October 1st marked fifty years of independence for Nigeria, Africa's most populous country. The Golden Jubilee is being celebrated throughout the nation and the global diaspora with speeches, concerts, parties and all manner of other events. But some are asking, is there even anything to celebrate? To many, the last fifty years seem an accelerated decent into chaos. Still, for most Nigerians, October 1st is a time for festivities.
Below are just a few of the ways people around the web are marking the occasion:
Opinion: Collaborative blog Nigerians Talk posted a series of essays by well-known Nigerian bloggers on the theme “Nigeria at 50.” The series began a week before Independence Day and a featured “a post a day on different aspects of the Nigerian experience.”
Politics: Sokari posted a comprehensive essay on female Nigerian leaders, women “who have taken action towards achieving justice and social, economic, environmental and political change.”
Photography: Jeremy at Cassava Republic asked eight prominent writers to respond to an iconic photograph from the independence era. Find out what they said here.
Literature: Naija Stories sponsored a competition of short stories on the theme of “Independence Day.” Check out the winners here, or read Henry C. Onyema's essay on Nigerian literature at 50.
Fashion: Bella Naija profiled “La Dame, La Muse”, a collaboration of Nigeria's top fashion designers organized in honor of the 50th Anniversary.
Music: Jibola L listed links to ten music videos. “I revel in my memories to bring back the good times,” she wrote. “And what better way to bring them back, than by music?”
History: Max Siollun linked to a selection of videos about Nigeria's history and leaders, including this short Al-Jazeera documentary:
A Golden Jubilee or nothing to celebrate?
In the blogosphere, the lead-up to October 1st had many Nigerians wondering if the last fifty years had really provided any cause for celebration. The past year especially has been a tumultuous one for Nigerians, after a series of upheavals including the unexplained absence and subsequent death of the President, an attempted terrorist attack by a Nigerian national, religious violence in the North and continued instability in the South. These and myriad other endemic woes had many Nigerians asking what justified all the festivities. Writing for Africa Report‘s Typerighter blog, Adeola Aderounmu expressed the cynicism shared by many in the online community:
Fifty years after independence Nigeria’s democracy remains in shambles. While the government of President Goodluck Jonathan will be wasting N17bn ($110m) on the independence party, millions of Nigerians will continue to live from hand to mouth, unsure of the next meal. The amount of funds planned for this ‘celebration of failures’ is unwarranted. It should have been low-key, a time for sober reflection. We should have used this golden moment to evaluate where things went wrong and write genuine blueprints of how to emerge from our present predicament.
Toyin Akiode took a different view:
The fact that we are still standing as a united Nation despite all the unfortunate realities of our daily lives more than call for celebrations. There are many examples of countries that had disintegrated with lesser challenges than our dear nation.
Joseph Ekwu acknowledged the country's many faults, but chose to focus on the positive, pointing to the successes of Nollywood, the accomplishments of Nigerians in the Diaspora, and the spread of GSM technology. He wrote:
Roll out the drums…the red carpets… where are the elegant Efik dancers? The Horse riders from Sokoto… where are the vibrant and swagger filled youth, PINGING and chatting their way through success… bring out the best of all culture as my dear country… Yes I mean my lovely motherland NIGERIA IS 50.
Still, cynics received fuel for their arguments when news broke that celebrations in Abuja had been marred by the coordinated explosion of several car bombs, killing 8 and wounding 21. The Niger Delta militant group MEND claimed responsibility for the attack, emphasizing the fact that they had previously warned officials about the explosions.
Writing from Abuja, Jeremy at Naijablog gave his take on the attack:
It’s a bitter pill to swallow to consider this: MEND were far better prepared to ‘celebrate’ Nigeria’s 50th Independence Anniversary than anyone else. There must have been months of planning involved to create a car bomb as powerful as this. What is worrying is that it shows how easily Abuja can be infiltrated by terrorists – the area around Eagle Square must have been packed with security operatives and yet a huge car bomb exploded close by. As I write, the terrorists are most likely still within the FCT, celebrating the success of their awful mission: the murder of innocent Nigerians.
Is this rock bottom? Are we indeed at the end? Will we turn around now? The steady stream of disheartening reports in the past week seemed to indicate it couldn't possibly get any worse. Unfortunately, yet fittingly, I received my answer this morning. As the news of the bomb blasts in Abuja filtered in on the morning of our independence day, I realized that at best the answer is not yet.
I won't be celebrating this weekend. But, I understand those who feel the need to celebrate. If the musical stylings of D'banj and P-Square bring you joy, respite, oblivion, or whatever it is you are looking for this weekend, by all means, go for it. In the meantime, I'll keep my dancing shoes wrapped.
Check out how Nigerians celebrated independence day yesterday in New York: