According to oral tradition, the first settlers of Borno State were the Teda (Tibesti), Kanuri and Kanembu who lived around the state’s lake and rivers. These people were also called Sao. The Sefawa later displaced them in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Borno State has its roots in the move by the Saifawa rulers (Mais) of Kanem to the area west of Lake Chad in the fourteenth century. These people were referred to as the people from Bahr-el Nur; this name was later corrupted to Borno. It was under the Mais that the Kanuri emerged as a nation. The Fulani jihad of the nineteenth century greatly weakened the authority of the Mais who were eventually displaced by Muhammed El-Amin lbn El-Kanemi, a Kanembu Islamic scholar who established the El-Kanemi dynasty, took the title of Shehu and transferred the capital to Kukawa. Rabeh, a Shuwa Arab, sacked much of Borno in 1893 and became its ruler, transferring the capital to Dikwa.
European colonisation in the last decade of the nineteenth century led to Rabeh's defeat and the dismemberment of the Borno Empire. Following its division between the British and the French at the turn of the twentieth century, Borno became part of Northern Nigeria. It was part of the Northern Region in the three-region structure of 1954 and part of North-Eastern State following the establishment of twelve federal states by General Yakubu Gowon’s military government. It was established as its own entity on February 3, 1976 following the dissolution of the North-Eastern State. Its borders were further adjusted when Yobe was excised from it in 1991.
Borno is heterogeneous with twenty-eight (mostly Chadic) languages spoken as first languages in the state. The Shuwa Arabs, Kanuri and Marghi are the most represented people in the state and Kanuri is its dominant language. Other ethnic groups include the Hausa, Fulani and a number of tribes from southern Nigeria. Islam is the most widely practised religion in the state. There is a Christian minority concentrated around Maiduguri.