Nigeria Essay

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The west African country of Nigeria was a major economic power when the British invaded and occupied parts of the country from 1861. Nigeria gained its independence in 1960. With a population of 135 million and covering 923,700 sq. km, it still dominates—politically and economically—much of west Africa.

In the early 17th century, European powers started to establish trading  posts along the coast of what is now Nigeria. Initially, some of these posts were for trading  with the local people, but soon the English and other Europeans started the slave trade. The Company of the Royal Adventurers was chartered in 1660, succeeded  12 years later by the Royal Africa Company. Along the coast, trading posts were replaced by English and Dutch forts where slaves were held before being transported to the Americas.

During the Napoleonic Wars, following the French invasion  of the  Netherlands,  the  British  broke  the hold of the Dutch. By the middle of the 19th century, most  of the  British trade  was focused  on  the  area around  Lagos and the delta of the River Niger. This trade coincided with many wars in the region among different tribes. With the abolition of the slave trade, the British started expanding into plantation  agriculture, dealing in palm oil, and also attempting to secure sources of oil and ivory.

The British  started  ruling  Nigeria  in  1861, with Lagos becoming a crown colony. Ostensibly, the aim was to prevent illegal slave trading and also involvement in the Yoruba civil wars. In 1900 the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria was established. By 1906 the whole of Nigeria was under British control, with the colony of Lagos being incorporated into the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. In 1914 the Northern and Southern  protectorates were merged. The economic focus of the country was on growing cash crops and exploiting raw materials and minerals to help industrial development in Europe.

In the  1890s a railway was built, and  in the  late 1920s, roads  were  improved,  thereby  helping  create a wealthy elite in Nigeria that started consuming British manufactured exports. The pound sterling became the medium  of exchange. As a result, many British companies and some local firms started mining tin; growing cotton,  cocoa, and groundnuts; and continuing palm oil plantations. As a result of increasing wealth in Nigeria, many British and other agency houses operated  in the country, and many Nigerians enlisted in the British armed forces during World War I and World War II. During the latter conflict, agitation for independence  increased, and in 1945, a large 40-day  strike  crippled  the  country’s economy.  The British made many concessions, and Nigeria started preparing for independence. After experiments in federalism, independence  was granted in 1960.

Political problems started in 1962 along tribal lines. In 1966 the military staged a coup d’état, which was followed by countercoups. In May 1967 Lt. Col. Odemegwu  Ojukwa urged  autonomy  for eastern  Nigeria, which then  formally seceded as the Republic of Biafra. This secession led to a civil war from May 1967 to January 1970, in which tens of thousands of people were killed or died of starvation  or lack of medical supplies. It ended with defeat for Biafra.

Oil and Natural Gas

The oil crisis of 1973 and 1974 led to a financial windfall for Nigeria—so much  so that  in 1975, about  90 percent  of the export  revenue  of the country  came from oil. Soon afterward, deposits of natural gas were found. At the same time, coal production fell; it had been 940,000 tons a year in 1958 but was only 73,000 tons in 1986, when it made up less than 1 percent of the country’s energy.

The wealth  in Nigerian  oil led to  more  disputes and military coups, which in turn led to a succession of military leaders, some of whom were involved in widespread corruption and graft. Although Western companies  were eager to  do business  with  Nigeria owing to the wealth there, many were nervous about the government’s poor human rights records.

Despite the  oil deposits,  some 70 percent  of the workforce  is still involved in  agriculture,  although it accounts  for only 27 percent  of the nation’s gross domestic product  (GDP). Industry, especially oil, employs 10 percent of the workforce and generates 49 percent of Nigeria’s GDP. The service sector accounts for 20 percent of the workforce and produces 24 percent of the GDP.

Oil and petroleum  products  make up 95 percent of the country’s exports, with most of the remainder coming from cocoa and rubber. Some 46 percent  of the exports  go to the United  States, with India and Spain being other  major  importers  of Nigerian  oil. Imports—especially of manufactured goods, machinery, transportation equipment,  food,  and  live animals—come  from  many  countries,  with  9 percent from the United States and 8 percent from both China and the United Kingdom.


  1. Claude Abe, ed., Political Economy of Nigeria (Longman,  1985);
  2. S. P. Alamieyeseigha, Steve S. Azaiki, and Augustine A. Ikein, Oil, Democracy, and the Promise of True  Federalism in Nigeria (University Press of America, 2008);
  3. Olufemi Amao and Kenneth Amaeshi, “Galvanising Shareholder Activism: A Prerequisite for Effective Corporate Governance   and  Accountability   in Nigeria,” Journal of Business Ethics (v.82/1, 2008);
  4. Soala Ariweriokuma,  The Political Economy of Oil and  Gas in Africa: The Case of Nigeria (Routledge, 2008);
  5. Emmanuel A. Erondu, Alex Sharland, and John O. Okpara, “Corporate Ethics in Nigeria: A Test of the Concept of Ethical Climate,” Journal of Business Ethics (v.51/4, 2004);
  6. Peter Kilby, Industrialization in an Open Economy: Nigeria, 1945–1966 (Cambridge University Press, 2008);
  7. A. Oduola,  M. O. IIori, and J. B. Akarakiri, “Capability Building and Business Development Practices in the Public Research and Development  Organisations  in Nigeria,” South African Journal of Economic and Management  Sciences (v.9/4, 2006);
  8. K. Onoh, The Nigerian Oil Economy: From Prosperity to Glut (Croom Helm, 1983);
  9. Scott R. Pearson, Petroleum and the Nigerian Economy (Stanford University Press, 1970);
  10. Chad Steinberg, Stephen  Swaray, and  Jennifer Moyo, Nigeria: Selected Issues (International Monetary Fund, 2008).

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