Chief Emeka Anyaoku of Nigeria was Commonwealth Secretary-General
Wole Soyinka, born in Abeokuta in July 1934, was awarded the Nobel Prize
in Literature in 1986; and Nigerians have won 14 Commonwealth Writers’
The Seventh Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning was held in Abuja,
2–6 December 2013, with the theme of ‘Open Learning for Development’.
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with a population of some
Joined Commonwealth: 1960 (suspended 1995–99)
Population: 173,615,000 (2013)
GDP: 2.6% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: world ranking 152
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT plus 1hr
Currency: Naira (N)
Area: 923,768 sq km
Capital city: Abuja
Population density (per sq. km): 188
The Federal Republic of Nigeria lies on the Gulf of Guinea and has
borders with Benin (west), Niger (north), Chad (north-east across Lake
Chad) and Cameroon (east). It comprises the Abuja Federal Capital
Territory and 36 states.
Abuja (federal capital since 1991, pop. 2.71m in 2011), Lagos
(commercial centre and former capital, Lagos State, 13.34m), Kano (Kano,
4.03m), Ibadan (Oyo, 3.06m), Port Harcourt (Rivers, 2.01m), Kaduna
(Kaduna, 1.64m), Benin City (Edo, 1.45m), Ilorin (Kwara, 1.08m),
Maiduguri (Borno, 1.03m), Aba (Abia, 1.01m), Warri (Edo, 933,800),
Onitsha (Anambra, 910,800), Jos (Plateau, 900,000), Enugu (Enugu,
870,000), Zaria (Kaduna, 870,000), Akure (Ondo, 847,900), Abeokuta (Ogun,
801,300), Oshogbo (Osun, 795,000), Ife (Osun, 490,000), Ogbomosho (Oyo,
433,030), Oyo (Oyo, 369,894), Sokoto (Sokoto, 329,369), Okene (Kogi,
312,755), Calabar (Cross River, 310,389), Katsina (Katsina, 259,315),
Bauchi (Bauchi, 206,537), Minna (Niger, 189,191), Gombe (Gombe,
163,604), Ado (Ekiti, 156,122), Makurdi (Benue, 151,515), Ondo (Ondo,
146,051), Owerri (Imo, 119,711), Gboko (Benue, 101,281), Nsukka (Enugu,
69,210), Jalingo (Taraba, 67,226), Birnin Kebbi (Kebbi, 63,147), Uyo (Akwa
Ibom, 58,369), Yola (Adamawa, 54,810) and Asaba (Delta, 49,725).
193,200 km of roads, 15 per cent paved, link all main centres. Some
secondary roads are impassable during the rains.
There are around 3,530 km of railway, the main routes running from Lagos
to Kano, and from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, with a branch line from
Zaria to Gusau and Kaura Namoda. Much of the network is single-track,
and the narrow gauge restricts speed and load-carrying capacity.
Main ports are at Apapa, Tin Can Island, Warri, Sapele, Port Harcourt
and Calabar. Ferry services operate along the Niger and Benue rivers and
along the coast.
Lagos international airport is 22 km north of Lagos; other main
international airports are at Abuja (35 km from the city), Kano and Port
Harcourt, and main domestic airports at Benin City, Calabar, Enugu, Jos,
Kaduna, Lagos, Maiduguri, Sokoto and Yola.
Nigeria is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of
States, African Union, Economic Community of West African States,
Non-Aligned Movement, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, United
Nations and World Trade Organization.
Nigeria hosts the headquarters of the Economic Community of West African
States in Abuja.
The country is also a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting
Nigeria is a large country, 1,045 km long and 1,126 km wide. It has
several important rivers, notably the Niger and its main tributary, the
Benue, both of which are navigable. The Niger forms a delta some 100 km
wide, running into the sea west of Port Harcourt. In the north-east
rivers drain into Lake Chad. The coastal region is low-lying, with
lagoons, sandy beaches and mangrove swamps. Inland the country rises to
the central Jos Plateau at 1,800 metres. The Adamawa Massif, bordering
Cameroon, rises to 2,042 metres at Dimlang (Vogel Peak).
Tropical; hot and humid on the coast, with greater extremes of
temperature inland and cold nights in the north during December and
January. The rainy season is generally March–November in the south and
May–September in the north. In the dry season the harmattan wind blows
from the Sahara.
The most significant environmental issues are rapid deforestation, soil
degradation, and desertification.
Mangrove and freshwater swamps in coastal areas, merging into an area of
rainforest, containing hardwoods and oil palms. Moving north, the
savannah and plateau regions have grasslands and hardy trees such as the
baobab and tamarind. There is semi-desert vegetation in the north-east.
In the north, forest depletion has been caused by overgrazing, bush
fires and the use of wood as fuel, but there has been
government-sponsored planting in an attempt to arrest the southward
advance of the Sahara. Oil palms occur naturally and, being valuable,
are often spared when forests are cleared. Forest covers nine per cent
of the land area, having declined at 3.2 per cent p.a. 1990–2010. Some
76 per cent of forest is savannah woodland, 20 per cent tropical
rainforest and four per cent swamp forest. Arable land comprises 40 per
cent and permanent cropland four per cent of the total land area.
The Yankari National Park is an important stopover for migrating birds
(some 600 species call there), and also has an elephant population. The
Okomo Sanctuary is home to the endangered white-throated monkey. On the
grasslands of the savannah are camels, antelopes, hyenas and giraffes.
An area of 30,100 sq km is protected (2003), or 3.3 per cent of the land
area. In the country as a whole 26 mammal species and 15 bird species
are thought to be endangered (2014).
Nigeria has a long history, with its roots in early civilisations of
distinguished artistry. The plateau area around Jos was a meeting point
for cultural influences from the Upper Niger Valley (where agriculture
developed independently as early as 5000 BCE) and from Egypt. By 3000
BCE, the plateau people – probably the Bantu people who later dominated
Sub-Saharan Africa – were developing more complex societies and
beginning to advance to the south. By 500 BCE, the Nok culture was
flourishing. Nok society produced elegant and technically accomplished
terracotta heads and figures; they were agriculturalists making tools
and weapons of iron.
In due course, in the north, strong state systems evolved, several based
on divine kingship. The people kept cattle and horses, grew cotton and
cereals, and worked in fabrics, leather and iron. They were in contact
with Egypt and other north African societies. Two powerful empires arose
– Hausa–Bokwoi (beginning as separate states from CE 100–1000) and Kanem–Bornu
(from the 11th century). They converted to Islam, traded in gold,
slaves, leather, salt and cloth across the Sahara, and by and large
successfully kept their enemies at bay.
In the south-west, the Yoruba had, before CE 1000, founded Ife, still
the spiritual centre of Yorubaland. The origins of Benin are connected
with Ife; Benin culture produced bronze sculpture by the ‘lost wax’
technique. These are naturalistic but slightly idealised heads of great
elegance, delicacy and beauty, regarded as a major contribution to the
world’s artistic heritage. Ife itself, however, fell victim to conquest
by Oyo in the 14th century and later Ibadan and Abeokuta. The people of
the south-east were heavily preyed upon by slave traders from the north
and along the coast. Forced to abandon their settlements and move into
the forests to evade their captors, the struggles of the Igbo peoples
were preserved in long epics, memorised and passed down the generations.
In the 15th century, Benin began to trade with the Portuguese, selling
slaves and acquiring spices, firearms, the art of writing and the
Christian religion. By the 18th century, the British had displaced the
Portuguese as leaders of the slave trade. A century later, in 1807, the
missionaries’ campaign against slavery had gained support, leading the
British parliament to ban the slave trade. The navy began to patrol the
coast, arresting slavers and settling captured slaves (most of them
Nigerians) in the resettlement colony of Sierra Leone. Several
missionaries in Nigeria were themselves freed Nigerian slaves who had
converted to Christianity in Sierra Leone. The missionaries introduced
quinine to control malaria, a new trade in palm oil also began, and the
economies of southern Nigeria became increasingly powerful. Steamboats
took this new culture up-river and into the forests.
In the early 19th century, there was upheaval in the north, as Fulani
emirs declared a jihad (holy war) against the Hausa state of Gobir and
created a new empire with city states, a common religious and judicial
system and Qur’anic schools. The Muslim empire spread rapidly.
The Yoruba, under pressure, drew closer to Britain, which annexed Lagos
in 1861. In 1884, British control expanded with the creation of the Oil
Rivers Protectorate, set up under treaties with Yoruba rulers, and then
the north, while the Igbo were conquered. By 1900, Britain had control
The Colonial Office adopted the system of indirect rule, with
traditional leaders continuing in power while owing allegiance to the
Many educated Nigerians objected to the system, since it entrenched
traditional practices which, in a freer society, would have evolved into
possibly more progressive forms. Nonetheless, the system prevented
British settlers from dominating the economy, and Nigerian enterprise
built a substantial export trade in cocoa, groundnuts, leather, cotton
and vegetable oils.
In 1914, six Africans were brought into the governor’s advisory council.
In 1922, a legislative council (ten Africans, four of them elected, and
36 Europeans) was empowered to legislate for the south. In 1947, the
council’s authority was extended to the whole country. It now had 28
African (four elected) and 17 European members. The 1947 constitution
also set up regional houses of assembly in the east, west and north,
with a House of Chiefs in the north. The 1951 constitution gave the
balance of power to Nigerians. In 1954, Nigeria became a federation; in
1957 Eastern and Western regions gained internal self-government and
Northern Nigeria two years later. Elections to the Federal House of
Representatives in December 1959 brought in a new government. At its
first meeting, the new House requested full sovereignty and Nigeria
proceeded to independence on 1 October 1960.
Nigeria’s independence government was led by the Northern People’s
Congress in alliance with the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (a
largely Igbo party), with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister.
In 1963, the country became a republic and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe its first
The first of several coups occurred in January 1966 and Tafawa Balewa
was among those killed. Army commander Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi
headed a new administration, which abolished the federation and
instituted a unitary state. In July 1966, troops from the north
retaliated with another coup in which Aguiyi- Ironsi was killed and
Lt-Col Yakubu Gowon assumed the leadership. He restored the federal
state and replaced the four regions with 12 states. He included
civilians in government and promised to restore democratic rule as soon
In May 1967, Lt-Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu declared eastern Nigeria
an independent state named the Republic of Biafra. This led to civil
war. Hostilities lasted until Biafra was defeated in January 1970 and
Ojukwu went into exile; the war cost some one million lives.
In 1975, Gowon was deposed in a coup and replaced by Brigadier Murtala
Muhammed, who introduced radical economic reforms, a new structure of 19
states and a programme for a return to civilian rule in four years. He
was assassinated in an abortive coup in 1976. Lt-Gen Olusegun Obasanjo
succeeded and continued Muhammed’s policies: the ban on political
activities was lifted (1978), multiparty elections were held (1979) and
Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria became (executive)
President, re-elected in 1983.
However, in 1983 a military coup put an end to this brief period of
democracy. New head of state Major-General Muhammadu Buhari initiated a
severe austerity programme with campaigns against idleness and
self-enrichment. This provoked a further coup in 1985 bringing
Major-General Ibrahim Babangida to power. He repealed the most unpopular
decrees and, in 1987, promised a return to civilian rule by 1992. In
1989 two parties were formed (only two parties were permitted).
The transition to civilian rule went as far as elections to state
assemblies in 1991 and presidential primary elections in 1992 (re- run
1993) before the whole process was halted. The newly created Social
Democratic Party won the majority in both Houses, and its leader, Chief
Moshood Abiola, was believed to be leading in the presidential
elections. But before all the results had been announced, the elections
were annulled by Babangida, who shortly after resigned. For a few months
civilian Chief Ernest Shonekan was head of an interim government, and
charged with holding yet further elections.
However, in November 1993, in Nigeria’s seventh coup, General Sani
Abacha assumed power and cancelled the scheduled return to civilian
rule. He dissolved the interim national government, national and state
assemblies, the state executive councils and the two political parties,
and banned all political activity.
In June 1994 a constitutional conference was held to devise a programme
for a return to civilian rule. The conference failed to reach consensus.
Shortly before it opened, Chief Abiola, on the basis of the 1993
elections, proclaimed himself President. He was arrested and charged
with treason; he was held in solitary confinement and was never brought
In March 1995, during a clamp-down after an alleged counter- coup, the
military arrested prominent opponents of the regime and campaigners for
a rapid return to democracy, including retired generals Olusegun
Obasanjo and Shehu Musa Yar’Adua – whose political influence stemmed
from the fact that they headed the military government which handed
power to a civilian government in 1979. Obasanjo and Yar’Adua were tried
for treason and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. Shortly
afterwards, in October, Abacha further postponed plans for a return to
democracy, and announced a new three-year timetable for completing the
transition by late 1998.
Amid the many political detentions of this period, one of Nigeria’s most
popular writers, Ken Saro-Wiwa, leader of the campaign against pollution
of Ogoni lands and waters by the oil industry, and eight others were
arrested and charged with the murder of local chiefs. They were tried by
a military court and executed on 10 November 1995, hours after the
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting had opened in New Zealand. In
response, on 11 November, Commonwealth Heads of Government suspended
Nigeria from membership of the Commonwealth for contravening the
principles of the Harare Commonwealth Declaration, and called for the
release of Abiola and 43 other political prisoners.
In 1996 five parties were registered and local elections took place in
March 1997, when the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) and Democratic
Party of Nigeria (DPN) won most seats. At the Commonwealth Heads of
Government Meeting in Edinburgh, United Kingdom, in October 1997
Nigeria’s suspension from Commonwealth membership was extended until 1
October 1998 by which time the Abacha government had said it would
restore democracy and civilian government. If the transition programme
failed, or was not credible, Nigeria would be expelled. In December
1997, UNCP gained a majority in 29 of the 36 state assemblies.
By April 1998 all five registered political parties had adopted Abacha
as their candidate for the August presidential election, although he had
not publicly agreed to stand. In the general election in the same month,
a very low poll, UNCP took a majority of seats in both the House of
Representatives and the Senate. Abacha died suddenly in June 1998 and
was replaced as head of state by Chief of Defence Staff General
Abdulsalami Abubakar, who promised to return the country to civilian
rule and released nine political prisoners including Olusegun Obasanjo.
Chief Abiola also died suddenly, in July 1998 while his release from
detention was still being negotiated. He was 60 and, though some
initially suspected foul play, an international team of pathologists who
were called in to conduct an autopsy confirmed he died of natural
causes. His health had however been adversely affected by the harsh
Abubakar dissolved the principal bodies associated with the Abacha
regime’s democracy programme, released detainees, allowed unfettered
political activity and published a new election timetable. A new
Independent National Electoral Commission was set up in August 1998. As
a result of the local government elections in December 1998, the
People’s Democratic Party (PDP), All People’s Party (APP) and Alliance
for Democracy (AD) went forward to contest the state and federal
elections. The PDP took 23 state governorships, APP eight and AD six. In
the National Assembly elections, PDP won nearly 60 per cent of the seats
in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The presidential
election gave PDP candidate Obasanjo a convincing victory with 62 per
cent of the votes against 38 per cent for joint APP/AD candidate Chief
Oluyemi Falae. These federal elections were closely monitored by
international, including Commonwealth, observers. Although cases of
serious irregularities were noted, especially in the presidential poll,
when the turnout figures were often inflated, they were not deemed to
have brought the overall result into question.
In the wake of the elections, the departing military rulers published a
new constitution. When Obasanjo became President in May 1999, Nigeria’s
suspension from the Commonwealth was lifted. The 1999 constitution,
which permitted the practice of Sharia law for consenting Muslims,
opened the way for some northern states – led by Zamfara State in
October 1999 – to seek to implement it. This plunged the country into a
heated controversy and some violence as Christians in these states were
not convinced by assurances that it would not adversely affect them.
This continued as the northern states successively adopted Sharia law.
Zamfara was first to carry out an amputation in March 2000 and Sokoto
first to sentence a woman to death by stoning for adultery in October
2001 (later revoked).
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