A diphtheria outbreak occurred from February to November 2011 in the village of Kimba and its surrounding settlements, in Borno State, northeastern Nigeria. We conducted a retrospective outbreak investigation in Kimba village and the surrounding settlements to better describe the extent and clinical characteristics of this outbreak. Ninety-eight cases met the criteria of the case definition of diphtheria, 63 (64·3%) of whom were children aged <10 years; 98% of cases had never been immunized against diphtheria. None of the 98 cases received diphtheria antitoxin, penicillin, or erythromycin during their illness. The overall case-fatality ratio was 21·4%, and was highest in children aged 0–4 years (42·9%). Low rates of immunization, delayed clinical recognition of diphtheria and absence of treatment with antitoxin and appropriate antibiotics contributed to this epidemic and its severity.