Make your own free website on


The most populous and one of the most politically significant states in Africa, Nigeria is situated on the west coast of the continent. It occupies 356,669 square miles (923,768 square kilometers). Bounded by Benin, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, and the Gulf of Guinea, it extends some 900 miles (1,450 kilometers) from the semiarid savanna grasslands in the north to the humid tropical rain forests of the southern and coastal regions. Nigeria' s capital is the newly built city of Abuja located near the center of the country (see Abuja, Nigeria ).

This former British colony is an oil-rich nation, but with the collapse of world petroleum prices in the early 1980s Nigeria's economic and political situations became very unstable. The elected government was overthrown by a military coup in 1983. A second military revolt occurred in 1985.

Geography and Climate

Nigeria is a physically diverse country divided by the Niger-Benue river system into three sections. The northern section consists of gently rolling plains roughly 1,500 feet (460 meters) above sea level crossed by both permanent and seasonal rivers and streams and occasionally broken by large outcrops of granite. Lake Chad in the northeast is one of the few large, permanent, standing bodies of water. Its size fluctuates markedly in relation to the monsoon rainfall pattern. The middle belt has a more varied relief and is marked by rugged volcanic highlands--the Jos Plateau. The southern and coastal section consists primarily of low-lying plains and the southwestern uplands. The third section--the huge delta of the Niger River in the southeast--consists of mangroves, dense forests, and some of the richest petroleum deposits in Africa.

Nigeria's climate is shaped by the moist, unstable air to the south and the dry, stable air of the Sahara to the north. The northward movement of moist air from the Atlantic Ocean brings precipitation to Nigeria. In the southern region humidity and temperatures are high year-round, and rainfall ranges from about 60 to 100 inches (150 to 250 centimeters) per year, distributed over at least eight months. In the middle belt there is greater contrast between seasons. Rainfall is from about 35 to 55 inches (90 to 140 centimeters) annually, and temperatures vary from a dry-season average of 86° F (30° C) to 77° F (25° C) in the wet season--May to November. In the north about 20 to 35 inches (50 to 90 centimeters) of rain fall between June and October. The dry season is very hot between February and May, and daily temperatures in April regularly exceed 95° F (35° C). Rainfall in the extreme north tends to be unpredictable. Droughts are quite common.

The geographic patterns of tropical vegetation and animal life correspond closely to the zones of rainfall distribution. In the south, year-round rainfall, high humidity, solar radiation, and generally equatorial conditions produce tropical rain forests. The dense forests are some of the oldest, most complex, and diverse habitats in the world. Human activities--particularly burning, agriculture, and logging--have greatly reduced the area of natural rain forest. The landscape now resembles well-wooded grassland. Such moisture-demanding crops as yams, cassava, and rice and such tropical tree crops as rubber and cacao thrive in the forest environments.

In the middle belt to the north, less rainfall and greater seasonal contrasts produce tropical woodlands and open grasslands. This region is less densely populated than other parts of the country because of the poor soil and the high incidence of disease.

In the north, the hot, dry conditions and a short rainy season produce a characteristic grassland ecology usually called Sudan savanna. Heavily cultivated with such useful tree species as mango and baobab, the northern savanna resembles a farmed parkland. Dry or rain-fed farming of grains is widespread. Grasses, stunted shrubs, acacias, and other drought-resistant plants can survive meager or variable rainfall. In the extreme north there is often too little rainfall to grow crops, and nomads use the grasslands as pastures for their herds.

Rapid population growth, inappropriate land-use practices, climatic change, and poor development policy have contributed to environmental degradation. In some parts of the north, soil quality has declined and desert conditions have spread. In the south deforestation has been extensive. Environmental change has dramatically influenced animal populations and local habitats. A few elephants, antelope, wild boars, and hippopotamuses are still found in northern savannas and in game reserves. Some species--such as monkeys, snakes, birds, and insects--survive in proximity to human settlement.

Culture and Society

Long before colonial conquest by Great Britain in 1903, the area that was to become Nigeria was a region of great cultural diversity and political complexity. Traditions of metalworking, technical innovation, and elaborate city development existed among Yoruba-speaking peoples in the southwest prior to the 15th century. In the north the Muslim Hausa-speaking societies were renowned for their international trade, high-quality textile and craft production, and ancient centers of Islamic learning. In the 19th century the political system centered on northern Nigeria. The Sokoto Caliphate was probably the most powerful and complex state system in West and Central Africa.

One effect of colonial rule, which lasted from 1903 to 1960, was the breaking of Nigeria into three major regions marked by different cultural and political backgrounds: the northern Hausa-speaking area, which was largely Muslim; the Christian and Muslim Yoruba region in the southwest; and the region in the east dominated by the Ibo, who were overwhelmingly Christian. Despite occasional conflicts, the boundaries between the peoples have been quite fluid. Nigeria is a country of enormous cultural diversity, and it is estimated that there are at least 250 different languages spoken in the country. English is the official language of administration and education.

Despite the antiquity of some of its cities and cultural traditions, Nigeria is also dynamic and changing. This is evident in the country's highly distinctive music and recording industry, renowned popular theater tradition, vibrant artistic culture, and world-famous writing and publishing industry that in 1986 produced a Nobel prizewinner in literature, Wole Soyinka (see Soyinka, Wole ).


Nigeria is a resource-rich country that has fallen victim to government mismanagement of its economy. Nigeria is the world's largest producer of columbite, a mineral containing iron, magnesium, and niobium. There are deposits of iron, tin, coal, lead, and zinc, along with smaller amounts of uranium and gold. But petroleum has been the mainstay of the economy since the eraly 1970s.

Most of the oil fields are in the southeast and offshore in the delta region. Nigeria is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the largest producer of petroleum in Africa. Its total reserves are estimated at 20 billion barrels. Most petroleum production and exploration are controlled by the Nigerian government in conjunction with multinational oil companies. The great surge in world oil prices beginning in 1973 provided a great boost to Nigeria's economy. The sale of petroleum contributed 65 percent of all government revenues and 95 percent of all export earnings in the early 1990s.

The oil boom of the 1970s enabled the Nigerian government to undertake a massive program of construction, industrialization, and extension of social services. One of its projects was construction, from the ground up, of the new capital city of Abuja. This program was deeply flawed, however, and by the early 1980s Nigeria had major economic problems and was accumulating a large foreign debt--$31.5 billion in 1992. After the fall in oil prices in 1982, Nigeria faced severe austerity measures, including the reduction of its public expenditures. This resulted in unemployment, reduced imports, and political instability. The era of petroleum-based development in Nigeria is now recognized as a period of waste, inefficient use of wealth, and deteriorating standards of living.

About 80 percent of Nigeria's land is suitable for farming and grazing. Thirteen percent of the land is forested and provides mahogany, iroko, ebony, and other woods. There are several plywood factories and sawmills. The variety of crops includes millet, sorghum, plaintains, corn (maize), cassava, yams, cocoa, and rice. Goats are the leading livestock, followed by sheep and cattle. For all of its potential, however, Nigeria' s agriculture suffered a major decline when oil prices went up. Although it employs less than 45 percent of the workforce, agriculture accounts for only 2 percent of exports. Exports of traditional crops collapsed as the result of poor government policy and low prices on the world market. The government has attempted to stimulate agriculture through large irrigation schemes, an expansion of credit, the use of high-yielding seeds, and incentives to foreign business. Food production, however, has failed to keep up with population growth, which is increasing at 2.1 percent each year.

Transportation and Education

By African standards Nigeria has an excellent system of communications and a large popular press. The growth in oil revenues facilitated an expansion of the Nigerian road system, which now connects the entire country. The national airline provides extensive service across all 30 states, and an automatic telephone and telex service is operated by the government. There are several major federal radio services to the regions, a national television network, more than a dozen national daily newspapers, and many national weeklies published in English or native languages.

From the early 1970s Nigeria financed a universal primary education program that has dramatically increased literacy. There are 24 major universities and a host of other institutions of higher learning.

History and Government

While northern Nigeria remained on the edges of European mercantile expansion until the 19th century, the south was directly integrated into an expanding world economy from the 1490s. This occurred through two centuries of slave trade, during which millions of Nigerians were forcibly removed to the New World. In the 19th century trade with European companies consisted of importing European manufactured goods in exchange for agricultural commodities.

The period of British colonial rule was relatively short--from 1903 to 1960--but its effect was substantial. Imperial rule arbitrarily created Nigeria from a multitude of existing political systems. Beginning in 1945 Britain realized that Nigeria wanted independence, and constitutional changes were made in the 1950s for each of the three regions to create parliamentary institutions based on the English model.

After independence the First Republic was wracked by regional political conflicts. They culminated in the political assassination of two regional premiers, a military takeover in 1966, and civil war the following year. Eastern Nigeria seceded from the federation as the republic of Biafra and was reintegrated only after three years of bloodshed and famine.

Since the war Nigeria has been ruled largely by military governments. In 1979 the military gave power to a civilian government based on a constitution adopted in 1978. This document established a federal republic, in imitation of the American system. A northerner, President Shehu Shagari, presided over the government until economic difficulties overwhelmed him. This new kind of federal system was plagued by enormous political corruption, waste, and abuse from 1979 to 1983, when Shagari was finally ousted in a violent military coup.

Nigeria suffered another military coup in 1985. Democratic presidential elections were held in June 1993, with Moshood Abiola of the Social Democratic party winning the vote. The military government of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida voided the election results, sparking widespread civil unrest. Babangida resigned as president in August 1993. He handed over power to a nonelected interim government led by Ernest Shonekan. The military, led by Gen. Sani Abacha, seized power again in November 1993. Abacha abandoned free market reforms of Nigeria's economy and had Abiola arrested and jailed on charges of treason in June 1994. Meanwhile, in the midst of the political turmoil, the national capital was being moved from Lagos to Abuja.

Nigeria Fact Summary

Official Name. Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Capital. Abuja.


Principal Physical Features. Coastal plain with mangrove swamps, Jos Plateau, Chad Basin, Niger Delta.
Highest Peak. Dimlang, 6,700 feet (2,042 meters).
Major Rivers. Benue, Niger.
Mountain Ranges. Adamawa Mountains, Jos Plateau.
Largest Lake. Lake Chad.


Population (1993 estimate). 91,549,000; 256.7 persons per square mile (99.1 persons per square kilometer); 35.2 percent urban, 64.8 percent rural.
Major Cities (1992 estimate). Lagos (1,347,000), Ibadan (1,295,000), Kano (699,900), Ogbomosho (660,600), Oshogbo (441,600), Ilorin (430,600).
Major Religions. Christianity, Islam, African indigenous.
Major Language. English (official).
Literacy. 50.7 percent.
Major Universities. Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; University of Ibadan; University of Lagos; University of Nigeria.


Form of Government. Federal republic.
Head of State and Government. Military leader.
Voting Qualification. Age 18.
Political Divisions. 30 states: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bendel, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Delta, Gongola, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Oshun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe, and the Federal Capital Territory.


Chief Agricultural Products. Crops--cassava, sorghum, millet, rice, corn (maize), plantains. Livestock--goats, sheep, cattle.
Chief Mined Products. Petroleum, natural gas, limestone, marble.
Chief Manufactured Products. Petroleum products, food and beverages, textiles, chemical products, metal products, machinery and transport equipment, paper products.
Chief Exports. Petroleum, cocoa beans, rubber, chemicals.
Chief Imports. Machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, chemicals, food, mineral fuels.
Monetary Unit. 1 naira = 100 kobo.


Diamond, L.J. Nigeria in Search of Democracy (Lynne Rienner, 1993).
Martin, S.M. Palm Oil and Protest (Cambridge, 1988).
Onuaguluchi, Gilbert. The Giant in Turbulent Storms (Vantage, 1990).
Shaw, T.M., and Ihonvbere, J.O, eds. Nigeria (Westview, 1992).
Soyinka, Wole. Aké: The Years of Childhood (Vintage International, 1989).