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Nigeria is located in West Africa. It is bordered by the countries of Benin, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, and it sits on the Gulf of Guinea.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with an estimated population of 170 million (2012, CIA World Factbook). With more than 250 ethnic groups, and many languages and traditions, Nigeria is also among the most diverse of Africa’s countries. Its major religions are Islam, Christianity, and indigenous African faiths.
After gaining independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria experienced a string of military coups and several abortive attempts to establish a stable national government.
A transition to democracy in 1999 and the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo ended 16 consecutive years of military rule. Yet longstanding ethnic and religious tensions continued to plague Nigeria, and conflicts flared over access to scarce resources. Although it is the leading oil producer in Africa, more than half of Nigeria’s people live in poverty.
Thousands of people have died in the past decade in violence related to communal rivalries. The imposition of a strict interpretation of Islamic law in several Northern states has exacerbated divisions and caused many Christians to flee their homes.
In the oil-rich Niger Delta region, tensions between local groups and large multinational oil corporations and protests against the government have led to numerous incidents of violence in recent years. These have included local militant groups’ sabotaging of oil pipelines and kidnapping of oil workers to protest over inequitable access to resources and the impoverishment of indigenous communities.
Even as Nigeria faces its own serious internal challenges, it has played a key role in supporting peacebuilding efforts in West Africa and elsewhere on the continent. Nigeria has provided the majority of troops for several United Nations peacekeeping missions, including those in Sierra Leone and Liberia, as well as many of the troops to the African Union mission in Sudan.
Although the presidential elections in both 2003 and 2007 included irregularities and were marred by violence, Nigeria continues to experience its longest period of civilian rule since independence in 1960. The elections of April 2007 marked the first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power in the country's history.
The elections of 2011 saw President Goodluck Jonathan reelected by a large margin, in a vote that was largely considered by both Nigerian and international observers to be free and fair. This marked a sharp departure from past elections, and heralded an important step toward giving democratic processes real roots in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, post-election violence in several northern cities underscored the ongoing ethnic and religious divisions in Nigeria. A major challenge continues to be the need for greater reconciliation between Muslims and Christians, which also reflects a division between the North and the South. High levels of poverty and unemployment, particularly among youth in the North, must also be addressed since it is this segment of the population that has instigated most of the violence.
A wave of violence early in 2012 underscored rising religious and political tensions in Nigeria. In particular, a militant Islamic sect known as Boko Haram has exacerbated instability by bombing churches, mosques, and public buildings, especially in the North. The group continues to elude the federal government’s invitation to negotiation.
The U.S. and the international community continue to seek ways to support the Nigerian government’s efforts to address these challenges.
The United States Institute of Peace works on preventing and managing conflict in Nigeria, particularly between different faith communities.
In 2004, after nearly 1,000 people had been killed in several months of fighting between Christians and Muslims around the Nigerian town of Yelwa-Nshar, USIP became involved in a peacebuilding initiative on the ground. USIP engaged Pastor James Wuye and Imam Mohammad Ashafa of the Inter-Faith Mediation Center in Kaduna, who had both previously fought in rival religious militias. After a week of mediation working with the Pastor and the Imam, a peace agreement was drafted and signed, and USIP helped restore peace to this part of the country. Today, USIP continues to collaborate with the Inter-Faith Mediation Center to promote religious peacebuilding in Nigeria, as well as in other parts of Africa.
USIP also trains Nigerian peacekeepers in conflict mediation and negotiation techniques; supports the efforts of other organizations to facilitate the demobilization and reintegration of rebels into their home communities; and explores a range of ways to break the cycle of intercommunal violence in Nigeria. Watch Adamu Garba Laka, a lieutenant colonel in the Nigerian Army, describe his experience in the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance.
USIP has also worked to reduce conflict in the Niger Delta area. For instance, USIP funded a two-year facilitated dialogue among the three ethnic groups locked in competition and conflict.
More information about our work on and in Nigeria
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