The Federal Republic of Nigeria

The Federal Republic of Nigeria, commonly known as Nigeria, is located on the Gulf of Guinea in Western Africa.

Learn more about Nigeria

Nigeria is a very diverse country with more than 250 ethnic groups who reside there; the following are the greatest in number and political influence: Hausa and Fulani 29%, Yoruba 21%, Igbo (Ibo) 18%, Ijaw 10%, Kanuri 4%, IboIbo 3.5%, Tiv 2.5%. 


Archeological evidence shows that inhabitance of the land which is now Nigeria dates back to 9000 BCE. Many residents can trace tribal and familial history back several thousands of years. The lack of central government until relatively recent times allowed for the breadth of diverse groups which is seen in the country today. In recent history, Nigeria was under heavy British rule throughout the 19th century, only to gain independence secondary to a series of WWII constitutions in 1960. The country has since experienced a good deal of political instability, but in 1999, adopted a new constitution which established civilian rule. The three largest ethnic groups in Nigeria (Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo) have competed for political dominance.

Nigerians in Portland, Oregon

A 2006 study at Portland State University (Ette, E.) explored settlement and adjustment issues of individuals from Nigeria who recently immigrated to the U.S. The study found that participants arrived mainly for education purposes and experienced challenges in navigating formal networks (services available, etc.). Most relied on informal networks (families, other Nigerian immigrants) to navigate the U.S. government and educational systems.

Ethnologue Report
  • Population: 146,255,312 (2008 estimate)
  • Total number of languages: 521; 510 are living languages, 9 are extinct.
  • Official Language: English
  • Literacy rate: 42% to 51%
  • Blind population: 800,000
  • Deaf institutions: 22



English is Nigeria's national language. It is a common language used for official purposes and to communicate between tribes. English, however, is a first language for the minority of Nigerians (most often those with elite status), and is not spoken in some rural areas. English is taught in schools and is a second language of the majority of Nigerians.
Nigerian Pidgin English is spoken by approximately 80 million people. It's superstrate is English with most common substrates being Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. It is said to be quite similar to English dialects spoken in the Carribean.

Tribal Languages: The estimated number of languages spoken in Nigeria is estimated to be over 500. Tribal languages make up most of these. Languages vary from phonologically and syntactically similar to Englsih to quite dissimilar in these aspects. The most frequently spoken languages aside from English and Nigerian Pidgin English include:



  • Tonal language with 2 level tones which are high and low and 1 contoured tone, which is falling.
  • 32 consonants, 5 vowels and 2 dipthongs
  • Phonemes /f/ and /p/ are not differentiated.


  • Strict subject-verb-object word ordering
  • Simple morphology; nouns inflect number and gender, verbs are marked by a CV suffix


  • Dialects are dichotomized broadly into Eastern and Western Hausa with variations thereof.
  • Differences between dialects are mainly in pronunciation and vocabulary, affording speakers high inter-dialect intelligibility.



  • Yoruba is a tonal language with 3 general tones; high, mid and low.
  • Tones may combine to produce a “rising” or “falling” quality.


  • Subject-verb-object word order


  • Three distinctive dialects include Northwest Yoruba, Southeast Yoruba and Central Yoruba. There are, however, between 12 and 26 dialects which fall on a continuum between these.

Igbo (Ibo)


  • Consists of 8 vowels, 30 consonants and 2 tones
  • Sound system includes double articulation of consonants, most notably implosive labiovelars, including /kp/, /gb/, etc.


  • Word order is generally subject-verb-object
  • Few morphological markers, as grammatical information is marked word-externally. Verbs are the exception as they are tense-marked. 


  • There are 3 dialects of Igbo, which differ considerably from one another.


Nigeria's cultural diversity is immense as is illustrated by the number of ethnic groups which reside there. A belief that is common among a vast number of ethnic groups is that disease and death are controlled by supernatural forces. Families are more highly valued than individuals across most groups. In general, elders are highly valued, but also expected to care for children. The country is well known in Africa for the variety of musical styles which it produces, including, but not limited to, folk, pop, jazz, soul, afrobeat, and juju. Dancing and music, although varied in styles across ethnic groups, are central to Nigerian culture.
Clinical Implications
Because many Nigerians who immigrate to America speak English in addition to tribal languages, speech and language services may be provided in English. However, it will be important, when working with children to determine which langauge(s) are spoken in various settings (i.e. the home, community, school, etc.) and to provide support in each langauge spoken. This may prove especially challenging given the diversity of langauge spoken by people from Nigeria, so it will be important (as always) to include the family in clinical intervention. Consider educational background (see secondary school attendance statistics) and exposure/uses for English. Also remember that one might speak Nigerian Pidgin English. As noted above, it is quite similar to the English pidgin spoken in the carribean.

The following are generalizations. One should regard them as such and consider people encountered on an individual basis:

  • A general cultural perspective of disorder which may impact treatment is the idea that “fate” plays a large role in life, and events are beyond an individual's/family's control.
  • People appreciate one taking time to exchange formalities and engage in some small talk before getting down to business.
  • Displaying one's credentials may earn one merit.
  • Elders are respected and considered knowlegable.

There is a relative lack of speech and langauge services provided in Nigeria (to that of the U.S.), as these problems are often not seen to be as debilitating as physical ailments. A perspective of speech therapy in Nigeria can be ascertained from Adeyemi's paper “The Absence of Modern Speech Therapy in Nigeria: The Cultural Perspective” regarding stuttering.

Original Contributor: Lindsay J. Shrader and Olawumi Ogunbinu-Peters, Winter 2012


Nigeria, officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, consists of 36 states and its Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.  Located in West Africa, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, accounting for over half of West Africa’s population (U.S. Department of State).  Since the late 1960s, an estimated one million Nigerians have immigrated to the United States, representing the single largest African immigrant group in the United States.  The first Nigerian immigrants in the 17th century came the U.S. as slaves or servants.  Most recently however, Nigerian immigration to the U.S. has been driven by political and economic issues.  The immigration movement has largely been by professional and middle-class Nigerians who have taken advantage of education and employment opportunities available in the United States.


Population: 154, 729, 000 (estimated by United Nations, 2009).  The most recent census conducted was in 2006, which recorded a population of 140, 431, 790.
Nigeria has been experiencing a population explosion for at least the last 50 years wherein population has quadrupled due to very high fertility rates. 

According to the United Nations, the populations of Nigeria will reach 390 million by 2050.  By 2100, it is estimated to have reached 730 million.  These numbers are estimates, which can differ depending upon the source.  Currently, Nigeria is the 7th most populous country in the world, the estimations previously mentioned would rank Nigeria the 4th populous country in the world by the year 2100.

Ethnic Groups

Nigeria is composed of more than 250 ethnic groups with varying languages and customs.  The following are the most populous and politically influential: Hausa and Fulani (29%), Yoruba (21%), and Igbo (18%).  These percentages, however, are mere estimates based upon the number of settlements, including the number of towns, villages, hamlets, and cities, with information provided by the Nigeria postal service.  The fact still remains that they can be wide off the mark as there is not yet any efficient way these statistics can be collected within Nigeria. 

The Hausa/Fulani people are the largest ethnic group in populating West Africa.  Most Hausa/Fulani reside in small villages and towns, where they farm and raise livestock.  The animist religion called Maguzawa was practiced extensively before the spread of Islam, the religion which currently dominates the Hausa/Fulani people.

The Igbo people are an ethnic group primarily residing in southeastern Nigeria.  While there are significant populations of Igbo people outside of Africa, the Igboans residing in Africa are mostly farmers whose main crop is yams.

Below we elaborate on the Yoruba language, the most widely used language in Nigeria, and customs.

Yoruba people consist of approximately 30-50 million individuals in West Africa, and predominately in Nigeria.  The majority of the Yoruba people in Nigeria live in western Nigeria.  Although historically, there existed a Yoruba faith called Aborisha or Orisha-Ifa, today Yoruba people primarily practice Muslimism or Christianity.   All three of these major ethnic groups of Nigeria speak their own language, below we will elaborate on the Yoruba language.


English (official), Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Fulani, Efik (Annang/Ibibio, Efik), Ijaw, Edo, Etsako, Esan, Benis, and others.  The three most widely used are: Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa.


The three possible syllable structures of Yoruba are consonant + vowel (CV), vowel alone (V), and syllabic nasal. Every syllable bears one of the three tones: high ⟨◌́⟩, mid ⟨◌̄⟩ (generally left unmarked), and low ⟨◌̀⟩. The sentence 'n̄ ò lọ' meaning “I didn't go.” provides examples of the three syllable types:
  • n̄ — [ŋ̄] — I
  • ò — [ó] — not (negation)
  • lọ — [lɔ] — to go
Vowels: Standard Yoruba has seven oral and five nasal vowels. There are no diphthongs in Yoruba; sequences of vowels are pronounced as separate syllables. Dialects differ in the number of vowels they have.
Tone: There are three tones associated with the three different syllable shapes.  Yoruba is a highly tonal language with three level tones: high, low, and mid (the default tone).  Each syllable must have a tone, which are phonemically distinctive.

Grammar: The grammar of Yoruba follows the structure of subject, verb, object.  Yoruba has no grammatical markers for gender, but it does differentiate between types of nouns used for humans and non-humans.  

There are two prepositions used in Yoruba: ní ‘on, at, in’ and sí ‘onto, towards’.  These words are used to state location with and without movement.  These prepositional words are typically combined with nouns denoting spatial relations.



For the Yoruba people, the wedding is a social affair, which must entail rituals, and ceremonies that meet social approval. Although, there are other activities that take place during this occasion, such as dancing, singing, performing, and praying, food and its products play a central role in bringing all these activities together.

Marriage is an essential institution in the Yoruba history and culture.. In Nigeria, various types of wedding/marriage are recognized, which include Church wedding, Mosque wedding, Customary/Court wedding and the traditional marriage. 

Traditional marriage entails two stages: introduction and engagement. The introduction ceremony is part of the traditional marriage whereby the grooms family introduces themselves to the bride’s family and also makes their intentions known by asking for the daughter’s hand in marriage to their son.  This is done with the the help of an intermediary referred to as standing policeman ( olopa iduro) for the groom and sitting policeman (olopaijoko) for the bride family. The standing and the sitting police are the main anchor of the ceremony. The ceremony takes place in the bride’s house and they are responsible for all preparations and costs. The sitting police meet the groom’s family at the door and takes them to the bride’s family after kneeling at the door.

A proposal letter is presented to the bride’s family and in return an acceptance letter is given to the groom’s family and then a date is fixed for the engagement ceremony. The engagement or traditional marriage also takes place in the brides house.  The grooms family is expected to bring the items listed in the marriage list given to them, items collected depends on each family and these could include items such as a yam, goat, box of clothes, salt fish drinks, wine, bible, and rings. The bride and groom exchange rings and vows and hence are pronounced husband and wife. The Yoruba traditional marriage entails some customs such as taking the bride-to-be to the fattening room where she is well fed and also taught how to be a good wife.  She is also cleansed by taking a special birth before going to the husband’s house, her feet are washed outside the house before going inside the husbands house, and she is believed to enter into the house in peace after the feet washing.

Naming Ceremony

The Yoruba naming ceremony is done on the eight day, i.e. if child was born on Wednesday in one week; it is done on Wednesday the next week. Some families stagger and do 7 days for male, 9 days for female.

The Oldest family member is given the honor of giving the name; otherwise the father gives his child the name. Traditional men keep the name a secret from their wives before this day, while others consult their wives. In special circumstances, the mother might propose a name for the child.

Most parents give the child a name in honor of one of their parents or a name related to specific circumstances of its birth. That is why some people say the child named itself.  For example, enitan meaning “something of note that would be told and retold” usually speaks to a miraculous event or a bitter experience, or Okanlawon  meaning “a male child after many girls” or otolorin meaning “a female child after many boys.”

After the parents and/or the oldest person has pronounced the Child's main name, sealing it by dropping a coin in water, then others may give names and seal theirs or reaffirm the original name by dropping some coins in the water. (This is why many older Yoruba who feel offended when called by their given names ask if you dropped money in water at their naming ceremony. If you were old enough to drop some coins, then you would be old enough to call them by any name you wish, however, if you were not, then it is advisable that you show some respect.)

Different families have added on practices determined by their peculiar histories. Slave owners who treated slaves badly might require that the child's mother complete some uncomfortable experiences such as, passing under a dripping eaves (roof edge) a couple of times and eat some dried mice and oil to remind them of their erstwhile wickedness. For twins, special beans are cooked. Some new mothers are required to eat only a white meal (milk, eko, oats etc) until the child is named; others are asked not to eat salt, again until the child is named.

Once the child is named, the oriki (family praise song) is said by the most senior wife to formally welcome the child into the family.  Food is then served, traditionally hot yam and stew, or pap and akara because naming ceremonies took place at dawn.

In circumstances wherein a family is troubled by abiku, the naming ceremony is delayed or skipped althogether.  Some children have been said to name themselves out of frustration.


Nigeria has made efforts in the recent years toward the development of their education system.  The education system is supervised by the state.  The first six years of schooling is required of all Nigerians.  Primary education is delivered in the native language, however, English is included in the curriculum within the third year of schooling.  Country-wide literacy estimate is currently at 72%.

Implications for the SLP

The following are considerations for SLPs to keep in mind but should never be substituted for gathering an individualized case history.
  • Although English is the official language of Nigeria, less than 50% of people in Nigeria speak English.  There are over 250 languages spoken within the country.  Each tribe has its own language which members prefer using to communicate with fellow tribe members.  Therefore, SLPs could see varying degrees of English fluency within this population.
  • Nigerian culture includes varied types of dressing, but culture share a common conservativeness in the way they dress.  SLPs should be aware of this.
  • A component of Nigerian culture is differentiation between older members and younger members.  Nigerian languages have different ways of addressing persons older than you and younger than you. 
  • Do not hand things over to people, especially those older than you, as it is considered an insult in Nigerian culture.
  • Do not cross over someone else’s legs if they are sitting with legs extended, as it is considered bad luck in Nigerian culture.
  • Shaking hands with elders in considered disrespectful in smaller villages.  Rather respect is shown through bowing or kneeling in front of the elder.  This however, is not practiced as much in more urban areas.
Original Contributor: Lindsay J. Shrader and Olawumi Ogunbinu-Peters, Winter 2012