Nigeria: A Country Profile

The media reports that Nigeria’s economy suffers from weak economic development, growing at 2.5% in 2017 instead of the 6% that it averaged until 2014, after which the global economic slowdown dragged down growth in Nigeria as well (FT 2017). The lack of diversity of exports (95% oil, mostly crude oil, while it has to import 187,400 barrels of refined petroleum a day, CIA Factbook), associated fall in oil prices, corruption, mismanagement of public resources, lack of infrastructure (out of 193,200 km roads only 28,980 km are paved), ineffective judicial system, insecure private property, lack of public investments, infectious diseases (HIV/AIDS most prominently, but also hepatitis, typhoid, malaria etc.), low literacy rate (59.6%), inadequate sanitation and drinking water facility, low life expectancy (53.4 years), a rapidly expanding population (2.4% in 2017; 186 million people in 2016, expected to grow to 392 million in 2050; already largest population in Africa, far ahead of 102 million in Ethiopia) all make economic development rather difficult. What follows is a country profile, which may be relevant for contemporary analysis. The review shows that Nigeria’s colonial history, regional economic inequality, inequality in vegetation, climate and natural resources, a rapidly increasing population, the weak and corrupt political institutions all play a role in preventing or slowing down national development.

Political History


Source: Sites.Google; the spread of Bantu civilization in central and southern Africa

Nigeria (and current-day Cameroon) is the origin of Bantu civilization, which spread over much of central and southern Africa in migratory waves since 2,000 BCE. Other major African populations include the Pygmy and the Khoisan. The Bantus reached the Great Lakes of East Africa in 1000 BCE and South Africa by 300 AD. The distinguishing feature of the Bantus was not only their language, but also their herding and farming practice, which came to displace previous Neolithic hunting and foraging people. The Bantus also interacted with Arab people, whose influence still exists with Arabic loan-words in today’s Swahili language.

Nigeria is formed from many kingdoms and tribal states. The oldest known civilization is the Nok civilization in Northern Nigeria (500 BC to 200 AD), which currently is mostly dry and arid land, which suggests a different climate in the past. The next kingdom was that of the NRI of the Igbo people, which ruled from the 10th century until it surrendered sovereignty to Britain in 1911. The Yoruba people had the kingdoms of Ife and Oye in southwestern Nigeria, which rule from the 12th to 14th centuries. Edo’s Benin Empire controlled southwestern Nigeria from 15th to 19th centuries. At the beginning of the 19th century, a jihad that was led by Usman dan Fodio created the Fulani Empire, or Sokoto Caliphate.

The consolidation of empires also facilitated trade with other cities, especially in North Africa. The 16th century saw the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors land on the shores of Nigeria to carry out the Atlantic slave trade. This slave trade would not have been possible without the active cooperation of the Oyo Empire in the southwest of Nigeria, the Aro Confederacy in the southeast and the Sokoto Caliphate in the north. The British ultimately were responsible for ending slavery due to economic considerations (no longer as profitable with the disappearance of the US as part of the British colony Jamaica and Barbados slave-fueled sugar production declined; the industrial revolution increased demand for free labor) as well as moral condemnation from the public. The British subsequently stopped ships on ports that were loaded up with slaves, and transported these slaves to Freetown instead. In 1851, the British bombarded Lagos to replace the ruler with someone that was friendlier to the British, which began the formal colonization of the British via the moving inland from the coast. British colonial claims were confirmed by the other European powers during the 1885 Berlin Conference. In 1901, Nigeria was formally included as British protectorate in the British Empire.

Nigeria was merged over the course of the 19th century under British Colonial rule. An important pattern that emerged, however, was that Nigeria contained a division between Northern and Southern Protectorates as well as Lagos Colony. People in the south were on the coast and as such had enjoyed interactions with the west, much more so than the inland people in the north. For instance, some southern elite families sent their children to attend British universities. In terms of contemporary economic development, it is the southern, coastal provinces that are more developed than the north.

As opposed to direct rule (more common in French colonies), the British favored indirect rule using traditional chiefdoms as ally. Such indirect rule also consolidated the religious cleavage in Nigeria, as the British validated the pre-existing Islamic culture, while the more western-oriented southern provinces had many people convert to Christianity. Post WWII, an exhausted Britain withdrew while Nigerian nationalism forced the hands of the British. Along with many other African states, Nigeria became an independent country in 1960.

But independence meant civil war, which raged from 1967 to 1970. This was due to internal disunity, and is reminiscent to the disunity in India after the British departure in 1947, which resulted in the split between India (Hindu), Pakistan and what later became Bangladesh (both Muslim). Wherever the colonial masters ruled, they kept the peace via divide and conquer strategies and, if necessary, the brute force of the British military. But British departure implied a power vacuum, as it is not clear which faction shall take the reins of the central government. Had there been no colonial power, there would have been no amalgamation of multiple tribes in the same national entity. But the existence of Nigeria and other post-colonial states could not be wished away, and the local elites had every interest to become national elites to milk as much national resources for their own benefit. Though to be fair, in Nigeria rulers have come from different tribes, and even when a northerner ruled the presidency, it has not enriched the north or allowed it to catch up economically with the richer south (which suggests that corruption at the top is more important than tribalism in affecting social outcomes).

In Nigeria, three major factions had emerged: the Nigerian People’s Congress (northern Islamists, Hausa), the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (Christian, Igbo, southeast), and the Action Group (Yoruba, southwest). When a referendum resulted in the split of territory to Cameroon, the northern faction now became larger and stronger than the south. The resulting political tensions and perceived corruption induced Igbo (south) soldiers led by Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu to carry out a coup d’état, which killed the prime minister and the premier of the northern and western regions. A counter-coup in 1966 organized by Northern military officers overthrew the first military dictatorship. Igbos in the north faced persecution and fled to the east of the country, which then declared independence under the name Republic of Biafra. Nigeria then declared war on Biafra to reverse the secession. The Civil War had resulted in many deaths following warfare, disease and starvation. The British and Soviet Union backed Nigeria, while France backed Biafra. Biafra was ultimately defeated and national unity preserved.

The oil boom of the 1970s, corresponding to the oil price hikes in developed countries, and the discovery of massive oil reserves (earliest in the 1950s) made Nigeria an oil-dependent economy. The massive scale of corruption among government leaders (estimated to be 400 billion USD from 1960 to 2012) ensured that the standard of living of the population failed to improve, businesses could not succeed and public infrastructure was neglected. The failure of development subsequently consolidated the role of the federal government to distribute oil revenues generated by sale of oil abroad. Irresponsible government policy, declining oil prices as well as a permissive international loan environment created mounting international debt by the 1980s, which resulted in the IMF stipulating a Structural Adjustment program (SAP). Some economists claim that SAP has merely weakened the purchasing power of the domestic currency, thus lowering the domestic standard of living, while the encouragement of new bank creation has proliferated speculation instead of production and development. The lack of development means that the country cannot generate surplus revenues with which to reduce the budget deficit and debt. But the nation’s leaders don’t accept SAP because it could improve their economy, but rather to embezzle IMF loans and allow the country to further deteriorate (Ogbimi n.d.). The vast majority of Nigerian survey respondents had opposed the SAP policies of the mid-1980s (Nwagbara 2011). Only in 2006 did the country pay off its debt.

Since the Civil War there had been a short period of democratic governance (1979-1983), while the rest of the period was marked by military dictatorships. A democratic election, such as the one in 1979, generated discontent among military leaders, who would then come to overthrow this government and install the chief general as president. Examples of such military dictators include Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha. Democracy was not consolidated until 1999, after which the quality of the institutions improved, yet elections were still unfair. The first fair elections happened in 2011 with the election of Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian from the Ijaw ethnic group. Region, ethnicity and religion are salient to the extent that Christians live in the south, being subdivided into various tribes, while the north is Islamic, which includes the application of sharia law. The 2015 election was won by Muhammadu Buhari (northern Muslim from the Fulani tribe, the largest in Nigeria), who had ruled the country in the 1980s after a military coup (and was himself overthrown only 2 years later), but has since become a believer in democracy. To the extent, that democratic consolidation is rather recent and the political leadership consists of many former military generals, we cannot claim that Nigeria’s democratic institutions are stable.


Source: Wikipedia; Nigeria’s 2011 presidential election results, green-shaded areas are votes for Goodluck Jonathan and red-shaded areas are votes for Muhammadu Buhari


Ethnic Groups


Source: Nairaland Forum: Ethnicity and tribes in Nigeria, the most numerous are the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and the Igbo.

The three largest ethnicities are the Hausa, Igbo and the Yoruba, but there are over 500 ethnic groups, which means that Nigeria is a multinational state, which is kept together by the colonial language: English. The most flourishing economy is in the south-west in Yorubaland, which contains the former capital city Lagos.




Source: Economist; Boko Haram carries out most of its attacks close to the border to Chad in the Northeast

A further cleavage emerges from religion. The northern half of the country is Muslim and the southern half is Christian. Among non-animist religions, Christianity and Islam are the most influential in Africa, whereby the cleavage runs from the Islamic north and the east Africa to Christian southern portion of western Africa, central and South Africa. The northeast had suffered from sectarian violence via Boko Haram, which has killed thousands of people and injured many others. In 2014, 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped in the Chibok kidnapping, and in April 2016, Fulani herdsmen murdered 500 individuals from the Christian village of Agatu. Among the various tribes, there are tendencies as well, because the Hausa ethnic group is 95% Muslim and 5% Christian, while the Igbos and Ijaws in the south and east are 98% Christian and 2% practicing traditional religions. Yoruba have a large Anglican population, while Igboland is mostly Roman Catholic and Edoss are Pentecostals. Most Nigerian Muslims are Sunnis.


Source: Wikipedia; northern states in Nigeria practice Sharia law (green), the southern provinces are Christian

Sharia law is in effect in most provinces of northern Nigeria, which contains the Muslim population. Its penal code involves harsh sentences like amputation, lashing, stoning or long prison terms for offenses like alcohol consumption, homosexuality, infidelity and theft. Tribal religions facilitate other cruel practices such as branding children as witches resulting in their abandonment and abuse on the streets.


Topography, Geography, Climate


Source: Abacityblog; Nigeria’s topography: noteworthy is the Niger river basin, which provides much of the fertile soil at the center of the country; the south faces the ocean and has had more contact with the west and seafaring nations, while the north is drier and landlocked; the densest population concentration is to be found along the coast


Source: Wikipedia; The Niger River Basin: the cradle of West African civilization


Source: Climatestotravel; precipitation map of Nigeria: the south is the wettest, while the northeast is the driest area


Source: Researchgate; vegetation map: the very southern end of the country is wet and contains swamps and rain forests, while the center contains the drier savanna and the very northeast contains the driest sahel savanna

After having examined the social cleavages in Nigeria, it is also useful to consider its geography, which similarly involves a north-south division: The south is marked by the tropical rainforest with extensive rainfall. At the very south one can find a “salt water swamp”, to the north of it a “fresh water swamp” and to the north of that the rainforest. The Niger and Benue river valleys, which cut right across most of the country forms the basis of West African civilization, as the river supplies the crucial water for planting crops and supporting the vastly expansive population in Nigeria. The region between the far north and far south is the savannah, which contains more limited rainfall. The Sahel region in the very north has very little rain and contains some elements of the Sahara Desert. Among the driest section in the country is the northeast, which also has the most active Boko Haram forces that plot terrorist attacks across the country.




Source: Wikipedia; Population density in Nigeria


Source: BBC; Nigeria is set to become the third biggest country in terms of population and unlike India and China is not expected to shrink by the end of the century, though population projections have to be taken with a grain of salt

Another factor to consider in Nigeria is the swelling population. Most people live in the major cities including Lagos, Abram-bra and Kano. The population is supposed to increase from 186 million in 2015 to 392 million in 2050 and perhaps even as much as more than 750 million by 2100, though one should be careful about population projections that go this far ahead, as the assumptions become less certain. If the current fertility rate is 5.6 in Nigeria in 2015, it is safe to assume to have a similar value in 2016, but not so much in 2100. The overall population trends are influenced by the mortality, birth and net migration rate. Evidently, the mortality rate is declining and the fertility rate stays high, though somewhat decreasing now. But this decrease in the fertility rate will only work to reduce population growth over the long term, while over the short term the large base of young men and women (especially women) ensures a steady growth of population.

Why is this population growth trend salient aside from the fact that Nigeria is already the most populous country? One may use the Malthusian trap claim, which posits that population growth outstrips food supply, resulting in mass starvation. Climate change is certainly putting pressure on the availability of fertile land, especially in countries like Nigeria. But in the present day, it is feasible to use food imports to make up for any gap in food supply. Indeed, the second largest Nigerian import it wheat accounting for 2.76% of all import expenditures. Thus, starvation is not the immediate sorrow, but the poor provision of a growing population certainly is. For people with aspiration it would be wise to move to Lagos, where much of the dynamic economic enterprises are, but it already has 21 million inhabitants, which make it among the biggest metropolis in the world with the attendant problems of infrastructure provision. And the movement toward urbanization is rather slow, as 78% of the people still engage in farming and out of the farming population only 15% are engaged in commercial farming, 35% in subsistence farming and the remaining half in a mixture of the two (NOI Polls 2016). Another route to escape the crowdedness of unwisely used resources (given rampant graft and corruption in the official sector) is to migrate abroad, producing a net emigration of 300,000 people, hardly enough to make a substantial dent in overall population figures. Nigeria does not have to fear mass immigration anytime soon.

Some people might say for ideological reasons that a growing population should be considered an asset. It is certainly true that the most advanced industrialized countries would do anything to increase the birth rate in their country, but such a thing cannot be legislated, especially because the fall in the birth rate has to do with social changes that are inextricably linked with modernity. The two most important ones are the rise in the overall standard of living, which increase the educational expectations and investments of parents, and the rising independent status of women, which makes them less interested in child-rearing and more in self-fulfillment. These are hardly social advances that any government would want to reverse. But these economic gains for the population and for women are hardly available in Nigeria. And what matters for a country’s success is not merely the large population, but also the effectiveness of the central administration to provide functioning services and infrastructure. India and China have about equivalent population but the latter has lifted six times more people out of poverty than the former, so when human resources and overall economic conditions are still too basic, there just aren’t enough economic opportunities to take care of such a huge population, let alone produce the required social progress to reduce the birth level.


Source: Slideplayer: Urbanization in Nigeria is a contemporary process

Africa is the least urbanized continent, but has increased its share of urbanization over time. In West Africa urbanization has increased from 30 to 44% from 1990 to 2014, while in Nigeria it increased from 30 to 47%. Similar figures for 2014 in Europe are 73%, 80% in Latin America and 81% in North America (United Nations 2014). The gradual urbanization of Nigeria could mean improved access to services, but the overall weak qualities of political and social institutions could also imply continued squalor in the city, which would give credence to political extremism. To evaluate where Nigeria stands in development questions, I examine its economic output.


Nigeria’s Economy


Source: Researchgate

Nigeria’s employment profile indicates that the country is still very rural and agricultural, but there is a marked trend of declining employment in agriculture, which suggests that there is economic transformation favoring the service sector. The country also employs fewer manufacturing workers. This might not mean deindustrialization necessarily as many western countries employ fewer workers but more machinery, which maintains the high value-added in manufacturing output. Yet, Nigeria’s manufacturing contribution as share of GDP had peaked as early as 1982 after which there was deindustrialization. Given that almost the entire exports are crude petroleum, and many imports are machinery, we can assume that Nigeria isn’t producing a lot of manufacturing goods by itself. A few industries like beverages, textiles, cement and tobacco still remain, and they are concentrated in Lagos, Kano and Kaduna (Proshareng n.d. ).


Source: FAO; Infrastructure provision in Nigeria is rather poor

The country’s overall infrastructure is still poorly set up with express roads still being rather short, making the connections among the cities difficult. It stands to reason that the conflict potential and the diversity of languages and cultural traditions are reinforced by weak transport infrastructure.


Source: Wikipedia: Map of economic activity

Industries, as in many other countries, are concentrated in some areas, such as tin mines at the center and coalmines in the southeast. With regard to agriculture, the north contains peanut and cotton farms, while the south produces cocoa and palm oil.


Source: FAO

The economic divide between north and south is evident in the agricultural crop production, which tends to be concentrated in the south of the country.


Source: Eternian.Wordpress; Oil field map: all of the oil fields are in the south coast

Since oil makes up 95% of all exports, it is paramount to analyze where the oil fields are. All the oil fields are in the south coast, which also produces a bad environment and health problems because of the damage from oil spills. Should the country ever break apart, the northern provinces could be even worse off than they are now. One reason for the insufficient economic development in Nigeria is the overreliance on oil exports, which don’t help them at times of low oil prices.


Source: Economist

The scale of industrial production has a bearing on the overall economic output in various regions. Even though the entire country is poor by developed country standards, the southern provinces along the cost are relatively the wealthiest, and this especially applies to Lagos ($4,333 in 2014). The northern, landlocked areas remain rather poor. The North is also the hotbed of Boko Haram’s terror attacks. Money does not count for everything, and in this case misguided religious ideology plays a role too, but there is a correlation between the GDP of poor areas and the frequency of terror attacks. There are some fiscal transfers from the south to the north to mitigate social discontent, yet corruption also prevents funds from going through. In the mean time, Boko Haram attacks slow down production in an already struggling region, resulting in food prices to increase (Caulderwood 2014).


Education and Health


Source: BBC

Regional economic inequality is also reflected in important social indicators like vaccination, which is more thorough in the more developed south than the north.


Source: Wikipedia

Another indicator for social progress is the female literacy rate, which is the highest in the south and west, somewhat lower at the center and the east and the lowest in the northern areas.



I conclude that Nigeria’s colonial history, regional economic inequality, inequality in vegetation, climate and natural resources, a rapidly increasing population, the weak and corrupt political institutions all play a role in preventing or slowing down national development, as well as aiding the cause of terrorists.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s