Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Country of the Week: NIGERIA

"How radically do geographic environments differ -- not just in terms of tropical versus arctic climates but also in the very configuration of the land and how that helps or hinders large-scale interactions among peoples? Consider one statistic: Africa is more than twice the size of Europe, and yet Africa has a shorter coastline than Europe. That seems almost impossible. But the reason is that Europe's coastline is far more convoluted, with many harbors and inlets being formed all around the continent. Much of the coastline of Africa is smooth -- which is to say, lacking in the harbors which make large-scale maritime trade possible by sheltering the ships at anchor from the rough waters of the open sea."                                                    (Thomas Sowell)

Here is an example of the oldest known African sculptures (at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts) -- from the Nok civilization which flourished in central Nigeria from about 500 BC to AD 200:

One in six Africans lives in Nigeria; and its glut of oil makes it, by far, the most affluent nation on the continent. It is the world's 7th most populous country.

Nigeria gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1960. Situated just north of the equator, it is more than twice the size of California. Though English is the official language, "the three most widely used languages are those of the three largest ethnic groups -- Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo... The northern Hausa are solidly Muslim, the eastern Igbo are Christian, and the Yoruba are equally divided between the two faiths."

About half the people are Muslims; 40 percent are Christians.

The Muslims are mostly in the north, which is drier; the semi-arid Sahel borders the Sahara Desert. Camels are common, and horse racing is popular. [The Sahel is a wide belt across Africa, from the Atlantic to the Red Sea].

Most Christians live in the east and south. Portuguese monks were the first to bring the faith to Nigeria around the year 1500. (Biafra was a southeastern state that attempted to secede in the 1960s. Large-scale Igbo Christian exodus from northern sharia-inspired pogroms in 1966 -- as well as the economic potenial of an oil rich Ibo-Christian independent country in the Southeast -- were significant causes of the Biafran war. The fighting lasted more than two years, ending in early 1970. The Biafran capital was Enugu, until it was captured. As many as three million people may have died in the civil war, most from disease and famine).

Violence nowadays frequently breaks out in northern Nigeria between Muslims and the Christian minority. Here is an account of how a Christian pastor's wife and children were slain by Muslim attackers (after the U.S. military killed Osama bin Laden); and how churches were burnt and Christians killed (after the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, was re-elected over his Muslim opponent in April).

Cardinal Francis Arinze (b. 1932) is an Igbo. Appointed a Catholic bishop at a very young age -- in time to attend the final session of the Second Vatican Council -- he later served as a top advisor to John Paul II. His analogy for modern atheists: "If a child refuses to accept its father or mother, that child is not a liberal, that child is a brat. And how much more important is God to us than a parent to a child?" Arinze, who was mentioned frequently as a possible pope in the months leading up to the election of Ratzinger from Germany, had written his doctoral thesis on 'Ibo Sacrifice as an Introduction to the Catechesis of Holy Mass.'

The Anglican bishops of Nigeria have taken the lead against their liberal colleagues in Great Britain and America: abortion & contraception, feminism & homosexuality not sounding entirely Biblical to them. Most well-known is Peter Akinola who retired last year as Anglican primate of the country. (Western progressives had too much at stake in the controversy to show any "preferential option for the poor" -- they shooed that hobby horse far out to pasture).

Lagos, on the coast, is the largest and wealthiest city; it served as the capital for most of the 20th century. In 1950, Lagos only had a quarter of a million people. The metro area today is well over 8 million. In 1991 the new inland city of Abuja became the capital. (The construction of Abuja was directed by a consortium of three American companies, including the Philadelphia urban design firm that had done the Inner Harbor of Baltimore).

In 2002 the Miss World contest was scheduled to be held in Abuja, but had to be moved to London after violence erupted between Muslims and Christians -- one of the causes was controversy over a native woman sentenced to stoning after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. More than a third of Nigeria's states have imposed sharia law.

Islam first came to the region in the 11th century.

The current trial of Maj. Hamza Al-Mustapha (right-hand man of dictator Sani Abacha who held office 1993-1998), after nearly 14 years in prison, demonstrates the tribal and religious undercurrents in the country. Abacha was from the Muslim Hausa north, but was much more a kleptocrat than a man of sharia. The Muslim sharia revival in the northern regional governments combines honest reform against such tryants as Abacha, with a murderous approach to indigenous Christians. This relationship of radical Islamists as an antidote to corruption is similar to the Palestinian Hamas "reformers" ousting the PLO kleptocratic "sons of Arafat." Al-Mustapha is accused of ordering a security agent to kill the wife of Moshood Abiola, the Muslim winner of the annulled 1993 presidential election. Mustapha has support in the north primarily because the Muslims there view his imprisonment as reprisal by a national government now led by a Christian.

Nigeria is one of the fastest-growing world economies, but plagued with much corruption. About half of the adults can read and write.

The Niger River (many crocodiles and hippos) is the third longest in Africa. Its main tributary is the Benue River. The two rivers are symbolized in the center of Nigeria's coat of arms:

Flooding has often been a problem in the Niger delta, the swampy area where vast oil reserves were discovered in the late 1950s. "Prior to the discovery of oil, Nigeria's wealth derived from agricultural products from the south, and minerals from the north [today mining is less than one percent of GDP]. The north, up until around 1965, had had low-level demands to secede from Nigeria and retain its wealth for northerners. These demands seemed to cease when it became clear that oil in the southeast would become a major revenue source."

Nigeria had strong Israeli support in the 1960s. From the middle of that decade until 2000, the country was ruled most of the time by military dictators.

Playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa (pictured), who led protests against the government for environmental damage in the Niger delta from the petroleum industry, was hastily tried by a military court in 1995 -- and was executed by hanging. The U.K. then expelled Nigeria from the Commonwealth for several years.

The army only has about 70,000 soldiers; service is voluntary.

Nigeria produces about 75 percent of the world's yams. Nigerian food uses many chili peppers (originally from South American traders) and cinnamon, pepper, and nutmeg (these came from India and other parts of Asia).

"Even as the archer loves the arrow that flies, so too he loves the bow that remains constant in his hands."  (Nigerian proverb)

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