Nigeria is blessed with hundreds of miles of coastline, national parks and fascinating ancient sites. However, it is a shame that the country is not currently able to entice visitors other than those seeking a slice of the oil dollar.

Nigeria’s greatest asset – its wealth of native races and religions, its vibrant population, the largest of any country in Africa – have also proven its downfall on countless explosive occasions.

In the 15th century, the Portuguese began trading but, by the end of the 19th century, the British had conquered present-day Nigeria. After gradual internal self-government, full independence was achieved in 1960. Since then, the country has endured numerous changes of government. Nigeria’s army has chosen to intervene on several occasions to thwart a perceived threat to the integrity of the nation. The greatest crisis came about in the mid-1960s, when the eastern part of the country – styling itself the ‘Republic of Biafra’ – attempted to secede. A three-year (1967-70) civil war followed, at the end of which the secessionists were defeated. Nevertheless, military overthrow, coups and assassination followed over many years.

After the annulled 1993 elections, Sani Abacha emerged as the new military strongman and presided over an increasingly oppressive regime. Then, in 1998, Abacha suddenly died. Another member of the military junta, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, took over and moved quickly to shed the country’s pariah status by organising elections. The victor, standing for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), was the former military ruler of the 1970s, Olusegun Obasanjo.The inexperienced civilian government faced a formidable task.

Apart from the dire economic situation, there was growing religious conflict. A particular problem was the decision of several local and regional governments in the mainly Muslim north to introduce a version of Islamic Shari’a law, very unpopular amongst non-Muslim minorities. Hundreds were killed in inter-communal clashes in 2000 and again in 2002. Tensions have been so high that almost any dispute can set off a spate of violence. Yet, for all its domestic difficulties, Nigeria remains the major regional power and its troops intervened in a number of conflicts throughout West Africa during the 1990s. Regional stability of the West African region has become a major international issue in recent years since the discovery of new oil and gas deposits in West African waters, and recent events in the Middle East.