Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Nigeria at 50

The astute among you will notice that this post is about two weeks late. I got somewhat distracted by my parents visiting Nigeria, preceded by my third, and worst, bout of malaria. But here goes.

Nearly a month ago, Friday 1st October saw Nigeria celebrate fifty years of independence, fifty years since the end of British colonial rule.

There’s an interesting article on the bbc website called Nigeria: Still standing, but standing still. It's an overview of the challenges which Nigeria faces as a country today, and how these contrast starkly with people’s optimistic hopes for the country at independence.

One of the major issues facing Nigeria was illustrated on anniversary of independence, when two car bombs were detonated during the celebrations in Abuja and twelve people were killed. Militants from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) claimed responsibility for the attack. Nigeria’s oil wealth is huge, most oil comes from the delta and the revenues basically keep many areas of the country going, paying for education, health services and other government responsibilities, in the absence of any significant tax collection by the government. MEND militants are demanding a more equal distribution of these oil revenues, and the attack today was a sign that despite a truce signed last year, things are not all well in the Delta.

 The bombs put a dampener on some of the celebrations, but in Kaduna most people were unaware until they got home that there’d been an attack. We were at the main square, watching the military parade and governor’s speech. After the army, navy and airforce paraded past, there were the boys brigade, scouts, primary schools, immigration, customs officers, the Nigerian vigilante group (aka the neighbourhood watch) and the Nigerian Red Cross (they get everywhere!). The highlight of the parade was when one group veered off script and their leader marched in a clearly well practiced drill up the red carpet and offered his hand to the governor of Kaduna to shake, the crowd cheered when the governor responded, and the announcer spent the rest of the parade urging the pupils to move on and not do any other showing off!

The governor arriving at the Kaduna parade, accompanied by
horsemen very similar to those who would have paraded 50 years ago.

Once the news spread about the explosions in Abuja the celebratory spirit was dampened. But before then there was definitely a sense of optimism around the fiftieth anniversary. I hope this optimism can be turned into a brighter future for the many residents of this country who still struggle to survive and live in poverty, in the delta and elsewhere. 

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