“Despite despots, in spite of the poverty and creeping dehumanisation that we experience every day, I think that Nigerian society is more civilised than the United States.” - Wole Soyinka (1998)

Population 137 million
Major languages English (official), Yoruba, Ibo, Hausa
Major religions Islam, Christianity, indigenous beliefs
Main exports Petroleum, petroleum products, cocoa, rubber
Government Federal republic
Independence From the United Kingdom, 1960

Nigeria is situated at the extreme inner corner of the Gulf of Guinea on the west coast of Africa. Along the entire coastline of Nigeria lies a belt of mangrove swamp forest from 10 to 60 miles in width, which is intersected by branches of the Niger Delta and innumerable other smaller rivers and creeks. Beyond the swamp forest is a zone, from 50 to 100 miles wide, of undulating tropical rain forest. The country then rises to a plateau at a general elevation of 2,000 ft but reaching 6,000 ft to the east, and the vegetation changes from woodland to savannah. In the extreme north, the country approaches the southern part of the Sahara.

The Niger, the third largest river in Africa, enters Nigeria from the Northwest and runs in a southeasterly direction, meeting its principal tributary, the Benue, at Lokoja, about 340 miles from the sea. It then flows south to the Delta, through which it runs into the Gulf of Guinea via numerous channels. Other main tributaries of the Niger are the Sokoto and Kaduna rivers. The second great drainage system of Nigeria flows north and east from the central plateau and empties into Lake Chad.

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.

Nigeria has some 250 ethnic groups, with varying languages and customs, creating a country of rich tribal diversity. The major ethnic groups in the population are Hausa and Fulani (29%), Yoruba (21%), and Igbo (18%).

The former British colony is one of the world's largest oil producers, but the industry has produced unwanted side effects. After lurching from one military coup to another, Nigeria now has an elected leadership although it faces the growing challenge of preventing Africa's most populous country from breaking apart along ethnic and religious lines. Many consider the biggest problem in Nigerian politics to be that the federal government is seen as unwilling to confront and correct the problems of bribery and corruption - a situation that has led to an international reputation for corruption. The government has been criticized as still being heavily influenced by the military, who previously ruled the country. The current president, Olusegun Obasanjo, is a retired general, and he is accused by detractors of maintaining his military contacts.

Political liberalisation ushered in by the return to civilian rule in 1999 has allowed militants from religious and ethnic groups to express their frustrations more freely, and with increasing violence. Thousands of people have died over the past few years in communal rivalry. Separatist aspirations have been growing, prompting reminders of the bitter civil war over the breakaway Biafran republic in the late 1960s. The imposition of Islamic law in several states has embedded divisions and caused thousands of Christians to flee. Inter-faith violence is said to be rooted in poverty, unemployment and the competition for land.

Nigeria is an oil rich nation and the government is under pressure to improve the economy, which experienced an oil boom in the 1970s, but which has been severely undermined by corruption and mismanagement. The trade in stolen oil has fuelled violence and corruption in the Niger delta - the home of the industry. Few Nigerians, including those in oil-producing areas, have benefited from the oil wealth.

Nigeria is keen to attract foreign investment but is hindered in this quest by security concerns as well as by a shaky infrastructure troubled by power cuts.

Since the return to democratic rule in 1999, there has been massive investment in Nigeria's telecommunications industry, making the country the world's fastest growing telecommunications market. It is claimed that advances made by the Government in improving the state of the country's economy have led to predictions of a bright future for the long moribund economy.

(edited. Wikipedia, BBC, The Africa Guide, Bradt)
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