Nigeria kidnapping 'unconscionable act,' Michelle Obama says
Michelle Obama on Saturday criticized the kidnapping of scores of Nigerian schoolgirls as an "unconscionable act" carried out by a terrorist group she said is determined to keep them from getting an education -- "or grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls."
Taking over the president's weekly radio and Internet address on the eve of the American holiday for honoring mothers, the first lady said thatshe and President Barack Obama are "outraged and heartbroken" over the April 15 abduction of the girls from their dormitory.
"In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters," Mrs. Obama said, referring to Malia, 15, and Sasha, 12. "We see their hopes, their dreams and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now."
Violence has long haunted Nigeria, the West African country the world is watching much more closely after the abduction of more than 300 schoolgirls by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram.
Nigeria is in many ways a country of contrasts and conflict, where oil production concentrated in the Niger Delta has helped fuel an economy that has become Africa's largest, but where more than half the population lives in poverty.
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Longstanding divisions have existed between Muslims and Christians, as well as the country's oil-rich south and more impoverished north, where the girls were abducted.
Here's a closer look at some elements of life in the country and Canada's relationship with it.
Nigeria has an estimated population of 177 million, and ranks as the eighth most-populated country in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Nearly half of Nigeria's residents (49.6 per cent) live in urban areas, the largest of which is Lagos, a rapidly growing port city that had a population of 10.2 million in 2009, according to the CIA Factbook.
The population is diverse, with more than 250 ethnic groups represented. Fifty per cent are Muslim, 40 per cent are Christian and 10 per cent have indigenous beliefs, the CIA Factbook says.
The United Nations has projected that Nigeria's population will surpass that of the United States by 2050, the Guardian reported last year.
Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960, but running the country has not been a stable prospect. Power changed hands through coups and counter-coups for decades.
Boko Haram, the group behind the kidnapping of the schoolgirls, has led attacks that have killed thousands of people.
"Violence among ethnic groups, farmers, and herdsmen sometimes acquires religious overtones," according to the Council on Foreign Relations' Nigeria Security Tracker.
President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian born in the Niger Delta, took office in 2010 after the death of UmaruYar'Adua. A year later, Jonathan won his first presidential election.
At one time described as "Nigeria's Obama," according to CNN, Jonathan has seen his popularity plunge. He's also sacked several ministers and courted international controversy this year when the Nigerian government introduced one of the harshest anti-gay laws in the world.
Jonathan's government and the country's security forces have been criticized for their ineptitude in dealing with Boko Haram and a weak response to the schoolgirls' abductions.
After a long-anticipated recalculation of the country's GDP to $502 billion US, Nigeria became Africa's largest economy last month. It took that position from South Africa, and became the world's 26th largest economy.
"It provides a truer picture of Nigeria’s size by giving due weight to the bits of the economy, such as telecoms, banking and the Nollywood film industry, that have been growing fast in recent years," the Economist said.
The film industry is thriving, and produces more films a year than any country other than India, the Guardian reported, with much of the success attributed to a focus on producing low-budget movies.
Mobile phones have also found great favour in Nigeria, with about 120 million subscribers. Twenty years ago, the Guardian said, Nigeria had only one telecom company and 300,000 phone lines.
But all is not economic sunshine and light. Unemployment was estimated at 23.9 per cent in 2011, and an estimated 70 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line in 2010, according to the CIA Factbook.
Violence by militants in the Niger Delta, where kidnappings and attacks were common, caused significant disruption in the oil industry before an amnesty in 2009. Oil theft and sabotage are still a problem, however.
A rapidly growing population has put intense pressure on public services in Nigeria and "the burden on education and other sectors has become overwhelming," according to UNICEF.
An estimated 4.7 million children of primary school age are not in school, and resources have been spread more thinly as enrolment increases, UNICEF says.
"It is not rare to see cases of 100 pupils per teacher or students sitting under trees outside the school building because of the lack of classrooms."
Girls' education has also been a challenge, particularly in the north, where the schoolgirls were kidnapped. In that area, the ratio of girls to boys ranges from 1 to 2 to 1 to 3 in some states, UNICEF says.
Canadian trade and ties with Nigeria
Canada's commercial relationship with Nigeria is its largest in sub-Saharan Africa.
Canadian business interests in Nigeria are wide-ranging, including everything from oil and gas and telecommunications to agriculture and aeronautics.
Aid has also been focused on improving maternal, newborn and child health in Nigeria, where the maternal death rate was 630 per 100,000 live births in 2010.
The Canadian government has also provided electoral support.