Nigeria, officially known as the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a country located in West Africa that neighbors with Niger on the north, Cameroon to its east and the Republic of Benin to its west. The southern border is the coastline of the Gulf of Guinea, which is part of the Atlantic Ocean. The largest city, Lagos, is located on this coastline and the capitol city, Abuja, is situated in central Nigeria. Nigeria is one third larger than Texas at 356,669 square miles, and is home to the lower course of the Niger River, from which the country gets its name.
Nigeria’s landscape is diverse and home to many species of flora and fauna. The south is marked by coastal plains, hills and mountains to the east and highlands to the west. The center of the country is characterized by mangroves, rainforests, and savanna, or temperate to tropical grasslands. The Sahel desert runs through the north, which gets less than twenty inches of rain per year.
With high fertility rates and a lower death rate than birth rate, population growth in Nigeria continues to grow explosively. The most populous country in Africa and home to twenty percent of the world’s black population, Nigeria’s roughly 150 million people speak a variety of languages, principally Yoruba, Ibo, and Fulani/Hausa, languages of the three major ethnicities, and English, the official language. Likewise, there are several major religions, including indigenous beliefs, Islam, and Christianity.
Quality of life in Nigeria is poor due to suffering healthcare and education programs. The lack of clean water for drinking and sanitation as well as the polio, malaria, and cholera outbreaks contribute to the low life expectancy of about 47 years and high infant mortality rate of 97 deaths per 1000 live births. Nigeria’s HIV/AIDS rates, however, are much lower than African nations such as Kenya or South Africa. The education system is also in disrepair, though it has been extended to almost all regions of the country is provided for free by the government. Still, Nigeria has spawned many influential writers and musicians, such as Chinua Achebe and Fela Kuti, and has started a lucrative film industry.
The government of Nigeria, a former British colony, is similar in set-up to that of the United States, with a president in the executive branch and a bicameral (two house) legislative branch called the National Assembly made of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The president is elected for a four-year term by popular vote and can serve up to two terms. The current president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, is the leader of the ruling party of the National Assembly, the People’s Democratic Party of Nigeria. The opposition party, All Nigeria People’s Party, holds the majority of remaining seats in the House and Senate, but many other parties are registered as well. Both parties are secular and pan-national.
Nigeria’s three major ethnicities, Faluni/Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo, have historically controlled the government and rivalry between them has led to secessionist movements, a civil war, and corruption and fraud in politics and elections. In recent years, imposition of Islamic law and interfaith violence stemming from poverty and competition for jobs and land have caused many Nigerian Christians to flee. After its oil boom in the 1970s, Nigeria became one of the biggest oil producers, but the wealth is far from equitably distributed amongst citizens. Corruption in managing the oil, oil robberies, and violence in response to the stealing has made it difficult for Nigeria to attract much needed foreign investment.
Nigeria passed through many hands before it was the independent, multi-ethnic, pan-national country it is today. From around 500 BCE to 200 CE, the nation was run by the Nok people. Sometime afterward, the Kanuri, Hausa, and Fulani peoples migrated there. Nigeria then transferred to the Kanem empire, then the Fulani empire, and was then conquered by the British Empire in the mid-19th century.
Nigeria gained independence in 1960 and joined the United Nations, but was soon upset by a military coup and simultaneous massacres of Christian Ibos in the north carried out by Muslim Hausa. The rioting and fleeing developed an attempt at secession by the Ibos in the east in what they declared as the Republic of Biafra. The following years were marked by many bloody and bloodless revolutions and great economic volatility, despite the boost of the oil boom in the 1970. In 1999, the government returned to democratic elections, though the process is constantly threatened by corruption and fighting.