At the beginning of this year, the Federal Government unveiled a year-long programme to celebrate the centenary of the existence of Nigeria as a single geographical and political entity. Historically, on January 1, 1914, the then Southern and Northern Protectorates were merged in what has become known as amalgamation to form the colony and protectorate of Nigeria under British rule.
There have been divergent views as to the desirability or otherwise of the centenary project. Some people have argued that Nigeria is going through a very troubling time and instead of wasting resources on a centenary celebration, the government should concentrate on solving the problems confronting the country. Others question the rationale for such a celebration when the Nigerian state has not lived up to expectation of her citizens. Yet a third position is that it is not easy for a country to exist for 100 years, especially given the political and social upheavals that have hastened the demise or at best balkanisation of many countries in recent history.
No doubt, in almost 100 years that Nigerians have lived together as one country, especially since independence in 1960, the nation has gone through challenges and difficult times. We can recall three events or circumstances that threatened the unity and corporate existence of Nigeria – a 30-month civil war that ended in January 1970; the June 12, 1993 crisis in which, for a time, the country faced an uncertain future; and the storm caused by the vacuum that was created when the late President Umaru Yar’Adua suddenly left the country on medical ground without properly handing over to then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan.
These tensions, in our view, only made Nigerians more united as a people, with the aggregation of human and material resources that have enabled the country play significant roles in world affairs, like great contributions to the decolonisation of Africa and global peace operations.
The size of Nigeria’s domestic market and awesome capacity for transformation form the basis for the prediction that the country’s economy is on track to becoming the largest in Africa in the next decade. It is also because of her size that, in a little over 10 years, Nigeria now has over 100 million active cell phone lines and the largest Internet traffic in Africa, both of which are having a monumental impact on national integration, social relations and economic productivity.
There is no country in the world that does not face challenges or has never faced one – just as Nigeria currently faces hers. Our only concern is how these challenges are managed. It is, therefore, our belief that there is still something to celebrate – that spirit that builds great nations and civilisations, that unfailing optimism and resilience of Nigerians who remain proud of our national identity (that Nigeria is not a historical accident) and strive daily to rediscover that special spirit that enables us to triumph over every adversity as a people.
It is heartwarming that the government has enlisted the support of private sector and that corporate Nigeria has stood up to be counted by putting in their resources to make this a memorable celebration. We, however, caution that while celebrating, the central message of the celebration should not be lost in the euphoria.