Africa viewpoint: Nigeria's birthday bash

A parade in 2000 for Nigeria's independence

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Sola Odunfa considers how Nigeria should mark its middle age.

Market women in Lagos selling snails Market women are unlikely to get a seat at the independence banquet

The dominant sound from Abuja in the past few days is that of iron-heeled shoes of military officers knocking hard on the parade ground concrete of Eagle Square at rehearsals for what has been described as the biggest national celebration since Nigeria attained independence 50 years ago.

Come Friday 1 October there will be an explosion of drums and brass instruments and colours in a parade scheduled to be mounted by the armed services and the police for inspection by President Goodluck Jonathan wearing the ceremonial uniform of commander-in-chief of the armed forces for the first time in the open.

I think I will chuckle when I see the pictures on television - I mean pictures of our own Goodluck standing in attention in the stiff outfit of commander-in-chief and wearing the rank of field marshal or its equivalent.

I will wonder if he could not perform that ceremonial duty in a democracy without the imposed robes. Perhaps he will…

The parade will be the high point of the celebration of Nigeria's 50 years of nationhood. I assume there will be a supporting cast of young people from the National Youth Service Corps, Nigerian Red Cross and school children to provide comic relief.

Plastic smiles

After the parade the "VIPs" will come together in the evening at a befitting state banquet to dine and wine luxuriantly on behalf of the masses of Nigerians.

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Nigerians should be happy and proud that they are still bound in nationhood”

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If history is any guide, you will not find in that very exclusive group teachers, farmers, market women, transport workers, students and representatives of other social or economic groups one would truly call "we Nigerians".

Let's face it though, they are too hungry to be invited to table.

The first lady will not be left out. I can see her in resplendent attire, visiting hospitals, children's homes and hosting children to a party on the manicured lawns of State House.

She will be accompanied by some little "first ladies" or ministers' wives who will be busy fawning on her and posing for news media cameramen. Plastic smiles all around.

And that's it: The 50th anniversary celebrations will be over.

Looks more like "their" celebration.

They decided what to lay on according to their taste, they voted money for it in billions of naira (1bn naira =$6.5m; £4m), they appropriated it and they were the guests.

There is no point arguing whether the event is worth celebrating.

Biafran soldiers and captives photographed in July 1967 More than one million people died in the three-year war that followed Biafra's declaration of independence on 30 May 1967

Nigerians should be happy and proud that they are still bound in nationhood despite:

• The civil war in the 1960s

• The numerous ethno-religious conflagrations

• The unending mutual suspicions and hatred.

Kings and queens

Anyone who says that this collective triumph over forces of disintegration is not worth celebrating is only being jealous.

Princess Alexandra of Kent reads Queen Elizabeth II's message during her speech in the Royal Pavilion, at the Racecourse, Lagos on 1 Oct 1960 Princess Alexandra of Kent represented the Queen at the independence ceremony in 1960

This victory belongs to "the people" - Nigerians in the streets and villages who refuse to give up on their nation when the VIPs descended on it with the lethal weapon of extreme greed.

Given a say, these Nigerians, I am sure, would celebrate in a way exclusively theirs and which would reverberate round the world.

Durbars in all emirates, boat regattas along the coast, children's concerts, village festivals, traditional sporting contests and street carnivals would light up the entire nation.

The people would be kings and queens. It would cost a fraction of what is currently being spent.

Next Friday Nigerians will be mere on-lookers - where they are allowed - at an event which should be proprietorially theirs.

It's not too late to make amends, though. But that will be the day!

Here are a selection of the comments we received:

I strongly believe the only reason why nigeria has failed so much is because the brit left us alone to manage ourselves. if only they had stayed Nigeria with all her wealth will by now be among the greatest nation in the world. But that is so difficult for us to acheive on our own because huge cultural differences is driving the nation as one to her failure. selfishness has become our motto.

olamide, sagamu, nigeria

From the above picture, we see colonial Britain at Nigeria's independence in 1960. Good foundation is very important for a solid house. The British laid a weak one, that has made Nigeria to totter until recently. Happy anniversary celebration, Nigeria.

Adekoya, Lagos, Nigeria

October 1st is our day to celebrate Nigeria independent day we may not be where we should have been as a nation but we will eventually get there. I wish people can think in retrospect of Nigeria of 1985 and compare it to Nigeria of 2010 my point is, we are not perfect but we are better than what we used to be. Corruption is a big problem in our society but looking around the continent this problem is not peculiar to Nigeria alone so this is a fight we all have to fight not just on pages of newspaper alone but anywhere we see it including around our communities. About the unemployment we have to do better job to reduce unemployment and for those people who are quick to site United States , UK etc. as an example of all good things now, current unemployment in the United States is around 9.60% poverty level in the United State is on increase. In Britain unemployment is around 7.80% in France unemployment is around 10% My point again is that none of this places is perfect and as for Nigeria we have to do better. As for the amount allocated for the celebrating Nigeria day, no amount can be too much for the following reasons; for example United States fought civil and come back as one nation despite their cultural diversity at the time. Nigeria fought three year war and we are still one Nigeria today despite our diversities in language and culture and for all of us Nigerians residing outside of Nigeria today none of our family members become a refugee or an amputees as result of internal war and it's only in Nigeria where a war lord brought back home pardoned and allowed to contest to for the Presidency of Nigeria. At this point I say kudo to patriotic Nigerians including the members of the Nigerian arm force to keeping us still standing as a nation. When it comes to celebrating American 4th of July independent day America spend million of Dollars on firework alone so I say let's celebrate Nigeria. LONG LIVE NIGERIA.

Bola Adepoju, United States

nigeria has fallen into the gutters. can u imagine for me to see light is like christmas. Because u hear kids shouting up nepa. and adults running to iron or put on the electric appliances. i am a ghanaian but my father is a nigerian. the hardship has turn everything to evil. nigerians dont smile. i realised one cant eat a snack in the bus. you cant wear your off shoulder dress because it could annoy someone and do you evil with just a look. so i wonder what the celebration is for? please make it clear that Ghana has her own power source not nigeria giving us lights. all they have has been taken from them by their leaders.

Syta from kumasi, Ghana

Well, this seems to be the true light of what the birthday bash will look like. But what do you expect, the British designed Nigeria to fail.... so much for independence. We were hoodwinked, and just realizing that, 50 years after.

Rufuntse Jauro, Abuja, Nigeria

Of course the common man in Nigeria has never been a part of any 'National bash' and i think part of the problem still lies with him (the common man. Is it not unbelievable that Nigeria, for 50 years now has been surviving with myriads of problems whose enormity is probably unmatched anywhere in the world alongside some of the most educated, naturally gifted and religiously committed populace (almost all of which are not involved in key leadership positions) living on one of the most geographically-endowed land in the world? Why can't the common people start changing things at their own level? I suggest an indefinite, non-violent civil disobedience and demand, in clear terms, good governance from our leaders as a condition to revert back to the status quo. I think that will eventually make bad governance practically impossible and a new era, devoid of the previous skirmishes, will be ushered.

Samuel Maiwada, Jos, Nigeria

For me and most other Nigerians in diaspora there is always the hope to listen on the television set and read or watch positive reports about the country, but that has been a dream yet to come true, all hope of positivity has been a pipe dream....the elites and powers that be continue to 'dance naked' in public while the general populace wallow in penury, i wish the country a happy celebration but as it is there is little to celebrate and at best it is 'there (elite) celebration!

Akeem, Manchester, UK

It is disappointing to hear that the people of Nigeria will not be allowed to partcipate fully in the celebration of their nationhood which is rightfully theirs. Whilst Britain as a former colonial power made multiple mistakes, Nigeria being a case in point; it is nevertheless misguided to blame Britain for all the ensuing problems Nigeria has experienced since independence. It is this blame culture and factionalism, along with the grave corruption in government that has tied the hands of the people of Nigeria from a more prosperous and equal society. In any modern society, it is necessary to hold leaders to account for their decisions and behaviour. I hope that in the next 50 years Nigerians will find the resolve to oust corruption and replace it with principles that ensure opportunities for all in every sphere of life.

Dan , UK

Nigerians should still be proud that "they are still bound in nation hood". That statement speaks for itself: the fallacy that being bound in "nation hood" is an end in itself, even should this be a sham democracy which has cheated the common man of his human rights. Furthermore, the term being " bound" implies that this is a union not of choice but by force. The force that has been imposed on the common man from multiple brutal and corrupt military dictatorships; and a democratic regime which has failed and continues to fail to provide basic healthcare, and security to it's citizenry. This celebration is a mockery of the common man and an outrage to all people of goodwill.

ijeoma annuntu, lagos, nigeria

Nigerian tends to look outside themselves for greatness. That has been the problem from day one. We need to look inward and take the bull by the horn. Nigeria is a great country with all the needed resources to grow if only we love our brothers and ourselves. We gain independence just before the discovery of the oil. If it was the other way around, Nigeria will still be under the Brits by today. Guys the Holy Spirit is watching over us. Let us see God in each of us.

Bonny Audu, Dallas, TX

There may not be much to celebrate in Nigeria at 50 but there is plenty to be hopeful about. Of course we all want to see things go well (and enjoy it too) in our lifetimes but usually does not work that way. It is good that Nigerians are highly critical of themselves. It means that we expect very high standards of ourselves even when we are serially disappointed. I think we are ultimately on the right path to discovering that we have missed the boat and going back to basics. Some of the countries we like to compare ourselves with had hundreds and thousands of years of conflict before they settled down, somewhat. The last major inter-tribal clashes of Europe took place before our eyes in the Balkans in the 90s. Asia is perennially unstable - the Japanese eying the Chinese; the Indians and Pakistanis rattling their sabers; Thailand and Vietnam quarreling over shrines; on and on. In all, no cheers from me people, but it could have been worse. I shall drink to that.

Mma Okezie, Port Harcourt

Your article's spot on Sola barring this little issue. They'll need 3 days from today to understand your article, discuss it and decide if 'their' respective (I really mean disrespecting) shares of said independence day booty will be in tact if Nigerians are invited to 'their' 50th day anniversary. Nothing gets done in 3 days in Nigeria Sola, nothing, zilch, nada. PS: And yes, 'their' above refers to the same people.

Sylvester, Ottawa, Canada

I was born exactly on this day and I've never been pessimistic over the nation celebrating it big. Yet it baffles me how a day celebration for few elites as usual will engulf such amount of money budgeted for it. If a father wants to celebrate with any of his family members, you'll agree with me that he will present a worthwhile gift to serve as memory and to show deep love and concern. So if that is the case, I pray that our nation should offer a lasting gift to the populace who I still believe will be in the market, farms and many on the road. It should be a day that the federal government will commission an upgraded uninterrupted power supply or launch an institution solely beneficial to the masses without 'them' turning around to steal the same gift they bought or even snatch away or it might even be a borrowed gift to be returned only to woe us. 50 years is really a time, so let's celebrate with a new mind and attitude of genuine and selfless patriotism. Happy anniversary dear country.

Fortune Chris, Imo, Nigeria

Does this scenario differ from what comes out of any political setting? I am yet to be invited to an inaugural bowl in the White house nor at a governor's mansion for that matter. Why does it make any difference who gets invited in Nigeria? May be the merry making will give light to the people of Abuja, at least once this year. Nigeria has gone through difficult times, if they can have one day out of fifty years of suffering, so let it be. It's not asking too much.

Che Sunday, San Leandro, CA, USA

The fifthieth annivesary of self-rule in Africa's most populace nation should be heralded with discussions, and reflections on the way forward. As the vestiges of early and current associations with colonial powers diminish the poptential of Nigeria. The glim prospects of economic, intellectual, political, religious, and socio-cultural advancements for a sustainable future demands the attention of all well-meaning Nigerians. The era of patronage and quatum pilage of public treasures should be publicized and disarmed, at every opportunity. We hail thee, Nigeria, at fifty.

Ezemonye Duru, Yellowknife, Canada

Nigeria is a country that refuses to grow. We are so blessed but don't realise it. The 2 major problems with Nigeria is Greed and wrong channelling of resources. A country with greedy leaders will never grow. And our leaders have failed to realise that fixing Nigeria is not just 1 man's or the government's work. It's the whole nation's work, especially entrepreneurs. And of which sadly enough, there are no support for. In Nigeria it's a norm that it is every man for himself. I don't see Nigeria moving forward unless there is a change somewhere because the only constant thing on this planet is change. God help Nigeria. Amen.

Oladiran Gbolagunte, Harfield, Hertfordshire, UK

Oh yes, there will celebration and thanksgiving for the rulers not for the common man. This kind of celebration is one where the ruler-murders will be dancing on the graves of Nigerians whom there murdered of starved to death. Oh yes, there is everything to celebrate for the murderers but nothing to celebrate for the ruled. Nigeria is a place where the government takes care of the rulers and God takes care of the poor. Celebrate, yes, they will. As a matter of fact everyday is Christmas for the rulers, there is no end in sight, so far as they have subdued the ruled. The genocide against the Igbo was to eliminate opposition to their misrule. Nothing is going to save Nigeria. In the the next 50 years the story will still be the same. If this were not the case why are majority of the people backing the same corrupt rulers who wrecked the country to come back to do their usual job?

Otile, Nigeria

In all that we do, lets not forget that God is watching, be your brother's keep in need, The govt should at this time remember the poor, needy ,widows, sick people and not the elites. If we turn around a second and look back from where we started, i believe that any right thinking person should understand that NIGERIA AT 50 should be a celebration for the POOR not for the RICH. A word is enough for a wise. GOD IS WATCHING US FROM A DISTANCE.

OKOTO IGBO, MUMBAI, INDIA

I am very proud to be Nigerian and grateful to God for keeping the nation as one. One of the things I like about Nigerians is that we are a people that say the truth to our selves.....we may not have reached our potentials, but we are surely destined to be the African Dragon. I don't care what the doubters say or think, after our sleep, we shall rise to CONQUER the world.

Tina George, Port Harcourt, Nigeria

I saw a flaw when Britain handed over to Tafawa Balewa instead of Nnamdi Azikiwe, which means the seed for failure was planted from the start of Independence for Nigeria. However, the responsibility for success lies squarely on Nigerians not British. All the indices for development had retrogressed from 1960 to date e.g. Infrastructure, Education, Transport, Health, Power, Value System etc, with Golden Jubilee Celebration we start addressing these indices.

Oshiga, Port Harcourt, Nigeria

God save our country from the evils of our leaders.As we celebrate our Golden Independence against all odds of corrupt,nepotist leaders.

Ahmed Isah, Abuja, Nigeria

Olamide Shagamu - You need to leave your small part of Ijebu Remo and travel......before you start saying - The British should not have given independence. The British are currently ruling parts of the carribbean, and trust me they have not developed or Improved better than Japan or China??? Nigeria's failure woes are easily sovled but do we have the backbone to do it??? 1 - Elect uncorruptibale Politicians - who care about the masses and love the whole Nation!!! 2 - Nobody over the age of 50 to hold any political post - even the post of council man in ward 3 - Recover our stolen assets which currently sit in foreign bank accounts 4 - New President to dedicate his/her time to developing Constant Electricity and water in every Nigerian Home. 5 - Building a Dual Railway system which links every town and city Build better equipped Schools and Hospitals for the masses. create jobs to stop ongoing crime spree.

TonyO, London

Most Nigerians are disappointed after 50 years very little being achieved. October 1st is their day to celebrate Nigeria independent they may not have been where they are today as a nation - we agree but as most Africa Nations look up to Nigeria as Big Brother they must leave up to expections - Let them celebrate. That money is too small for such celebration.We will be watching on that day as Sierra Leone we be celebrating next year. Long live Nigeria.

Matthew S. Yokie, Freetown, Sierra Leone

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