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Bombs kill 8 on Nigeria's 50th anniversary

Terror bombings prompt Nigerians to ask 'What do we have to celebrate?'

Nigeria independence celebrations
Performers hold flares during a late night ceremony commemorating Nigeria's 50th independence anniversary in the capital Abuja September 30, 2010. (Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters)

BOSTON — The unprecedented terror bombing that killed eight people today in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on the country’s 50th anniversary of independence, has forced many to ask "what is there to celebrate?"

"There is nothing worth celebrating after 50 years of failure," said rebels of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), when they issued a warning that explosions would disrupt the capital's ceremonies. "For 50 years, the people of the Niger Delta have had their land and resources stolen from them."

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with 150 million people, and it is one of the continent’s biggest oil producers, with a total GDP of $173 billion and GDP per capita of $2,000.

The oil wealth is badly distributed. Most Nigerians are impoverished with a majority of people living on less than $1 per day, according to U.N. statistics. Nigeria’s roads, electricity and water systems are crumbling and insufficient. The business center, Lagos, is marked by crime and traffic jams, and the Niger Delta area remains impoverished and its environment badly damaged by the effects of the oil pumping.

The country is marked by considerable ethnic and religious strife. Hundreds die in bitter fighting between Christians and Muslims in northern Nigeria, around the city of Jos, almost every year.
Corruption is rampant, costing Nigerians about 40 percent of its oil wealth, according to surveys.
Throughout its 50 years of independence from Britain, Nigeria has suffered a devastating civil war and numerous military coups.

This array of problems has caused many Nigerians to become cynical and critical, yet not all have given up on the country’s democracy.

Wole Soyinka, the Nobel winning author, has written many searing satires of Nigeria’s politics. Yet Soyinka has not given up. Last week he launched a new political party, the Democratic Front for a People's Federation.

Soyinka, 76, with a striking white shock of hair, said he will not run as a candidate in the upcoming 2011 presidential election. Instead he will use the power of persuasion to influence the election that many worry will be tainted by political thuggery, violence and ballot-box stuffing.

He said his new party is "an experiment ... that directly challenges those who grumble that there is no platform, no springboard from which they can propose the political arena fresh and innovative ideas."

Nigeria has had a democracy for more than 10 years. Its 2011 election, scheduled to be held in January, likely will be moved back over concerns about having enough time to register an estimated 70 million voters. The National Assembly is considering postponing the election.