Today, Nigeria celebrates 53 years of independence from Britain. The jury is out on whether “celebrate” is the appropriate term to use in this context. I am reluctant to tread the well-worn pessimistic path of reflecting on how much the country’s potential is continuously squandered.
Yet celebrations are the last thing in mind given the needless loss of lives of Nigerians in their prime. Just last weekend, over 50 students were murdered in Yobe, in the North-East. The week before, a massacre by the Boko Haram insurgents in Benisheikh, Borno claimed over 140 lives. The South-East is fast becoming a den of kidnappers. Trigger-happy policemen and soldiers routinely engage in extrajudicial murder of innocent civilians. An incident of the Kenyan-Westgate-attack proportion occurs monthly in the “giant of Africa”.
Its not all grim and gory news though. As an epitome of the enclave nature of modernisation in the country, the tallest hotel in West Africa was recently unveiled in Lagos. Nigerian banks are spreading their shiny, glass and steel tentacles across Sub-Saharan Africa. The two local movie industries, Nollywood and Kannywood are immensely popular all over Africa and beyond. Nigerian shoppers and their petro-dollars, -pounds and -dirhams rival their Chinese, Russian and Indian counterparts in New York, London and Dubai. Nigerian weddings are delightfully flamboyant and colourful events — where flat-screen TVs, microwave ovens, refrigerators and smartphones are routinely given out as wedding favours to guests. Aliko Dangote, the richest black man is Nigerian. The country has Nobel Laureates, celebrated academics, influential policy makers and so on.
Nigerians are fiercely unabashed about how they worship God or as Elnathan John would say, the “Nigerian god”. There’s a church/or mosque in every street corner. Conversations are frequently interspersed with “iA (inshaa Allah)” or “IJN (In Jesus’ Name). Don’t ask what the causal effect of this excessive display of religiosity on economic development or social values is.
Making sense of these contradictions can be quite a task.
This is Nigeria at 53: a boisterous, bumbling, bundle of complexity. Dynamic. Moving. Where… backward, forward, somewhere, nowhere, everywhere… limbo?
Happy Independence Day!