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Africa, Nigeria

Nigeria, republic in western Africa, bounded by Cameroon to the east, Chad to the northeast, Niger to the north, Benin to the west, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. Until 1991, the capital was the largest city, Lagos, on the southwestern coast; at that time, the new city of Abuja, in the country's interior, became capital. Nigeria has a federal form of government and is divided into 36 states and a federal capital territory. The country's official name is the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Nigeria is by far the most populated of Africa's countries. Its many ethnic groups give the country a rich culture but also pose major challenges to nation building. The economy is dominated by the production of petroleum, which lies in large reserves below the Niger Delta. While oil wealth has financed major investments in the country's infrastructure, Nigeria remains among the world's 20 poorest countries in terms of per capita income. In precolonial times, the area was home to several kingdoms and tribal communities; in spite of European contact that began in the 16th century, they maintained their autonomy until the 19th century. The colonial era began in earnest in the late 19th century, when Britain consolidated its rule over Nigeria. In 1914 the British merged their northern and southern protectorates into a single state called the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. Nigeria became independent of British rule in 1960. Since then, the country has endured decades of on-and-off military rule.

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