Official name: Federal Republic of Nigeria
Area: 923,768 square kilometers (356,669 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Chappal Waddi (2,419 meters/7,936 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 1 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,127 kilometers (700 miles) from east to west; 1,046 kilometers (650 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries: 4,047 kilometers (2,514 miles) total boundary length; Chad 87 kilometers (54 miles); Cameroon 1,690 kilometers (1,050 miles); Benin 773 kilometers (480 miles); Niger 1,497 kilometers (930 miles)
Coastline: 853 kilometers (530 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Nigeria is located in western Africa, bordering the Gulf of Guinea. The country also shares borders with Chad, Cameroon, Benin, and Niger. With an area of about 923,768 square kilometers (356,669 square miles), the country is slightly more than twice the size of California. Nigeria is divided into thirty-six states and one federal territory.
Nigeria has no outside territories or dependencies.
The climate in Nigeria varies from equatorial in the south, to tropical in the center, and arid in the north. Inland, the midday temperatures may surpass 38°C (100°F), but the nights are relatively cool, dropping as low as 12°C (54°F). On the Jos Plateau, temperatures are more moderate. Near the coast, temperatures rarely exceed 32°C (90°F), but humidity is high and nights are hot.
Inland, there are two distinct seasons: a wet season from April through October, with generally lower temperatures, and a dry season from November through March, with hotter temperatures. Along the coast, annual rainfall varies from about 180 centimeters (70 inches) in the west to about 420 centimeters (170 inches) in certain parts of the east. Inland, it decreases to around 130 centimeters (50 inches) over most of central Nigeria and only 50 centimeters (20 inches) in the extreme north.
Nigeria sits on the center of the African Tec-tonic Plate and lies entirely in the tropics, with its southern edge being only a few degrees above the equator and its northern border well below the Tropic of Cancer.
The outstanding geographic feature of the country is the basin of the Niger and Benue Rivers, running east and west through the center of the country. South of the basin, the elevation generally is less than 304 meters (1,000 feet), except for a few plateau surfaces. To the north of the basin, a broad plateau occupies the country to its northern border with elevations from 304 meters to 1,219 meters (1,000 to 4,000 feet). In the east, the country contains mountainous regions, in which the highest point is located.
Nigeria faces the Gulf of Guinea, which is a part of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Bight of Benin is to the west and the Bight of Biafra to the southeast; both of these are inlets of the Gulf of Guinea. There are a number of lagoons along the westerly coastal areas.
Islands of solid ground within the Niger Delta are inhabited. The city of Lagos is located on a group of islands at the western end of Lagos Lagoon.
Low swampy land, which varies in width up to 32 kilometers (20 miles) or more, is part of the coastal belt extending along the entire Gulf of Guinea coast of West Africa. The outer edge of the coastal area consists of sand spits; it changes to mud as the coast nears the Niger Delta. Behind the outer spits and lagoons, creeks of varying size parallel the coast and form a continuous waterway from the border with Benin on the west to the tributaries of the Niger Delta in the east.
One of the major features of the West African coastline is the Niger Delta, which projects into the Gulf of Guinea from the southern coast of Nigeria. This great bulge of sedimentary material, deposited by the Niger River, stretches some 120 to 128 kilometers (75 to 80 miles) from its apex below the town of Aba to the sea. It covers an area of about 25,900 square kilometers (10,000 square miles). The water of the Niger flows through this delta in a series of radial tributaries. For navigational purposes, the two most important rivers are the Forcados and the Nun.
The outer edge of the delta is fringed by sand spits and ridges, varying in width from less than one kilometer to more than 16 kilometers (more than 10 miles). Behind these ridges are mangrove swamps covering about 10,360 square kilometers (4,000 square miles); farther inland is an extensive area of freshwater swamps. The delta contains large natural gas and oil deposits.
Mangroves dominate the coast, while freshwater swamp forests with palms, abura, and mahogany predominate throughout the adjacent inland area.
The largest lake in Nigeria is Lake Chad, which is shared by the neighboring countries of Chad and Niger. The size of the lake varies from season to season depending on rain-fall—from 10,360 to 25,900 square kilometers (4,000 to 10,000 square miles)—as it alternately advances and recedes over considerable distances in the flat plains area on the Nigerian side. Between December and January, at the height of the rainy season, the lake may cover up to 25,900 square kilometers (10,000 square miles). During the ensuing months, however, it may diminish to less than half that size, with depths of only 1.2 to 5 meters (4 to 16 feet). At times, the waters recede so much that the entire portion located within Nigeria dries up. Little water is supplied to the lake from rivers in Nigeria. Its principal source is the Chari River in the Republic of Chad. The lake has no outlets. Lake Chad is the largest inland body of water on the Sahel.
In the far western part of the country is Kainji Lake, formed in 1968 by the damming of the Niger River. The lake extends for about 137 kilometers (85 miles) in a section of the Niger River valley from Kainji to a point beyond Yelwa. At maximum level, it covers an area of about 1,243 square kilometers (480 square miles) and has a width of 14 to 24 kilometers (9 to 15 miles)
The valleys of the Niger and Benue Rivers, which account for most of the country's drainage, form a great east-west arc across the middle of the country. The Niger River valley extends from the border with Benin on the west and the Benue River valley extends from the eastern border with Cameroon. Near Lokoja, in the center of the country, the two rivers join and change course to flow southward to the Gulf of Guinea.
The Niger is the longest river in Nigeria, with a total length of about 4,100 kilometers (2,460 miles). It rises in the Fouta Djallon of Guinea and travels in a wide arc through Mali, Niger, and Benin before crossing the border into Nigeria. Inside Nigeria, the river travels approximately 1,175 kilometers (730 miles) before it empties into the Gulf of Guinea.
The Benue, which rises in Cameroon, flows about 796 kilometers (495 miles) inside Nigeria to its confluence with the Niger River.
The most important river outside this system is the Cross River in the southeast. The Cross originates in southern Cameroon and enters the country through the Eastern Highlands. It was a major transportation route for the slave trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
South of the Western High Plains, several rivers flow directly into the Gulf of Guinea or its fringe lagoons. In the north from the Jos Plateau radiate rivers that flow toward Lake Chad or into the Niger-Benue system, including the Sokoto, Kaduna, Rima, Komadugu, Yobe, and Gongola rivers.
Though there are no true desert regions in Nigeria, the northern part of Nigeria lies within the region known as the Sahel. Sahel is an Arabic word that means "shore." It refers to the 5,000-kilometer (3,125-mile) stretch of savannah that forms the shore or edge of the Sahara Desert. The Sahel spreads west to east from Mauritania and Senegal to Somalia.
Many of the low-lying plains are covered in wetlands. Most of these wetlands are found along the Niger Delta, the Niger River flood plains, and in the Lake Chad basin. On the northern edges of the coastal lagoons, many smaller rivers lose themselves in freshwater swamps. Open flood plains extend between Yelwa and Jebba in the Niger River valley. Eastward from Jebba, to the confluence of the Niger and Benue Rivers, extensive swampy plains spread up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide. Extremely low gradients in the Lake Chad basin impede river flow so that during much of the year, the flood plains are swampy.
Beyond the tropical belt to the north grow tall grasses and deciduous trees of small stature, characteristic of the savannah. The Western High Plains are covered largely with savannah parkland and grass.
The uppermost levels of the Obudu Uplands and the Oban Hills, westward extensions of the Bamenda Highlands, are covered grasslands.
Tropical rain forests form a belt roughly 130 kilometers (80 miles) wide across the southern zone, with trees such as African mahogany, irokol, African walnut, and obeche reaching heights of 60 meters (200 feet). These forests are found in the Obudu Uplands and the Oban Hills in the east as well as in the plains in Western State. The central and western sections of Mid-Western State, with gentle slopes and elevations mostly less than 122 meters (400 feet), contain extensive and luxuriant forest areas in protected reserves.
Nigeria's boundary with Cameroon contains about 804 kilometers (500 miles) of mountainous country. The northern part of the highlands consists of several hill groups, with peaks around 1,097 meters (3,600 feet). To the south of these are the Mandara Mountains, a dissected plateau with a general elevation of about 1,219 meters (4,000 feet) encompassing an area of some 482 kilometers (300 miles) in length with an average width of about 32 kilometers (20 miles).
The central part of the border region consists of the Adamawa Highlands, a discontinuous series of mountain ranges and high plateau surfaces situated between the Benue River valley and the Donga River valley. They include the Alantika Mountains along the border and the Shebshi Mountains. The Shebshi Mountains, generally at an elevation of 1,066 meters (3,500 feet), are a dissected plateau with highly eroded lower slopes. The highest surveyed point in the country, Chappal Waddi, at a height of 2,419 meters (7,936 feet), is located in these hills. To the southwest of the Adamawa Highlands lies the Nigerian section of the Bamenda Highlands at 1,219 meters (4,000 feet) in elevation. The Gotel Mountains rise up along the southeastern border with Cameroon.
There are no significant caves or canyons in Nigeria.
With the exception of the coastal plains and the Niger-Benue valley, Nigeria consists mostly of high plains and plateaus. Directly to the east of the Lower Niger Valley are the Udi and Igala Plateaus and the Akwa-Orlu Uplands. The general elevation of these plateaus is about 304 meters (1,000 feet), with escarpments rising considerably higher. Between the low western coastal plains and the Niger-Benue River valley lie the Western High Plains, or Plateau of Yorubaland, part of the belt of high plains that extends through West Africa. Plateau surfaces here vary in elevation from about 228 meters to 372 meters (750 feet to 1,200 feet), with some dome-shaped hills attaining a height of 609 meters (2,000 feet).
North of the Niger-Benue valley lies a broad plateau, the Northern High Plains or the High Plains of Hausaland. The central section of the plateau extends for about 482 kilometers (300 miles) from east to west, with stepped plains ranging from about 183 meters (600 feet) at the outer edge to roughly 914 meters (3,000 feet) in the area surrounding the Jos Plateau. The Jos Plateau covers an area of about 7,770 square kilometers (3,000 square miles), separated from the surrounding area by pronounced escarpments. The area's general elevation is above 1,219 meters (4,000 feet), and some hills in its eastern section attain heights of over 1,767 meters (5,800 feet). The Jos Plateau contains tin and other metals that have made the region economically important.
The Biu Plateau to the east of the Gongola River basin covers about 5,180 square kilometers (2,000 square miles). The upper level of the plateau, from 609 to 914 meters (2,000 to 3,000 feet), is separated from the Northern High Plains by a pronounced escarpment. Inactive volcanic cones are found in the northern part of this area.
Kainji Lake was developed as a combined hydroelectric power and river navigation project. A dam built on the Niger River created the lake.
The Tropics is the name given to the region of the world that lies between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The Tropic of Cancer is the parallel of latitude located at 23°30' north of the equator. The Tropic of Capricorn is located at the parallel of latitude that is 23°30' south of the equator. These imaginary lines mark the boundaries of an area in which the Sun will appear to be directly overhead, or at a 90° angle from Earth, at noon. North or south of these lines, the angle of the Sun at noon appears to be less than 90°. The lines were named for the constellations that the Sun crosses during the solstices (Capricorn on December 21 or 22 and Cancer on June 21 or 22).
Achebe, Chinua. Anthills of the Savannah. New York: Doubleday, 1987.
Africa South of the Sahara, 2002. Nigeria. London: Europa, 2001.
Floyd, Barry. Eastern Nigeria: A Geographical Review. London: Macmillan, 1969.
Grove, Alfred Thomas. The Changing Geography of Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Udo, Reuben K. Geographical Regions of Nigeria. London: Heinemann, 1970.
Nigeria Today. http://www.nigeriatoday.com (accessed June 18, 2003).