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Nigeria: Current Issues

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Publication Date: February 2009

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL33964

Topic: Politics (Political status)


Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa, with an estimated 132 million people, has faced intermittent political turmoil and economic crisis since gaining independence in October 1960. Nigerian political life has been scarred by conflict along both ethnic and geographic lines and misrule has undermined the authority and legitimacy of the state apparatus, but many Nigerians feel a significant degree of national pride and belief in Nigeria as a state. After 16 years of military rule, Nigeria made a transition to civilian governance in 1999, when Olusegun Obasanjo, a former general, was elected president. In May 2007, after two terms in office, Obasanjo is scheduled to transfer power to a new administration.

Nigeria has made progress in strengthening its fragile democracy but faces serious social and economic challenges. Although Nigeria's oil and natural gas revenues are estimated at over $40 billion per year, its human development indicators are among the world's lowest, and a majority of the population suffer from extreme poverty. Nigeria remains relatively stable, although ethnic and religious clashes in parts of the country are common. Thousands have been killed and many more wounded in religious clashes.

Under President Obasanjo, Nigeria has emerged as a major player in Africa. The government has helped to resolve political disputes in Togo, Mauritania, Liberia, and Cote d'Ivoire. Nigeria has also played an important role in facilitating negotiations between the government of Sudan and the Darfur rebels. Nigerian troops have played a vital role in peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and are currently in Cote d'Ivoire, Congo, Liberia and Sudan.

Nigeria is one of the United States' key strategic partners in Africa. The country is Africa's largest producer of oil, and is America's fifth largest oil provider. As the continent's second largest economy, Nigeria's stability and prosperity affect not only those in the market for Nigerian oil, but the entire region.

Nigeria's next general elections are scheduled for April 14 and 21, 2007. They are significant because if successfully held, they will mark the country's first transfer of power from one civilian government to another. Efforts to allow Obasanjo to stand for a third term were defeated in 2006. Some analysts suggest that the threat of domestic regional tensions triggering wider civil unrest or controversies surrounding the elections themselves could lead to an electoral delay. Credible and peaceful elections are critical to the future of both the country and the region. This report will be updated as the situation warrants.