By H.E. Dr Eniola Ajayi, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
It is pretty well known that Nigeria is a country located in West Africa, with a population of about 211 million according to Worldometer 2021 estimates. The fact that Nigeria occupies a land space of 923,769 kilometres, and comprises 36 federating states and a Federal Capital Territory is also in the public domain. Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa and the largest oil exporter in Sub-Saharan Africa. Thankfully, Nigeria is currently committed to active diversification into the non-oil sectors. We have recorded serious growth in the Agriculture and Telecommunications sectors in recent years.
However, there are some interesting things about Nigeria that foreigners may not be familiar with. Some of those heart-warming nuggets are as follows:
Nigeria is one of the most ethnically diverse nations in the world with over 250 ethnic nationalities who speak over 500 distinct languages. Little wonder that the official language of our truly heterogeneous nation is English language. The other version of which is our pidgin English. We are so ethnically diverse, even in our culinary, the type of clothes we wear and the festivals we celebrate. Being different from one another is an acceptable position within our culture.
On the whole, ours is a very warm and accommodating society. I am yet to meet a diplomat who didn’t have a memorable tour of duty in Nigeria. This is not surprising, considering the UK Gallup polls of 53 countries which places Nigerians as the most optimistic group of people. The New Scientist Magazine (UK) also rates Nigerians as the happiest people on earth. This is particularly noteworthy when you see how Nigerians find humour in everything in spite of our challenges. We always find a reason to laugh.
On a serious note, there is so much that God has endowed Nigeria with. You will be surprised to find out that there is no single state in Nigeria without a mineral deposit. Many of these mineral deposits are in commercial quantities. This is in addition to the oil and gas resources of the country. If you like, Nigeria is a reservoir of mineral deposits waiting to be mined. Our current priority minerals are: Coal, Bitumen, Limestone, Iron Ore, Barytes, Gold, Lead and Zinc.
Nigeria is home to the largest earthworks carried out prior to the mechanical Era. Remnants of this can still be found in the Benin City moat.
Nigeria is also known for the Nok culture, an early iron age society, famous for the distinctive terracotta sculptures of human heads and figures.
Nigeria can claim Africa’s largest and oldest textiles dye pits in Kofar Mata, Kano state. It was founded in 1498. It was the mainstay of the local economy at a point.
The city of Kano is also the largest commercial hub for the leather industry. In 1851, it made about 10 million pairs of sandals. The Kano tanneries process hides and skins into leather and are the oldest and biggest suppliers of local leather. Leather here is produced into footwear, bags, and clothing which are sometimes exported. Some of the biggest fashion brands like Louis Vuitton are known to source some of their leather requirements from Kano tanneries.
“Nollywood”, the Nigerian film industry is the second largest in the world. It produces 1000-2000 films a year, earning approximately $250 million annually. Some Nigerian films have made it to NETFLIX.
Nigeria boasts of the ‘Twins Capital’ of the world. Igbo-Ora, a small town in Oyo State, southwest Nigeria, has the largest concentration of twins with 158 twin births in 1000. The global average is 12 in 1000. The phenomenon is attributed to a diet of yam and okro. However, the jury is still out as to the exact reason.
Nigeria is haven to many wonders of nature with diverse species of animals, plants and scenic topography. The forests of Niger-Delta and Cross River state, in particular, are some of the most important biospheres housing one of the largest concentration of butterflies in the world, about 1828 species strong. It is home to over 1000 species of amphibians and birds. The Niger-Delta has the most monotypic fish family in the world.
Another Nigerian natural wonder is the Ikogosi Warm Spring in Ekiti State, south west Nigeria. It is a natural spring with hot and cold water flowing side by side even at their meeting point.
Nigeria takes pride in the accomplishments of her citizens. Professor Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian playwright and political activist received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. He was the first black African to be so honoured. Dele Olojede, has won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism. Other Nigerian international award-winning authors are: Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie to name a few. In the medical field, Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye, the Nigerian Fetal and Paediatric surgeon operated a baby-in-vitro at a Texas Children’s Hospital in 2016.
Some award winning musicians of Nigerian descent include Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who started the Afro-beat; Burna Boy; Wiz-Kid; Tiwa Savage; Davido; Sade Adu and Tuface Idibia (2Baba) of the African Queen fame.
Undoubtedly, several Nigerians are excelling academically both on the national and international stage. The numbers are quite impressive for any nation. Arguably, Nigerians are the most educated minority group in the United States of America. A Nigerian, Engineer Róbert Sylvester Okojie is the fourth black man to be inducted into the US NASA’s Inventors Hall of fame for a total of 22 products that have been patented.
Nigeria has contributed significantly to world peace, serving in many UN Peace Keeping Operations (PKOs) and the United Nations Security Council five times. Many Nigerians are serving globally in UN Convention Bodies and multilateral organizations. Examples include H.E. Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations; Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General, World Trade Organization; Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, President, Africa Development Bank; Mr Mohammed Barkindo, Secretary General OPEC; Ambassador Bankole Adeoye, Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, African Union Commission; Mrs Ugochi Florence Daniels; Deputy Director General (Operations) IOM; Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji, the immediate past President of ICC; and Ambassador Tijjani Mohammed-Bande, former President of the United Nations General Assembly and current Chairman, UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C34).
Nigerians are well noted for their prowess in sports, especially football, boxing and basketball. Anthony Joshua, the reigning IBF, WBA and WBO boxing champion hails from Nigeria. Israel Adesanya and Kamaru Usman, the current UFC middleweight and welterweight champions respectively are Nigerians. We even dared to compete in bobsled, a team winter sport, at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Essentially, the Nigerian citizen tells the story of dynamism, courage, resilience, strength and the ability to reinvent over and over again. We smile through our trials and adversities knowing that Nigeria will be greater still, because it has all the seeds of greatness waiting to bloom, inevitably. We are friendly and hospitable, and that is probably why I love the Netherlands so much. The Dutch people also have the culture of making people feel welcome. I look forward to serving my country as the Ambassador to The Kingdom of the Netherlands and Permanent Representative to the OPCW.