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Nigeria’s 62nd Independence anniversary this year, is coming few weeks after the death of Queen Elizabeth II who signed off the documents that made Nigeria an Independent nation. 

It also comes just as political parties have commenced campaigns in preparation for the country’s general elections. In February 2023, Nigerians will be electing new leaders that will steer the affairs of their country.

It is a feat, as democracy in the diverse nation appears to have taken deep roots.

Since after Nigeria’s independence on 1 October 1960, the country had been ruled by the military from 1966 to 1999, excluding a short democratic interval between 1979 to 1983. In total Nigeria had been under military dictatorship for 29 years before it finally made it to the league of democratic nations.

Nigeria, the most populous country – perhaps too the most culturally diverse – in Africa, covers an area of over 900,000 km². The country is almost four times the size of the United Kingdom (UK) – its former colonial “owner”.

It is often said that Nigeria gained her independence on a platter of gold. This is because unlike their counterparts in other parts of Africa, Nigerian’s nationalists did not fight any war before independence was attained.

Since after attaining independence, Nigeria has maintained favourable relations with the UK. The United Kingdom is now one of Nigeria’s strongest allies on many fronts. The two countries have what in diplomatic terms, is called strong bilateral relations. By this, it means the two sovereign States have a policy or understanding over political, economic, or cultural matters.

According to the UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT), the total trade in goods and services between the UK and Nigeria was £4.4 billion in the four quarters to the end of Quarter 1, 2022. Of this £4.4 billion, UK exports to Nigeria amounted to £2.6 billion, while total export from Nigeria to the UK amounted to £1.8 billion.

The Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), an online data visualization and distribution platform that focuses on the geography and dynamics of economic activities, said the main products that Nigeria exported to United Kingdom were Crude Petroleum ($1.05B), Refined Petroleum ($107M), and Petroleum Gas ($49.1M). During the last 25 years, the exports of Nigeria to United Kingdom have increased at an annualized rate of 6.85%, from $246M in 1995 to $1.29B in 2020, with a further increase in 2022.

Although Nigeria was for the first quarter of 2022 just the UK’s 43rd largest trading partner accounting for 0.3% of total UK trade, Nigeria did make some tremendous gains from the foreign direct investment (FDI) from the UK. As recently as 2020, FDI into Nigeria was £5.1 billion. This is according to the UK’s DIT.

Security matters remain of significance between the two countries. Both countries have signed a defence and security agreement. Culturally, Britain is home to hundreds of thousands of Nigerians.

So, with all these ties, it may be argued that it is near impossible to shake off or dismiss as immaterial, relations between Nigeria and its past colonial master.

Mohammed Ashir Lame is a Katsina-based political scientist; he believes that “relationship between Nigeria and Britain cannot be severed. The reason is that we are too interconnected politically, economically and culturally.” He chucked rather mischievously, “haven’t you seen our politicians going to London for meetings recently? Where do our leaders go when they are sick? In fact, even for the purpose of medical tourism, we cannot cut-off Britain!” He laughed.

Partnerships in today’s world are important – not just between sovereign States – given the context of the global environment driven by technological interconnectedness – but even on personal basis. Then again there are some who remain suspicious of the close ties the two countries share, believing that it is indeed an indication of “neo-colonialism.”

Iduh Vivian Opeyemi is a 23-year-old University of Illorin graduate. She said for her, 1 October is a “reminder that this country could have been better, but the colonialism and the neo-colonialism it still faces bring us down each time we make progress. I mostly spend the day resting from work, praying for Nigeria, and wishing we live in a better place as a people.”

This sense of despondency is shared by many young Nigerians. Nigeria’s population was 45 million at Independence. Today the country’s population is more than 200 million. More than half are below the age of 25. Of these, a huge majority are either unemployed or unemployable because of poor education or lack of it.

Banker Usman Mustapha Muhammad is 25 years old. He’s just about to round-up his MSc Economics. He said, as far as Nigeria’s Independence is concerned, there are merits and demerits. The fact “that the country was granted the right to make its own decisions is one of the merits of Independence. However, we are not yet independent. Politically, Nigeria is still following the footprints of their colonial masters. To be frank we are celebrating nothing.”

Halima Musa, a 21-year botany student from Kogi State, revealed that independence to her doesn’t really mean anything. “What are we celebrating? Is it the national unity we don’t have, or the corruption that has eaten deep into our system? Or the years of labouring in vain?” She questioned. “Independence is overrated as most of the things it signified still do not exist. To me, I think instead of celebrating Independence Day, it should be a day to pray for Nigeria, we have failed our heroes past,” she concluded.

Despite the feeling of dejection by most of Nigeria’s young population, there are those however, who feel that all hope is not lost. Some few feel that Nigeria’s future lies with the young generation – but even at that, “they need to re-educate themselves about the role they must play in saving the country from the clutches of the generations that have failed since Independence,” said Uche Orji, a graduate pharmacist, originally from Abia State, but working in Makurdi, Benue State.

Somewhat agreeing to that, Mustapha Salisu, who is currently undergoing his compulsory National Youth Service (NYSC) programme in Jigawa State emphatically said, “I am proud to be part of an independent nation, imagine if we are still in the pre-independence era? I wouldn’t want to be a labourer for others; I’d rather be that for my country,” he said with pride.

As Independence celebrations continue across the 36 States of Nigeria’s federation, mixed feelings like the ones shared above have come to characterize a nation that continues to grapple with all manner of economic, political and social complexities and diversities. However, the sheer resilience of Nigerians is what many believe will eventually lead the country to triumph.

Pharmacist Orji concluded with a wry smile, “Yes, despite all our problems, I am hopeful. I believe that managing those complexities and diversities is key to Nigeria’s survival not just its success.”