Nigeria is the largest nation in sub-Saharan Africa, with approximately 25% of the population of the subcontinent. At the time of writing, reliable census figures are not available; estimates of Nigeria's population range from 80 million to 120 million. Linguistically speaking, it is one of the most complex countries in the world, with approximately 440 languages (Crozier and Blench, 1993), comprising over 20% of Africa's 2000 plus languages. The most widely accepted classification of African languages (Greenberg, 1963, and subsequent modifications) postulates four major phyla for the continent: Niger–Congo, Afro–Asiatic, Nilo–Saharan, and Khoisan; all but the last of these are well represented in Nigeria. Nigeria's linguistic complexity is manifested first in the mere existence of such a large number of languages within one nation's borders, and second in the attendant situation of multilingualism, and its implications for development and education.
This article is reproduced from the previous edition, volume 5, pp. 2803–2804, © 1994, Elsevier Ltd.