By Jean Noël Mugabo 

On October 1, the Nigerian community of Maine joined hands with other members of the Nigerian diaspora around the world to commemorate 62 years of independence of their home country from the United Kingdom. They prayed, shared food and drink, and renewed their vows to help build a better future for their motherland. The Nigerian Independence Day Celebration was organized by the Nigerians in Maine Community, a group of more than 120 Mainers of Nigerian descent, in collaboration with Oga Suya, a Nigerian catering company based in Portland that hosts popup events and parties. 

“This is the very first time we are celebrating Nigerian Independence Day here in the state of Maine,” said Isaac Oyinlade of the organizing team. “That is because Nigerians are not so many here…all other states in the country celebrate this big day with a party. This means that we are growing in the state of Maine.” 

Three friends enjoying delicious Nigerian food.

Emmanuel Juwah of Auburn, who works in a bank as an assistant branch manager, said that despite what might be happening in their home country, the celebration was a time to enjoy life, and have fun together as Nigerians. 

He said it was also a time to renew faith that things will eventually work out well in Nigeria: “All over the world, Nigerians are celebrating this day…back in Nigeria there is a lot of corruption going on, there is a lot of drama, and government issues, and all of that. But despite all that is going on, we just want to be happy, and make sure wherever we are there is life, and we are happy and alive – happy to represent ourselves as Nigerians – and that is really what [this] is all about!” 

Participants gathered in a hall decorated in green and white, the colors of the national flag of Nigeria. Children wore T-shirts that read “Born in America Roots in Nigeria.” 

“We always make sure that children keep the African culture and behavior. For instance, my 6-year-old daughter and my 4-year-old son are always like,‘We want to go and visit,’ and I am like, ‘Yes, that really would be a good thing, but right now we just have to relax and hold on a little bit until all the corruption goes down,’” said Juwah. 

Oga Suya provided Nigerian food for the evening. Dishes included jollof rice, fried rice, pepper turkey, chicken suya, and puff puff. A professional DJ played dance music. And there was lots of dancing – children’s dances, adult dances, couples dances. Raffle drawings added still more excitement to the evening, and Nigerian rapper Gazzy, who lives in Maine, also entertained celebrants. 

Problems and prayers 

Nigeria is the most populous Black country and the sixth most populous country in the world, and has been independent since 1962. However, according to Oyinlade, “It is not where it should be today, because of various factors – most importantly the lack of a strong leadership system that has led to mismanagement and multiple downfalls.” 

Some people blame the country’s problems on the great diversity of the population, Oyinlade said. But he doesn’t think that’s the real problem: “There are over 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria, and over 500 languages. People…[say] that because we don’t speak the same language…don’t practice the same religion, that is why there are problems. I don’t think like that personally. I think that the problem is human nature. I believe that when there is someone who is very good, and has true intention for the nation, and can connect with the people – that is when the change is going to come.” 

Emmanuel and Patience Juwah

Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, and is considered an emerging economy. However, it is also one of the most corrupt nations in the world, according to the Human Development Index. Nonetheless, Oyinlade has hopes for a brighter future based on human capacity. Speaking of the international stage, he said, “Nigerians are the most educated immigrant community in America. The person who designed the Chevy Volt is a Nigerian. We have the people power and everything that it takes to go beyond where we are.” 

Dr. Ayo Adeniran, who led prayers for Nigeria during the celebration, talked about the country’s systemic problems. But as a Christian, he believes that soon things will turn around, and a new chapter will be opened in the book of his motherland. He recalled the prophecy of an English missionary in 1930, who prophesized about a dark period to come, but also envisioned the rise of a new, sunnier day for Nigeria. 

“Sydney Granville Elton came to Nigeria and said that Nigeria would be known for corruption worldwide, but the tide would turn, and Nigeria would also be known for righteousness worldwide,” Adeniran intoned in his prayer. “I believe that the second part of his prophecy is unfolding. Let’s pray that God will give us wisdom to choose the right leadership for Nigeria.”  

In early 2023, Nigeria will hold major elections; on October 1, the prayer of Independence Day diaspora celebrants in Portland – and worldwide – was that the elections will bring new leadership to the top positions of Africa’s biggest economy. Presidential elections are scheduled for February 25, and elections for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are planned for March 11. 

Corruption and insecurity 

According to Transparency International, a corruption perception index, Nigeria ranked 154 out of 180 countries in 2021. “A country’s score is the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0-100, where 0 means highly corrupt and 100 means very clean,” according to the website. Nigeria’s score has been declining for a long time – in 2016 Nigeria scored 28 out of 100; in 2017 and 2018 it scored 27; in 2019, 26; and in 2022, 25. 

In addition to corruption, high inflation rates, a lack of jobs, and a long history of violence have left many people frustrated with politics in Nigeria and fearful for their safety. In July, a prison break in Kuje, 40 kilometers from Abuja, the capital city, was executed by militia forces. They liberated approximately 900 inmates, including 60 people suspected of being with Boko Haram. The militia has threatened further action. 

Boko Haram, an Islamist insurgency group, has been working to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria for over a decade. Members hope to overthrow the current Nigerian government and replace it with a regime based on Islamic law. “Boko Haram,” means “Western education is forbidden.” The word “boko” is a relic of the colonizers’ word for book. The group has existed in various forms since the late 1990s, and operates in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Boko Haram’s methods include murder and kidnapping; its 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Borno State earned international condemnation.  

The gradual worsening of the security situation is what is preoccupying the Nigerian diaspora. Their hopes focus on the upcoming general elections. The current leaders of the country are term-limited and cannot run for a third term. 

In early 2023, Nigeria will hold major elections; on October 1, the prayer of Independence Day diaspora celebrants in Portland – and worldwide – was that the elections will bring new leadership to the top positions of Africa’s biggest economy. Presidential elections are scheduled for February 25, and elections for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are planned for March 11. 

One of two major candidates are favored to win the presidency. These are former vice president Atiku Abubakar, nominated by the People’s Democratic Party, and Bola Tinabu, former governor of Lagos State, the candidate for All Progressives Congress. Other candidates include Rabiu Kwankwaso, former governor of Kano State; Rabiu Kwankwaso; Christopher Imumelen; Omoyele Sowore; and Dumebi Kachikwu. 

Hope persists 

Emmanuel Fakorede, a registered nurse who works as a part-time photographer, said that feelings run high on Independence Day of his country: “It is a mix of feelings. Nigeria has gone through a lot. While we are happy about the independence, we are not where we used to be, and we are not exactly where we want to be either. Nigeria is a work in progress….” 

Fakorede has faith in the people of Nigeria. “While the bad eggs tarnish the name of the country…we also have good people that are setting the country in a good light.”