The very thing that makes Nigeria so ornery and difficult to unite into a single peaceful republic is also its attraction. There are over 250 different peoples, languages, histories, and religions all rubbing shoulder to shoulder in this hectic, colourful and often volatile republic.
Nigeria is the place to go if you're into music. Nigeria is constantly pounding to the rhythms of traditional African juju music, Afrobeat and reggae. This is by no means an easy destination, but if you're intrepid enough it can be highly rewarding.
During the 1970s, when oil prices rocketed, Nigeria looked set to become prosperous and democratic but perversely managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Its history is littered with tin-pot dictators, massacres, bloody civil wars, human rights abuses, and horrific famines.
It is now a country struggling to contain the sum of its parts within a democratic framework. A chronic crime problem, religious intolerance, large-scale unemployment and overcrowding in poor living conditions regularly push the rule of law to the brink. Despite this, there is still an unfaltering optimisim among Nigerians that their proud nation will indeed make it to the party.
Polio vaccination in Nigeria is intermittent and there is currently a high rate of infection in the north of the country. For more information on polio and vaccinations visit the World Health Organisation website.
Although most trips to Nigeria are trouble-free, this is one destination where consular travel warnings should be taken seriously. From religious tensions in the north with the spread of Sharia law, to border conflict in the southeast with Cameroon as well as violent crime throughout the south, travellers need to be aware of what is going on around them at all times.
Lagos and the Niger River delta in the south are particularly unstable, with carjackings, kidnapping, piracy, riots and ethnic clashes prevalent; the northern city of Kano is also dodgy. Travelling from the airport to Lagos can be an unpleasant initiation. Visitors to Lagos should arrange to be met on arrival.
Street crime, robberies and muggings occur throughout the country, often in broad daylight. There have also been territorial disputes in the oil-rich region of Bakassi, adjoining neighbouring Cameroon in the southeast. The dispute is being resolved diplomatically for the time being but warrants close monitoring if you're considering travelling through the area.
Full country name: Federal Republic of Nigeria
Area: 924,000 sq km
Capital City: Abuja (pop 500,000)
People: 250 different ethnic groups, including: Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, Ibo, Kanuri, Ibibio, Tiv, Ijaw
Language: English, French, Yoruba, Efik, Hausa
Religion: Muslim (50%), Christian: mostly Roman Catholic (40%), animist (10%)
Government: parliamentary democracy
GDP: US$113500000000 (PPP)
GDP per capita: US$875 (PPP)
Annual Growth: 1.6%
Major Industries: Crude oil, natural gas, coal, palm oil, peanuts, cotton
Major Trading Partners: USA, EU, and India
Member of EU: No
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Of all the festivals in West Africa the most elaborate are the ones held in northern Nigeria - in particular Kano, Zaria and Katsina - for the two most important Islamic holidays: the end of Ramadan (the Islamic period of fasting) and Tabaski (69 days later). The exact dates differ from year to year but is usually sometime in late January or early February and again in late April. The principal event of the celebrations is the Durbar, a colourful parade of ornately dressed Hausa-Fulani horsemen, Emirs dressed in ceremonial robes, bicep-flexing wrestlers and lute players in headdresses.
Occurring shortly after the Sallah celebrations is the Argungu Fishing and Cultural Festival (sometime in mid to late February) on the banks of the Sokoto River. This internationally acclaimed festival is fishing with a difference and involves barehanded fishing, duck hunting, swimming and other watery competitions. More water-based celebrations take place around August at the Pategi Regatta, halfway between Ibadan and Kaduna, with the highlight of the regatta being the rowing competition.
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The naira continues to be devalued against foreign currencies, a boon for western travellers. A budget traveller happy with YMCA accommodation or shared facilities and a fondness for African soups and goat curry can survive on as little as US$10-15 a day. Be very careful with budget accommodation in the bigger cities such as Lagos. Due to the high personal security risks you are considerably increasing your chances of being mugged or robbed at the very least. Those on a moderate budget hoping for air-conditioning, running water, and lights that work (or one out of the three) can expect to pay between US$30-50, while those staying at the best places in town and dining out on European style food can shell out over US$150 a day.
Lugging wads of cash around isn't usually a good idea but in the case of Nigeria you should probably take some readies with you to smooth your way through customs. It may also take a while for the bank to change your travellers cheques, if they do at all, and a hefty commission is often involved. There's a flourishing black market that usually offers better rates but it is illegal. Credit cards are all but useless except in five star hotels and there are numerous credit card scams on the go.
Tipping is a grey area but if a service charge has not been included in your bill, a tip of 10% is the norm for any service.
Nigeria is an entirely cash economy, and bribery is not a dirty word - it's an accepted part of the cost - so don't even think about avoiding it. Requests can range from the downright intimidating to a pleasant smile and a gentle invitation to hand over money but, whichever way it's done, it's done frequently.
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In a moment of misguided inspiration, the Nigerian government kicked out the local Gwari inhabitants and decided to up-and-move the capital from Lagos to Abuja. Unfortunately, they ran out of oil money before the grand vision was finished and parts of Abuja still look like a work in progress.
However, Abuja is slowly taking on the role of Nigeria's capital, and the city is filling. But while most federal ministries and civil servants have made the move, foreign agencies and diplomatic missions are still in Lagos and, as a result, there really isn't much to do in Abuja.
At nearly 1000 years old, the mud-walled Muslim city of Kano is the oldest city in West Africa and sits on the edge of the Sahel (the fringe of the Sahara). Although it's a bustling hive of commercial activity it's still more bearable than Lagos. Its main attraction is the Old City.
Despite the near-complete disintegration of the city walls, the gates have remained intact. The Kofar Mata Gate leads to the Emir's palace and Central Mosque. The mosque is closed to non-Islamic visitors but is worth seeing from the outside, especially during the Friday prayer time (around noon).
Lagos takes its name from the Portuguese word for 'lagoon', but if that conjures up images of families ambling along a wind-freshened foreshore, please adjust your imagination. It's a churning, confronting, sometimes dangerous megalopolis that ranks as the second-biggest city in Africa (after Cairo).
When you're not busy watching out for yourself, you can fix your attention on some monumental structures and a mishmash of architectural forms, including places built by emancipated slaves, or you can take a long, languid look at a lagoon and some appealing beaches.
Yankari National Park
Yankari National Park, 225km (139mi) east of Jos, has West Africa's best nature reserve and holds the only wildlife remnant left in Nigeria. Seeing animals here is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair but if you're in luck you may come across elephant, waterbuck, hippo, crocodile and the occasional lion.
The other feature of interest in the park is the thermal Wikki Warm Spring. The best months to visit are January and February. If going through the park in a noisy wildlife-viewing truck is not your thing, you can arrange for one of the guides to take you on a walking tour.
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