In 1796, a Scottish explorer Mungo Park discovered River Niger, the third longest river in Africa after the Nile and the Congo. Its length of approximately 2,597 miles (4,180 kilometres) makes it the eleventh longest river in the world, and the longest in the western region of Africa. The origin of the Niger is Guinea Highlands in the south-eastern parts of the Guinea. The most unusual thing with this river, that is not common with the other major African rivers, is that Niger heads inland instead of flowing to the nearby Atlantic Ocean. It commences approximately 240 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean, passing through the Sahara desert, turning sharply near Timbuktu city before heading to the Gulf of Guinea. Its gradient decreases drastically between Segou and Timbuktu which causes the flow of water to slow down resulting to a number of marshes, lakes and streams.It flows through five countries which include Guinea, Benin, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. The countries of Niger and Nigeria got their names from this river.
River Niger floods annually from September to May. The silt in this river is minimal, a reason as to why its water is clear. This clarity favours the growth and proliferation of marine life. Communities living near its banks have exploited this opportunity fully by harvesting tonnes of fish yearly therefore boosting food production.
Its uniqueness does not end with its length or the fertility of its deltas. It contains approximately around 250 species of aquatic animals, of which, about 20 species are only found nowhere else but the River Niger. It is a habitat to about 36 families of fresh water fish. The River Niger is also home to West African manatees which can grow to lengths of 15 ft, and weigh around 800 pounds. Some of these mammals, which face extinction, cannot be found anywhere else in the world. This rare combination of aquatic life makes the River Niger a major tourist attraction in West and Central Africa. Every year, thousands of tourists flock in to view the unique sceneries that it offers.
The River Niger is also a source of income for countries it passes through. Nigeria generates a lot of income from oil obtained from oil reservoirs along the river. The river is used for irrigating sorghum and millet grown along its banks, and also for fresh water fishing. Kanji dam in Niger was constructed along the river’s course, at Bussa, to generate hydroelectricity. The dam minimises the occasional floods associated with the river.