Only one state in Nigeria is named after the great Niger River, though it traverses 10 states. Niger State, created in 1976, probably owes the name to having quite a huge chunk of the river in its territory. And it’s there that the river makes the critical turn southwards that takes it to the meeting with the Benue River, not long after, and to the Atlantic Ocean.
Apart from Minna, the capital, other important urban centres include Kontagora, Bida, Baro, Zungeru, Jebba and Suleja. The predominant ethnic groups in the state are the Nupe, Gbagyi (Gwari), Kambari, Koro, Dukawa, Mokwa and Kamuku.
Niger is bordered by Kebbi and Zamfara states in the north, the Federal Capital Territory and Kaduna state to the east, Kogi and Kwara to the south and Benin Republic to the west. It is home to three of Nigeria’s biggest hydroelectric facilities, the Kainji, Jebba and Shiroro dams.
The state also bears some of the most eloquent testimonies to the country’s natural riches in the form of the Gurara waterfalls, the Kainji National Park (including the Kainji Lake), and game reserves at Zugurma and Borgu. The famous, gigantic Zuma Rock, is also located in Niger State, though visible from Abuja.
Niger falls in Nigeria’s woodland savannah belt, with highest temperatures of about 36 degrees celsius from February to April, and lowests of about 20 degrees celsius between between November and January.
The rains start about April and end in October, a period which teems with farming activities in a region with fertile, well-drained soil.
Demography and Culture
Nigeria’s last census in 2006 put the population of Niger State at 3.9 million, comprising mostly farmers and pastoralists, with a smaller percentage of of artisans, others in government or white-collar employment such as teachers and bureaucrats. The dominant populations are the Hausa, Gbagyi and Nupe, with a significant complement of settlers who have migrated to the state from other parts of the country.
Hausa is generally the lingua franca, though English is widely used too, for many from smaller ethnic and language groups. Most people in the state are either Muslims or Christians or followers of traditional religion.
While Niger may be better known for its hydroelectric dams, the state is also known to have proven deposits of gold, copper, limestone, columbite, quartz and iron, among other minerals. It’s rich soil has the ability to sustain most of the crops grown in both northern and southern Nigeria.
Perhaps Niger’s biggest asset is its tourist potential in terms of game reserves in Kainji, Borgu and Zugurma; natural wonders such as the Zuma Rock, Gurara Falls and Nagwamatse well; and important colonial relics such as the Baro Empire Hill (where Lugard, the colonial architect of Nigeria, is buried) and British colonial buildings in Zungeru.