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Slavery in Nigeria

 Slavery in Nigeria Slavery has existed in various forms throughout the history of Nigeria, notably during the Atlantic slave trade and Tran...

 Slavery in Nigeria

Slavery has existed in various forms throughout the history of Nigeria, notably during the Atlantic slave trade and Trans-Saharan trade.[1][2] Slavery is now illegal internationally and in Nigeria.[2] However, legality is often overlooked with different pre-existing cultural traditions, which view certain actions differently.[2] In Nigeria, certain traditions and religious practices have led to "the inevitable overlap between cultural, traditional, and religious practices as well as national legislation in many African states" which has had the power to exert extra-legal control over many lives resulting in modern-day slavery.[3] The most common forms of modern slavery in Nigeria are human trafficking and child labor.[2] Because modern slavery is difficult to recognize, it has been difficult to combat this practice despite international and national efforts.[2]

History of slavery in Nigeria

The traditional slave trade in Southern Nigeria preceded the arrival of European influence,[4] and continued locally long after the effective abolition of slavery in many other countries.[5]

With the arrival of the transatlantic slave trade, traditional slave traders in southeastern Nigeria became suppliers of slaves to European slave traders.[4] Although local slavery was officially prohibited by the colonial British administration from the mid-1880s,[6] they tacitly permitted it to continue well into the 1930s,[7] ending completely only in the 1940s.[5]

In 1961, the newly independent First Nigerian Republic ratified the 1926 Slavery Convention.


Main article: Osu caste system

The Igbo traditionally maintained the Osu caste system of the Odinani religion. Osu were people who were regarded as spiritually inferior, and they were segregated from regular Igbo society. Osu were either kept as slaves or sold into the slave trade. As of 2020, Osu descendants still face discrimination among the Igbo people.[8] Local campaigners against discrimination have aligned themselves with the global Black Lives Matter movement, comparing the treatment of slave descendants in Nigeria with the treatment of Black people in the United States.[9]

Sokoto Caliphate:

The Sokoto Caliphate was a powerful 19th-century Sunni Muslim caliphate with its capital Sokoto located in northern Nigeria. The caliphate brought decades of economic growth throughout the region. An estimated 1-2.5 million non-Muslim slaves were captured during the Fulani War.[10] Slaves worked plantations but may also have been granted freedom conditional on conversion to Islam.[11] By 1900, Sokoto had "at least 1 million and perhaps as many as 2.5 million slaves".[10]


Slavery had traditionally existed among the Yoruba people before it was officially abolished by the British in 1893, during colonialism.[12] Owning slaves was a status symbol in Yoruba society. A Yoruba person who owned slaves displayed signs of being a wealthy and influential person.[12] Slaves were typically captured during territorial expansion and internal and intertribal wars.[12] If a town captured another in a war, the captured people would become enslaved by their captors.[12] Slaves typically worked for powerful elites of Yoruba society, and they were tasked with farm cultivation, clearing land, or other personal purposes.[12]

Contact with Muslims and Europeans enhanced the popularity of slavery among the Yoruba people.[12] Yoruba elites such as warriors, powerful kings, chiefs, and wealthy merchants began to participate in slave trading because it was a profitable source of income.[12] Foreign merchants supplied Yoruba business partners with powerful weapons such as rifles in exchange for slaves.[12] The Yoruba used these weapons to conquer their enemies and sell them into the slave trade.[12]

Yoruba slave categories

There were three categories of slaves in Yoruba society: ìwọ̀fà, war captives, and criminals.[12] The term ìwọ̀fà refers to slaves who were voluntarily handed over by one family to another as a collateral to pay off a loan. The slave typically worked for their master as long as the loan remained unpaid. The ìwọ̀fà could own property and visit their family, but their freedoms remained restricted by their masters.

War captives were another category.[12] Warriors who were victorious in war typically brought war captives to important chiefs and kings, who enslaved them and forced them to work on their farms or work in trades. The treatment of the slaves varied depending on the personality of the masters, and the behaviors of the slaves themselves. Efunsetan Aniwura, the Iyalode of Ibadan, was reputed to be an extremely cruel slave master who punished her slaves with death by decapitation. In some situations, slaves emerged as heads of their households or eventually gained freedom.

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