Niger is a river, a country and a state in Nigeria. The word is also found in Nigeria's name because Nigeria is a contraction of Niger Area. As the story goes, a certain Flora Shaw, consort to Lord Lugard coined the name.
This writeup is about the river which is the longest in West Africa and 3rd longest in Africa after the Nile and the Congo. Its source is in the mountains of Guinea near the border with Sierra Leone. Starting from there it flows for 4,180 kilometers through Mali, Niger Republic and Nigeria. It flows northward away from the Atlantic Ocean, then takes a sharp bend near Timbuktu in Mali and thence begins to flow southward. It is speculated that this bend is due to stream capture. Apparently, the river was once 2 separate rivers, the portion flowing north from Guinea to Timbuktu was captured by the bit flowing south away from Timbuktu.
The river has 2 deltas, an inner one in Mali and the one in Nigeria which is more famous because of crude oil. The inner delta was formed because of a decrease in gradient which slows down the river's flow. This inner delta is extensively exploited for farming and fishing. As a result of this inland delta as well as the river's course which takes it north through arid lands at the Sahara's edge, it experiences significant water loss due to evaporation and seepage. About 40 cubic kilometers exit Guinea (the 1st country along the river's course), while between 25km3 and 36km3 enter Nigeria. However, 177km3 exit Nigeria into the Atlantic. This is because the river's biggest and most important tributaries are in Nigeria. One of these tributaries is the Benue River which merges with the Niger at Lokoja in Nigeria's Kogi State. Kogi is the Hausa word for river while Lokoja was briefly the capital of Nigeria. The 2nd reason for the increase in flow is that Nigeria is a wetter country than all the others. The Niger Delta is where the river meets the Atlantic ocean.
Given the large number of languages spoken along its course, the river has many names although some are similar. The etymology of the current official name is probably from the Berber who call it Egerew n-Igerewen or ger-n-ger meaning "river of rivers". It is probable that this name became known to the Mediterranean world due to the Berber's relationships with the them. The Berber, also known as Tuareg or Amazigh are probably the premier navigators of the Sahara. They are kin to the people of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.
While it is almost certain that Africans knew the entire course of the river, only the name of a European, Mungo Park, is associated with correct identification of its source, course and mouth.
The river flows through 2 capital cities - Bamako in Mali and Niamey in Niger. Rivers like the Nile and the Danube (and the cities on their banks) have a romantic aura around them. I have not been to Mali or Guinea so my opinion is based on incomplete information but I think Niamey has taken most of the romance the river has. It is nice to see the sun reflecting on the river's surface at dawn or sunset. There is a restaurant in the town that has a platform extending over the river. The restaurant's staff serve fish caught in the presence of the patron. There used to be just one bridge in the city and it was quite picturesque. A new one was recently built by the Chinese and the locals are so proud of it. Repeatedly telling me with a grin that "Chinois built it for us". Niamey is a slow town. There is a lot of poverty and beggars are everywhere. It is hot for most of the year and since it is at the edge of the Sahara, also dusty and sandy. But the people are nice and liberal. The county's population is comprised of Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri, Tuaregs and Zarma. While it is a majority Muslim country, everyone minds their business. Foreigners are quickly and persistently offered female company, I assume it is paid female company. There is none of the hypocritical holier than thou attitude reigning across the border in Northern Nigeria. I wish I could find a way to link this to why there is an absence of romance in the Nigerian section of the river. Here, the only place that I would think some romance could be experienced while on the river is Lokoja. However, it is a town that is not romantic because it is humidly hot most of the time and at risk of flood the rest of the time. Further there is no infrastructure for leisure along its banks. The dominant tribe in the state, the Igala are among the nicest people you can find in Nigeria. Further down in the Niger Delta, the people are too rough, too greedy, to be romantic. The other prevalent attitude there is bitterness caused by resentment of the blight that crude oil extraction has visited on their land.
The Niger is the most important river in West Africa. It does not appear to be under as much pressure as the Nile. If there are any problems with its usage by the countries along its course, such disagreements have not become public knowledge. It is also probably much better utilized than the Congo especially regarding power generation. There are a number of dams for irrigation and hydropower on it. The biggest are Kainji and Shiroro in Nigeria. There have long been plans to dredge the river from Lokoja all the way to Warri which is a port on the Atlantic, thus increasing its navigable length and making it more economically useful. The work commenced in 2009 after a 43 year planning period. I doubt it has been completed or is even ongoing. Its least utilized aspect is its irrigation potential. I suppose that is not a bad thing given what has happened to rivers like the Colorado that are exploited for maximum economic gain.