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NIGERIA IS A SUPERPOWER IN AFRICA – SAYS BRITISH BROADCASTER

BY PHILIP IDEH

Jon Snow, British Television Channel 4‘s regular News Presenter, Writer and Journalist has described Nigeria as a Superpower in Africa. He made the comment at the conclusion of a panel of discussion of Nigerian professionals, academics and writers, using an Exhibition, “Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa”, as the starting point for a wider discussion on a modern day Nigeria. The event took place on Monday, June 6, 2010 at the British Museum in Great Russell Street in the leafy suburb of Bloomsbury, London. Mr. Snow also described the audience as the “most energised, engaged and exciting” before touching upon the importance of the returning home of the Nigerians in the Diaspora – and adapting their knowledge to fit in with Nigeria’s reality.   He added that about one in 15 Africans is a Nigerian and they spread across the world at all levels of skill and power. He was of the opinion the Nigerians should perhaps reconsider the definition of superpower “because Nigeria is a superpower in Africa.” He also said that from taking in displaced Nigerians, to its trading with the Republic of Benin and its various Peace Keeping Missions, Nigeria was relevant to the future of Africa.   The major exhibition presented exquisite examples of brass, copper, stone and terracotta sculpture from Ife which was described as a powerful, cosmopolitan and wealthy city-state in what is now modern South-West Nigeria. It should be recalled that Ife had flourished as a political, spiritual, cultural and economic centre in the 12th-15th Centuries AD and had been an influential hub of local and long-distance trade networks.  . The exhibition was drawn from the magnificent collections of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in Nigeria. The Ife artists of that era had developed “a refined and highly naturalistic tradition in stone, terracotta, brass and copper to create a style unlike anything in Africa at the time” According to the Exhibitors, the technical sophistication of the casting process was matched by the artworks’ enduring beauty.   The discussion which followed the Exhibition was titled:” Nigeria: Africa’s Superpower?” and was sponsored by the British Museum in collaboration with Britain’s Guardian Newspapers. The talks began with an introduction by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum.   Other Speakers were: Reverend Father Matthew Kukah, Vicar General of the Catholic Diocese of Kaduna who lives in Kakuri, Kaduna,, Kaduna State of Nigeria, Dr. Abdul Raufu Mustapha of Ilorin, Kwara State who is a University Lecturer in African Politics, University of Oxford, Oxford in England, Chika Unigwe, a Writer. From Nnewi, Anambra State who lives in Europe and Dele Ogun, a Lawyer and Author who lives in London.   In his opening remarks, Fr. Matthew Kukah in contributing to Nigeria’s pre-eminent cultural status, talked about the Dufina cave in Borno State of Nigeria which is reputed to be about 6000 years old as well as the Nok Culture of 2000 AD and regretted that the story of Slavery in the West Coast of Africa had made Nigerians look like the children of a Lesser God! He likened his presence at the panel that evening, to the feeling of a slave who had suddenly discovered that he was a prince!   Abdul Raufu Mustapha said that the fragmentation of the population, along both ethnic and religious lines had brought comparisons with Tanzania and Malaysia where the ethnic mixes had managed to coexist and thrive. He however, argued that Nigeria had no “Nkrumah, no Mandela, no champions”. So, how does this “sub-optimal state sustain itself?” he asked! He then identified three things – Oil, the Army and the much touted Middle Class – which he claimed were all that stood between Nigeria and anarchy   Lawyer and Author, Dele Ogun, had wondered about Nigeria’s “arrested development”, following the time of the kingdom of Ife and how it could have gone so badly wrong! He then narrowed it down to the very constituents of Nigeria: the ethnic groups were very wary and suspicious of one another and had warned that until these various groups had harmonised, Nigeria would always have a “story of unfulfilled potential” According to him, Nigeria was a country which had been founded on the premise of a regional power player, but regretted that with hindsight, that hope had been misplaced and he called this “a great mistake”. In an analogy that received one of the biggest applauses of the night, he had argued that Nigeria could remain like an apple – one solid entity - or it could be an orange – whole- but with distinct and recognisable segments, adding ruefully: “Oranges grow in Nigeria, apples do not!”   Author Chika  Unigwe who said she had just returned from Nigeria, was of the opinion that things were a lot more optimistic adding that there was a brain drain and the mismanagement of Oil Revenues in the 1970s had remained a looming spectre and she expressed the   optimism that” Nigeria is the Giant of Africa” even in the face of events that would suggest the contrary She pleaded that Nigeria’s superpower status was something that needed not be viewed in the same old ways as Nigeria could be a superpower through its arts, books, music and films. In her opinion, these aspects could make Nigeria a leading light in both Africa and the wide world. Chika noted that the arts in Nigeria had arisen above the usual problems of ethnic divisions and were being enjoyed and celebrated in Nigeria.   In a Question and Answer Session, Femi Longe, a member of the audience who had also returned recently fro a trip to Nigeria, corroborated what Chika had postulated when she said that Nigerians were now appreciating indigenous music and diverse ethnic culture. He suggested that monuments could be built to celebrate Football and Footballers.   To the Question,” Is China’s presence in Africa a threat?” Dele Ogun and Raufu Mustapha were dismissive. Of the question. On Corruption, Dele Ogun asserted that corruption was a universal phenomenon adding that the real problem which plagued Nigeria lay in the governance structure which was very large and unwieldy. According to him, “it is not democracy that we practice but the trappings of democracy   Fr. Kukah was of the opinion that Nigerians often confused Office holders with Leaders. Our leaders, he said, tended to do what they liked because Nigerians had no institutions to discipline their leaders. The Catholic Prelate added that accessing power in Nigeria was not logical as “we can exercise leadership without being in politics”, he proferred...  The Kaduna Priest described Nigeria as a country with potentials tinged with unfulfilled dreams because the State was often at variance with its citizens who were disenchanted with the System. He emphasised that the State had not collapsed in spite of the unsteady equilibrium or the fragmentation of its citizens. He was convinced that the quality of leadership was a problem but averred that there had not been an internal challenge strong enough to upset the State, the Oil, the Army and the Middle Class! Fr. Matthew Kukah, a former member of Nigeria’s Truth Commission and Electoral Reform Committee, drew much applause from the audience in summing up Nigeria, past, present and future when he likened the situation in the country to that of a Roman Catholic Marriage – “it may not be happy but it does not  break up”, With this witty ending, the discussions came to a close.   Commonwealth Journalists Association Email: mideh.ideh.matthias@gmail.com... June 16, 2010  

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