There is More to Nigeria Than This

No Comments » February 13th, 2008 posted by // Categories: General Articles

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with close to 130 million inhabitants and a population growth rate of two percent. It covers an area of 923,000 sq km and has a diverse geography that includes territory along the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea, stretches of forest and areas of savannah as the north of the country nears the Sahara desert.

There are more than 250 ethnic groups in the country and before it was colonised the area comprised a group of sophisticated and independent kingdoms that had extensive trading routes with one another and into the Sahara.

The British annexed the coastal city of Lagos in 1861 and continued to expand across the area throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

After World War II, a series of constitutions granted Nigeria greater autonomy until it gained full independence in 1960. At first governed by civilians, the country soon fell under military control.

In 1967, Nigeria also experienced the Biafran civil war when the eastern region attempted to declare independence. It is estimated that almost one million Biafran civilians died during the conflict, mainly from starvation due to a federal blockade on food supplies.

Ethnic and religious tensions continued to fuel unrest and several attempts at democracy failed until the death of military ruler General Sani Abacha in 1998, which brought in a transitional government. In 1999, power was handed over to a democratically elected government under the leadership of former general and head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo. During Nigeria’s years of military rule, rampant corruption denied the country revenues from its oil-based economy. Corruption remains a problem although the government says it is trying to eradicate it.

Peace and security

Insecurity has been the rule in Nigeria for most of its independence. It experienced its first military coup in 1966, only six years after independence, and the following years witnessed a civil war, military coups, sectarian violence and three failed transitions to democracy.

Historical precedence for military rule and corruption has made the transition to democracy difficult. According to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), set up by current President Obasanjo to investigate corruption, 31 of Nigeria's 36 state governors are under investigation for graft. The impeachment of several state governors has led to outbursts of violence, and in October 2006 Obasanjo declared a state of emergency in Ekiti State.

The Bakassi peninsula in the southeast has long been in contention between Nigeria and Cameroon and brought the two countries to the brink of war. In 2002, the International Court of Justice ruled that the area belonged to Cameroon, and in 2006 Nigeria handed over the territory. Inhabitants of the region declared independence a few days before Nigeria was to cede the area to Cameroon and many have expressed their intention to flee to Nigeria in fear of Cameroonian rule.

In the Niger Delta, there have been numerous kidnappings of foreign employees of oil companies. Local rebels want more control over the region’s oil production and its revenues.


According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are approximately 11,800 refugees in Nigeria, mostly from Chad, Liberia, the Republic of Congo and Sudan. Nearly half live in refugee camps, while the other half live in urban areas. The UNHCR has supported initiatives aimed at voluntary repatriation and helping with local integration.

The Long Journey Home: an IRIN In-Depth on the challenge of refugee return and reintegration

There is a population of Nigerian refugees living in northwest Cameroon. They are mainly Muslim herdsmen of the Fulani tribe who fled their land in 2002 following clashes with a local Mambila Christian farming community. A tripartite agreement between the two countries and the UNHCR was signed in April 2005, and by December 2005, 7,700 refugees had returned to Nigeria. There are still 9,700 refugees in Cameroon.

There is insufficient data regarding internally displaced peoples but the Norwegian Council for Refugees estimated there were 200,000 in Nigeria in November 2004, due to ethno-religious conflict.

Democracy and governance

Various governments of Nigeria have been characterised by military rule, repression, political imprisonments and rare presidential elections marred by rigging and intimidation.

The election of Obasanjo in 1999 ended 15 years of military rule and with his re-election in 2003, Nigeria entered its longest period of democracy.

Obasanjo, a former army general, first held power as a military ruler in 1976 after the assassination of Brigadier Murtala Mohamed. In 1979, he handed the government over to civilian rule, the first military leader in Nigeria to do so. Northerner Alhaji Shehu Shagari won the election, but his government was marred by corruption.

By 1983, the country had once again fallen into political turmoil with leadership passing through several contested hands. General Sani Abacha seized power in 1993 and when he died unexpectedly in 1998, a transitional government took over. During Abacha’s rule, environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged, political opponents were imprisoned and pro-democracy protesters were killed.

Since returning to democratic rule, the EFCC was set up to help fight political and industrial corruption. Despite several arrests, there have been few convictions and the EFCC has been accused of only going after Obasanjo’s opponents, including Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.

Presidential elections are scheduled for April 2007. Obasanjo's supporters wanted to amend the charter to allow him to run for a third term, but their attempt was blocked by parliament in May 2006.


Private media has survived in Nigeria despite raids and arrests under military rule that have continued to a lesser degree under civilian rule.

Radio is the main source of information for most Nigerians and all 36 states run their own radio stations. Most operate television services as well.

In 2005, the media regulator reported that more than 280 radio and television licences had been granted to private operators. There are more than 100 national and local newspapers and publications, some of which are state-owned. Private publications vary from tabloids to ethnically partisan newspapers, and are often critical of the government.

Reporters Without Borders noted in its 2003 annual report that local journalists were often intimidated and denounced by regional politicians. Photojournalists have frequently been harassed by security forces when attempting to film or photograph events. The government has also accused the foreign press of bias and in 2003 attempted to expel CNN’s local bureau chief. In 2004, re-broadcasts of foreign radio stations were banned.


Nigeria’s main economic resource is oil and the country is the top oil producer in Africa. It accounts for 90 percent of export income and more than 80 percent of total government revenue. The country first went through an oil boom in the 1970s, but little of the revenue has trickled down to the local population.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, Nigeria’s oil export revenue for 2005 was US$45.1 billion, yet 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. This discrepancy is mainly attributed to corruption, mismanagement and inadequate infrastructure.

Nigeria is completely dependent on its oil revenues due to a failure to diversify its economy. It used to be a large net exporter of food, but rapid population growth and a decline in local industry has meant the country must now rely on importing food.

Since 2003, the government has begun to implement economic reforms urged by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It deregulated fuel, announced the privatisation of four oil refineries and introduced the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy, aimed at poverty reduction and fiscal management.

In 2006, the country paid back $4.6 billion to the Paris Club and $30 billion of its foreign debt was forgiven. It still owes $5 billion to other lenders. These economic advancements were mainly due to the efforts of former Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who previously worked for the World Bank. In July 2006, she was removed from her post and moved to the External Affairs Ministry. She resigned in August 2006.

Although Nigeria’s oil revenues are expected to rise by 16 percent in 2006, militia activity in the Niger Delta has slowed production. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has been demanding more regional control over oil revenues. Its tactics, which include bombings and kidnapping foreign oil workers, has cut daily production by 20 percent.


Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with 128.7 million inhabitants and a growth rate of two percent. Although Abuja is the capital, the largest city is Lagos. Experts estimate the city’s population at between 10 and 13 million and United Nations projections estimate that it will reach 20 million by 2010.

Nearly 50 percent of the population is Muslim and 40 percent is Christian. Although all religions are practised in every region, Islam is concentrated in the north and Christianity in the south.

There are more than 250 ethnic groups and while none forms a majority, four groups make up 60 percent of the population. They are the Hausa and Fulani in the north, the Yoruba in the west and the Igbo in the east.

Development indicators

Nigeria is the biggest oil producer in Africa, yet it is ranked 159 out 177 countries on the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index for 2006.

Women have on average 5.8 children. Life expectancy at birth is 43.4 years and 62 percent of the population has access to an improved water source. Nigeria's junior works minister said that there was the threat of a scarcity of treated water in the Zamfara state after the collapse of a dam in October 2006.

According to the UNDP, the combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrolment ratio was 55 percent and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) places literacy rates at 70.9 percent for men and 54.8 percent for women.

According to the United Nations Settlements Programme (UN Habitat), 45 percent of the population lives in urban areas and of this 79 percent live in slums.


The law in Nigeria states that the government must provide free, compulsory and universal education “when practical”. These standards are rarely met. According to the World Bank development indicators for 2006, there is a large discrepancy in access to education between rich and poor and those in urban and rural settings. More than 90 percent of children in the richest income bracket attended primary school compared with fewer than 40 percent in the poorest quintile. In urban areas, close to 80 percent of children had the opportunity to attend and complete primary school, against 60 percent in rural areas.

Families also showed a preference for sending boys to school rather than girls. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), 57 percent of girls and 64 percent of boys attended primary school, and 25 percent of girls and 30 percent of boys were in secondary school. Girls in lower socioeconomic brackets are often directed towards domestic work and street vending rather than school.

According to the Federal Ministry of Education, the adult literacy rate is 62 percent.


The legal organisation Representing Children Worldwide (RCW) noted in a 2005 report on Nigeria that despite the government passing the Child Rights Act in 2003, there is no governmental body that protects children from abusive conditions. It added that in most states it was nongovernmental organisations that ran child protection activities.

Common violations of children’s rights include child abuse, infant abandonment, child prostitution, and physically harmful child labour practices.

The US State Department also reported that a customary practice is the sale of young girls into marriage to supplement family incomes and forced marriages to avoid premarital sex. It also stated a reported increase in the number of rapes and sexual assaults on young girls, because of a fear of HIV infection and the desire for sexual relations with virgins.

According to the Consortium for Street Children, there are two types of street children in Nigeria, those who live and work on the street, and those who work on the street but return to their homes at night. Poverty is the main cause of this phenomenon; however, parental abuse, community clashes and HIV/AIDS have also had an impact on rising numbers of street children. There are an estimated seven million orphans in the country.

The Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey estimated the rate of genital excision at approximately 19 percent. Most women underwent the operation before the age of one.


There is one physician for every 3,500 people in Nigeria and there are more than 18,000 primary health institutions. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 38 percent of the population uses adequate sanitation facilities. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the under-five mortality rate is 196 for every 1,000 live births and 5 percent of gross domestic product is spent on healthcare.

Fewer than half of children have been immunised against tuberculosis, measles, diptheria, pertussis and tetanus. There is also resistance in the north to receiving the polio vaccine due to misconceptions that it contains the AIDS virus and can cause infertility.

Only 1 percent of children under five sleep under treated mosquito nets.

WHO also reported in March 2006 that avian influenza was detected in 11 out of 36 states.


According to the British Red Cross, Nigeria has the third-highest number of HIV cases in the world, with 3.5 million Nigerians living with the virus.

It is estimated that 60 percent of new infections affect people between 15 and 24 years old. The UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) found that only 21 percent of men and 18 percent of women in that age bracket could identify ways to prevent HIV infection.

UNAIDS also estimates that there are 240,000 children under 14 infected with the virus, and that 930,000 children under 17 had lost one or both parents to AIDS.

In response to the AIDS epidemic, the Nigerian government created the National Action Committee on AIDS in 2000. The committee estimates the prevalence rate at 5 percent based on a 2003 sero-prevalence survey. The committee is taking a multi-sectoral response and has drafted a strategic plan for 2005-2009. It plans to provide universal access to care and support by 2009.

According to Nigeria’s HIV/AIDS Information Website, 540,000 people in Nigeria are in need of anti-retroviral treatment.

Food security

Arable land in Nigeria is sufficient to support the population. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), only 34 million hectares of the 71.2 million hectares of available land for cultivation are in use. The climate and soil are both suitable for agricultural production, but parts of the extreme north of the country are becoming arid and there have been crop failures and the migration southwards of herds.

Water sources provide sufficient stocks of fish. The southeast region has experienced the disruption of fish production and crops due to floods and oil pollution.

According to UNICEF, 14 percent of infants have a low birth weight and 38 percent of children under five suffer from moderate to severe stunting because of malnutrition.

Gender issues

The Penal Code in Nigeria permits men to chastise their wives using physical means, as long as it does not result in “grievous harm”, which includes loss of sight, hearing, speech, facial disfigurement and life-threatening injuries. Domestic violence is seen as socially acceptable and is common. Police rarely intervene in cases of spousal abuse.

According to Amnesty International (AI), two-thirds of women in some communities in Lagos State had experienced physical, psychological and sexual violence in the familial home. Abuse was usually committed by fathers or husbands.

A 2006 AI report noted that between 1999 and 2005, 14,000 women had been raped by security personnel. This is driven by rampant impunity, human rights groups say.

Islamic Sharia law exists in 12 states in the north and women in those jurisdictions have been sentenced to floggings and death by stoning for allegedly having premarital or extramarital sexual relations.

The trafficking of women into prostitution inside and outside the country is also a problem. According to the Migration Information Organisation, trafficking in women from Nigeria is concentrated in Edo State, in the southwest of Nigeria. A survey conducted a few years ago by the Women's Health and Action Research Centre in Edo's capital Benin City showed that one in three young women had received offers to go to Europe.

The main European destination for Nigerian trafficking victims is Italy, where there may be as many as 10,000 Nigerian sex workers.

According to the UNDP, 3.3 percent of seats in parliament are held by women and in November 2006, the first female state governor was sworn in.

Human rights

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the most serious human rights abuse in the country is the impunity granted to security forces and government officials. Security forces are recognised as committing extrajudicial and politically motivated killings. A report released by HRW in July 2005 detailed abuses by police, which included torture, degrading treatment, deaths in police custody, harassment of friends and family of suspects and cases of sexual violations against girls and women, including rape.

Military forces have been accused by human rights groups of massacring hundreds of people in the states of Odi, Bayelsa and Benue, and for setting slums on fire.

Widespread corruption has left the majority of the population in poverty and exacerbates ethnic and inter-communal tensions.

A US State Department report on human rights also listed the following violations: restrictions on freedom of speech, press, and assembly, limited freedom of religion and movement, domestic violence and discrimination against women, child abuse and child prostitution, trafficking in persons for purposes of prostitution and forced labour, restrictions on workers' rights and child labour.

Humanitarian needs

Major humanitarian needs in the country revolve around ethnic, religious and communal tensions that often erupt in violence. This places several groups at risk and creates displacement.

Large parts of the population lack access to water, healthcare and proper sanitation due to widespread poverty.

The rapid expansion of Lagos has left the city with poor infrastructure and most of its population live in slums.

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