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Nigeria, The People of Nigeria

In 2002 Nigeria’s estimated population was 129,934,911, yielding an average density of 141 persons per sq km (364 per sq mi). At the last census, in 1991, the population totaled 88.5 million. Like previous censuses, notably the annulled 1962 and 1973 censuses and the hotly disputed 1963 census, the accuracy of the 1991 census was highly controversial. Before the 1991 census, the number of registered voters indicated that Nigeria’s population was probably between 115 and 125 million—that is, about 30 percent more than claimed in the census.

With a birth rate of 39.2 per 1,000 and a death rate of 14.1 per 1,000, Nigeria’s population is growing at an average of 3 percent annually—a rapid pace, and little changed from the 1970s. The average Nigerian woman gives birth six times in her lifetime, although among more educated women the rate is somewhat lower. Nearly half of Nigerians are younger than 15 years. By 2025 the population is projected to grow to 204 million, nearly double the current size.

The highest population densities are in the Igbo heartland in southeastern Nigeria, despite poor soils and heavy emigration. The intensively farmed zones around and including several major Hausa cities—especially Kano, Sokoto, and Zaria in the north—are also packed with people. Other areas of high density include Yorubaland in the southwest, the central Jos Plateau, and the Tiv homeland in Benue State in the south central region. Densities are relatively low in the dry northeast and in most parts of the middle belt. Ecological factors, including the prevalence of diseases such as sleeping sickness, carried by the tsetse fly, and historical factors, especially the legacy of precolonial slave raiding, help explain these low densities.

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