By Ahmed Mustafa
The Internet is an interesting tool and you are sometimes spoilt for choice as to what you can learn and see. Sometimes, it gets too much for me, so I would ask Google the most random questions possible. A while ago, I did that again, this time typing the words, “Countries that no longer exist.” I did not know what to expect but I was still surprised that between 23 and 25 countries have faded into inexistence since those records started being collected.
There were some names that sounded familiar like Catalonia, Burma and Czechoslovakia. Some sounded weird like Prussia, Sikkim (now part of Northern India) and Newfoundland (which joined Canada as a province in 1949). The reasons for the disappearance of these countries vary. While some happened simply out of convenience or name changes, others were completely bloody and violent. While the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was balkanised into 15 distinct entities, China invaded Tibet in 1950 and it is now called the Xizang Autonomous Region of China.
Another thing that interested me was the age of countries and Google was only too happy to tell me that Ethiopia was perhaps the oldest country on record. It has been around since 980 BCE. Greece is another old boy that’s been here for between 5000-6000 years. That country might be in weeping boy of economic chaos today, but it has endured. Then, there is Egypt (explains the ancient pyramids, of course), Japan, China and France. That last one surprised me. I wanted to ask if French Fries were old too, but I passed.
For those interested, the youngest countries in the world are Eritrea (April 27, 1993), Palau (Oct. 1, 1994), East Timor (May 20, 2002), Montenegro (June 3, 2006) and Serbia (June 5, 2006).
Going by the day she secured her independence, Nigeria will be 60 years old on October 1st, 2020. For a country that was a very crudely lumped-up cluster of very different people and one that fell into a civil war less than 7 years after independence, I believe this is no mean feat. I found countries that broke up less than 3 years after they agreed to come together. Many nations are currently tethering on the edge of collapse right now. But, here we are, going strong at 60. Remarkable.
Now, nobody is saying it has been smooth sailing. We have been battered, heated up, cooled down, and heated up again. The pressure from within and outside on us to disintergrate have been immense. We have been chipped at. On 10 October 2002, certain forces conspired to cede the Bakassi Peninsula to our neighbours in Cameroon, a move that left over 300,000 of our brothers and sisters with an unusual status of being foreigners in their own land. Through all this, we persevered. While others have cracked under much less stress, Nigeria got tougher and bonded together. Like the diamond, we emerged.
October 1st will be our diamond jubilee and nothing can be so fitting as to see our nation being compared with a material that only comes to be after the right combination of heat, pressure and time. The organisers of the festivities arranged for the event have rightly chosen a logo that brilliantly captures our togetherness, strength and wealth. The diamond in the centre represents the age of treasure we have reached as a nation. The green represents the fertility of the land, the wealth we have (mostly potential), the stability we have in our democracy, the renewal of our commitment to the ideals of our forbearers, and the new beginnings that technology avails to us.
The pear green colour depicts our warm and welcoming spirit as well as the love that has kept us together as one nation. Yes, the pandemic shook us but it also brought forth the best in our people in caring for one another.
Naysayers will say what is there to celebrate in a country that claims to be the giant of Africa but has yet to demonstrate leadership in many areas. To them I repeat Noam Chomsky’s words, “Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”
And there are so many things to be optimistic about. Every day, you see Nigerians selflessly giving back to their country. Examples abound but one that particularly impresses me is the group of brand experts that donated their considerable time and resources into creating the logo for the ‘Nigeria at 60’ events and donated it free of charge. They did it without asking for even recognition. That is a bunch that gives me hope.
Nigeria, like the logo, may not be perfect but I am celebrating her every minute I can. She is definitely on the path to excellence and I am proudly marching with her on this journey. Happy Birthday, Nigeria!
- Ahmed Mustafa, a social commentator, writes from Abuja.