OFFICIAL NAME: Federal Republic of Nigeria
FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Federal republic
OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: English
AREA: 356,667 square miles (923,768 square kilometers)
MAJOR MOUNTAIN RANGE: Cameroonian Highlands
MAJOR RIVERS: Niger, Benue
Map of Nigeria
High on Nigeria's southern mountains, the slopes are covered by thick rain forest. Green plants grow everywhere, broken by flashes of color from flowers, fruits, birds, and butterflies. This is the home of rare western lowland gorillas, once thought to be extinct in Nigeria.
Nigeria's diverse landscape makes it ideal for a broad range of plants and animals. Many species live nowhere else on Earth. Unfortunately there aren't very many national parks in Nigeria and competition for space with humans has left many species on the endangered list.
Many years ago Nigeria's savannas teemed with giraffes, elephants, lions, cheetahs, and large herds of antelope. Today, most of these animals have been killed by hunters or their habitats have been destroyed.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
There are at least 250 languages spoken in Nigeria and possibly more than 400. Music and art spring from strong tribal roots and are prevalent throughout society.
At least 60 percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line, existing on less than a dollar a day. Unfair distribution of the country's oil wealth, as well as political, ethnic, and religious conflicts have put a strain on Nigerian society.
Nigeria is often called the "Giant of Africa." This name comes from the vastness of its land, the diversity of its peoples and languages, its huge population (the largest in Africa), and its oil and other natural resources.
Nigeria is a patchwork of distinctive regions, including deserts, plains, swamps, mountains, and steamy jungles. It has one of the largest river systems in the world, including the Niger Delta, the third largest delta on Earth.
Much of Nigeria is covered with plains and savannas. These tropical grasslands spread out as far as the eye can see and are interrupted here and there by trees and shrubs. The southwestern plains are home to the Yoruba people, who have lived there for thousands of years.
Photograph by Johnny Greig, iStockphoto
GOVERNMENT AND ECONOMY
Since Nigeria won independence from Britain in 1960, it has suffered through corrupt leaders and occasional military rule. In 1999 the country adopted a new constitution and the first democratic elections in 20 years were held.
Nigeria is the most important country politically and economically in West Africa. It is richer than all other West African nations and holds considerable power.
Nigeria's most important export is oil, more than half of which is shipped to the United States. Rubber and cacao (for chocolate and cocoa) are also important export products.
Although the country of Nigeria is fairly new, the area's history stretches back for thousands of years. The town of Nok in central Nigeria was once the home of a culture that existed more than 2,000 years ago. Archaeologists have found many of their clay carvings.
Hundreds of thousands of years before the Nok culture, ancient people in Nigeria began making stone tools and eventually learned to farm and keep animals.
In the 1600s, many Africans became victims of the European slave trade. Millions of people lost their freedom. In the 1800s, the British defeated many of Nigeria's tribal kingdoms and created the colony of Nigeria. They ruled the country until 1960.