Nigeria and the Muslim Middle East: Historical, Political, Economic, and Cultural Ties

Michael B. Bishku

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nigeria has the largest Muslim population and economy in terms of gross domestic product in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation among other political, economic, or cultural groupings. Thus, especially in good economic times, Nigeria has a great deal of influence not only on the continent of Africa, but also beyond that geographical region as a middle power. Domestically, Muslims constitute a slight majority in Nigeria’s population with almost all the remainder being Christian. Although Nigeria’s constitution prohibits an official religion, twelve of the country’s thirty-six states (located in the north) follow sharia, or Islamic law. Before Britain’s colonization in the nineteenth century, the northern regions of Nigeria constituted parts of two Sunni Muslim political entities, the Sokoto Caliphate and the Bornu Empire. Although Nigeria’s military and civilian presidents have sometimes acted on their own whims with regard to foreign policy toward the Middle East, in most cases Nigeria’s economic development and internal security have been their overriding concerns. This article addresses Nigeria’s relations with Muslim countries in the Middle East, among them Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, which are also middle powers. Nigeria, through a balanced approach, has been able to avoid getting involved in Middle Eastern regional squabbles and disputes, while at the same time benefiting from economic investment from countries in that region. Nevertheless, corruption and inefficiency have precluded any real benefit for the vast majority of Nigeria’s population from the revenues derived from the export of hydrocarbons. All the while the country has been affected adversely by the actions of both Sunni and Shi‘i indigenous jihadist groups, which have been inspired at least in part by developments in the Middle East.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)361-383
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of the Middle East and Africa
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021


  • Iran
  • Middle East
  • Nigeria
  • OPEC
  • Organization of Islamic Cooperation
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Turkey
  • middle powers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


Dive into the research topics of 'Nigeria and the Muslim Middle East: Historical, Political, Economic, and Cultural Ties'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this