The nation’s formation
Whether ‘Nigeria’s unity is only a British invention’ or celestial, the nation that has variously been defined as a mere geographical expression has, in spite of all odds, survived 100 years. Nigeria’s existence, according to accounts, started from the chase for slaves from Africa for the development of Europe to the scramble for Africa. At the “end of the 19th Century, European powers staked claims to virtually the entire continent, and at various meetings in some European capitals, European diplomats bargained over the separate spheres of interest.”
Britain luckily annexed various territories making up the entity today called Nigeria, and decided to “merge the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914, giving rise to the nation Nigeria on January 01, 1914, under the leadership of Fredrick Lord Luggard.”
January 2014, marks 100 years life of this entity Nigeria. According to an Igbo popular parlance, “when somebody wakes up in the morning or clocks another year, he appreciates God for all the labour of yesterday, for guidance in the night and prays for the day.” This is where Nigeria finds itself on this Centenary. Celebrating a birthday is a platform to appreciate life and to say to yourself it is good that you are alive.
Reason for celebration
The preparations for the Centenary celebrations have evoked some grim and a lot of excitement at both the national and international levels. The anniversary is being marked with a year-long programme under the theme “One Nigeria: Great Promise” and with a vision ‘to build a united, vibrant, progressive and respected nation eager to lead in world affairs.
Some Nigerians may not immediately see reasons for the commemoration of the Centenary because of obvious downsides, but looking deeper, the anniversary celebration, according to some analysts, is seen “more as an opportunity to celebrate our existence as a nation, given all the rough paths we have travelled as a nation in the last 100 years. The rough roads include coup-d-tats, the Civil War and the periods of military interregnum and failed attempts at democracy that dogged the last one hundred years.
Despite these great socio-political tremors, it is a miracle that we are still together as a nation. A school of thought enthuses that “nations that went through less of these trauma have disintegrated or are still at war. The significance of celebration goes beyond accomplishment; it is rather about our continued existence as a nation.”
The Centenary celebration, which has already kick-started early February this year, will apparently present an opportunity for Nigerians to count their blessings as a nation, celebrate their dexterity and resilience as a people and resolve to launch into the next century with renewed determination.
These expectations were reiterated by the former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, when he said at the kick off of the year-long celebration of the Centenary, which will culminate in January 2014, that “Nigeria is a unique nation, a nation of diverse, strong and hard working people” that have remained united despite the challenges it had faced in the past and was still facing.
Unveiling the anniversary emblem, Gowon requests that “may the emblem symbolise a rallying point for the unity of the nation. May it be a reminder of our entity, unity and oneness of the nation which not negotiable and serve as a symbol of peace, unity and prosperity.”
In his normal amiable but serious character, former President Olusegun Obasanjo said the Centenary celebration should be a wake-up call to all Nigerians to re-examine themselves and their commitment to the Nigerian dream. “If you cannot love Nigeria and be positive about it and make contributions to its progress, then I should ask you what sort of Nigerian are you?” he asked rhetorically. The former president, who also ruled as military Head of State – 1976-1979, noted that what should preoccupy Nigerians was the desire to make Nigeria a ‘humane, just and progressive Nation.’
For Abdulsalam Abubakar, who presented the Centenary theme song, said despite the many challenges the country had experienced in the last 100 years, “there is every reason to celebrate in song and dance as one nation, indivisible Nigeria has come to stay.”
President Goodluck Jonathan told Nigerians during the flag off of the Centenary events that the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914 to form Nigeria was not a mistake but an act of God, which should not be challenged by any mortal. He said apart from the natural resources, the country was blessed with a unique collection of intellectual, resilient and enterprising people created by God, and “it behoves on every Nigerian to strive to protect this union.
“The unity of Nigeria is indivisible and non-negotiable; we must remain the forward looking people that we are. I see a united, powerful and prosperous nation that will make the generation yet unborn very proud. Arise, we shall and prosper we will.”
Stakeholders who may not realise the reasons for the celebrations will note that the 100 years witness a nation that is rich in human resources, uncommon biodiversity, diverse cultural offerings and economic opportunities that few countries can boast of. The Centenary also symbolises Nigeria’s common destiny, continued existence that is a basis for its rising global profile. Nigeria has made very consequential contributions to the decolonisation of Africa and post-independence global peace.
It is also because of Nigeria’s size and awesome transformational capacity that, in a little over 10 years, the country now has about 100 million cellphone lines and the largest internet traffic in Africa, both of which are having monumental impact on national integration, social relations and economic productivity.
“Why can’t we celebrate that spirit that builds great nations and civilisations – the unfailing optimism and resilience of Nigerians who remain proud of our national identity and strive daily to rediscover that special spirit that enables us triumph over every adversity as a people,” an analyst said.
The Centenary celebration also offers a unique opportunity to focus global attention on Nigeria, its history, peoples, achievements and aspirations. It also reinforces Nigerians hopes and express shared valued, to strengthen national consciousness and patriotism, and promote Nigeria’s national image and enhance its prestige.
The event proper
The ground-breaking ceremony has already started with former heads of state, diplomats in attendance. In June 2013, it is expected that the President will launch ‘Dress Nigerian Day’ and there will be flag-off of National Essay competition, while in July, 100 years of Nigerian music will be released. The events will continue to December, when there will be special Centenary Legislative Sessions and national carnivals. January 2014 will mark the grand event with Presidential Centenary broadcast and prayers.
One of the endearing legacies of the celebration, according to the concept document, shall be the development of a Centenary City in Abuja. The City, like Festac Town in Lagos, will be built on more than 1,000 hectares of virgin land along the Airport Road in the city of Abuja, making it the second largest ‘private city’ development in history, after Sondo International Business District, Korea.
As agued by Bolaji Okusaga, CEO, The Quadrant Company, for Nigeria to continue to march ahead and make the expected impact globally, “it takes a sincerity of purpose, a good sense of history and the will to agree to work together for the common good.”
Okusaga said Nigeria, by her population size, diversity, natural resource and positioning in the black world, was strategically primed to assume leadership status with the right internal focus and alignment.
He regretted that following the political crisis of the early sixties and the period of military interregnum, and failed democracy that followed and corruption, there was disarticulation of objective and action in the quest at nation building. He strongly advised for a re-focus on the task of national rebirth and positioning.
The Nigerian story is one of admiration and remarkable progresses. Nigeria’s 100th birthday provides a wonderful opportunity for all Nigerians to proudly celebrate and share in the nation’s story of freedom, achievements and aspirations. It offers a platform for re-branding, repositioning opportunity and selling our potential in all areas, including tourism to the world.