Nigeria is a country of great diversity and contradiction. A
country with over 180 million people spread across 250 different
ethnic groups, half of them Christian, half of them Muslim. It has
world class wealth, yet is full of poor people. Christians live in the
supposedly Muslim north; Muslims live in the supposedly Christian
south, and some ethnic groups (like the Yoruba) practice both
Christianity and Islam. Yet through all the contradiction, diversity
and linguistic confusion, there has been one constant in Nigerian
life: military interference in politics.
Sometimes referred to as the “Giant of Africa,” with a population
of over 180 million, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country; a quarter
of all Africans are Nigerian. Nigeria is located in west Africa, just north
of the equator and south of the Sahara desert. Its southern coastline
dips into the Atlantic Ocean. Nigeria is the United States’ largest trading
partner in sub-Saharan Africa, with annual trade between the two countries
in 2009 valued at approximately $30 billion.
Nigeria exports more than one million barrels of crude oil a day to the United
States (representing nearly 50% of Nigeria’s daily crude oil production), and it is
projected that by 2015, Nigeria will provide 25% of the United States’ oil supply. 1
With the United States’ frequently strained relations with Arab countries, Nigeria is
increasingly viewed in Washington as an alternate dependable crude oil supplier.
Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP) is larger than the combined GDP of its
ﬁfteen neighboring west African countries that make up the Economic Community
of West African States (ECOWAS). It is a regional economic, political and military
superpower in west Africa, is blessed with abundant wealth from crude oil and natu-
ral gas, has the best educated workforce in Africa, and enjoys a vibrant free press with
over one hundred privately owned newspapers and magazines.
Its nationals are leaders in arts, science, ﬁnance and literature. Professor Wole
Soyinka is Africa’s most distinguished playwright and was the ﬁrst African to win the
Nobel Prize for literature. Nigeria’s former Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a
Managing Director of the World Bank. Dr. Augustine Njoku-Obi developed a chol-
era vaccine. Despite having all the prerequisites to become a superpower, Nigeria
staggers from one crisis to another. After ten military coups, three heads of govern-
ment assassinated, three ruinous decades of military dictatorship, and a civil war that
claimed a million lives, Nigeria is still struggling to fulﬁll its vast potential.
Under military rule, the country abandoned its traditionally agriculture-based
economy and adopted a dangerously polarized oil-dominant economy that is ex-
tremely susceptible to ﬂuctuations in oil prices. Nigeria became almost totally de –
pendent on earnings from its crude oil exports which currently account for over 90%
of its foreign exchange earnings. Since Nigeria’s oil is exclusively located in the south
of the country, this also polarized the country on ethnic and religious lines, with the
mainly Christian inhabitants of the oil producing southern areas bitterly resenting
that the revenue from oil drilled from their land is used to develop non-oil producing
Oil is obtained from only 9 of Nigeria’s 36 states. 1 Approximately 75% of Nigeria’s
oil and over 50% of its earnings are obtained from just three of these oil producing
states. 2 Despite producing the overwhelming majority of Nigeria’s wealth, the inhab-
itants of the oil communities do not have the political strength to resist control of
their resources by Nigeria’s federal government.
1. Soldiers of Fortune by Max Siollun.
2. Oil, Politics and Violence : Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture
(1966–1976) by Max Siollun.