Country Information


Nigeria is a largely segmented country, with the northern and southern portions almost like two different countries, with different cultures and histories. In the northern portion of the country, trans-Saharan trade routes allowed the Kanem-Borno empire to grow strong. In the 12th century, this part of the country adopted Islam, and Islamic states were born. The southern half developed several small states, with the Yoruba and Ijebu kingdoms being the most powerful. The Benin Kingdom also rose to prominence as a center of trade.

It wasn’t until the 15th century that European contact first came to the region when the Portuguese began trading with the Yoruba people. Over time, the slave trade became quite prominent in the region. The more isolated Islamic states in the north remained outside of European influence until the 19th century. It was in the 19th century that Europeans began to establish colonies in the area. By the early 1900s, Britain had established control over the colony of Nigeria.

The colony was divided into two halves - the Christian southern portion and the Islamic protectorate in the north. The British allowed local kings and chiefs to carry out most of the work, and this strengthened the divisions in Nigeria even further.

Nigeria remained a British colony until the end of World War II. As nationalism grew after the war, demands for independence also grew. This led to changes within the British government that began setting Nigeria up for success in self-government. In 1954, the colony became autonomous as the Federation of Nigeria. Full independence came in October of 1960.

The new Federation of Nigeria had a parliamentary government with three self-governing regions. The country retained a monarch as head of state, but the parliament held full legislative power. A Federal Supreme Court held judicial authority. The first Speaker of the Nigerian House was Jaja Wachuku.

The largely segmented society struggled to create a unified government, and military dictatorships became the norm. In 1966, a coup led by the Igbo people put General Johnson Ironsi in charge as head of state. Just a few months later, another coup took place, and the Igbos were slaughtered in large numbers by Yakubu Gowon and his men. This led to civil war in 1967, when the Igbo people declared the independence of their land, Biafra.

The civil war lasted three years, and in 1970, a blockade of Biafra created a famine, and the Igbo people had to surrender after more than a million of them were killed.

In the 1970s, Nigeria struck oil, and this led to a period of national reconciliation as the people once again had money available. After a few more military coups, military leader Olusegun Obasanjo actually stepped down from power, allowing a civilian regime to take control.

This lasted for four years, until 1983, when a new military general, General Mohammed Buhari, forcefully seized control. A cycle of bloody military coups began again, lasting until 1998. That year, current leader Abacha died of a heart attack, and in 1999, elections occurred, bringing Olusegun Obasanjo to power, finally freeing the land of military control. The country was in tatters, but civilians were in control. When Obasanjo was re-elected in 2003, it finally solidified civilian rule in the country, paving the way for a future of democracy.

Unique Characteristics

  • Because of the difficult history of Nigeria, the Nigerian people are quite adaptable and can handle hardship better than many.
  • Three major ethnic groups, the Yoruba, Hausa-Fulani and Igbo, make up the majority of the populace of Nigeria. There are also several smaller ethnic groups in the country, making it very ethnically diverse.
  • While English is the official language of Nigeria, only around half of the people can speak it. There are over 250 languages in the country, many of which are tribal languages.
  • The people of Nigeria dress very conservatively, regardless of what ethnic group they are from.

Fun Facts

  • Every state in Nigeria has a town or village called Sabo.
  • In 1986, Wole Soyinka, London-based Nigerian writer, became the first black author to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature.
  • Nigeria is Africa’s most populated country.
  • Nigeria supplies as much as 15 percent of the oil used in the United States, and it is the 6th largest oil producer in the world.
  • Nigeria is among the world’s top five producers of cocoa.
  • Both the lowland gorilla and the drill monkey, two of the world’s rarest animals, are found in Nigeria.

Top Destinations

  • Kano – As West Africa’s oldest city and Nigeria’s third largest, Kano has much to offer in the way of historic spots to explore.
  • Lagos – Lagos is the largest city in Africa, and the noise of the people and traffic is something you have to experience to believe. It is the place for an African urban adventure.
  • Calabar – Once a slave port, today, Calabar offers an excellent museum and two primate conservation areas.
  • Yankari National Park – This is an excellent place to search for African wildlife, and the Wikki Warm Spring is open for swimming.
  • Osun Sacred Forest – This World Heritage Site is a sacred sculpture park filled with tributes to old Yoruba gods.
  • Anambra – This city, which is in the middle of the Niger River, is an ideal place for a romantic overnight, and it is filled with traditional art.
  • Zuma Rock – Located in Abuja, this naturally occurring rock appears to have a human face when viewed from the right angle.
  • Benin City – Benin City is known for its thriving nightlife.
  • Barazahi – One of the top spas in Lagos, this is the place to go to unwind when the frenzy of the city begins to get to you.
  • Obudu Mountain Resort – Escape to the mountains of Nigeria in this luxury resort located near the border to Cameroon.

How to Get Cash

  • The only place to change foreign currency into naira is on the street. The banks do not change money. The good news is that the moneychangers in Nigeria are some of the most honest on the continent.
  • ATMs are very difficult to find in most of Nigeria, but you can sometimes find them in the cities and they are becoming more prominent in the heavily populated areas. Be prepared for the fees not only from your bank, but also from the ATM should you decide to go this route.
  • Traveler’s checks are not accepted anywhere in Nigeria.
  • Credit cards may be accepted, but you should be very cautious about paying with credit because fraud is so prevalent in Nigeria.
  • Should you face a cash crisis, Western Union has branches in just about every city in Nigeria. This is one of the most expensive ways to get money, but it can work in an emergency.

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