A love letter to Nigeria from a native son
By Kola King
Nigeria is a unique and vibrant country. It is regarded as the giant of Africa. It has the biggest population on the continent. It is the leading economy. Nigeria is exceptional in so many ways. Her people are vibrant, dynamic and energetic, and are of an exuberant temperament. Nigeria’s exceptionalism is the reason why a nation of 250 ethnic groups cobbled together by the British has been able to cohabit and co-exist, despite the stress and strains pulling at the seams threatening to tear the fabric apart. Instead of giving in, Nigeria constantly rebounds from the edge of the precipice, to the consternation and shock of both her foes. It is fitting to say that Nigeria is the exception to the rule. Her strength lies in her diversity.
But, clearly, Nigeria is a work in progress. Since gaining independence from Britain, it has witnessed several back-to-back coups, some violent and bloody enough to see three heads of state killed — one civilian and two military. The nation has been visited by the holocaust of a bloody civil war and sectarian violence. And now another bloody insurgency has blossomed and ballooned in its northeastern region. Yet this country of diverse tongues seems to continue to wax strong, consolidating on its strength and working on its weaknesses. It has defied all odds. Dire predictions were made that things would fall apart with the last elections, and that the world would gather to sing the nation’s funeral song. But things turned out quite the opposite. The elections came and went without a whimper.
Figuratively, Nigeria is like a person whose obituary has been printed, whose grave has been dug and whose invitations have been sent out for the funeral ceremony, only for this person to wake up in the mortuary to attend it. Nigeria is always giving birth to surprises. Why is this so? What makes Nigerians tick? In my opinion, their remarkable personalities stand out in so many ways. They are unique beings. They derive tremendous joy from living, and truly believe in the pursuit of happiness. Being happy spirits, they are seemingly untouched by the storms and tempests of life. They are serene, peaceful and composed at all times. They are a cross between stoics and epicureans. As stoics they accept whatever fate throws at them, but as epicureans they live for today. Although, this stoicism could be taken for docility. Again, their ability to adapt to situations is legendary. They are creatures that can be stretched to the elastic limit and will bounce back with renewed vigor and energy.
Perhaps the most fitting tribute to the resilience and indomitable spirit of the Nigerian is the seamless manner in which the Nigerian Civil War was resolved. The warring factions reunited after a bitter, fratricidal 30 months of conflict which lasted from 1967 to 1970 after Nigeria declared its independence. Soon after the war, a chorus of pundits and analysts, among whom were John De St Jorre who captured the story of the war in his book ‘The Nigerian Civil War’, and Fredrick Forsyth who reported for the BBC during the war and later wrote ‘The Biafra Story’. Both men expected the worst, fearing a renewed bloodbath. There were apprehensions that the major ethnic groups (primarily Igbo against the Northern-dominated government) would be at each other’s throats and blood would flow like water because the fate of the Igbos was still hanging in the balance after the war ended. Over the course of his field work, Fredrick Forsyth had expressed genuine fears for the Igbos. General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s war time leader, had declared — after the unconditional surrender of Biafra by Major General Phillip Effiong — that there was “no victor and no vanquished”.
All of this notwithstanding, foreign observers had genuine fears that despite the Biafran surrender the Igbos of the then Eastern Region could face reprisal attacks if they returned to the north and other parts of Nigeria. It is worth recalling that there were mass killings of the Igbos in the North after the 1966 counter coup led by the Northern majors, which subsequently lead to the mass migration of Easterners (Igbos) to their homeland. These killings in the north were regarded as the first genocide on the African continent.
The counter coup snowballed leading to a civil war. It was a reaction to the January 1966 coup led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. It resulted in the killings of the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and the Premier of the defunct Northern region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, both of whom were Northern leaders. The cast of ring leaders in the January coup were mostly Igbo officers and the coup was perceived as sectional. These coups unleashed the beast of tribalism, as it were. And this roaring monster almost consumed the fledgling nation recently bequeathed to its people by the British.
However, things turned out differently than expected. Many were shocked as Nigerians dropped their guns and turned around to embrace each other in fellowship and friendship at the end of the war. This peace lasts today in many communities. Nigerians have integrated through a conscious effort of the government to build Unity Secondary Schools where children of school age from different parts of the country live and study together. Again, soon after the civil war, the National Youth Service Corps was created which made it mandatory for graduates from tertiary institutions to undertake one year compulsory service in states other than their state of origin.
Without a doubt, the typical Nigerian is an unique creation of God. He views life through a sunny prism. He strikes one as an incurable optimist. Naturally, he cultivates the belief that things will work out well in the long run, and that nothing but good will come his way. He holds onto the belief that no matter how dire the situation, somehow in the morning there will be sunshine. There is a silver lining to every dark cloud. He always sees the glass half full, not half empty. Generally, he is a happy and genial being. Even the BBC had described Nigerians as the happiest people on earth, despite being surrounded by an avalanche of problems. In 2003, BBC News Africa programme released a survey of more than 65 countries that concluded that Nigerians are the most positive people in the world, and that “Nigeria is the happiest place on earth”.  And all this in spite of widespread poverty, corruption and violence.
It is quite amazing that the Nigerian still manages to keep his head held high despite the despondency and hopelessness in the land. This despondency arises out of poor leadership and a litany of corruption that’s has become the bane of the political class and military adventurers. Governance in the past three decades has been a tale of woe. Yet, the average Nigerian soldiers on in spite of this seething cauldron of corruption created by a parasitic and short-sighted ruling class and their collaborators. Most often the average Nigerian only grumbles and wrings his hands in utter helplessness, instead of challenging the excesses of the political class and setting himself free. Heaven helps those who help themselves.
The Nigerian is backward in some ways. He tends to see things through his ethnic blinkers. There is little sense of national consciousness, and the people see the central government as belonging to nobody. Everyone seems to approach the government as though it were a gold mine where one would go there with a shovel, a pickaxe and a pan to dig.
In a way, the Nigerian is complicit. He holds the view that public office provides ample opportunity for everyone to feather his own nest. This explains why tribal jingoists and ethnic champions who steal public funds are given red carpet receptions in their communities. There is a kind of supreme indifference to graft. What’s more there is a sort of complacent forbearance towards things that are seemingly “not right”. As President Buhari has rightly observed when he took over power last May, the situation was such that “it was everyone for himself and God for us all”. 
The Nigerian is a hybrid creation from an amalgam of various ancient kingdoms and empires. Prior to the onset of colonialism, several different independent and autonomous kingdoms existed across Nigeria: the Benin Kingdom, Oyo Empire, Kanem Bornu Empire, the Hausa States, Kwararafa Kingdom, the Nri Kingdom, Ijaw Kingdom and the Kalabari Kingdom. It seems Nigeria is like Babel, where God created confusion in the minds of men when they started to build a tower to heaven. In fact, Nigeria has about 500 native dialects.