In her essay, first published anonymously in The Times of London on January 8 1897, Flora Shaw coined “Nigeria” as a shorter alternative to the widely named “Royal Niger Company Territories” – deeming it “inconvenient” and to an extent a “misleading” name for the then-British protectorate. Today, in contrast, “Nigeria” is too small a word to encompass its 164.75m (estimate by the IMF) population, more than 250 distinct ethnic groups and some 510 living languages on a landmass of 923,768 sq km – an area about twice the size of Sweden.

ECONOMY: With the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recording a real GDP growth rate, on an aggregate basis, of 7.13% in the first quarter of 2011, and a slightly lower 6.17% for the same quarter in 2012, Nigeria boasts the continent’s second-largest economy after South Africa. Africa’s largest oil producer, Nigeria is the third-largest recipient of foreign direct investment in the continent after Angola and Egypt, according to the US Diplomatic Mission. These figures, however, are overshadowed by recent uncertainty related to the proposed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), immediate infrastructure gaps, refined oil import dependency, humanitarian concerns, as well as continuing unrest in the Niger Delta. The forecast is not entirely bleak, however, as Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala informed the IMF in July 2012, with agriculture improving, a solid mineral industry and booming telecoms sector, as well as reported improvements in services, retail trade, housing and construction. The country has shown resilient growth and improved stability over the past decade, due in part to relative political stability, considering its politically tumultuous post-colonial past, and largely consistent economic policies. The government seeks to further enhance growth through its Vision 20:2020 strategy to become one of the top 20 economies by 2020. It aims to diversify the economy away from its dependence on hydrocarbons through industrialisation to improve socio-economic indicators and ensure a thriving and competitive business environment to attract the private sector.

GEOGRAPHY: Situated in Western Africa, south of the Sahara, with a coastline of 953 km, Nigeria borders Benin to its west and Cameroon in the east, while its northern frontiers are enclosed by Chad and Niger. It is the 14th-largest African country and possesses a rich and varied landscape, biodiversity and climate: the lowlands of mangrove forests and saline swamps in the far south rise from the Delta region into freshwater swamps and rainforests, backing onto woodland and grass savannahs, and short grass and marginal savannahs in its north and extreme north. The differing traditions and personal attributes of the country’s tribal groups can be said to be a reflection of the topography.

CLIMATE: From the Sahara and South Atlantic Ocean, respectively, the inter-tropical discontinuity dictates the country’s two seasons: the dry (popularly known as the harmattan season) and the rainy. The former is normally from December to February, with temperatures reaching 34 C along the coast and as high as 45 C in the far north, while the rainy season falls between June and September.

The annual rainfall also varies the topography, with the southern tropical belt bucketing 150-200 cm per year, the centre of the country 50-150 cm and the north less than 50 cm per year.

RESOURCES: While it is known famously for its oil and natural gas, Nigeria also has substantial reserves of coal, iron ore, zinc, tin, limestone, lead and niobium (used for superconductors). Moreover, it has a significant proportion of arable land ( approximately 90%). However, many of these resources have yet to be fully exploited, with soil degradation, over-exploitation, decades of oil-spills (dubbed “a fiasco” by Audrey Gaughran, the director of global issues at Amnesty International), rapid deforestation, and urbanisation ever-looming environmental concerns.

DEMOGRAPHICS: With a growth rate of 3.2%, Nigeria has a relatively young population, with 42.4% aged between 0-14 years, and only around 5% over the age of 65, according to the UN Statistics Division (UNSD) in 2010. The World Health Organisation puts average life expectancy for males and females at 53 and 54 years, respectively. The largest city and commercial centre, with a recorded population of 11.4m people, is Lagos in the south of the country. The capital, Abuja is located in the geographic centre and has a registered population of an estimated 1.6m, according to the US Department of State. The north, largely due to the prevalence of agriculture, is less densely populated and just under half (49.8%) of the total population that live in urban areas, according to data from the UNSD.

Nigeria has a varied assortment of ethnic groups, with the largest – the Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa-Fulani – accounting for a collective 68% of the country’s total population, the CIA World Factbook purports. The Kanuri and Tiv in the north, along with the Ijaw and Ibibio in the east make up 27%, while the remaining 7% comprises a variety of smaller ethnic minorities. Significant communities of expatriates do exist in some of the larger cities, such as Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano. They emigrate predominantly from India and Lebanon, as well as the UK, the US, China, Japan and Greece.

LANGUAGE: Some 510 living languages are catalogued in Nigeria, plus an additional two second languages with no native speakers and a further nine languages believed to have died out. As a result of former British rule, and in order to unite the country under one dialect, English was chosen as the official language and is the means of communication in politics, business and education. Moreover, some 75m Nigerians also speak a creolised English-based language known as Nigerian Pidgin – although it holds no official status. French is also widely spoken throughout Western Nigeria.

CULTURE: Nigeria is known for a variety of ethnic and religious festivals, English-language literature, as well as traditional folk music and contemporary music, notably afrobeat and Juju. Music as an expression, particularly in voicing ones roots and culture, forms an intrinsic part of everyday life and religion. In terms of annual production, Nollywood, the name for the Nigerian film industry, is the second-largest in the world behind India’s Bollywood.

FOOD & DRINK: The country’s cuisine is as varied as its culture. Nigerian dishes generally consist of heavily spiced beef, chicken or fish. Although there is an abundance of brick-and-mortar restaurants, roadside barbecues offering meat served with rice, beans and cassava make for a delicious alternative. Popular beverages include a variety of freshly squeezed fruit juices, as well as typical traditional drinks, such as Kuno, which is made from millet or sorghum and commonly drunk in the north. Alcoholic drinks are also widely available, with local lager Star the highest-selling beer, according to its brewers.

TRADE: Nigeria’s largest importers were China (N265.3bn, $1.7bn), the US (N196.1bn, $1.26bn), the UK (N190.6bn, $1.22bn), Brazil (N169.9bn, $1.09bn) and India (N114bn, $730m), meaning Asia constituted 37.4% of the total imports in the first quarter of 2012, according to the NBS. The largest exports for that period were crude, followed by motor spirits (petrol) and rubber, cocoa shells, husks and skins, as well as other cocoa waste. The largest imports were motor vehicles 1500cc-3000cc, soya, wheat and meslin, raw cane sugar, frozen mackerel and semi-milled or wholly milled rice.

RELIGION: Christianity and Islam are the dominant faiths in Nigeria, but there are small percentages (1.4%) of local, traditional religions as well as Hinduism and Judaism. The 2009 World Religious Survey reported 50.4% of the population as Muslim, mostly prevalent in the north among the Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba, while 48.2% were reported to be of Christian denomination. Religion has a significant socio-cultural impact and has some degree of influence on business transactions, with peaks during the religious holidays of Christmas, Eid Al Fitr and Easter as well as during traditional local festivals. Sadly, the holidays occasionally become associated with inter-religious violence, like the December 2011 bombings carried out by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram. Religious and ethnic unrest in the Middle Belt, which has the largest number of minority groups, has also been threatening security.

HUMAN RIGHTS: According to a 2012 report by Amnesty International, the Nigerian justice system remains ineffective, with 982 people on death row and two-thirds of all prison inmates awaiting trial. It also said 72 were condemned to death in the past year, but no executions were reported. Forced evictions, such as the demolished Abonnema Wharf waterfront in Port Harcourt, are estimated by Amnesty International to have displaced some 10,000 to 20,000 people and threaten a further 200,000.