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A republic in western africa, north of nigeria and west of chad. Its capital is niamey. It was first explored by the europeans in the late 18th century. It became part of the french sphere of influence in the latter part of the 19th century and was formally constituted as part of french west africa in 1904. Nigeria gained independence in 1960. The country took its name from the river niger flowing through it. The river's name came from the tuareg egereou n-igereouen, river of rivers, the second part of the name giving the modern european form niger.