Full Name: The Federal Republic of Nigeria
Capital: Abuja
Head of State: Umaru Yar'Adua
Population: 148 Million (UN 2007)
Ethnic Makeup: Nigeria has more than 250 ethnic groups, with varying languages and customs. The largest ethnic groups are the Fulani/Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo. They account for 68% of population, while the Edo, Ijaw(10%),Kanuri, Ibibio, Ebira, Nupe and Tiv comprise 27%; other minorities make up the remaining 7 percent.
Language: The official language of Nigeria is English. This was chosen to promote cultural and linguistic unity within the country. However, English is rarely spoken as a first language, other than by a small minority. Most ethnic groups prefer to communicate in their own languages. These languages include Yoruba, Ibo, Hausa and Pidgin English. The total number of languages currently estimated and catalogued in Nigeria is 521.
Religion: Islam, Christianity, Indigenous beliefs.

Who are Nigeria’s Refugees?

Nigeria is one the most populous countries in West Africa and made up of a multitude of diverse, sometimes competing ethno-linguistic groups. Due to this Nigeria has been dogged by sectarian and ethnic tensions and violence since its independence in 1960. It was ruled by a series of military regimes between 1966-1999. However following the re-achievement of democracy Nigeria has still suffered from inter-ethnic violence over the oil producing Niger delta and tense inter-religious relations.

North/South divide

There are significant tensions between the primarily Muslim, highly conservative northern population and the Christian population from the Southern part of the country. This divide is exacerbated by memories of the 1966-70 civil war, when the primarily Igbo populated South eastern region declared itself the Republic of Biafra. Following the war, the defeated southeast and indeed southern Nigeria were essentially conquered territory for the federal military regime.
Tension between the primarily Islamic and Christian populations has also been a constant flare point. In 2000 Sharia law was adopted by several northern states in the face of opposition from Christians. Tension over the issue resulted in hundreds of deaths in clashes between Christians and Muslims. Thousands of Christians fled. In 2002 more than 200 people died in four days of rioting stoked by Muslim fury over the planned Miss World beauty pageant in Kaduna in December. Violence between Muslims and Christians occurred until early 2004. There has subsequently been a period of relative harmony since the Federal Government introduced tough new measures against religious violence in all affected parts of the country.

Inter-ethnic tensions

Tensions between different ethno-lingustic groups has also been a constant source of conflict in Nigeria. The most prominent example of this was the 1967-1970 civil war. Following a campaign of genocide against the Igbo between 1966 and 1967, a regional council of the peoples of Eastern Nigeria decided that the region should secede and proclaimed the Republic of Biafra. Several million Eastern Nigerians, especially Igbo, are believed to have died between the pogroms and the end of the civil war. More recently a tribal war in Benue state in 2001 displaced thousands of people. In 2002 100 people were killed in Lagos in clashes between Hausas from the north and ethnic Yorubas from the southwest.

Conflict over resources

Nigeria experienced an oil boom in the 1970s. However the oil producing Niger delta region has been subject to conflict due to tensions between the foreign oil corporations and a number of the Niger Delta's minority ethnic groups who felt they were being exploited, particularly the Ogoni as well as the Ijaw in the late 1990s. When these groups attempted to protest these injustices, they were met with repressive measures by Nigerian government and military forces. In one case in 1993, Ken Saro Wiwa, an Ogoni playwright and minority rights campaigner, was hanged by a military tribunal and buried in an unmarked grave with eight other campaigners. They had been involved in a campaign against oil exploitation in their homeland in the Niger Delta region and were condemned to death after a controversial trial. Competition for oil wealth has fuelled violence between innumerable ethnic groups, causing the militarization of nearly the entire region by ethnic militia groups as well as Nigerian Military and police forces.

‘After lurching from one military coup to another, Nigeria now has an elected leadership. But it faces the growing challenge of preventing the country from breaking apart along ethnic and religious lines.
Political liberalisation ushered in by the return to civilian rule in 1999 has allowed militants from religious and ethnic groups to express their frustrations more freely, and with increasing violence’ (BBC)

Timeline of Key Events (BBC)

1960 - Independence, with Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa leading a coalition government.
1966 - January - Balewa killed in coup. Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi heads up military administration.
1966 - July - Ironsi killed in counter-coup, replaced by Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon.
1967 - Three eastern states secede as the Republic of Biafra, sparking bloody civil war.
1970 - Biafran leaders surrender, former Biafran regions reintegrated into country.
1975 - Gowon overthrown, flees to Britain, replaced by Brigadier Murtala Ramat Mohammed, who begins process of moving federal capital to Abuja.
1976 - Mohammed assassinated in failed coup attempt. Replaced by his deputy, Lieutenant-General Olusegun Obasanjo, who helps introduce American-style presidential constitution.
1979 - Elections bring Alhaji Shehu Shagari to power.
1983 - January - The government expels more than one million foreigners, mostly Ghanaians, saying they had overstayed their visas and were taking jobs from Nigerians. The move is condemned abroad but proves popular in Nigeria.
1983 - December - Major-General Muhammad Buhari seizes power in bloodless coup.
1985 - Ibrahim Babangida seizes power in bloodless coup, curtails political activity.
1993 - June - Military annuls elections when preliminary results show victory by Chief Moshood Abiola.
1993 - August - Power transferred to Interim National Government.
1993 - November - General Sani Abacha seizes power, suppresses opposition.
1994 - Abiola arrested after proclaiming himself president.
1995 - Ken Saro-Wiwa, writer and campaigner against oil industry damage to his Ogoni homeland, is executed following a hasty trial. In protest, European Union imposes sanctions until 1998 - Commonwealth suspends Nigeria's membership until 1998.
1998 - Abacha dies, succeeded by Major-General Abdulsalami Abubakar. Chief Abiola dies in custody a month later.
1999 - Parliamentary and presidential elections. Olusegun Obasanjo sworn in as president.
2000 - Adoption of Islamic, or Sharia, law by several northern states in the face of opposition from Christians.
2001 - Tribal war in Benue state, in eastern-central Nigeria, displaces thousands of people. In October, army soldiers sent to quash the fighting kill more than 200 unarmed civilians, apparently in retaliation for the abduction and murder of 19 soldiers.
2002 - February - Some 100 people are killed in Lagos in clashes between Hausas from mainly-Islamic north and ethnic Yorubas from predominantly-Christian southwest. Thousands flee. City's governor suggests retired army officials stoked violence in attempt to restore military rule.
2002 - November - More than 200 people die in four days of rioting stoked by Muslim fury over the planned Miss World beauty pageant in Kaduna in December. The event is relocated to Britain.
2003 - 12 April - First legislative elections since end of military rule in 1999. Polling marked by delays, allegations of ballot-rigging. President Obasanjo's People's Democratic Party wins parliamentary majority.
2003 - 19 April - First civilian-run presidential elections since end of military rule. Olusegun Obasanjo elected for second term with more than 60% of vote. Opposition parties reject result. EU poll observers cite "serious irregularities".
2003 - August - Inter-communal violence in the Niger Delta town of Warri kills about 100 people, injures 1,000.
2004 - May - State of emergency is declared in the central Plateau State after more than 200 Muslims are killed in Yelwa in attacks by Christian militia; revenge attacks are launched by Muslim youths in Kano.
2004 - August-September - Deadly clashes between gangs in oil city of Port Harcourt prompts strong crackdown by troops. Rights group Amnesty International cites death toll of 500, authorities say about 20 died.
2006 - January onwards - Militants in the Niger Delta attack pipelines and other oil facilities and kidnap foreign oil workers. The rebels demand more control over the region's oil wealth.
2006 - February - More than 100 people are killed when religious violence flares in mainly-Muslim towns in the north and in the southern city of Onitsha.
2006 - April - Helped by record oil prices, Nigeria becomes the first African nation to pay off its debt to the Paris Club of rich lenders.
2006 - May - The Senate rejects proposed changes to the constitution which would have allowed President Obasanjo to stand for a third term in 2007.
2006 - August - Nigeria hands over the disputed Bakassi peninsula to neighbouring Cameroon under the terms of a 2002 International Court of Justice ruling.
2006 - October - Spiritual leader of Nigeria's millions of Muslims, the Sultan of Sokoto, is killed in a plane crash, the country's third major civilian air disaster in a year.
2007 - April - Umaru Yar'Adua of the ruling People's Democratic Party is proclaimed winner of the presidential election.
2007 - September - The rebel Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) threatens to end a self-imposed ceasefire and to launch fresh attacks on oil facilities and abductions of foreign workers.
2007 - November - Suspected Nigerian militants kill 21 Cameroon soldiers in Bakassi Peninsula. Nigerian senate rejects Nigeria-Cameroon agreement for hand-over of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon.
2008 - January - Oil trades at $100 a barrel for the first time, with violence in oil producing countries such as Nigeria and Algeria helping to drive up prices.

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