The largest of British dependent territories, the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria lies on the west coast of Africa, bordered on three sides by French-governed countries and on the south, about 5 degrees north of the equator, by the Gulf of Guinea. Since World War I, a portion of the former German Cameroons has been administered by Great Britain as an integral part of Nigeria, first as a mandated area and now as a U. N. trust territory.
In size, Nigeria is about equal to Pakistan, or nearly four times the area of the United Kingdom. Within its 373,250 square miles lived, at the end of 1953, about 32 million people of whom all but 16,000 were Africans. Nigeria is thus the most populous country of the African continent and by far the largest unit of African racial origin in the world. In variety of climate, vegetation and topography, its 700 miles from south to north and its 650 from east to west are typical of West Africa: humid heat and mangrove swamps along the low coastal plain; tall tropical forests in the South; upland savannahs, hilly ranges and mountains in the Cameroons; a zone of low forest in the area known as the Middle Belt; and dry heat in the extreme North, fringed by the Sahara sands.
Nigeria's name comes from the Niger River, which enters the country from French West Africa. Its formal title echoes its history. The "Colony" refers to Lagos Island and an area of some 1,300 square miles on the mainland; the Island was occupied by the Royal Navy in 1861 in an effort to stop the slave trade and is now Nigeria's capital and principal port. The Northern and Southern "Protectorates" into which Nigeria was formerly divided were not united until 1914; the contemporary and unified Nigeria is young as countries go.