Context to conflict

A federal republic of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. The modern state dates from the completion of the British conquest at the start of the 20th century. Nigeria - the name comes from the River Niger - is made up of 250 ethnic groups, the largest of which are the Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba and Fulani. Over 500 languages are spoken, with English the official language. There are three tiers of government: federal, state and local.


Under the constitution the people considered indigenous to a state have rights  such as access to land, resources and political power, that are not granted to settlers. This inequality is a contributory factor in much of the communal strife. 


Officially a secular democratic country 1.), Nigeria is one of a handful of non-Muslim majority countries to belong to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which describes itself as the “collective voice of the Muslim world”.

Key dates

  • 1914: The British colonial power consolidates its northern and southern territories in a single entity, ushering in the modern state
  • 1960: Nigeria becomes a formally independent federation
  • 19661979: First period of military rule
  • 1967-1970: Civil war breaks out after the Eastern Region declares independence and founds the Republic of Biafra.
  • 19791983: Democratic government under President Shehu Shagari
  • 19831998: Military coup followed by second period of military rule
  • 1999: Former military leader Olusegun Obasanjo elected president
  • 2003: President Obasanjo re-elected
  • 2010: Vice President Goodluck Jonathan assumes presidency after passing of Umaru Yar'Adua.
  • 2011: Election of Goodluck Jonathan as president
  • 2015: Election of Muhammadu Buhari as president
  • 2019: Re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari
  • 2023: Election of Bola Tinubu as president
Map: Wikipedia (Domenico-de-ga, translated and adapted by xandar - Self-adapted from de.wikipedia)
Map: Wikipedia (Domenico-de-ga, translated and adapted by xandar - Self-adapted from de.wikipedia)

Ethnic groups and Religion

Religion plays a very important part in Nigerian life. In statistical terms, the population of 203 million is approximately 49% Christian and 49% Muslim. 2.) The north of the country is predominantly Muslim while the southern states are mainly Christian. A minority of the population practises traditional religions. There is a religious revival underway in the country: Islam has experienced a resurgence in recent decades and the Christian population has also grown explosively over the past century.

The majority Muslim ethnic groups are the Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri. The vast majority of Muslims are Sunni but there is also a significant Shi’ite minority. Nine northern states have incorporated Sharia law into their previously secular legal systems since 1999 while three have instituted it in part. 3.)

The Christian population is roughly three-quarters Protestant and one quarter Catholic with Pentecostal and African churches growing fast. Mostly Christian peoples include the Igbo and Ijaw.


Executive power is exercised by the president who is both the head of state and of government. The current president is Bola Tinubu, a Muslim, who  came to power in 2023.

The two major political parties are the centre-right People’s Democratic Party of Nigeria (PDP) and the centre-left All Progressives Congress (APC). The APC won the  general elections in 2015 with a campaign promise to put down the insurgency in the northeast and bring peace to the Middle Belt.  Despite largely failing to realise this promise, Buhari was re-elected for a second term in February 2019. 


1.) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, para 10.

2.) Figures from 2010, Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project

3.) The nine states that have instituted Sharia: Zamfara, Kano, Sokoto, Katsina, Bauchi, Borno, Jigawa, Kebbi, Yobe. The three states that have instituted it in parts with large Muslim populations: Kaduna, Niger, Gombe (Wikipedia, Sharia in Nigeria)