Within its vast area, Nigeria has over 250 different ethnic groups, all with their own languages and heritage. Nigeria is made up of three large ethnic groups – the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, and Igbo-who represent 70 percent of the population. Another 10 percent comprises of several other groups numbering more than 1 million members each, including the Kanuri, Tiv, and Ibibio. More than 300 smaller ethnic groups account for the remaining 20 percent of the population. However, these groups are similar in nature, thus melting all the boundaries to become a huge group. Most Nigerians speak more than one language. The country’s official language, English is widely spoken, especially among educated people. Apart from English, 400 native Nigeria languages are also spoken, out of which some are being threatened with extinction.
Nigeria happens to be the most populous country of Africa. As a matter of fact the Nigerian people comprise a population with the highest density in the whole world. People in Nigeria give great importance to religion. 45% of the population is Christian, 45% Muslim and the rest 10% is a mixture of quite a few indigenous religions. However, as Nigerian culture is multi-ethnic, there used to exist quite a few religions and deities.
People of Nigeria traditionally used to worship many inanimate objects. Ancestor worship was also largely practiced by many tribal groups of Nigeria. The most popular among the innumerable ethnic groups in Nigeria are Ibo or Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani. Yoruba people mostly occupy the southern parts of Nigeria. The Ibo or Igbo group stay in the South-Eastern States of Nigeria. The Hausa-Fulani stay in Northern Nigeria.
The birth rate among the Nigerian people is about 43.26 per1, 000 people, while the death rate is 12.01 per 1000 people. The life expectancy for the total population of the Nigerian people is 55.98 years, with 54.69 years for males and 57.3 years for females. The fertility rate is about 6.31 children born per woman. The population growth rate is 3.16%. However, the unity among the Nigerian people, in spite of being ethnically diverse is definitely something unique.
In 2002, Nigeria’s estimated population was 129, 934,911, yielding an average density of 141 persons per sq km (364 per sq mi). At the last census, in 1991, the population totaled 88.5 million. Like previous censuses, notably the annulled 1962 and 1973 censuses and the hotly disputed 1963 census, the accuracy of the 1991 census was highly controversial. Before the 1991 census, the number of registered voters indicated that Nigeria’s population was probably between 115 and 125 million – that is about 30 percent more than indicated in the census.
With a birth rate of 39.2 per 1,000 and a death rate of 14.1 per 1,000, Nigeria’s population is growing at an average of 3 percent annually, a rapid pace and little change from the 1970s. The average Nigerian woman gives birth six times in her lifetime, although among more educated women, the rate is somewhat lower. Nearly half of Nigerians are younger than 15 years. By 2025 the population is projected to grow to 204 million, nearly double the current size.
The highest population densities are in the Igbo heartland in southeastern Nigeria, despite poor soils and heavy emigration. The intensively farmed zones around and including several major Hausa cities, especially Kano, Sokoto and Zaria in the north are also packed with people. Other areas of high density include: Yorubaland in the southwest, the Central Jos Plateau and the Tiv homeland in Benue State in the South Central Region. Densities are relatively low in the dry North-East and in most parts of the Middle-Belt. Ecological factors including the prevalence of diseases such as sleeping sickness, carried by the tsetse fly and historical factors, especially the legacy of pre-colonial slave raiding, help to explain these low densities.
English in Nigeria
Following the country’s colonial past – the official language is English. But depending on their education, many people are are not fluent in English and for informal occasions, most people prefer to speak in their mother tongue. ‘Pidgin’ English is also used in casual conversation; this is a mixture of English and Nigerian words.
The largest groups are the Hausa in the north, the Yoruba in the southwest and the Igbo (or Ibo) in the southeast, who account for around a fifth of the population each. The languages of these three groups can therefore be used in government. Other large groups include the Ijaw in the east and the Fulani in the north.
The religious divide
Nigeria is divided into 36 states. In the 13 northern states, the vast majority of people are Muslim. The Hausa have been Muslims for almost a thousand years, having been converted to Islam by Arab traders and merchants from the 10th century.
Sharia law was introduced into the northern Nigerian states (Zamfara State) from 2000. This is a code for how Muslims should lead their lives. It is thought to have been drawn up by Muslim scholars in the early centuries of Islam, with parts of it taken directly from the Koran. As in other countries, northern Nigeria uses the code as a basis for its criminal law. However, some of the harsher penalties, such as death-by-stoning for adultery, have never been carried out.
Extremist groups have grown more popular in the north, mainly because of widespread poverty and frustration over corruption and lack of development.
In the southern states, the majority of Nigerians are Christian, while some groups continue to practice indigenous beliefs. Generally, religion is taken very seriously. Most people will attend church on a Sunday and make frequent references to God or Jesus in everyday conversation.
Southern indigenous faiths centre around a belief in spirits and also in a supreme being or creator, known as Olorun/Olodumare in Yoruba culture and Chineke/Chukwu by Igbo people.
Traditional culture and dress
A woman wearing patterned clothing, Nigeria A youngster wearing traditional clothing
Dyeing and weaving
Local craftsmen are skilled in dyeing and weaving techniques. Hand-patterned cloth is known as adire, where patterns are created by making certain parts of the material resistant to dyes – see Textiles. Asa-oke is made up of hand-woven strips of colourful cloth.
In the north, women wear long flowing robes and headscarves, though they rarely cover their faces. In the south, women may choose to wear Western-style clothes for everyday wear, often buying cheap second-hand items in markets.
But on Sunday, most women in the south will put on their best traditional clothes and headdresses. These are frequently made from locally produced and dyed fabrics.