By Fr, James O'Connell, University College, lbadan
WITH a population of 35 million Nigeria is V v the African giant. When, tomorrow (Saturday) the country attains formal independence, the balance of power in Africa will have altered beyond recognition.
Nigerians, bent on making their contribution to Africa and to the world, realise however that they are going to contribute effectively in proportion to how successfully they deal with their own internal problems.
Since the breakdown in the Congo, people in Europe and America have constantly asked visitors from Nigeria if independence isn't going to bring trouble. But there is no comparison between these two parts of Africa.
Independence was suddenly thrust upon the Congolese who were both mentally and technically unprepared for it. Nigerians have moved gently towards independence.
The first big step was the Richards Constitution of 1946. Various other constitutional advances followed. In real fact, Nigerians have now been exercising full control over their internal affairs for several years.
October 1 means essentially that Nigeria receives international recognition and takes full charge of her foreign policy and representation.
Many different people go to make up Nigeria. In order to respect the ethnic differences within the country a federal constitution has been evolved.
There are three regions—East, North and West—and a federal capital at Lagos.
The lasgely Muslim North, economically more backward than the South (East and West) had, early on, been the brake on the movement towards independence. Whereas, at one time, it looked as if the North might try to secede from the Federation, that stage has passed and the Northern People's Congress is now the dothinant party in the coalition government that is seeing independence in.
Allied with the N.P.C. is the National Congress of Nigeria and the Cameroons which contains a great number of the young radicals who opt for socialist solutions. The present opposition. the Action Group, is led by Chief Awolowo. Its teamwork and efficiency serve to keep the coalition government on its toes.
What sets Nigeria apart from most other under .developed countries is the passion that the people have to better themselves. There is no apathy; they are not willing to remain content with a subsistence lot.
This desire to push ahead finds its strongest expression in educational advance. Two of the three regions spend more than 40 per cent of their budgets on education. Already there are 2,700,000 children in primary schools and about 30.000 students in teacher training centres.
Between those attending university centres at home (Ibadan and Nsukka) and those abroad nearly 2,000 Nigerians are at the present moment receiving a university formation. They will swell the ranks of hundreds of graduates that are already at work in the country.
All this development keeps the country aware of the progress that can be made in the modern world; it makes possible a properly staffed public administration; and it is helping to lay a sound basis for the industrialisation of thc country.
The Church has come a long way since French missionaries arrived in Lagos in the 1860s. A solid parish structure exists now in most parts of the country—though many of the parishes are bigger than whole dioceses in other lands.
The Church has constantly fostered the educational opening up of the country and there are about 900,000 children in Catholic primary schools.
Catholicism has taken root especially in the East where certain areas are almost entirely Catholic. Of the more than two million Catholics about a million and a half are to be found in the East.
Catholicism fits in deeply with the way that Nigerian peoples understand religion—a community that has sacrifice and that holds sacraments that manifest visibly the power and the presence of God.
Moreover, the Church presents claims that are backed both by an appeal to God's intervention in history and by philosophical rationalisation. Such intellectual justification means a lot to an argumentative and highly critical people like the Nigerians.
Although .Catholicism is gaining ground rapidly and many of the men eminent in public life are Catholics, difficulties are not altogether absent. There is the obvious fact that it takes times for a people to become Christian in their innermost feelings and instincts.
There is also a growing problem of agnosticism among young graduates and technicians. Though
the traditional and somewhat paternalist missionary approach is valid still in certain areas, it does not succeed at all in certain sophisticated areas and circles where drastic revisions of approach have to be carried through.
The great weakness of the Church is the small number of Nigerian vocations. Of the 700 priests who work in the country only 50 are Nigerian born. If the Church is to be solidly built, we must have many more Nigerian vocations.
Fortunately, there has been lately a big increase in the numbers entering the seminaries, and so arrimportant corner has at last been turned. At present nothing prevents the Church expanding at a tremendous pace in many areas except a shortage of priests. Seldom has it been so true that the harvest is great and the workers few.
If there are problems that confront the Church, there are also problems ahead for the whole country. They centre mainly around unity and socio-economic progress. The unity of the country still remains to be consolidated. The constitution will be put to more than one test in the near future as the effective distribution of power between the Federal Centre and the Regions is hammered out in practice.
Socio-economic problems are going to spring from Nigeria's very success up to the present. Nigerian economy is expanding all the time, but it is haidly expanding fast enough to absorb the hundreds of thousands of primary school leavers who are due to appear on the labour market. Schooling tends to uproot them from the land and to send them looking for clerical and other salary-paid work in the towns.
The unemployment situation may become critical. Moreover, discontent among the unemployed may ally itself with discontent among other sections of the proletariat, especially the clerical.
Nigeria will have a desperate race against time to create employment, raise the general standard of living and get rid of growing inequalities before discontent can tempt people to authoritatian short-cuts.
Fortunately, Nigerian political leaders are aware of the situation and they know that their own political future depends on coping with it. Other factors also suggest that Nigeria. in spite of difficulties, will succeed in making a way ahead without authoritarianism or turmoil.
The temper of the people is, on the whole, against totalitarian tactics. The administration functions with genuine efficiency. Money is being spent on agricultural research and extension work. Solicitous propaganda and tax reliefs are being used to induce foreign and home investors to put money into new industries.
Some excellent Government White Papers and five year plans bear witness to the thought that is going on and to the achievements that are being made. And the more advanced countries will surely see that it is in their own interests to help Nigeria in much the same way as it has been in their interest to help India.
It is impossible to predict at this stage what Nigeria's future and influence is going to be like. But there arc many reasons for optimism. Nigeria, tharks to the bounding energies of its peoples, may well offer the superb spectacle of a country making tremendous strides unoer humane and democratic governmeuts. And Nigerian pragmatic commonsense may also play a big part in world counsels, especially in dealing with the problem of Africa south of the Sahara.