The most populous country and arguably the largest economy on the continent, Nigeria is widely regarded as an African powerhouse. With abundant natural resources and a young, dynamic population, the country has long played an important role on the continent and it has the potential to be a wider global player in the coming decades.


The Jos Plateau in the centre of modern day Nigeria was a locus for early human activity in West Africa. Evidence exists to suggest that the ancestors of early humans were present in the area between 1m and 2m years ago. It is clear that the peoples of this region had begun to develop sophisticated societies by 3000 BCE. The main culture to emerge were the Nok, Stone Age settlers who thrived in the area between 900 BCE and 200 CE. These people left behind intricate figurines depicting humans and animals, as well as stone and iron tools, illustrating the scope of their society.

Contemporary Nigeria has been home to a number of indigenous civilisations and empires. In the north of the country, the Hausa-Bokwoi, beginning in 100 CE, and the Kanem Bornu, emerging after 1000 CE were the dominant dynasties. The latter converted to Islam and developed a strong trading tradition with societies across the northern part of the continent. Gold, textiles, salt and slaves moved across the desert. As early as the 8th century, the Yoruba had established a functioning kingdom in Ile-Ife. In this region of the south of Nigeria, the Yoruba gradually emerged as the most significant culture by the 11th century.

In the early modern period and beyond, Nigeria was impacted by the European colonial presence and their development of the slave trade. First the Portuguese in the 15th century, and then the British from the 18th century, exerted influence along the southern coastal strip and in the wider region. By the start of the 20th century, Britain had extended colonial control over the whole of modern Nigeria. Traditional leaders continued to rule on a local basis, but they had to pledge allegiance to British administrative power. Over the course of four decades beginning in the 1920s, Nigeria edged towards independence. This began with a legislative council, run jointly by Europeans and Nigerians, moved to regional houses of assembly under a federal system, and ended with a full declaration of independence in October of 1960.

Nigeria became a republic in 1963, but the early post-independence era was largely characterised by a series of coups and a brief civil war between 1967 and 1970. Following extended periods of military rule, the country finally returned to civilian government following elections in 1998. However, this recent period of democracy has not been without its troubles. Unrest in the north as well as in the Delta region has led to chronic instability and provided a recurring challenge to development and economic growth for successive administrations.

Political System 

The Federal Republic of Nigeria is made up of 36 states and one territory. President Muhammadu Buhari acts as the head of state and head of government. In the last election of May 2015 Buhari, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), defeated the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party by more than 2.5m votes with a margin of 53% to 46%. This was the first time an opposition candidate had won a presidential election in Nigeria.

The president appoints the cabinet, which is known as the Federal Executive Council. The president is elected for a four-year term by a majority of the popular vote and at least 25% of the vote in 24 of the 36 states of the federation.

The legislative branch is made up of the 109-seat Senate and the 360-seat House of Representatives. Elections to both houses are for 4 years and are achieved by a simple majority in single seat constituencies. In the March 2015 elections, the most recent to be held in the country, the All Progressive Congress (APC) – an alliance of Buhari’s party, the Action Congress of Nigeria, a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, and the All Nigeria Peoples Party – won the majority in both houses. The APC holds 60 seats in the Senate and 225 seats in the House of Representatives.


Nigeria is the third-biggest country in West Africa by area and 32nd-largest in the world. With 853 km of coastline adjoining the Gulf of Guinea, it is well connected to international trade routes and acts as an important conduit of goods for the landlocked countries to the north. It has borders with Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

It is also a diverse land. There are mountains in the south-east, central plateaus and hills, and plains to the north. The 4180 km long Niger River bisects the country and rises to the Guinea Highlands. Entering Nigeria in the north-west, it meanders towards the coast, forming a delta before emptying into the Gulf of Guinea to the west of Port Harcourt. The country lacks any significant mountain ranges. The most prominent is the Bamenda Adamawa Mandara chain, which is shared with Cameroon and is home to Chappal Waddi, the highest point in Nigeria and the whole of West Africa, standing at 2419 metres. The 10th parallel north, a circle of latitude, is an important boundary, marking the dramatic difference in geographic and climatic conditions between the south and the north. The south is defined by thick vegetation, savannah and tropical conditions, while the north merges into the Sahel, a semi-arid transitional zone that reaches to the Sahara desert further north.


Given the contrasts between the north and south of the country, it is hardly surprising that temperature and weather conditions vary substantially. The far north is arid, the centre of the country is tropical and the south is equatorial. Along the coast, humidity reigns, but temperatures rarely climb above 32°C. Further north, there is a dry season, running from November to March, and a wet season, lasting from April to October. During the dry period, temperatures can reach 38°C during the day. However, they drop as low as 12°C at night. Average annual rainfall can vary from roughly 430 cm in the south-east of the country to just 50 cm in the far north. The latter region is influenced by the Harmattan, a hot and dry northerly wind, which blows in dust from the Sahel and Sahara.

Natural Resources 

Nigeria is also blessed with an abundance of resources. The country is most widely known for its vast hydrocarbons wealth. It was home to 37.1bn barrels of proven oil reserves (see Energy chapter) in 2015. At current production rates, this will give the country another 43 years worth of oil revenues. The country also contained 5.1trn cu metres of natural gas in 2015, accounting for 2.7% of total global reserves.

However, Nigeria possesses much more than simply oil and gas. It is home to significant deposits of coal, iron ore, lead, limestone, tin and zinc. Just as importantly, it has rich land and water resources that are ripe for further agricultural exploitation. Indeed, the agricultural industry remains a mainstay of the economy, accounting for 23.9% of GDP and upwards of 70% of the country’s workforce (see Agriculture chapter). Approximately 83.7% of Nigeria’s land area is agricultural, although only 40% is arable. Substantial water resources also assist the agricultural sector. The country has 230bn cu metres of total renewable water resources. This should help expand productivity through irrigation. As of 2012, only 0.3% (or 2930 sq km) of Nigeria’s total land area was irrigated.


The country’s other major resource is its people. With an estimated 184m people in 2015, according to the IMF, Nigeria ranks as the seventh-most-populous country in the world. Furthermore, it is predicted to rapidly climb through these rankings in the coming decades. With a current population growth rate of 2.7%, Nigeria is forecast to reach 440m people by 2050, ranking it as the third-largest country globally by demographic size (see Economy chapter). Given these trends, it is unsurprising that Nigeria is also a young country, with a median age of just 19. It is also increasingly urban. With the urban population growing at 3.75% a year, the share of Nigerians living in towns and cities will soon surpass 50% of the total population (see Construction & Real Estate chapter).

The country has more than 250 different ethnic groups. Half of the population is Muslim, while a further 40% are Christian. English is the official language of the country, while Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo are commonly spoken in specific regions. In total, there are more than 500 indigenous languages currently spoken throughout the country.