Nigeria: Politics, Economy & Culture (1945-Present)

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  • 0:01 Gaining Independence
  • 0:53 People of Nigeria
  • 1:58 Politics of Nigeria
  • 3:30 Nigeria's Economy
  • 4:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa and home to one of the world's fastest growing economies. That said, it also faces many of the same problems and issues as other African states.

Gaining Independence

By the end of World War II, it was increasingly clear to both Europeans and Africans that the old colonial ventures would serve no one's interest long-term. Africans had been inspired by the actions of Mohandas Gandhi and others to gain independence from Europe and felt that Africa should be administered by Africans. Likewise, the costs of maintaining large empires was acutely felt by the Europeans, who now had to deal with the very real threat of a Soviet advance. As an added benefit, more freed colonies could mean more diplomatic partners against the spread of Communist ideology. As a result, the British in particular started passing legislation that would free many of its former colonies, but in such a way that would maintain some level of influence. Among the largest of these was Nigeria, and by 1960, the most populated country in Africa was independent.

People of Nigeria

To understand the politics and economy of Nigeria, you first have to understand the people of Nigeria. In fact, there are a lot of people in Nigeria - more than 177 million of them, all in an area about the size of Texas. It is by a margin of more than 50% Africa's most populated country. As you might expect with a country of Nigeria's size, there are numerous ethnic groups that make up that massive number of people. However, a few main groups dominate Nigerian culture and politics. The Hausa, along with the smaller Fulani group, live in the northern provinces of Nigeria. They make up around 30% of Nigeria's population and are overwhelmingly Muslim. Two other groups to the south, the Yoruba and Igbo, are overwhelmingly Christian. Needless to say, this has been a source of tension in Nigerian politics. In fact, in the northern provinces, those that are predominantly Muslim, Shariah, or Islamic law, has become increasingly important.

Politics of Nigeria

Nigeria's three dominant regions of the Hausa/Fulani-dominated north, Yoruba-dominated southwest, and Igbo-dominated southeast, have struggled to live in peace. One of the prime examples of this tension occurred soon after independence, when the Igbo region attempted to start its own country. Known as the Biafran War, upwards of three million Igbo civilians died in what could be one of the most underreported acts of genocide in world history.

However, Nigeria does acknowledge its great demographic diversity within the structure of its government. In a unique hybrid of influences from the British Parliament and U.S. Constitution, Nigeria is a Federal Parliamentary Republic. Each of the Nigerian states maintains significant control of its own affairs, much like the individual states within the United States. This is why the northern states have been allowed to enact Islamic law. However, overwhelming, the government of the whole country is more closely related to that of the United Kingdom. This allows for greater flexibility in parties, as a two-party American-style system would be lost in a quagmire of Muslim-Christian bantering. Also in a nod to the inherent tension within the country, the capital was moved from the largest city, Lagos, to Abuja, a purpose-built city. Lagos was firmly in Christian territory, whereas Abuja straddles the demographic fault line between Christianity and Islam in Nigeria.

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