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Nigeria, republic in western Africa, with a coast along the Atlantic Ocean on the Gulf of Guinea. Most of Nigeria consists of a low plateau cut by rivers, especially the Niger and its largest tributary, the Benue. The country takes its name from its chief river. Until 1991, the capital was the largest city, Lagos, on the southwestern coast; at that time, the city of Abuja, in the country’s interior, became capital.

Nigeria is by far the most populated of Africa’s countries, with more than one-seventh of the continent’s people. The people belong to many different ethnic groups. These groups give the country a rich culture, but they also pose major challenges to nation building. Ethnic strife has plagued Nigeria since it gained independence in 1960.

Nigeria has a federal form of government and is divided into 36 states and a federal capital territory. The country’s official name is the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Lagos, along the coast, is the largest city and the country’s economic and cultural center, but Abuja, a city in the interior planned and built during the 1970s and 1980s, is the capital. The government moved from Lagos to Abuja in 1991 in the hope of creating a national capital where none of the country’s ethnic groups would be dominant.

Nigeria long had an agricultural economy but now depends almost entirely on the production of petroleum, which lies in large reserves below the Niger Delta. While oil wealth has financed major investments in the country’s infrastructure, Nigeria remains among the world’s poorest countries in terms of per capita income. Oil revenues led the government to ignore agriculture, and Nigeria must now import farm products to feed its people.

The area that is now Nigeria was home to ethnically based kingdoms and tribal communities before it became a European colony. In spite of European contact that began in the 16th century, these kingdoms and communities maintained their autonomy until the 19th century. The colonial era began in earnest in the late 19th century, when Britain consolidated its rule over Nigeria. In 1914 the British merged their northern and southern protectorates into a single state called the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. Nigeria became independent of British rule in 1960. After independence Nigeria experienced frequent coups and long periods of autocratic military rule between 1966 and 1999, when a democratic civilian government was established.


For younger readers

Adeleke, Tunde. Songhay. Rosen, 1996. For readers in grades 5 to 7.

Blauer, Ettagale, and Jason Laure. Nigeria. Scholastic, 2001. For readers in grades 6 to 9.

Koslow, Philip. Yorubaland: The Flowering of Genius. Chelsea House, 1995. For middle school and high school readers.

Levy, Patricia. Nigeria. Marshall Cavendish, 2004. For readers in grades 5 to 7.

Parris, Ronald. Hausa. Rosen, 1996. For readers in grades 5 to 8.

Rosenberg, Anne. Nigeria: The People. Crabtree, 2000. For readers in grades 3 to 5.

Tenquist, Alasdair. Nigeria. Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1996. For readers in grades 5 to 7.


Falola, Toyin. The History of Nigeria. Greenwood, 1999. An introduction to Nigerian history.

Khan, Sarah Ahmed. Nigeria: The Political Economy of Oil. Oxford University Press, 1995. The history, management, and mismanagement of Nigeria's leading industry.

Maier, Karl. Into the House of the Ancestors: Inside the New Africa. Wiley, 1997. The problems, possibilities, and resources of postcolonial Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa.

Maier, Karl. This House Has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria. Public Affairs, 2000. An account of Nigeria's resilience, from failure to the hope for renewal.

Olaniyan, Richard, ed. Nigerian History and Culture. Longman, 1985. Twenty college-level essays, primarily on history.

Oyewole, Anthony, and John Lucas. Historical Dictionary of Nigeria. Scarecrow, 1999. A clear account of Nigeria's complex culture and political factions.

Shaw, Timothy M., and Julius O. Ihonvbere. Nigeria: The Illusions of Power. Westview, 1992. Chronicles the country's ethnic troubles and economic chaos.

Soyinka, Wole. Ake: The Years of Childhood. Random House, 1982. This renowned Yoruba writer evokes the customs of a village in western Nigeria.

Temperley, Howard. White Dreams, Black Africa: The Anti-Slavery Expedition to the River Niger, 1841-1842 Yale University Press, 1992. Account of a little-known attempt to establish a commercial trade that did not involve slaves in 19th-century West Africa.


Stock, Robert, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Liaison Officer, International Programs, College of Arts and Science, University of Saskatchewan. Author of Africa South of the Sahara: A Geographical Interpretation and other books.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

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