Culture and identity
Nigeria has a rich mix of cultures, with over 250 different groups. The dominant ethnic groups are the Hausa-Fulani in the north, the Igbo and the Ijaw in the south-east and the Yoruba in the south-west.
In past centuries the area now known as Nigeria was the site of a series of powerful and technically advanced societies renowned for their artistic, commercial and political achievements. It was from roughly the same area that Bantu languages spread throughout central, eastern and southern Africa.
There are two World Heritage listed cultural sites in Nigeria: the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove and Sukur Cultural Landscape. In north-eastern Nigeria, the Sukur Cultural landscape is a traditional settlement that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. The Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove is one of the last primary high forests in Southern Nigeria and features numerous sanctuaries, shrines, sculptures and other artworks honouring the Yoruba people’s goddess of fertility, Osun.
The terracotta figurines of the ancient Nok people and the elaborate bronze work produced in the region are recognised worldwide. Today Nigeria is well known for its literature and music, and its film industry (Nollywood).
Although there is free healthcare, facilities are poor and staff levels are low. Life expectancy at birth is just under 51 years (2009) and infant mortality is at 88 per 1,000 live births. Only 58% of the population has access to safe water and just over a third has access to sanitation. Food or water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, hepatitis A, typhoid fever and malaria are common. While the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is declining (4% in 2009 from 5.4% in 2003), difficulties in running effective education programs and the low status of women contribute to infection rates.
Religion and beliefs
Religious beliefs strongly influence all aspects of life. The Hausa-Fulani are mostly Muslim, the Igbo are mostly Catholic, and about half the Yoruba people are Christian and half of them Muslim. Indigenous religious practices are important for about 10% of the population, mainly in the south, and are often blended with Christian beliefs. In the early 2000s some northern states introduced a stricter interpretation of Muslim Sharia law, with punishments of amputation, stoning and flogging.
Food and shelter
Grains and root vegetables are the staples throughout Nigeria. Palm oil, a reddish-coloured oil made from ground palm kernels, is the main cooking oil. Snack foods include fried yam chips, meat pastries and fried plantains. Peppery stews of vegetables and meat are common in the southern areas and seafood dishes are found along the coast.
Traditional village housing is predominant in rural areas, but tin is replacing grass for roofing. Hand pumps provide water.