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Published: Monday, 10/4/2010

Nigeria's milestone

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its independence from the United Kingdom. The problems it faces remain formidable.

The country is twice the size of California. Its sheer size presents big challenges to developing a national infrastructure. Nigeria's people problems are just as daunting. English is Nigeria's official language. However, millions of Nigerians speak other languages, which presents problems in education and communication.

The country is divided between Muslims and Christians. The Christians have many sects, as well as a Catholic-Protestant division inherited from foreign missionaries.

Nigeria's military enjoys a privileged position in laying its hands on the country's wealth and resources, an important factor in governance and politics. When President Goodluck Jonathan, a civilian, presided at 50th-anniversary celebrations in Nigeria's capital, he was surrounded by military officers.

Nigeria has endured a savage civil war, which began only seven years after its independence. The victorious federal government was wise not to seek vengeance on the defeated, secessionist region that called itself Biafra.

The next challenge Nigeria faces is a presidential election in January. Leaders of the county's diverse elements will compete for the post. Elections in Nigeria can get messy and violent.

However, Americans ought to be sympathetic as Nigerians strive to preserve the unity of their country — perhaps their greatest achievement in a half-century of independence.

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