The most populous country in Africa and the largest in area of the West African states, Nigeria was an early twentieth century colony that became an independent nation in 1960. A country of great diversity because of the many ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups that live within its borders, Nigeria is also a country with a long past.
Nigeria gained full independence on October 1, 1960, as a federation of three regions (northern, western, and eastern) under a constitution that provided for a parliamentary form of government. Under the constitution, each of the three regions retained a substantial measure of self-government. The federal government was given exclusive powers in defense and security, foreign relations, and commercial and fiscal policies. In October 1963, Nigeria altered its relationship with the United Kingdom by proclaiming itself a federal republic and promulgating a new constitution. A fourth region (the midwest) was established. The president, elected to a five-year term by a joint session of the parliament, replaced the crown as the symbol of national sovereignty and the British monarch as head of state.
Through the middle 1960s, the political scene was clouded by the trial of two leading politicians, who were charged with conspiracy; and widespread political abuses and corruption caused the electorate to become disillusioned with the federal government. The 1964-65 elections saw very low voter participation, followed by increasing violence that led to the death of as many as 2,000 persons.
Despite political unrest, the major goals of economic development were integrating agriculture and industry more closely; improving the infrastructure, particularly electric power, communications systems, and transportation system; and developing international trade, particularly in petroleum and coal.