British protectorate and remained in control of Britain until it granted Nigerians independence in 1960.
Ethnic and religious tensions following independence led to the Nigerian Civil War and the start of intermit democractic and military rule that did not end until 1999, when the democratic republic was permanently re-established with the election of Olusegun Obasanjo as its current president. Recently, supporters of Obasanjo had tried and failed to extend term limits following rejection by the national assembly. New elections are set for 2007.
With its economy and infrastructure devasted by years of military rule, corruption, and mismanagement, Nigeria is now reforming and rebuilding itself to be a modern, prosperous nation. It is taking advantage of its position as sub-saharan Africa's most populous country to push for a more prominent role in African and International politics. Such examples are its chairmanship of ECOWAS and the deployment of peace keeping troops to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the African Union with troop deployments to the Sudan. Nigeria is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Despite these positive developments, problems abound in Nigeria such as endemic corruption and crime such as the 419 scams; ethnic and religious strife, particularly between Christians and Muslims in the northern half of the country, and insurgents in the oil-rich Niger Delta. The Niger Delta conflict is hampering Nigeria's oil production capabilities and is even affecting international oil prices.