Africa's most populous nation is divided almost evenly between Muslims and Christians. Though Christian sects are growing rapidly, Muslims still retain a slight edge with an estimated 50 percent of the population. President Umaru Yar'Adua is Muslim, and in 2000 as governor of Katsina state introduced Islamic law.
Muslims are concentrated in the rural north, a result of trans-Saharan trade that made that region the economic center of activity beginning more than 1000 years ago.
That economic center shifted permanently in the mid 20th century with the discovery of vast oil reserves in the south, where political power has also concentrated. The wealth generated by oil exports (about 83 percent of government revenue) had the unintended consequence of decimating the agricultural sector and increasing poverty in the north. Rampant government corruption has distorted the oil revenue sharing program and now per capita income is lower than when Nigeria became independent in 1960.
For several years, militants in the south have waged a successful campaign against oil companies, cutting oil production by half. This has periodically driven up oil prices on the world market, which ultimately is felt by drivers in the United States, which consumes nearly half of the oil Nigeria produces.
By the numbers
148 million population of Nigeria
75 million Muslim population
1.5 million Barrels of oil produced per day, less than half of capacity
5th rank of Nigeria among oil exporters to United States
Sources: U.S. State Department, Pew Forum, UPI and Times staff