Nigeria at 50Will the 'Giant of Africa' become a real giant of Africa?

CHIKA ONYEANI | 4/12/2011, 5:23 p.m.

I am shocked that I am writing this article about Nigeria, which achieved independence from British rule 50 years ago. I am sure most of the readers who read my articles will wonder, "What has happened to Chika Onyeani? Why is he not taking his scalpel in dissecting all the problems afflicting Nigeria in the last 50 years or the problems that Nigeria would be facing in the next 50 years?"

It is the same question I am normally asked about how I could criticize my continent--Africa--yet form a foundation--the Celebrate Africa Foundation--to celebrate the continent. It is the mistake that people make in thinking that both issues are exclusive. In fact, on the contrary, it is the great love you have for your continent or country that impels you to offer constructive analysis of the situation in both areas.

On this occasion, I will leave the criticism to others. And a survey of the world wide web has turned up hundreds of articles and quotations of prominent Nigerians who have looked at the last 50 years of "independence" and are rightly pessimistic about the future of Nigeria.

In a September 24 BBC News online article entitled "Nigeria at 50: 'Nothing to celebrate', about preparations being made for celebrating the epoch mark in the life of a country, Robin Denselow started the first paragraph of his article with "Nigeria is about to mark 50 years of independence from Britain with lavish festivities, parades and banquets. But it will be a bittersweet celebration."

Dunselow went on to write, "Nigeria has survived civil war and more than 30 years of military rule to become a democracy--with massive wealth to spend as the largest oil producer in Africa. But after 50 years of independence, many Nigerians are questioning whether there is really anything to celebrate."

Some of those Dunselow interviewed for his article included African literary icon Chinua Achebe; Adebola Williams, identified as coordinator of a young people's pressure group, Enough is Enough; and the managing director of a massive wire engineering company, George Onafowokan.

And how could you talk about Nigeria's 50th independence anniversary without speaking with gadfly journalist Reuben Abati? Of course, Denselow did talk with Abati, who he quoted as saying, "The biggest problem that Nigeria has had in 50 years of independence is corruption. Close to about $40 billion (25.4bn) has been stolen.

"Can you imagine what could have been achieved with that money, in a country where the school system has collapsed, the roads are pot-holed and there is no regular electricity?

"The biggest threat to entrepreneurship in Nigeria would seem to be power supply. So much money has been devoted to maintenance over the years--so what has happened to all that money?"

Definitely, until the sun starts rising from the West and starts setting to the East, we can never finish enumerating Nigeria's problems. To me, it seems like yesterday when preparations were being made in Lagos to welcome the new nation as an independent country. And in the 50 years since then, I've watched with amazement and appreciation the part that Nigeria has played as the super power in Africa, whether it is being the front leader in fighting the apartheid regime, in sending troops around the continent to quell fighting in different areas or in challenging world powers about respecting the continent. There is no doubt that there is a hatred of Nigerians by other Africans, but it is the greater pride other Africans feel about Nigerians that can never be argued.