Twice the land size of California, Nigeria is a large West African
nation bordered by the Gulf of Guinea and wedged between Benin
Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation, accounting for one-quarter
of West Africa's people.
The country has a population of more than 120 million people
from hundreds of ethnic groups.
The most populous and politically influential ethnic groups
include the Hausa-Fulani, 29 percent; Yoruba, 21 percent; Igbo
(also "Ibo"), 18 percent; Ijaw, 10 percent; Kanuri, 4 percent;
Ibibio, 3.5 percent; and Tiv, 2.5 percent.
More than 250 languages are spoken. English is the official
Average Nigerian life expectancy is 50.59 years.
Each Nigerian woman bears an average of 5.49 children.
Of the population aged 15 and over, 57.1 percent can read
Nigeria is one of the wealthiest -- and one of the poorest
-- of African nations. Though the country brings in billions
in oil revenues, the U.N.'s Human Development Index ranks it
136th out of 162 countries.
Less than 25 percent of Nigerians live in cities, but the
cities are large; at least 24 cities have populations of more
"419 men" is the name for people who accumulate "fast wealth."
It refers to the number of laws relating to fraud in the Nigerian
penal code. So-called 419 men are believed to have "earned"
their wealth through scams and the international drug trade.
An estimated 3.5 million Nigerians have HIV/AIDS, accounting
for one in every 11 HIV/AIDS sufferers worldwide.
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Nigeria was formally united under British colonial rule in 1914,
but the result was a loose affiliation of the mainly Muslim
Hausa-Fulani North, the mainly Christian Yoruba South and West,
and the mainly Christian Igbo East.
The country achieved its independence from England in 1960.
Tired of the way his people were being mistreated in the North,
Igbo leader Lieutenant Colonel Odemugwu Ojukwu declared the
eastern region of Nigeria the Republic of Biafra on May 30,
1967. The civil war that resulted cost more than a million lives.
By January 15, 1970, the Biafran state was finished, its capital
city lost in battle and its population starved into submission.
From the first military coup, in 1966, the army has consistently
ruled the country (except for a break during the Second Republic
[1979-1983] and for a few weeks in 1993) until elections were
held in 1999.
Following nearly 16 years of military rule, a new constitution
was adopted in 1999, and a peaceful transition to civilian government
Under the constitution adopted in May 1999, a strong executive
presidency appoints a Federal Executive Council composed of
government ministers and ministers from each of Nigeria's 36
The executive is accountable to the bicameral National Assembly.
There are three political parties, but, in practice, personal
and ethnic ties dominate the political process.
Olusegun Obasanjo has been Nigeria's president since May
The north is Nigeria's poorest region, but it has traditionally
held great political power, supplying most of the country's
presidents since independence in 1960. The implementation of
sharia is seen by some as a direct challenge to President Olusegun
Obasanjo, a southern Christian.
Since the restoration of civilian rule in May 1999, more than
10,000 Nigerians have died in civil strife.
The next election is scheduled for April 2003.
Nigeria is ranked as the second-most-corrupt country of 91
surveyed by the Transparency International Global Corruption
Report last year.
Former president General Sani Abacha, who seized power in
1993 after canceling presidential elections and jailing the
presumed winner, reportedly made off with $4.3 billion from
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Currency: naira (NGN)
Population below poverty line: 45 percent
Former military rulers allowed Nigeria to develop a chronic
dependence on its "black gold," which provides 20 percent of
Nigeria's GDP, 95 percent of foreign exchange earnings and nearly
80 percent of government income.
Once a large exporter of food, Nigeria must now import food.
Imported goods are hit with heavy tariffs: for example, 100
percent on imported toilet paper and 150 percent on water and
beer. Traders evade these duties by paying for smuggled goods
with black-market dollars.
Nigeria is the world's sixth-largest exporter of petroleum,
producing 4.5 percent of the world's total production.
In September 2001, Shell Oil Company announced that a flow
station in southern Nigeria had been damaged in an attack and
put out of commission for 18 months. The company is suing two
communities for $25 million.
More than 4,000 oil spills have been recorded in Nigeria's
Niger Delta over the past four decades, a failure the president
blames on the oil companies.
The largest item in Nigeria's 2002 budget: military spending
The country's relationship to the International Monetary Fund
was severed in February 2002.
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Half of all Nigerians are Muslim, 40 percent are Christian and
10 percent hold indigenous beliefs.
Nigeria's religions tend to parallel ethnic identification.
Hausa-Fulani people in the north are predominantly Muslim, the
Igbo in the east are often Catholic, and the Yoruba in the west
are animist, Christian or Muslim. Individuals sometimes mix
the religions, for example, combining tenets of Christianity
with local customs.
Kano, a 1,000-year-old northern trade center, is West Africa's
oldest city. Its Central Mosque attracts as many as 50,000 worshippers
at a time.
Masks play an important role in certain animist rites, representing
forces of nature and gods in ceremonies. Wooden Yoruba masks,
for example, help maintain connection to ancestors.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the ability to combat witchcraft and
black magic is part of the appeal of "born again" Christian
There are 250 registered Pentecostal ministries in Nigeria
today, up from 50 in 1990, and these churches seem especially
to appeal to the young.
Canaan Land, a 565-acre campus with hotel, gas station, bank,
restaurants, shops and the continent's largest church auditorium,
is just one example of Nigeria's growing Christian fervor.
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Twelve out of 36 Nigerian states are currently under sharia,
Sharia is not new to Nigeria. Islamic penal codes were enforced
until 1960, when punishments such as amputations and floggings
Many Muslim Nigerians believe that this penal system is a
reasonable alternative to Nigeria's secular courts, which are
notoriously dysfunctional. In the country's secular courts,
bribery is the norm, and there is no such thing as a speedy
In sharia courts, most people represent themselves, saving
Last year, a teenage mother was flogged 100 times with a cane
in Zamfara State, after being convicted of premarital sexual
intercourse. She had no legal representation at her trial. None
of the three married men she accused of coercing her into having
sex with them was charged, tried or punished.
Muslim vigilante groups have been responsible for unlawful
detention, acts of violence, torture and killings.
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The Nok people were the first to populate the land now called
Nigeria, around 500 B.C. The highly adept Nok knew how to smelt
metal. They adorned themselves with nose rings, earrings and
bracelets -- an early cultural expression unmatched in Africa
for the next 1,000 years.
One of the first and most powerful tribes was the Yoruba,
a group of traders and artisans who worshipped a pantheon of
deities headed by Oduduwa, creator of the earth and ancestor
of future Yoruba kings.
Igbo women traditionally have their own women's council. This
council exercises real power, organizing communitywide walkouts
that can last several days. When the council of women decides
that they need to make a point, the women leave their men and
all but the youngest of their children. They move to a nearby
village where they are treated as guests. There, the women tell
of their troubles with the men at home. The men from the neighboring
village act as police, pressuring the other men to shape up.
They also bill the men for the expense of housing and feeding
the displaced women.
Nigerian music is well-known around the world. Until his death
in 1997, Fela Kuti's eclectic fusion of traditional Yoruba call-and-response
chanting with freestyle jazz (Afrobeat) was quite popular.
Other popular Nigerian musicians include Sonny Ade, the king
of juju music, Sonny Okosun, granddaddy of Afro-reggae, and
the soul singer, Sade.
Nigeria has as many writers as the rest of West Africa combined.
Among Nigeria's best-known authors are Chinua Achebe, Wole
Soyinka and Ben Okri.
Distinguished novelist and playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged
for political activism in 1995.
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Sources: BBC Nigeria
Timeline; CIA World Factbook, 2002; New York Times; ThisDay
(Lagos); The Economist; BBC; Reuters; Voice of America;
Harvard, Fall 2002; www.missiology.com;
Amnesty International, December 2001; www.allafrica.com;
Christian Science Monitor; www.geographyiq.com;
U.S. Energy Information Administration; Smith, Daniel Jordan,
"The Arrow of God: Pentecostalism, Inequality and the Supernatural
in South-Eastern Nigeria" (Edinburgh University Press, Sept.
22, 2002); www.thecore.nus.edu,
"Contemporary Post-Colonial and Post-Imperial Literature in