Nigeria is a relatively young country, as it only gained its independence in 1960. Despite her age, she has been forced into a position of leadership in Africa, thanks to her giant population and relative economic successes over the years.
It’s also no secret today that Nigeria has over 500 languages spoken by its over 200 million people, making it the most populous and one of the most ethnically diverse nations in Africa. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are so many interesting fun facts in Nigeria that it would take centuries to cycle through them all.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a century to write, and I’m pretty sure you don’t want to spend a century reading this article either. So, we’ll only pick the most interesting fun facts about Nigeria to make this article worth your while. Without further ado, let’s jump in; I promise it will be a fun ride.
Table of Contents
What is Nigeria Known For?
Nigeria is one of the most well-known African countries out there, so well-known in fact that she earned herself the nickname of “Giant of Africa.” There are many ways one can argue Nigeria deserves that title, but the best is listing some of Nigeria’s most remarkable facts and achievements that make it an African Giant.
So, here are some remarkable things Nigeria is known for in the global sphere:
1. It’s the largest economy in Africa
There’s no better way to start a discussion on interesting fun facts about Nigeria than by basking in our pride of having the largest economy on the African continent. With Nigeria’s 200 million-strong population, it’s no surprise that our GDP numbers surpass that of any other country in Africa, but it’s still something worthy of pride.
In addition to our collective economic feat, we can also boast of hosting the richest person in Africa for 12 years in a row, which is also no mean feat.
At press time, Nigeria’s GDP is $506.6 billion, with a purchasing power parity of $1.275 trillion. Those numbers make Nigeria’s economy the 31st largest in the world by GDP and the 27th largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). Nigeria also maintains a healthy debt-to-GDP ratio of 36.63%, significantly better than most other African countries.
A 2011 report by Citigroup projected Nigeria to have the highest GDP growth from 2010 to 2050 worldwide, and the likelihood of that prediction materializing only remains to be seen.
2. It’s home to the second most productive movie industry in the world
This one will be a bit of a shocker, but do you know Nollywood releases more movies per week than Hollywood? Yes, that’s one of the interesting fun facts about Nigeria that brought you here, so you might want to write it down too.
It’s essential to understand the difference between productivity and revenue in this discussion; while Nigeria’s movie producers release the most movies per week, they don’t make a lot of money from their releases, at least compared to what Hollywood and Bollywood flicks make.
However, the expansion of platforms like Netflix and Prime Video into the Nigerian market is slowly but surely revamping our movie market and increasing the quality of our films. While we’re not catching up with Hollywood anytime soon, there’s no doubt that the Nigerian movie industry will soon be able to boast with revenue, thanks to the admirable work ethic of our local movie producers.
3. It’s the most populous country in Africa
Despite not being the largest African country by landmass (it’s not even the top 10), Nigeria has the unique advantage of being the most populous country, with a significant percentage of the urban population deeply concentrated in certain areas.
Nigeria’s exact population is still unknown, but most estimates put the number at ~200 million, making it not only the most populous in Africa but also the sixth most populous in the world. Its population gives it an edge in industrialization, as it has an active labor force, one of the largest militaries in Africa, and also hosts some of the richest men on the African continent.
A large population also comes with its own unique set of challenges, with unemployment and poverty being two of the most damning challenges facing the country at the moment. The overabundance of people also makes activities like conducting a census and developing a social register insanely challenging, and consequently rare in Nigeria.
Nigeria hasn’t conducted a population census since 2006, with our explosive population being one of the major reasons: add that to your collection of interesting fun facts about Nigeria!
4. Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil and gas producer
Most Nigerians already know this fact about Nigeria to some extent, but it’s still worth mentioning that our country is officially Africa’s largest producer of oil and gas, followed by Angola. With over 69 million metric tons of oil output annually (2022), it leads Angola (57 million), Algeria (63 million), and Libya (51 million).
Expectedly, Nigeria is also the biggest exporter of oil on the African continent, as our dear nation currently has no functional refineries (excluding modular refineries) to process our abundant oil into usable products for everyday use. With nearly 1.6 million barrels of oil sold per day (2021), no country comes close to our crude exporting strength.
Interestingly, Nigeria doesn’t have the largest oil reserves in Africa, Libya leads that list closely followed by Nigeria. With our aggressive exploitation and export, however, it’s only a matter of decades before Nigeria eventually runs out of crude.
5. Nigeria has over 500 languages
Most sources quote Nigeria as having anywhere between 500 and 525 languages, a fact that puts the country’s diversity into a relatable perspective. While most Nigerians speak one of the three main native languages: Hausa, Igbo, or Yoruba, there are at least 500 more native languages with speakers spread out across the country’s remote areas.
The major languages in Nigeria, based on their number of speakers, include Hausa with over 80 million first and second speakers, Yoruba with over 52 million, and Igbo with over 42 million. It’s essential to note that not all of these speakers are native speakers; speaking two, three, or four languages is a very common thing in Nigeria, depending on where you’re from.
Despite the country’s overabundance of languages, Nigeria’s only official language is English, which is also one of the fun facts about Nigeria. While many Nigerians struggle to speak English in its proper form, they’ve adapted by adopting Nigerian pidgin, an English-based creole formed from inputs from all major languages in the country.
For many Nigerians today, especially in the South-South, Nigerian pidgin is the only native language they know, evidencing a gradual erosion of our languages. Examples of some native languages in Nigeria apart from the Big Three include Goemai, Kalabari, Ibibio, Efik, Kanuri, and Tiv.
Trivia Fun Facts About Nigeria
Here are some fun facts about Nigeria I find either funny, interesting, or mind-boggling.
- The Northern regions of Nigeria are physically larger than the South-Western and South-Eastern regions combined.
- Late MKO Abiola reportedly co-sponsored Babangida’s overthrow of Major General Buhari. Interestingly, Babangida annulled the election that should’ve made MKO Abiola president of Nigeria.
- Nigeria, with six coups, is the country with the joint-highest number of coups in Africa. Others include Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Mauritania with six each.
- Aliko Dangote has funded the presidential campaigns of every president in the Fourth Republic, apart from Buhari and Bola Tinubu.
- Nigeria houses five of the 10 richest pastors in the world. Isn’t that a mind-boggling fun fact about Nigeria?
- Despite recording economic gains, President Obasanjo’s first term oversaw a massive weakening of our local currency.
- In 1985, the value of $1 was N0.9. Today, $1 is over N1,000. What went wrong?
- Pre-independence, the North was the most literate region in Nigeria. However, their literacy was shared in both Arabic and English.
- The first elected Mayor of Enugu, Umaru Altine, was a Northern Fulani man.
- Wole Soyinka was the first African Nobel laureate.
If you have more fun facts about Nigeria, you can drop them in the comment section and we’ll include them if we find them interesting enough.
How Many Presidents Have Emerged from Nigeria (Civilian and Military)?
Over Nigeria’s 63 years of independence, it has undergone quite a few regime changes that have impacted the development of the country in different ways and directions. An article on interesting fun facts about Nigeria would therefore be incomplete without at least a mention of all our leaders, both past and present.
Without further ado, here are the presidents that have emerged from Nigeria and all you need to know about them:
1. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Prime Minister, Civilian)
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa is the first and only Nigerian Prime Minister who served after Nigeria’s independence as Nigeria’s head of government. Born in Bauchi, Sir Abubakar began an education at a Quranic school before proceeding to Barewa College (then Katsina College) to further his education.
He started his political career as a member of the Northern House of Assembly, from which he was nominated as part of the three members of the parliament with a portfolio. He initially served as Minister of Transport before becoming Chief Minister (Prime Minister) after his party won a plurality of votes in the House of Representatives.
He kept his position as Prime Minister for six years after Nigeria’s independence, after which the bloody coup of 1966 saw him assassinated with many other high-profile Nigerian leaders.
2. Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe (Civilian)
Popularly known as the Zik of Africa, Nnamdi Azikiwe was born to Igbo parents of Anambra origins in the present-day Niger State and went on to become the first Governor-General and later president of Nigeria.
Zik ruled as a civilian president, but his rule would be short-lived, as he was booted from office in the wake of the first Nigerian coup. He was one of the few high-profile individuals to escape assassination during the coup. He ruled from 1960 to 1963 as Governor-General, and from 1963-1966 as President.
3. Major General Aguiyi Ironsi (Military)
Major General Aguiyi Ironsi was Nigeria’s first military head of state, seizing power during the chaos of the 1966 coup, but his government came to be short-lived, as he was assassinated by a mutiny of mainly Northern military officers in the infamous 1966 counter-coup.
Born in Umahia, Abia State, Aguiyi Ironsi attended both primary and secondary school in Umahi and Kano before joining the Nigerian Army at the tender age of 18. His reign as head of state was mostly chaotic and short-lived (194 days), plagued by a collection of soldiers desperate for revenge after the 1966 coup they saw as an “Igbo Coup.”
4. General Yakubu Gowon (Military)
General Yakubu Gowon was the military head of state that spearheaded the devastating occurrence of the Nigerian Civil War and is also the longest-ruling military head of state in Nigeria’s history. General Gowon took over power immediately after the assassination of General Aguiyi Ironsi.
Yakubu Gowon was a Northern Christian from the present-day Plateau State. He infamously oversaw the Nigerian Civil War. General Yakubu Gowon served as Nigeria’s head of state for nine uninterrupted years, making his administration the longest ever in Nigeria’s relatively short history. He was eventually overthrown by a group of soldiers while he was away on an official summit.
5. General Murtala Muhammed (Military)
General Murtala Muhammed is the shortest-serving military head of state in Nigeria’s history, only serving for six months before being overthrown by General Olusegun Obasanjo. His charisma and relatable lexicon quickly made him popular among the people, despite making quite a few terrible leadership choices during his relatively brief reign.
Murtala Muhammed is a huge proponent of federalism. His government oversaw the takeover of the country’s two largest newspapers, a nightmare for free press. He also oversaw the retrenchment of over 10,000 workers in an attempt to “refocus” the civil service, an attempt that backfired terribly.
General Murtala Muhammed was assassinated just six months into his military administration en route to his office in a black Mercedes Benz salon car and was succeeded by General Olusegun Obasanjo.
6. General Olusegun Obasanjo (Military)
General Olusegun Obasanjo’s military administration as head of state was one of the most impactful in Nigeria’s history, as he seemed to be the only Nigerian military leader with a knack for public administration.
From his impactful Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) to his aggressive policies that helped cement Nigeria’s place as an economic leader in Africa, it was clear Obasanjo had a clear path to Nigeria’s development. On the other hand, his reign was subtly repressive; he was allegedly linked to bombing the Kalakuta Republic, among many other human rights violations.
General Obasanjo isn’t the most popular politician in his home region, the southwest, as his kinsmen accused him of doing nothing for the Yoruba nation. Born and largely bred in Abeokuta, Ogun State, General Obasanjo is a full-blooded Yoruba man, contrary to the assertions of certain satirical pieces on the web.
7. Shehu Shagari(Military)
Shehu Shagari was the first democratically elected president of Nigeria, following General Obasanjo’s decision to hand over power to the civilians. Born to prominent individuals in the Northern Region of British Nigeria, Shagari briefly worked as a teacher before his election into the Federal House of Representatives for the Sokoto West constituency.
Shehu Shagari’s reign wasn’t particularly remarkable, but it wasn’t terrible either. He introduced the 6-3-3-5 system of education in Nigeria, among many other notable successes in education. The president’s reign was short-lived, as he was eventually overthrown in a bloodless coup by Major General Muhammadu Buhari.
8. Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Military)
Born to a Fulani family in the North-West, Major General Buhari served as Nigeria’s no. 1 citizen twice, first as a military and then as a civilian president. After the bloody January coup of 1966, then 24-year-old Lieutenant Buhari joined some other officers, mainly from northern Nigeria, and launched a counter-coup against the Aguiyi Ironsi government, leading to the death of prominent Nigerians, including the head of state and his then-host, Lt Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi
Buhari’s tenure as a military head of state saw the rise of Buharism, an economic system characterized by cutting the cost of governance, eliminating corruption, and deliberately stifling imports. His subsequent rule as a civilian president also adopted this Buharism ideology, to a significant extent.
Buhari also pioneered the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) initiative that forced Nigerians to form neat queues, punished indigent civil servants corporally, and introduced a 21-year imprisonment sentence for cheating students. Buhari’s military tenure only lasted eight years from 1983 to 1985, after which he was overthrown by General Ibrahim Babangida.
9. General Ibrahim Babangida (Military)
General Ibrahim Babangida, popularly known as IBB, is one of the few military generals who spent up to eight years in office, with his efforts to transition Nigeria to a civilian government his most enduring legacy. He started the two-party system in Nigeria, conducted, and eventually annulled the 1993 elections, and installed Chief Ernest Shonekan as interim president.
Born on 17 August 1941 in Minna, present-day Niger state, and he’s of the Hausa tribe. Like most other Northern former Nigerian heads of state, General Ibrahim Babangida was also part of the July counter-coup, alongside Major General Buhari and Murtala Muhammed.
10. Chief Ernest Shonekan (Interim, Civilian)
Chief Ernest Adegunle Shonekan was briefly Nigeria’s president and led the government constituted by General Ibrahim Babangida to oversee a full handover of power to the civilians. However, his reign was short-lived and unproductive, as he was ousted by Sani Abacha in a palace coup without successfully conducting the election he was appointed to oversee.
Chief Shonekan is a Lagos-born Yoruba lawyer, and his interim government failed after only three months. He went on to found the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), an organization that exists to this day.
11. General Sani Abacha (Military)
Sani Abacha was the last Nigerian military head of state who assumed power through a coup d’etat. While General Sani Abacha’s rule as Nigeria’s military head of state recorded some economic successes, it was also riddled with human rights abuses, corruption, and several high-profile assassinations.
The highlights of Sani Abacha’s administration were his embezzlement of public funds and his execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa without a fair trial. The corruption allegations were so credible in fact that Nigeria has recovered at least $5 billion from the historic “Abacha Loot.”
12. General Abdulsalami Abubakar (Military)
General Abdulsalami Abubakar announced plans to conduct elections and transition Nigeria to a civilian government in one year, a mission he did accomplish. His administration didn’t do much else other than that, as he didn’t have time to; he barely spent a year in power.
After his official retirement from governance and the military, General Abubakar focused his life on brokering peace, earning him several medals across different African countries for his contribution towards their peace and unity.
13. Olusegun Obasanjo (Civilian)
General Olusegun Obasanjo, after he retired from the Nigerian military, ran for Nigeria’s number one position and won, becoming the country’s leader for a second term. Despite widespread criticisms for his high-handedness and dictatorship tendencies, Obasanjo received widespread praise for his economic reforms as well as the relative peace of the Nigerian state during his reign.
Towards the conclusion of Obasanjo’s administration, he started pushing for a third-term bid, a move that was resisted by the National Assembly. President Obasanjo eventually stepped aside, handing over to his fellow party man, Late Umaru Musa Yar’adua after an election that Yar’adua’s deputy, Goodluck Jonathan described as an “embarrassment.”
14. Umaru Musa Yar’adua (Civilian)
Umaru Musa Yar’adua’s administration was the shortest in the Fourth Republic, as his promising administration was cut short by his untimely death, which unfortunately happened during his first term in office.
Umaru Musa Yar’adua constituted a ‘Cabinet of National Unity,’ a model that incumbent president Bola Tinubu seems to be adopting. He also promised to focus his reforms on a seven-point agenda that’ll see Nigeria become one of the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020.
Unfortunately, he was unable to make significant changes during his lifetime, as he spent most of it in hospitals treating his pericarditis. While Umaru Musa Yar’adua did come back to Nigeria before his death, plans were already in motion to hand over power to his deputy, as it was evident he wouldn’t be able to carry on as president.
15. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (Civilian)
The ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’adua couldn’t complete his first four-year term, as he died in office before the term was even over. Per the dictates of the Nigerian constitution, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, his Vice President had to take over, creating the story of Nigeria’s 15th president.
President Goodluck’s administration was riddled with widespread allegations of corruption, most notably the $2 billion arms deal dubbed Dasukigate. It was so serious that the incoming president, Muhammadu Buhari made fighting corruption the cornerstone of his campaign, a strategy that paid off.
Looking beyond the corruption, however, Nigeria experienced some economic advancement under Jonathan’s leadership, as it was when we overtook both Egypt and South Africa to become the biggest economy in Africa.
16. Muhammadu Buhari (Civilian)
The widespread insecurity and corruption during President Goodluck’s regime asked for a change of power, and Muhammadu Buhari, a former military head of state seemed the readiest to take the mantle. However, President Buhari’s second coming was relatively uneventful, recording minimal gains in security amid economic retardation and a weakening of the Naira currency.
Despite his highly controversial administration, Buhari managed to win a second term bid, ruling Nigeria for another eight years after his military adventure before finally retiring and passing on the baton to his party man, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
17. Bola Ahmed Tinubu (Civilian)
Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the incumbent Nigerian president who assumed the seat as the 17th president of Nigeria on May 29, 2023. His first foray into Nigerian politics was as a senator in the short-lived Third Republic, before eventually running for the Lagos State Governorship in 1999.
His eight years in office saw a massive showdown between his government and the then Federal Government led by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. During his eight years as governor, he completed a few projects, remained popular with Lagosians, and managed to peacefully hand over power to his successor, Babatunde Raji Fashola.
Allegations of corruption during and before his reign as governor came up during the run-up to the 2023 elections, and Tinubu’s presidential election win is still being disputed at the Supreme Court, with parties awaiting the final decision of the Supreme Court.
Honorable mention: Late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, GCFR
Late Chief MKO Abiola never became a president, but he posthumously received the GCFR award from President Buhari, an award that’s customarily for the leading citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In addition to that, Nigeria’s Democracy Day, June 12, is in his remembrance as the pioneer of democracy in modern-day Nigeria.
For the uninitiated, Chief MKO Abiola declared himself the winner of the 1993 Presidential Election after the annulment of the election and was subsequently arrested and jailed. He died in jail in a possible case of assassination, ending Nigerians’ hopes of a transition from a military dictatorship to a civilian government.
The international backlash from the unlawful election annulment and MKO’s arrest eventually forced the Nigerian military leadership to concede to holding another election, where former military head of state Olusegun Obasanjo won, ushering Nigeria into its latest and uninterrupted streak of democracy.
Writing everything about Nigeria would take centuries, as I alluded to much earlier in this post. However, if you went through everything we’ve said so far in this article, you can consider yourself moderately knowledgeable about Nigeria. So, here’s our try at delivering interesting fun facts about Nigeria using an educational approach.
If you like our content, we know you would love our excellent content on our Youtube channel, Tiktok, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Please subscribe and follow us for more Premium Know Nigeria content.