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December 2011



Nigeria, about the size of California, Nevada, and Arizona combined, lies in western Africa. It is bordered by the Gulf of Guinea, Benin, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. The official language is English, although other languages spoken include: Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Fulani, and Kanuri. Nigeria is Africa's most populous country and is composed of more than 250 ethnic groups. The capital city of Abuja (population 1.857 million) is not its largest city. The largest city in Nigeria is Lagos (10.203 million); other major cities are: Kano, Ibadan, and Kaduna.

In the northern cities of Kano and Katsina, recorded history dates back to about 1000 AD. In the centuries that followed, these Hausa kingdoms and the Bornu empire near Lake Chad prospered as important terminals of north-south trade between North African Berbers and forest people who exchanged slaves, ivory, and kola nuts for salt, glass beads, coral, cloth, weapons, brass rods, and cowrie shells used as currency.

In the southwest, the Yoruba kingdom of Oyo, at its height from the 17th to 19th centuries, attained a high level of political organization and extended as far as modern Togo. In the south central part of present-day Nigeria, as early as the 15th and 16th centuries, the kingdom of Benin had developed an efficient army; an elaborate ceremonial court; and artisans whose works in ivory, wood, bronze, and brass are prized throughout the world today. In the 17th through 19th centuries, European traders established coastal ports for the increasing traffic in slaves destined for the Americas. Commodity trade, especially in palm oil and timber, replaced slave trade in the 19th century, particularly under anti-slavery actions by the British Navy.

Following the Napoleonic wars, the British expanded trade with the Nigerian interior. In 1885, British claims to a sphere of influence in that area received international recognition and, in the following year, the Royal Niger Company was chartered. In 1914, the area was formally united as the "Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria." The United Kingdom administered northern and southern Nigeria separately. Following World War II, Nigerian nationalism and demands for independence resulted in successive constitutions legislated by the British Government moving Nigeria toward representative self-government. Nigeria gained full independence in October 1960, as a federation of three regions (northern, western, and eastern) under a constitution that provided for a parliamentary form of government.

Nigeria's climate varies from equatorial in the south, tropical in the center, and arid in the north. Its terrain consists of southern lowlands that merge into central hills and plateaus; there are mountains in the southeast and plains in the north. Nigeria's natural resources include: natural gas, petroleum, tin, iron ore, coal, limestone, niobium, lead, and zinc. The natural hazards that face the country are periodic droughts and flooding.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes, 11/2011; 10/2011