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Home > Vacation Destinations > Africa > NIGERIA

Nigeria [Country Flag of Nigeria]


Nigeria is an oil-rich Cinderella state that never quite made it to the ball. During the 1970s, when oil prices rocketed, Nigeria looked set to become the shining example of a prosperous and democratic West African republic but perversely managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It has had the odd moment of oil-induced triumph but its history is littered with tin-pot dictators, massacres, bloody civil wars, human rights abuses, and horrific famines. It is now a country that is saddled with a soaring crime rate, massive unemployment, overpopulation; and it's still recovering from a military government run on bribery and corruption. With the election in 1999 of former military ruler General Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria may be entering a new phase of stability.

But the very thing that has made Nigeria so ornery and difficult to unite into a single peaceful republic is also its attraction. There are over 250 different peoples, languages, histories, and religions all rubbing shoulder to shoulder in this hectic, colorful, sometimes cockeyed republic. It is also the place to go if you're into music. Nigeria is constantly pounding to the rhythms of traditional African juju music, Afrobeat and reggae. It's not the most pleasant or relaxing place to visit but if you're looking for a challenge it's the place to be.

Nigeria had an eventful history. More than 2,000 years ago, the Nok culture in the present plateau state worked iron and produced sophisticated terracotta sculpture. The history of the northern cities of Kano and Katsina dates back to approximately 1000 A.D. In the following centuries, Hausa Kingdoms and the Bornu Empire became important terminals of north-south trade between North African Berbers and the forest people, exchanging slaves, ivory, and other products. The Yoruba Kingdom of Oyo was founded in 1400s. It attained a high level of political organization. In the 17th through 19th centuries, European traders established coastal ports for slave traffic to the Americas. Commodity trade, especially in palm oil and timber, replaced slave trade in the 19th century. In the early 19th century, the Fulani leader Usman dan Fodio launched an Islamic crusade that brought most of the Hausa states under the loose control of an empire centered in Sokoto.

On October 1, 1960, the Federation of Nigeria achieved independence, initially as a constitutional monarchy. In June 1961, the northern part of the United Nations Trust Territory of British Cameroons was incorporated into Nigeria's Northern Region as the province of Sardauna, and in August 1963 a fourth region, the Mid-Western Region, was created. From the outset, Nigeria's ethnic, regional, and religious tensions were magnified by the disparities in economic and educational development. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was adopted on October 1, 1963. At the same time, Nigeria became a member of the Commonwealth and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of the NCNC took office as first Nigerian's first President. On January 15, 1966, a group of officers overthrew the government. In May 1967, Lt. Col. Emeka Ojukwu, the military governor, declared the independence of the Eastern Region as the "Republic of Biafra." After General Muhammed was assassinated on February 13, 1976, Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo became head of state. Seven new states were created in 1976, bringing the total to nineteen. Several military rulers followed, ending with the sudden death of General Sani Abacha in June, 1998. He was succeeded by General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who held elections in 1999 leading to the election of Olusegun Obasanjo, who took office in May, 1999.

Travel Information

TRAVEL WARNING (issued April 7, 2000)
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the dangers of travel to Nigeria. Nigeria has limited tourist facilities and conditions pose considerable risks to travelers.

Violent crime, committed by ordinary criminals, as well as by persons in police and military uniforms, can occur throughout the country. Kidnapping for ransom of persons associated with the petroleum sector, including U.S. citizens, remains common in the Niger Delta area.

Use of public transportation throughout Nigeria is dangerous and should be avoided. Taxis pose risks because of the possibility of fraudulent or criminal operators and poorly maintained vehicles. Most Nigerian airlines have aging fleets, and there are valid concerns that maintenance and operational procedures may be inadequate to ensure passenger safety.

Nigerian-based business, charity and other scams target foreigners worldwide and pose a danger of financial loss. Recipients pursuing such fraudulent offers risk physical harm if they come to Nigeria. Persons contemplating business deals in Nigeria are strongly urged to check with the U.S. Department of Commerce or the U.S. Department of State before providing any information or making any financial commitments. No one should provide personal financial or account information to unknown parties. An invitation to enter Nigeria without a visa is normally indicative of illegal activity. Under no circumstances should U.S. citizens travel to Nigeria without a valid visa. Furthermore, the ability of U.S. Embassy officers to extricate U.S. citizens from unlawful business deals and their consequences is extremely limited.

Country Description
Nigeria is a developing West African country that has experienced periods of political instability. Its internal infrastructure is neither fully functional nor well maintained. The inauguration of President Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29, 1999 marked the return of civilian rule after sixteen years of military governments.

Entry/Exit requirement
A passport and visa are required. The visa costs forty-five US dollars and must be obtained in advance. Promises of entry into Nigeria without a visa are credible indicators of fraudulent commercial schemes in which the perpetrators seek to exploit the foreign traveler's illegal presence in Nigeria through threats of extortion or bodily harm. U.S. citizens cannot legally depart Nigeria unless they can prove, by presenting their entry visas, that they entered Nigeria legally. Entry information may be obtained at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2201 M Street, N.W., in Washington, D.C. 20037, telephone (202) 822-1500, or at the Nigerian Consulate General in New York, telephone (212) 850-2200. Overseas inquiries may be made at the nearest Nigerian Embassy or Consulate.

Nigeria periodically experiences localized civil unrest and violence. The causes and locations vary. Locations where outbreaks of violence have occurred include the Lagos area, southwestern Nigeria, the oil-producing states in the Niger delta region, and Anambra, Benue, Kaduna, and Kano states.

Parts of Nigeria have recently suffered from ethnic-religious conflicts between Christians and Muslims. On February 21 and 22, 2000, there were demonstrations and civil unrest in and around the city of Kaduna in north central Nigeria. Subsequent disturbances occurred in the southeastern cities of Aba, Abia State, and Onitsha, Anambra State.

U.S. citizens have not been specifically targeted in these disturbances and incidents. Nonetheless, they and their vehicles may inadvertently become caught up in a demonstration or disturbance.

Unauthorized vehicle checkpoints continue to be a problem throughout Nigeria. Although the Federal Government recently banned vehicle checkpoints by its forces of order, these checkpoints may be operated by armed bands of police, soldiers, or bandits. Many incidents, including highway banditry and murder, have occurred.

In the oil-producing region of the Niger River Delta, U.S. citizens and other foreigners have frequently been threatened and held hostage for ransom. As a matter of policy, the United States Government will not pay ransom or make other concessions to kidnappers; therefore, the U.S. Embassy's ability to assist U.S. citizens taken hostage may be limited. U.S. citizens who are resident in this area should review their employer's security information and contingency plans. Between May and December of 1999 there were four attacks and occupations of U.S. oil company compounds.

Due to security concerns, Embassy employees are advised to notify the Embassy in advance before leaving Victoria, Ikoyi, and Lagos Islands on the city's coast, where the Embassy and Embassy residences are located. In addition, the Embassy advises its employees against visiting Lagos Island or mainland Lagos after dark. Embassy employees travel in armored vehicles between the islands and Murtala Mohammed International Airport. When traveling to the airport at night, a second vehicle carrying a police officer accompanies Embassy employees.

Political gatherings and street demonstrations have been known to occur. U.S. citizens should avoid large crowds and maintain security awareness at all times.

Crime issues
Violent crime affecting foreigners is a serious problem, especially in Lagos and the southern regions of the country. Visitors and resident Americans have experienced armed muggings, assaults, burglary, kidnappings and extortion, often involving violence. Carjackings, roadblock robberies and armed break-ins are common. Law enforcement authorities usually respond to crimes slowly, if at all, and provide little or no investigative support to victims. U.S. citizens have experienced harassment and shakedowns at checkpoints and in encounters with Nigerian officials.

Upon arrival in Nigeria, U.S. citizens are urged to register at the U.S. Embassy in Lagos or the U.S. Embassy Office in Abuja where they may also obtain current safety information and advice on minimizing risks.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to local police and to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The pamphlets "A Safe Trip Abroad" and "Tips for Travelers to Sub-Saharan Africa" provide useful information regarding personal security while traveling abroad and on travel in the region in general. Both are available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

Commercial fraud
A major and continuing problem is the commercial scam or sting that targets foreigners, including many U.S. citizens. Such scams may involve U.S. citizens in illegal activity, resulting in arrest, extortion or bodily harm. The scams generally involve phony offers of either outright money transfers or lucrative sales or contracts with promises of large commissions or up-front payments. Alleged deals frequently invoke the authority of one or more ministries or offices of the Nigerian government and may even cite by name the involvement of an actual Nigerian government official. In some scams, actual government stationery, seals, and offices are used.

Expanding bilateral law enforcement cooperation, which has resulted in numerous raids on commercial fraud premises, does not yet appear to have significantly reduced the overall level of fraud activity. The ability of U.S. Embassy officers to extricate U.S. citizens from unlawful business deals and their consequences is extremely limited. Since the mid-1990s, several U.S. citizens have been arrested by police officials and held for varying periods on charges of involvement in business scams. Nigerian police do not always inform the U.S. Embassy of a U.S. citizen in distress. The Department of Commerce has issued advisories to the U.S. business community on doing business in Nigeria. Both the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Embassy in Lagos can provide business travelers with further details. For additional information, consult the Department of State's brochure "Tips for Business Travelers to Nigeria," available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov or by providing a SSAE to the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, Room 4811, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818.

Medical facilities
Medical facilities in Nigeria are generally not up to U.S./European standards. Diagnostic and treatment equipment is most often poorly maintained and many medicines are unavailable. Counterfeit pharmaceuticals are a common problem and may be difficult to distinguish from genuine medications. This is particularly true of generics purchased at local pharmacies or street markets. While Nigeria has many well-trained doctors, hospital facilities are generally of poor quality with inadequately trained nursing staffs. Hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

Medical insurance
U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. The Medicare/Medicaid program does not provide for payment of medical services outside the United States. Check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas. A provision for medical evacuation is strongly encouraged due to the near total lack of trauma care or other sophisticated care for the critically ill or injured in Nigeria. Ascertain whether payment will be made to an overseas hospital or doctor or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure "Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad," available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

Other health information
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's international traveler's hotline at tel.: 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax: 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or by visiting the CDC Internet home page at http://www.cdc.gov.

Traffic safety and road conditions
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Nigeria is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of public transportation: Poor
Urban road conditions/maintenance: Poor
Rural road conditions/maintenance: Poor
Availability of roadside assistance: Poor

Although there are some modern, well-maintained road arteries in Nigeria, roads are generally in poor condition, causing damage to vehicles and contributing to hazardous traffic conditions. Excessive speed, unpredictable driving habits, and the lack of basic maintenance and safety equipment on many vehicles are additional hazards. There are few traffic lights or stop signs, and even where these may exist, they are not always heeded. Motorists seldom yield the right-of-way and give little consideration to pedestrians and cyclists. Gridlock is common in urban areas. The rainy season from May to October is especially dangerous because of flooded roads. Night driving should be avoided for several reasons. Bandits and police roadblocks are more numerous at night. Streets are very poorly lit and many vehicles are missing one or both headlights. Public transportation vehicles are both unsafe and overcrowded. Unwary passengers in local taxis have been driven to secluded locations where they were attacked and robbed. Several of the victims required hospitalization. The Embassy advises that public transportation throughout Nigeria is dangerous and should be avoided.

Air travel security
On December 22, 1999, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation announced that the United States was lifting its ban on direct flights between the U.S. and Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos. The decision followed a detailed review by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) security experts that determined that the airport's security system had been extensively overhauled and conformed to international security standards.

The Nigerian Government has announced its intention to privatize Nigerian Airways. A number of Nigerian airlines serve the domestic market and some foreign destinations. Most Nigerian airlines have aging fleets and limited technical capabilities and face serious financial problems. The U.S. Embassy is concerned that some of their operational and maintenance standards may be inadequate to ensure passenger safety.

Aviation safety oversight
As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers, or economic authority to operate such services, between the U.S. and Nigeria, the FAA has not yet formally assessed Nigeria's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet home page at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/iasa.pdf. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at 618-256-4801.

Photography restrictions
Permission is required to take photographs of government buildings, airports, bridges or official-looking buildings. These sites are not always clearly marked and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation. Permission may be obtained from Nigerian security personnel. Penalties can include confiscation or breaking of the camera, exposure of the film, a demand for payment of a fine or bribe, or roughing-up.

Currency issues
The Nigerian currency, the Naira, is non-convertible. U.S. Dollars are widely accepted. Nigeria is a cash society and it is usually necessary to bring sufficient currency to cover the expenses of a planned visit. Credit cards are rarely accepted beyond a few hotels. Due to the prevalence of credit card fraud in Nigeria and by cohorts in the U.S., credit card use is not advised. While Citibank cashes travelers checks, most banks do not. American Express does not have offices in Nigeria; Thomas Cook does. Inter-bank transfers are often difficult to accomplish, though money transfer services are widespread. For further information, visitors may wish to contact the U.S. Embassy.

Criminal penalties
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Nigerian law, even unknowingly, may be arrested, imprisoned, and/or expelled. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Nigeria are strictly enforced. Those arrested routinely face prolonged detention before trial, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines.

Embassy location/registration
U.S. citizens are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy and to obtain updated information on travel and security in Nigeria. The U.S. Embassy is located at 2 Walter Carrington Crescent, Victoria Island in Lagos. The telephone number is [234](1) 261-0050. The Internet address for the consular section in Lagos is: http://lagoscons@lagossf.us-state.gov. The Embassy Office in the new capital city of Abuja is located at 9 Mambilla, Maitama District. The telephone number is [234](9) 523-0916.


Location: Western Africa, bordering the Gulf of Guinea, between Benin and Cameroon

Area-comparative: slightly more than twice the size of California

Land boundaries:
total: 4,047 km
border countries: Benin 773 km, Cameroon 1,690 km, Chad 87 km, Niger 1,497 km

Coastline: 853 km

Climate: varies; equatorial in south, tropical in center, arid in north

Terrain: southern lowlands merge into central hills and plateaus; mountains in southeast, plains in north

Natural resources: petroleum, tin, columbite, iron ore, coal, limestone, lead, zinc, natural gas


Population: 113,828,587 (July 1999 est.)

noun: Nigerian(s)
adjective: Nigerian

Ethnic groups: Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba, Ibo, Ijaw, Kanuri, Ibibio, Tiv

Religions: Muslim 50%, Christian 40%, indigenous beliefs 10%

Languages: English (official), Hausa, Yoruba, Ibo, Fulani


Country name:
conventional long form: Federal Republic of Nigeria
conventional short form: Nigeria

Government type: republic transitioning from military to civilian rule

Capital: Abuja
note: on 12 December 1991 the capital was officially moved from Lagos to Abuja; many government offices remain in Lagos pending completion of facilities in Abuja

Flag description: three equal vertical bands of green (hoist side), white, and green


Economy—overview: The oil-rich Nigerian economy continues to be hobbled by political instability, corruption, and poor macroeconomic management. Nigeria's unpopular military rulers have failed to make significant progress in diversifying the economy away from over dependence on the capital-intensive oil sector, which provides 30% of GDP, 95% of foreign exchange earnings, and about 80% of budgetary revenues. The government's resistance to initiating greater transparency and accountability in managing the country's multibillion dollar oil earnings continues to limit economic growth and prevent an agreement with the IMF and bilateral creditors on a staff-monitored program and debt relief. The largely subsistence agricultural sector has failed to keep up with rapid population growth, and Nigeria, once a large net exporter of food, now must import food. Growth in 1999 may become negative because of continued low oil prices and persistent inefficiencies in the system.

Industries: crude oil, coal, tin, columbite, palm oil, peanuts, cotton, rubber, wood, hides and skins, textiles, cement and other construction materials, food products, footwear, chemicals, fertilizer, printing, ceramics, steel

Agriculture—products: cocoa, peanuts, palm oil, corn, rice, sorghum, millet, cassava (tapioca), yams, rubber, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, timber, fish

Exports—commodities: petroleum and petroleum products 95%, cocoa, rubber

Imports—commodities: machinery, chemicals, transportation equipment, manufactured goods, food and animals

Currency: 1 naira (N) = 100 kobo


Telephone system: average system limited by poor maintenance; major expansion in progress
domestic: intercity traffic is carried by coaxial cable, microwave radio relay, cellular network, and a domestic communications satellite system with 20 earth stations
international: satellite earth stations—3 Intelsat (2 Atlantic Ocean and 1 Indian Ocean); 1 coaxial submarine cable


total: 3,557 km
standard gauge: 52 km 1.435-m gauge (1995)
narrow gauge: 3,505 km 1.067-m gauge
note: years of neglect of both the rolling stock and the right-of-way have seriously reduced the capacity and utility of the system; a project to restore Nigeria's railways is now underway

total: 51,000 km
paved: 26,000 km (including 2,044 km of expressways)
unpaved: 25,000 km (1998 est.)
note: many of the roads reported as paved may be graveled; because of poor maintenance and years of heavy freight traffic (in part the result of the failure of the railroad system), much of the road system is barely useable

Waterways: 8,575 km consisting of the Niger and Benue rivers and smaller rivers and creeks

Ports and harbors: Calabar, Lagos, Onne, Port Harcourt, Sapele, Warri

Airports: 72 (1998 est.)

Heliports: 1 (1998 est.)

Transnational issues

Delimitation of international boundaries in the vicinity of Lake Chad, the lack of which led to border incidents in the past, is completed and awaits ratification by Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. A dispute with Cameroon over land and maritime boundaries around the Bakasi Peninsula is currently before the International Court of Justice. A maritime boundary dispute with Equatorial Guinea because of disputed jurisdiction over oil-rich areas in the Gulf of Guinea.

Illicit drugs
Facilitates movement of heroin en route from Southeast and Southwest Asia to Western Europe and North America; increasingly a transit route for cocaine from South America intended for European, East Asian, and North American markets.


Military branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Police Force