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Nigerian WomenBy Bim Adewunmi

**Nigeria is beset by poverty, corruption and violence – but a poll says it is the world’s most optimistic nation.

The arrivals hall at Murtala Mohammed international airport in Lagos has the kind of humidity that feels like a warm towel. The minute you shake that off, you notice the massive board that proudly welcomes you to Nigeria. Underneath the greeting, written in cheery, cursive script, is the tagline: “The happiest place in the world!”

When I last visited Nigeria, that poster made me laugh like a drain. But now a global survey has confirmed it: in a 53-country Gallup poll, Nigerians were rated at 70 points for optimism. By contrast, Britain scored a deeply pessimistic -44. Why so glum, Britain? And what in the world makes Nigerians so happy?

At first glance it’s hard to see: Nigeria is seen as place where corruption thrives. The newspapers are filled with sensational allegations of crooked officials, and mind-boggling hauls – the former CEO of Oceanic Bank, Cecilia Ibru, is said to be just one of the worst. Sectarian violence is steadily on the up, most recently with the Christmas Eve bombs in the northern city of Jos. Nor are Nigerians strangers to civil war and unrest, the most terrible being the three-year Biafran war. Then there is the grinding poverty.

To cap it all there are the advance-fee “419″ scams (named for a clause in the Nigerian criminal code) – all those “princes” seeking to clear their millions in your bank account – who have embarrassingly become one of Nigeria’s most famous exports.

But look harder and the optimism seems less misplaced. Nigeria has the third-largest economy in Africa – and it’s still growing. There’s the oft-repeated statistic that one in every 20 Africans is Nigerian. The UN estimates the population at 154,729,000 – astonishing for a nation about twice the size of California.

Nigeria has always punched above its weight artistically, too – from the music of Fela Kuti and Tony Allen, to the literary works of Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi and Ola Rotimi – as well as Nobel prize winner Wole Soyinka. Nok, Yoruba and Benin art is celebrated worldwide for its intricacy and beautye. And there is the crude oil making the country the 12th largest petroleum producer in the world.

I’m British by birth, but got dual nationality in 2009, having lived with my Nigerian parents in the country for a large chunk of the 1990s. I had a comfortable life, and could avoid the abject poverty, crime, social inequality and the legacy of political instability. It seems natural to conclude that all these factors would put a damper on Nigerian cheerfulness. Instead, the optimism is an almost tangible thing, the joie de vivre obvious.

Daily life is hardly one glorious Technicolor dance sequence, but I have never lived in such a happy place – and I once lived in hippyville California. I can’t give a definite answer, but I think the joy comes from seeing and living through the worst that life can offer; it is an optimism born of hope. Nigeria is a nation of Del Boy Trotters (“this time next year, we’ll be millionaires!”) – while the rest of the world believes they’ve got a book in them, most Nigerians believe they’ve got a million quid in them, too.

There’s a spirit of entrepreneurship – people seem bewildered if you admit a lack of ambition. Nigerians want to go places and believe – rightly or wrongly – that they can. That drive and ambition fuels their optimism; they’re working towards happiness, so they’re happy.

I am living proof of this: in the years I lived and learned in Lagos, I saw some pretty awful stuff – the state-sanctioned execution of freedom fighter and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, the military rule of the IBB era, the annulment of the democratic 12 June elections to name but a few – and managed to come out the other side laughing.

And why shouldn’t we laugh? We are firm believers in the New Labour theme tune: things can only get better. There’s a Yoruba saying that my father often uses: “Jimoh to ma l’oyin, Alamisi le yan ma ti mo.” It translates roughly as: “If a Friday is to be sweet, you’ll know by Thursday.” It might not seem like Nigerians have much to be happy about, but perhaps they’ve already seen what Friday holds, and what they see makes them rejoice.

Bim Adewunmi is a freelance journalist and blogger, specialising in popuar culture, feminism and race.


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    2 Responses to “Nigeria: The happiest place on earth”

    1. I am overjoyed to have read this.
      I believe that evolution goes at it’s own pace.
      Nigeria is getting into it’s own and there’s only 1 way to go now and that’s ”To the top”.
      I am proud to be Nigerian, and all around me can testify that I am one of the happiest persons they know.
      So yes I think I know what Friday looks like!!!

    2. Sheyipaul February 1, 2011

      Yes we are happy and ever hopeful. Why not? We’re hopeful for the hand in glove team too. This is the real “Audacity of Hope” in display. Buhari returning after 2 painful defeats.
      In the history of elections in this country we’ve never seen a more formidable, intelligent and incorrigible team. VOTE BUHARI-BAKARE! Stay happy and let our hopes turn to reality for us.