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Atlas Nigeria

Country (long form)
Federal Republic of Nigeria
Total Area
356,668.82 sq mi
923,768.00 sq km
123,337,822 (July 2000 est.) note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS
Estimated Population in 2050
English (official), Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo (Ibo), Fulani
57.1% total, 67.3% male, 47.3% female (1995 est.)
Muslim 50%, Christian 40%, indigenous beliefs 10%
Life Expectancy
51.58 male, 51.55 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
republic transitioning from military to civilian rule
1 naira (N) = 100 kobo
GDP (per capita)
$970 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture 54%, industry 6%, services 40% (1999 est.)
crude oil, coal, tin, columbite, palm oil, peanuts, cotton, rubber, wood, hides and skins, textiles, cement and other construction materials, food products, footwear, chemicals, fertilizer, printing, ceramics, steel
cocoa, peanuts, palm oil, corn, rice, sorghum, millet, cassava (tapioca), yams, rubber; cattle, sheep, goats, pigs; timber; fish
Arable Land
petroleum and petroleum products 95%, cocoa, rubber
machinery, chemicals, transport equipment, manufactured goods, food and live animals
Natural Resources
petroleum, tin, columbite, iron ore, coal, limestone, lead, zinc, natural gas, hydropower, arable land
Current Environmental Issues
soil degradation; rapid deforestation; desertification; recent droughts in north severely affecting marginal agricultural activities
Telephones (main lines in use)
405,000 (1995)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
10,000 (1999)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
5 (1999)

The earliest Nigerians were the Nok people, skilled artisans from around the Jos area. By the beginning of the second millennium the Nok had virtually disappeared and the state of Kanem, to the north east of Lake Chad, was flourishing. Much of Kanem was Islamic, as were the kingdoms around Kano and Katsina, and its wealth came from control of the trans-Saharan trade route from West Africa to the Mediterranean. These northern Islamic states remained untouched by Europeans until well into the 19th century. By contrast the southern states were dominated in the 14th and 15th centuries by a number of Yoruba empires with traditional Obas (kings) who cultivated European contact through the Portugese spice trade.

At the end of the 18th century Fulani religious zealots in the north, sick of being dominated by the Islamic Hausa states, took over and created the single Islamic state of the Sokoto Caliphate. This original division between the Islamic government in the north and the Yoruba tribes in the south has never healed, and over the years intertribal fighting and civil wars have rubbed salt into the wounds. Even today Nigerian politics is riddled with tribal rivalries and ancient axes to grind.

After the bottom fell out of the spice trade, the Portugese, and then the British, began a miserable trade slaves, but by 1807 slavery had been banned and the British began to look for other ways to turn a buck. British companies began to take control of the Jos mines thus destroying the livelihood of thousands of independent tin producers. Worse still, the heavy reliance on mining exports was achieved at the expense of Nigeria's export food crops and the country had its first-ever food shortage. The British had also appointed chiefs in the southern Ibo communities to run the area but this was like hammering square pegs into round holes. These 'invented chiefs' had little in common with the people and simmering hostility and resentment was the usual result.

In 1960 Nigeria declared independence. Unfortunately the British system of colonialism had done nothing to unify Nigeria or prepare it for independence. The historical conflicts between north and south, and other inter-regional fighting, made the idea of a unified republic unworkable. By 1966 the dream of a flourishing democracy was floundering amidst a series of massacres, inter-regional hostilities and, finally, a military coup that installed the first of a series of military governments. The Ibo responded by seceding from the federation and declaring the independent republic of Biafra, kick-starting an all-out civil war that lasted for nearly three years before federal Nigeria won and reintegrated Biafra. The war left behind nearly 1,000,000 dead and 'Biafra' as a byword in mass destruction and famine.

Given Nigeria's seesawing fortunes it was almost predictable that they would follow one of the world's worst famines with a champagne period of excessive prosperity. Rocketing oil prices provided the Nigerian government with a chance to go on a spending spree of reckless proportions and the country quickly became a hotbed of foreigners rushing to Nigeria with their dash (bribe) money. Corruption became de rigueur, crime rampant, and chaos spread like cancer. By the early 1980s the world recession sent oil prices plummeting again and plunged Nigeria into a cycle of massive debt, soaring inflation, large-scale unemployment and widespread corruption. In 1993 the country came under the iron-fisted rule of General Abacha.

Far from delivering on the promise of a US-style democracy, Abacha earned the wrath of human rights group and the censure of the Commonwealth nations for executing well-known playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others for seditious political activity. This and other despotic actions sparked rioting and civil unrest across Nigeria. In June 1998 Abacha died and was immediately replaced by Major General Abubakar. Abubakar promised a return to civilian rule. He kept his promise and in 1999 Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military leader and - until 1998 - a political prisoner, was elected president.

Upon the election of Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigerians were euphoric, as it seemed they were finally free from military rule. It was not long before things deteriorated as several rival groups (religious and tribal), no longer threatened by army intervention, settled down to protracted conflict. The worst manifestations of the violence were the Sharia'a riots (over full implementation of Islamic law) which broke out in many centres in February 2000. In one night, described in The Guardian as 'mind-boggling carnage', over 300 people were killed in hand-to-hand rioting between Igbo Christians and Hausa Muslims in Kaduna.

The country was in turmoil, and the situation was exacerbated by fuel shortages and extended power blackouts. Obasanjo sacked the entire NEPA (power authority) board after weeks of darkness throughout the country.

Little has improved under the new democracy. Obasanjo has consolidated Nigeria's position as West Africa's political heavyweight and a key player in the Commonwealth, as well as launching the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) in conjunction with Algeria and South Africa, but the country is still beset by internal problems, with frequent outbreaks of ethnic and religious violence, explosions and gang war in Lagos and militant attacks on the southern oilfields during the 2003 Iraq war. Presidential elections in April 2003 did nothing to quell international concerns about Nigeria's stability while Obasanjo claimed an overwhelming victory, independent observers expressed reservations over 'serious irregularities' and intimidation in certain electoral districts, and his Muslim rival (and fellow former military leader) Muhammed Buhari rejected the result with veiled threats of violence. The result has been allowed to stand and so far Obasanjo has not encountered serious resistance, but with opposition parties just waiting for him to slip up, it seems this is once again a make-or-break time for Nigerian democracy