Monday, 4 October 2010

Nigeria at 50

Last Friday, 1st October was Independence Day, 50 years of independence from the British, celebrations were to be held at the Eagle Square, which is rather a small venue, so we aimed to get there by 08:30, it was due to start at 10. Unfortunately as often occurs when one group of people aims to meet another group of people it was more like 09:30 and there was no way we could get into the Square, unless we wanted to fight the police!

Peering through the fence in the rain
We found a space outside and thanks to a heavy rain shower we got close enough to the fence to observe some of the action, which started with a military parade and a brass band. Even then it was great to be part of the crowd of Nigerians clearly proud of their country, one wanting to see her President, “I want to see his face not his picture, seeing Goodluck will give me Goodluck for the day” and generally excited to be celebrating Nigeria. Many were wearing national colours, and some had their faces painted.
Nigerian facepaint
Later we managed to find our way into Eagle Square, and finally even got a seat, where we saw dancers, an air display, a display of tanks, and then we got the text message from VSO, “confirmed explosions in Eagle Square, please avoid busy areas.” The event then ended suddenly without the President speaking.
Men or possibly women emerging from a helicopter
Once we left the stadium we met some other friends outside who reassured us that Nigeria was a peaceful country and there were no bombers there, it was just a rumour, I did remind them about the underpants bomber, who they disowned rapidly. Finally I checked the BBC website and found the first topic was that there had been two car bombs in Nigeria, then I realised that these weren’t just rumours.

Note my green and white Nigeria is 50 hat and badge!
The sad thing is that this happened on the day the whole world was looking at Nigeria, and it reinforces the negative images about Nigeria, which I had as well before I came here. My journey to Nigeria started last September, with an email from VSO with the Subject : Placement offer in Nigeria, my first thoughts were “Oh no, not Nigeria”. In my mind Nigeria was a place where it was unsafe to walk on the streets, rife with bribery, corruption, kidnapping and armed robbery along with ethnic and religious conflict and violence.
 The reality is very different, I regularly walk around Abuja during daylight hours, and I have never been asked for a bribe. During the seven months I have been here, one friend has been mugged, she was walking alone at night, one person had a phone stolen by a pick-pocket and one VSO staff member was the victim of an armed robbery of the staff car. Now of course none of these things are good but neither do they live up to Nigeria’s reputation.

 On the positive side, I have left my keys in a taxi and the driver looked for me to return them, my friend left her phone in a taxi and the driver returned it, another friend even forgot her laptop in a bar, and went back to find it exactly where she had left it.

 So is Nigeria’s reputation fair, yes and no, of course there is crime and reading the history of the first 50 years of Nigeria tells stories of civil war, coups, military dictators and religious violence, but in my experience Nigeria, is a peaceful country, full of people who love life, and want to live it to the full.

More Independence Day pictures

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