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People, Languages & Religions in Nigeria


The predominant racial group is West African Negroid. The purest lineage is now found in the southeastern forest belt, but Negroid stock forms the basic substratum throughout most of Nigeria. Non-Negroid racial types include the Fulani (Fulbe), of Mediterranean extraction, who are widely dispersed throughout the north but who have become largely assimilated to the predominant Negroid type, and the Semitic Shuwa Arabs, who are confined to the Lake Chad area in the extreme northeast.

There are three dominant ethnolinguistic groups. The Yoruba predominate in Ogun, Ondo, Oyo and Osun states. The Ibo (Igbo) predominate in Anambra, Imo, Abia and Enugu states. The Hausa and Fulani constitute the largest single groups in Sokoto, Kaduna, Jigawa, Katsina and Kano states.

Other important groups include the Kanuri in Borno and Yobe states; the Edo (Bini) in Edo State; the Ibibio in Akwa Ibam State; the Ijaw (Ijo) in Rivers State; the Tiv in Benue and Plateau states; and the Nupe in Niger State. The Hausa in the past have been officially estimated to constitute 21% of the population; Yoruba, 21%; Ibo, 18%; Fulani, 12%; Ijaw, 10%; Kanuri, 4.1%; Ibibio, 3.6%; Tiv, 2.5%; and others, 18.7%.


The official language is English, although there are over 300 distinct indigenous tongues. Hausa is the mother tongue of more than 40% of the inhabitants of the northern states. Yoruba is commonly used in southwestern urban centres, including Lagos. Ibo and Fulani are also widely spoken. Ethnic divisions roughly reflect the distribution of other vernaculars.


Religious affiliation in Nigeria is strongly related to ethnicity, with rather distinct regional divisions between ethnic groups. The northern states, dominated by the Hausa and Fulani groups, are predominantly Muslim while the southern ethnic groups have a large number of Christians. In the southwest, there is no predominant religion. The Yoruba tribe, which is the majority ethnic group in the southwest, practice Christianity, Muslim and/or the traditional Yoruba religion, which centres on the belief in one supreme god and several lesser deities.

Overall statistics indicate that about 50% of the population are Muslim, with a majority practising the Sunni branch of the faith. About 40% are Christian and about 10% practice traditional African religions or no religion at all. Many people include elements of traditional beliefs in their own practice of Christianity or Islam. The Christian community is composed of Roman Catholics (the largest denomination), Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists, Presbyterians and members of Evangelical and Pentecostal groups.

Though the constitution prohibits state and local governments from declaring an official religion, a number of states have recently adopted various forms of the Islamic criminal and civil law known as Shari'ah, a move which many Christians believe to be an adoption of Islam as the de facto religion. The constitution also provides for freedom of religion, however, some states have restricted religious demonstrations, processions, or gatherings as a matter of public security. Business owners and public officials have been known to discriminate against individuals of a faith different than their own in matters of providing services and hiring practices. The same type of discrimination exists between members of different ethnic groups. Certain Christian and Muslim holidays are officially observed.

There is a high degree of tension between Christians and Muslims with a record of violence against both groups. However, conflicts may stem primarily from ethnic and regional differences, since there are a number of reports of violence between different ethnic groups of the same religion.





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