27th September, 2010
Nigeria is about to mark 50 years of independence from Britain with lavish festivities,Â parades and banquets. But it will be a bittersweet celebration.
In this vast West African state of 150 million people, 1 October has long been designatedÂ a day for rejoicing.
Nigeria has survived civil war and more than 30 years of military rule to become aÂ democracy – with massive wealth to spend as the largest oil producer in Africa.
But after 50 years of independence, many Nigerians are questioning whether there isÂ really anything to celebrate.
Adebola Williams, a young television producer and co-ordinator for young peopleâ€™sÂ pressure group, Enough Is Enough, shared her misgivings.
â€œHow can you celebrate Nigeria at 50 when there is no constant supply of light? How canÂ you celebrate a nation where businesses are dying, and where people are suffering? ThereÂ is nothing to celebrate.â€
This viewpoint is shared by one of the countryâ€™s most distinguished novelists, ChinuaÂ Achebe, who believes Nigeria has squandered its resources.
â€œWe really ought to be talking about a different kind of nation. The resources are soÂ huge, and we are wasting it.â€
It is the same story right across this energetic, vibrant state.
People talk of wasted opportunities, of oil revenues squandered by a rich elite, and theÂ corruption that has held Nigeria back. And then there are complaints about bad roads andÂ the lack of reliable electricity supplies.
At an industrial estate just outside Lagos, I met George Onafowokan, the young managingÂ director of an all-Nigerian family firm, Coleman Wires and Cables.
The firm has invested $30 million (Â£19.1m) in a state-of-the-art factory that producesÂ the high-tech cables that Nigerian industry desperately needs.
The impressive site is the size of several football pitches and the factory floor isÂ covered with enormous copper and aluminium coils and machines that stretch wires toÂ exactly the right dimensions.
Chinese technicians were looking on to make sure that everything was running smoothly.Â And yet, when I visited, this vast plant came to a halt every few minutes because of yetÂ another power cut.
Mr Onafowokan said he had waited for months to be connected to the national grid, andÂ power is still not guaranteed.
Last year, he spent $400,000 (Â£254,407) on diesel for generators to keep the factoryÂ running and this year, he says, he will be spending twice as much.
â€œYou just canâ€™t think about it or else you would just be driving yourself silly.â€
Reuben Abati, chairman of the editorial board of Nigeriaâ€™s Guardian newspaper group, isÂ even more forthright.
â€œThe biggest problem that Nigeria has had in 50 years of independence is corruption.Â Close to about $40 billion (Â£25.4bn) has been stolen.
â€œCan you imagine what could have been achieved with that money, in a country where theÂ school system has collapsed, the roads are pot-holed and there is no regular electricity?
â€œThe biggest threat to entrepreneurship in Nigeria would seem to be power supply. So muchÂ money has been devoted to maintenance over the years – so what has happened to all thatÂ money?â€
There are complaints too about the collapse of commercial farming in a country that onceÂ used to export food but now spends $6 billion (Â£3.8bn) each year on food imports.
And in a country where teachers were among the many middle-class professionals who fledÂ during the years of military rule, there are serious concerns about the education system.
In Kwara State, in the west of the country, Governor and presidential hopeful BukolaÂ Saraki asked all current teachers to take a test that was designed for Primary 4 pupils,Â aged between eight and nine.
An example question: David left his sisterâ€™s place at 0730. It was a 40 minute walk, soÂ what time did he arrive?
Only seven out of 20,000 teachers passed the test. Governor Saraki was shocked by theÂ results.
â€œYou would be surprised. A lot of the teachers struggled to answer that kind ofÂ question.â€
Because of this, state school improvement teams are now at work in the classrooms,Â desperately trying to improve standards.
When I visited Lagos back in the 1990s, in the era of the military dictator General SaniÂ Abacha, I went to meet the late Fela Kuti, Nigeriaâ€™s legendary musician and politicalÂ activist, at his club The Shrine.
It has now been replaced by the far larger New Shrine, where Felaâ€™s son Seun continuesÂ his fatherâ€™s musical and political tradition.
â€œI do not think my father would be writing about the 50th anniversary. But I am sure heÂ would share my view. He would not be very optimistic.â€
Many Nigerians we met share his anger at the lack of development in their country overÂ the past 50 years, but are determined that there has to be change.
The last presidential elections, three years ago, were marked by ballot-rigging andÂ intimidation, but Nigeriaâ€™s new leader Goodluck Jonathan, insists that corruption must beÂ stopped.
Next yearâ€™s presidential elections will be crucial in showing whether all the talk ofÂ good governance has really made a difference and whether Nigeria is at last becoming aÂ successful superpower, 50 years on.
By Robin Denselow:BBC