Nigerians today celebrate the 50th anniversary of their independence from Britain. The ceremonies in the capital, Abuja, included a military parade, fireworks and an address to the nation by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Police say at least seven people were killed in explosions near the country's Independence Day celebrations. Nigeria's most prominent militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), warned of the explosions about an hour before they occurred.
The incident did not disrupt the festivities.
So how do Nigerians reflect on their fifty years of independence? Former Anambra state governor Chris Ngige says the record is a mixed bag.
“Joy because as a nation, we have attained fifty years of nationhood. We fought a fratricidal war and we came back as one country. We have sadness in that the expectations of the founding fathers have not been met.”
Ngige says today Nigerians are “wallowing in poverty” as seventy percent of the people live below the poverty line. Today’s anniversary, he says, is an occasion for Nigerians to “soberly reflect and rededicate ourselves anew.”
The former governor laments the role of the military in “stunting the development of democracy” in Nigeria.
“Military rule by its nature is undemocratic, an aberration.
All political structures are pulled down during military rule, ruling with fiats and decrees. These have made democracy not to grow in Nigeria,” he says.
The veteran official says military decrees and laws, often made by a handful of people, have always been draconian and antithetical to the tents of democracy.
Ngige says despite Nigeria’s status as the leading oil producer in Africa, Nigerians have benefitted very little from oil revenues. He blames what he calls “rampant corruption” among the country’s officials.
“The oil is being stolen from source before export and while it’s being exported. The money gotten from the sale of oil is cornered by few greedy elites. And using massive fraudulent means, they have denied their fellow countrymen the benefits of the oil wealth,” he says.
Ngige places little faith in the anti-corruption campaigns of Nigeria’s last two governments.
The former governor says Nigeria deserves credit for helping create and maintain peace in the sub-region.
“It is a major achievement. Nigeria is big and because everybody in the continent and sub-region look up to us as Big Brother, we have lived up to that responsibility of providing Big Brother outlook and protection,” he says.
Ngige says such peacekeeping efforts under both military and civilian governments are among the bright spots in his country’s fifty years of post-independence history.