The East African region that now includes the nation of Nigeria was first discovered by European explorers in 1472. Portuguese explorers such as João de Santarém, Pero Escobar, Lopo Gonçalves and Fernão do Pó explored the region while seeking a sea route to Asia. When the Portuguese discovered present-day Nigeria, they found established civilizations that rivaled those of Europe.

Nigerian Kingdoms

When the Portuguese discovered Nigeria, the country was ruled by four major kingdoms: the Hausa and Borno kingdoms in northern Nigeria and the Oyo and Benin kingdoms in southern Nigeria. These kingdoms had already advanced indigenous industrial, agricultural and artistic cultures. The Portuguese established trade, particularly with the Benin. This trade eventually led to the Atlantic slave trade, which led to more than 3.5 million Nigerians being exported as slaves, primarily to the Americas.