Nigeria… the sleeping giant of African tourism

It is widely known that Nigeria is Africa’s biggest economy and most populous country with a population of over 192 million. It is also the 14th largest African country by geographical area, while Nigeria’s national football team is the 3rd most successful one in Africa. However, as a tourist destination the country is perhaps less well known.

But that is busy changing fast.  Nigeria may well be Africa’s sleeping giant of tourism, emerging from a centuries-long slumber. Tourism is a rapidly growing enterprise in Nigeria that, thanks to the country’s immense tourism potential, has undergone a revolutionary explosion in the past three decades.

It is a country well endowed with great natural scenery from deserts to tropical forests, stunning coastline, magnificent national parks and reserves, bustling cities offering non-stop entertainment, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, tropical wildlife, and much, much more.

Varying climate and natural landscape

Its warm, sunny climate for the most part is a definite winner, so is its more than 800 kilometres of beautiful beaches and its evergreen vegetation in the south with fascinating landforms dominating the northern savannah grasslands. The landscape is a shifting one that changes from north to south and form the coastal west to east. The southern region is characterised by a tropical rainforest climate, where annual rainfall is a steamy wet 1,500 to 2,000 millimeters per year. Mangrove swamps are found along much of the coast as are coastal plains.

An important centre for biodiversity is the rich rainforest that is part of the Cross-Sanaga-Bioko coastal forests ecoregion found in the area near the border with Cameroon, close to the coast. This region is home to the drill primate, found only here and across the border in Cameroon. Another natural phenomenon occurs in the forests surrounding Calabar, Cross River State, where it is believed the world’s largest diversity of butterflies live.

The region between the far south and far north is savannah with insignificant tree cover, grasses and flowers where the rainfall is more limited to between 500 and 1,500 millimetres per year. Areas of semi-desert such as the Sudan savannah and Sahel savannah are found in the north and northeast of the country. In the dry northeast corner of the country lies Lake Chad, which Nigeria shares with Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

A diverse feast of culture

As a multinational state Nigeria is populated by more than 250 ethnic groups who speak solme 500 distinct languages that form part of a wide variety of cultures. The three largest ethnic groups are the Igbo in the east, the Hausa in north, and the Yoruba in the west, who together make up over 60% of the total population.

Home to some of the world’s largest Muslim and Christian populations, Nigeria is divided roughly in half between the predominantly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south. A number of minority indigenous religions, such as those native to the Igbo and Yoruba also thrive here. The official language is English, chosen to encourage national linguistic unity.

A distinct part of the country’s fascinating history and culture is Nigeria’s several indigenous pre-colonial states and kingdoms that have existed since the second millennium BC. The Nok civilization in the 15th century BC marked the first internal unification in the country. The modern Nigerian state was formed under British colonialization in the 19th century, when the country took its present territorial and political format as a result of the merging of the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and Northern Nigeria Protectorate in 1914.

Bustling cities, nightlife, and entertainment

Nigeria is home to a number of bustling cities that never seem to sleep. Here you can choose from a great variety of entertainment, nightlife, music and clubbing, and eating options. In addition, you can spend your days getting lost in fascinating markets, while grand shopping malls cater for the more sophisticated tastes.

The commercial capital and biggest city is Lagos which is also a port city, located on the Gulf of Guinea and at the mouth of the Lagos Lagoon. With a total population of roughly 25 million people living across its metropolitan area, it is the second most populous city in Africa. Lagos was the national capital of Nigeria until 1991 when the government decided to move their capital to Abuja in the centre of the country.

To Nigerians and visitors from around the world, Lagos is known as the cultural, financial, and entertainment capital of Africa. It is home to the second largest film industry in the world, known as Nollywood. The city has a tremendous influence on everything from commerce to entertainment, technology, education, politics, tourism, the arts, fashion, cuisine, and just about everything else in Nigeria.

Lagos was originally established on a collection of islands, which form part of the present-day Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Lagos Island, Eti-Osa, Amuwo-Odofin and Apapa. The islands are separated by creeks situated around the southwest mouth of Lagos Lagoon and are protected from the Atlantic Ocean by barrier islands and long sand spits which stretch up to 100 km east and west of the mouth.

Other major cities include Kano, Ibadan, Benin City, Port Harcourt, Jos, Ilorin, Abuja, Kaduna, and Enugu.

Parks and game reserves

For lovers of nature and wildlife, Nigeria boasts no fewer than 9 national parks, 15 forest reserves, 6 game reserves and a number of other natural attractions. These are administered by the Nigeria National Park Service (NNPS) which is responsible for preserving, enhancing, protecting and managing vegetation and wild animals and which works closely with the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation.

Yankari National Park is a large wildlife park located in the south-central part of Bauchi State, in northeastern Nigeria and covers an area of about 2,244 square kilometres. It is home to several natural warm water springs and a wide variety of flora and fauna. Due to its location in the heartland of the West African savanna, it offers tourists and holidaymakers a unique experience of seeing wildlife in its natural habitat. Yankari was already established as a game reserve in 1956, but was upgraded in 1991 to become Nigeria’s biggest national park. However, it was later handed over to the state government.

Succeeding Yankari as the largest national park, is the Gashaka-Gumti National Park located in the eastern provinces of Taraba and Adamawa and stretching to the border with Cameroon. Covering a total area of about 6,402 km2, much of the northern part of the park consists of savannah grassland, while the southern sector of the park has a rugged terrain characterized by very mountainous, steep slopes as well as deep valleys and gorges, and is home to montane forests. Also in the park is Chappal Waddi, Nigeria’s highest mountain.

Kainji National Park was the first such park established as a national park in Niger State and Kwara State, Nigeria in 1978. It covers an area of about 5,341 km2 and includes three distinct sectors: a part of the Kainji Lake in which fishing is restricted, the Borgu Game Reserve to the west of the lake, and the Zugurma Game Reserve to the southeast. The park may not be open to tourists at present, however, due to security concerns.

The Kuyamba Game Reserve is a resort and wildlife reserve of about 10 km2 at Madada in Kuyambana, Zamfara State. The reserve is known to be a natural habitat for wild animals such as lions, tigers, hyenas, and others. Okumu Wildlife Sanctuary is an area of about 300 km2 and is situated about 65 km west of Benin City, Edo state. The forest here has a unique collection of animal species including the endangered white- throated monkey.

Natural tourist attractions

Two of the best-known and most popular natural attractions in Nigeria, are Zuma Rock in Niger State and Olumo Rock in Ogun State.

Zuma Rock – no connection to the former South African president, Jacob Zuma! – is located along the Kaduna-Abuja Highway, about half an hour’s drive from the centre of the federal capital, Abuja. It is a fascinating and beautiful giant rock that was used for defensive purposes by the Gwari people against invading tribes during the inter-tribal wars. Legend has it that the local tribespeople believed that two depressions on the upper part of the rock were in reality two eyes that could foresee danger approaching from the surrounding areas and warn them of it through oracles. The rock is also a favourite with locals for picnicking and relaxation.

Olumo Rock is a massive outcrop of granite rocks formed in a natural event millions of years ago. The highest point of the rock is about 137 metres. The rock has been designated a historical monument as it served as a shelter and fortress for the Egba people during the Yoruba wars. The rock complex consists of a museum, fast-food outlet, a giant telescope to view Abeokuta, a recreational park, and other attractions and facilities. There is also a glass elevator that runs past different levels of the rock alongside the old stairway that can also still be used by visitors who prefer the slower climbing and spending more time taking in the views.

Sukur Landscape is another favourite natural attraction. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Sukur Landscape lies within the Cameroon-Nigeria border region in the Madagali Local Government Area of Adamawa State. It offers a beautiful, scenic blend of nature and culture with plenty of spring water. The plateau is also the traditional home of the Hidi or local king from where the Sukur resisted attacks from hostile neighbours.

Other major scenic attractions include the Kura Falls located some  77 km from the city of Jos in Plateau State; the Agbokim Waterfalls and Gurara Water Falls; the Shere Hills that form the apex of the Jos Plateau and peaks at 1, 829 metres above sea level; the Mambilla Plateau which is located at Gembu in Taraba State and which is home to the Barup, Manchewa, Rufi, Tiba and Bambika waterfalls; and the Oguta Lake in Imo State, a resort complex comprising a motel, and 18-hole golf course, relics of the civil war, natural confluence of Oguta Lake and Orashi river, and offers activities that include boat cruising, fishing and bird watching. There is plenty more.

For more information call the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation on Tel +234 704 496 0999

or visit their website at www.tournigeria.gov.ng