Nigerians are adored in most countries of the world. Our culture, our intelligence, and our traditions are concepts people love to emulate. Our personalities most of all are quite intriguing and whenever we have opportunities, we stand out and perform excellently. It is easy to be proud of being called a Nigerian because, despite the challenges we face, we still rise and soar like eagles. As a result, there are always stories to tell about being a Nigerian and growing up as one.
Growing up in any country in the world is almost the same. It is quite challenging, it has its pros and cons, similar experiences of people, both the young and old, the rich and poor, the elites and the masses, etc. Growing up as a Nigerian, however, is a medley of many events that can be remembered, some worthy, some satirical. Growing up as a Nigerian is a thing to be proud of because we are strong people, resilient people who do not give up in the face of hardship. As a result, to commemorate Nigeria at 63, we have decided to come up with 63 memorable events that happened while growing up.
Memorable events that are remarkable, important and worthy to be remembered. These events mentioned are not limited to only the aged. They span across all peer groups—children, youths, adults, etc. This article, written in no particular order, seeks to help Nigerians reminisce on these moments which they experienced while growing up. They are divided into the following groups: Historical Events, Childhood Games, Family Upbringing and General Life. Enjoy as you read.
- The Biafran War: This was a war between the Easterners and the Northerners which started in January 1966. A lot of havoc was done and there was a mass massacre of the Igbos living in the north. Prominent people of the north were also killed, among them was Sir Ahmadu Bello, a revered leader in the north. These gory counter effects of the war sparked the decision to secede, spearheaded by Ojukwu, who was then the military governor of the Eastern Region.
- The Introduction of NYSC: The National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) was introduced in May 1973 to foster national unity and cohesion as part of the reconstruction, rehabilitation, and reconciliation efforts by the General Yakubu Gowon regime. University graduates, later joined by graduates from polytechnics, are posted to different parts of the country other than their places of birth.
- Twenty Naira Note: In 1977, following the assassination of General Murtala Ramat Muhammed (1938-1976), the twenty naira (N20) note was issued as the highest denomination and the first currency to bear the portrait of a Nigerian citizen, the late Head of State. The note was issued on the 1st anniversary of Gen. Muhammed’s assassination as a tribute. All the other currencies remained the same.
- Old and New National Anthem: The change of the national anthem of Nigeria is one of the events experienced by our parents and grandparents. The former or old national anthem of Nigeria was titled “Nigeria, We Hail Thee” and was composed by Lillian Jean Williams, a British expatriate who then lived in Nigeria. The new national anthem of Nigeria is called “Arise, O Compatriots.” The lyrics were written by John A. Ilechukwu, Eme Etim Akpan, B. A. Ogunnaike, Sota Omoigui and P. O. Aderibigbe. Its music was created by the Nigerian Police Band, directed by B. E. Odiasse and the song was adopted in 1978.
- Ghana Must Go: In January 1983, the government expelled more than one million foreigners, mostly Ghanaians, saying they had overstayed their visas and taken jobs from Nigerians. On the comic side, a particular type of bag was named after this expulsion: “Ghana must go.”
- Nigeria’s U-17 Team: The Nigeria national U-17 football team known as the Golden Eaglets, is the youngest team that represents Nigeria in football. The team is the most successful in international football for their age group, winning a record five FIFA U-17 World Cup titles. The team won the maiden edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 1985 hosted by China, 1993, 2007, 2013, and 2015 (becoming only the second team since Brazil to win it back-to-back); making them the first team ever to win the junior world cup five times.
- The August 1985 Palace Coup: On August 27, 1985, a palace coup was carried out by former Head of State, Major General Ibrahim Babangida, who was the Chief of Army Staff and who overthrew the government of Major General Muhammadu Buhari after a successful coup. However, Buhari was arrested and detained for three years until 1988. It was this agony and sorrow that led to the death of the mother of the Former Head of State and recently past President, Buhari, while trying to save her son from prison.
- Africa’s First Nobel Laureate: In 1986 Wole Soyinka was the first black African playwright to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He is known to be a man of many words and prolific in his work. He is highly respected in the country and internationally. Some of his works are “Abiku,” “Telephone Conversation,” “The Lion and the Jewel,” etc.
- The Miracle of Dammam: Also known as “The Dammam Miracle” was the name given to the result of a quarter-final football match between the Nigeria U-20 football team and the USSR U-20 football team at the 1989 FIFA World Youth Championship in Saudi Arabia which the Nigerian U-20 team went on to win on penalties. The match created a football record as Nigeria became the first team to come back from four goals down to equalise and then go on to win a FIFA World Cup match at any level.
- Samuel Okwaraji’s Death: On August 12, 1989, a remarkable and renowned player for Nigeria’s football team suddenly slumped and was pronounced dead. The cause of his death was said to be high blood pressure and an enlarged heart. This led to an ironic win for Nigeria as the match ended with a score of 1-0, Nigeria leading. On August 12, 2009, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State dedicated a concrete bust of his figure in the Rededicated Memorial Garden in his honour, in front of the same stadium where he died.
- Relocation of the Federal Capital to Abuja: The seat of power was moved from Lagos to Abuja in December 1990 by the regime of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. This was a sequel to the promulgation of Decree No. 6 on February 4, 1976, which initiated the removal of the Federal Capital from Lagos to Abuja.
- Fifty Naira Note: In October 1991, the fifty naira (N50) note was introduced as the highest denomination and the one naira (N1) and fifty kobo (50k) were withdrawn and coined. A completely new coin range was issued as part of a major reform of the nation’s currency structure. The coins were in the following denominations. One naira (N1), fifty kobo (50k), twenty-five kobo (25k), ten kobo (10k) and one kobo (1k). Half kobo and five kobo were withdrawn in this same year.
- The 1993 Presidential Poll: The 1993 presidential poll was adjudged the freest and the fairest in the history of elections in Nigeria. There was celebration and excitement in the air as Chief MKO Abiola won the elections. Unfortunately, the election was annulled by the then-military government led by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida when the results had already indicated an overwhelming victory for Chief MKO Abiola of the SDP.
- First Olympic Gold Medal: Nigeria won her first Olympic gold medal on August 3, 1996. This medal was clinched in football where Nigeria ousted Brazil with a score of 4-3. Prominent players like Cristiano Ronaldo were said to be in that match. This event helped Nigeria become a pacesetter in the continent.
- First Female Olympic Gold Winner: One of Nigeria’s proudest moments was when footballer turned athlete cum police officer, Chioma Ajunwa, became the first Nigerian to win a gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and the first black African woman to win an Olympic gold medal in a field event. This took place on August 2, 1996.
- Abacha Dictatorship: Nigeria was ruled by the military government for some years after independence and one of the military governors was Sanni Abacha. He was seen as a ruthless dictator who looted and embezzled the country’s funds and also infringed on the rights of citizens of their freedom of speech. There was relief when the government returned to civilian rule in 1999.
- Nigeria’s First Satellite: On September 27, 2003, Nigeria’s first satellite, NigeriaSat-1, went into space.
- Payment of Debts: In April 2006, with record oil prices, Nigeria became the first African nation to pay off its debt to the Paris Club of rich lenders.
- The Menace of Boko Haram: A militant group referred to as Boko Haram was led by Abubakar Shekau in 2009 and has been known for its brutality. Since the insurgency started in 2009, Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands of people in frequent attacks against the police, armed forces and civilians. It resulted in the deaths of more than 300,000 children and displaced 2.3 million from their homes. Boko Haram contributed to regional food crises and famines. Their leader was killed and many of them were arrested. Rumour still has it that sub-groups are still operating but the government is still on their toes about this insurgency.
- Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: She became the first woman and first African to lead the World Trade Organisation as Director-General. She is an exemplary woman who served as the Minister of Finance from 2011 to 2015. She was also the Minister for Foreign Affairs in 2006. She has received many awards as a result of her influence worldwide.
- 9,999 Christmas Carol Singers: In 2014, Akwa Ibom State made a global record when it featured 9,999 members of the choir for their annual Christmas Carol. This record was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the “Largest Assembly of Carol Singers on the Face of the Earth.”
- Chibok Girls Abduction: In April 2014, 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from a government secondary school in Chibok, a town in Borno State. This abduction shook the whole country as extra security measures were implemented concerning transportation and school matters. Soldiers were deployed to fight the menace and rescue the girls but locations kept changing. Some of the girls eventually escaped captivity on their own, while others were later released following intense campaigning efforts by civil society organisations and negotiations by the government.
- The Ebola Pandemic: The Ebola Pandemic entered Nigeria on July 20, 2014, by an acutely ill traveller from Liberia. There were twenty confirmed cases of the viral disease, eight of them died while twelve were nursed back into full health. The doctor who treated the ill traveller, Dr Ameyo Stella Adadevoh, was one of the people who died of the disease. The pandemic did not last as Nigeria was declared free from Ebola by WHO on October 20, 2014.
- The Death of Dora Akunyili: Dora Akunyili was the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC) from 2001 to 2008. She was known to be a ruthless woman who took no form of bribery whatsoever and did not participate in corrupt practices. She fought for justice and did whatever she could to make sure offenders did not go scot-free. She died in 2014 in India after battling with uterine cancer for two years. Her death shook the whole country.
- Change of Democracy Day: Eight days after May 29, 2018, had been celebrated as Democracy Day, the President Buhari-led Federal Government of Nigeria declared June 12 to be the new Democracy Day. This took place on the 6th of June, 2018. The change was to honour the late MKO Abiola who won the 1999 election free and fair.
- First Female Fighter Pilot: In 2019, at just 22 years old, Kafayat Sanni became the first female fighter pilot in the 55-year history of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF). She is also the first woman to go through regular combat training at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) to be winged for a fixed-wing fighter aircraft.
- The End SARS Protest: On October 20, 2020, there was a mass protest of the youths against the wickedness and brutality of a section of the Police Force: the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). This section was known to accuse people wrongly, harass working youths and arrest innocent people. The protest sadly came to an end when the peaceful protesters were shot at, some to their deaths, by officers in military uniforms. Thousands of innocent lives were lost that day.
- The COVID-19 Pandemic and Lockdown: This was a pandemic that shook the whole world. It was caused by a coronavirus that was known to be highly contagious. The first confirmed case in Nigeria was on 27 February 2020. This caused entire nations to be locked down as countries had to curb the menace immediately as it was spreading like wildfire. Schools, churches, markets, and other public institutions were closed down, patients were put in quarantine, and citizens were admonished to not come out of their houses. There were over 255,000 confirmed cases in Nigeria and deaths of about 3,155. The lockdown ended in October 2022 and the economy had to be reopened to avoid a meltdown. Precious lives were lost in this worldwide health battle.
- First World Record Holder in Athletics: On July 24, 2022, Nigerians awoke to the ground-breaking news of Tobi Amusan becoming Nigeria’s first World Record (WR) holder and outdoor champion in athletics history. This life-changing moment took place at the 18th World Championships in Oregon, where she rose from being a medal challenger to superseding the world’s best in the women’s 100m Hurdles event.
- Record-shattering Flood: In 2022, there was recorded a massive flood which was caused by the release of excess water from external forces such as the Lagdo dam in neighbouring Cameroon. The devastating floods destroyed hundreds of villages and urban centres including farm fields in nearly all parts of Nigeria. It is the harshest spinoff of climate change Nigeria has witnessed since the 2012 disaster. A lot of lives were lost and displaced. The disaster affected 2.5 million and close to 2,500 people got injured.
- Naira Redesign: Towards the year 2022, new designs of the naira currency were launched by the Central Bank of Nigeria. It was said that this was to have control of the currency in circulation, manage inflation, as well as tackle counterfeiting. The redesigned N200, N500, and N1,000 were already in circulation and by January 31, 2023, the old notes were expected to be out of circulation. However, this plan did not go well as the new notes were not circulated as much as it was talked about. This caused citizens to have transaction issues as they had deposited their old notes and were waiting for the new notes to be in circulation. Also, those who got hold of the new notes hoarded them as they could not speak of the next time they’ll hold them. The deadline was thereby shifted to December 31, 2023.
- Commonwealth Games: In August 2022, in the women’s 4x100m relay race, the Nigerian quartet team featuring Tobi Amusan, Favour Ofili, Rosemary Chukwuma and Grace Nwokocha made history by becoming the African first women’s relay team to win Commonwealth Games gold.
- Cook-a-thon’s Record broken: On May 15, 2023, Nigerian chef, Hilda Baci, set a new world record for the longest cooking marathon time in the world. She set out to cook for 100 hours, though not initially, to break the previous record holder, Lata Tondon of India who cooked for 87 hours and 45 minutes. Hilda, known as the Nigerian Jollof Queen, cooked for 100 hours but officially, it was recorded at 93 hours and 11 minutes because of some miscalculations in her timing. The whole country celebrated her and wished her well.
- The Abuja-Kaduna Train Attack: On March 28, 2023, the railway which has always been a safer alternative to the road route between Abuja and Kaduna became one of the most dangerous in Nigeria because of kidnappings by armed bandits. That day, heavily armed men believed to be terrorists set off explosives to derail an Abuja-Kaduna train carrying 362 passengers. Shots then came from all directions as the attackers surrounded the train and at least eight people died in the attack while about 100 were kidnapped. It was a sad day for Nigerians as people lost their family members. The hostages were released in batches following negotiations with their captors, who were believed to have collected huge ransoms from their families.
- The Removal of Fuel Subsidy: Fuel subsidy was removed first in 2011 and finally in 2023. This has caused an exponential increase in the pump price of fuel resulting in a hike in the cost of transport fare and market commodities. The reason for the removal is to curb the corruption that goes on in the oil sector but sadly, the masses suffer a lot as a result of this decision.
- Independence Day Celebration: Nigeria’s independence is on October 1 every year and on this day, students are taken to the National Stadium to perform, in honour of the celebrations. There is usually a march past which students are eager to be part of. There are games and refreshments. A speech is also given by the President and other members of the presidential cabinet. This is done in every state, though not compulsorily but children get to experience this great event every Independence Day.
Family and Upbringing
- Family Visitations: Family visitations, especially from extended families, were events that people looked forward to because of the reunion of families that took place. Cousins reconnect, in-laws reunite and whatever severed bond that might have existed at the beginning was mended at the end. Of course, these visitations were not void of fights but were always settled before the visits ended. These visits were looked forward to also because of the gifts that accompany them and the joy that emanates from the reconnections and reunions.
- Family Farming: This is most common in rural areas where there are farmlands suitable for subsistence farming. Usually, during farming seasons, families go out to cultivate yams, cassavas, pepper, groundnut, corn, etc. and they bond over these activities. They sing, treat injury when there is one, and rejuvenate when needed.
- Sunday Outings: For many families, Sundays are usually known for outings because those are the days most parents are less busy for leisure activities. These outings usually take place after Sunday services in churches and with their beautiful clothes, families go out to restaurants or the parks to have fun.
- Sunday Rice: Whether there are outings or not, it is like a written rule that the food for Sundays is rice. It could be jollof rice, rice and stew, fried rice, coconut rice, etc. This was almost the norm for many families in Nigeria as it was deemed forbidden to eat anything other than rice. If anyone is asked what their Sunday food was, they are likely to say “rice.” Luckily, families have now inculcated soups and other delicacies into their timetables.
- Parental Beatings: Growing up as a Nigerian, one cannot say they didn’t “chop” the beatings of their parents for their misconduct. Recently, jokes have passed around that our parents almost killed us but God prevailed. Back then, for things such as disobedience or failing in school, one was beaten for it. These beatings were a form of reprimand and punishment but they shaped us to be better individuals of the society.
- Life in Lagos: Growing up in Lagos, you are subject to many harsh realities of life. From jumping from one bus to the other to fighting the conductor for your balance, the terrible traffic experience of 5-6 hours and counting, etc. Even though it is a land filled with opportunities, it is also a land of madness and craziness. If you are not equipped with 50% madness, you are not fit to stay in Lagos.
- Storytelling: Growing up as a Nigerian, if you have never been told folktales and tales by moonlight, you need to question your nationality. These tales are usually told by our parents, grandparents or the oldest person in the community who is stricken with age and wisdom and has a passion for telling stories. Children and youths sit on mats around the storyteller and listen to what he/she has to say and learn greatly. This was a form of community bonding.
- Special Foods: Especially for the average Nigerian, there were a lot of times special foods were reserved for special occasions like Christmas, birthdays, etc. This was because of the time and effort used in preparing those particular foods, or the importance attached to those foods. For example, for some, ewa agoyin (mashed beans) was a special delicacy while growing up. For someone else of the Ibibio tradition, foods like ekpang nkwukwo and afia afere were reserved for special occasions because of the time and effort put into making it and also its importance.
- School Punishments: Growing up as a child in Nigeria, you are always bound to punishments both from home and school whenever you misbehave. This ranged from flogging with a cane to kneeling with our hands in the air, picking a pin, riding oka to monkey style, frog jumping, and suspension. These were always to keep us in check, make us responsible for our actions and misdeeds, and help us become better people in the world.
- School Excursions: These are events that are looked forward to as children. One way schools thought to spice things up in the educational system is to take students to renowned and historical places for a small fee. Almost every adult asked today would tell you of one prominent place that he or she was taken to as a child and it’s all thanks to school excursions or family outings. Prominent and historical places that are visited are Olumo Rock in Abeokuta, Ikogosi Local Springs, the National Museum, the Point of No Return at Badagry, the Point of No Return at Ikot-Abasi, the zoo, the amusement parks, etc. Some schools go extra by taking students to neighbouring countries like Ghana, Benin Republic, etc.
- Neighbourly Upbringing: It has been said that if the neighbourhood didn’t bring you up alongside your parents, then you were not brought up well. It is commonly known for the neighbourhood or community to correct a particular child when they misbehave and sentences like “I will beat you and your mother will not do anything” usually kept one in check because they followed through with their statements. There were the occasional “alfas” or “big uncles” sitting at corners who were there to discipline you or report you to your parents when you misbehaved. This fostered communal love and respect.
- National Holidays: Some national events are celebrated in Nigeria like special occasions and these are accompanied by national holidays. We have days like Independence Day (October 1), Workers’ Day (May 1), Democracy Day (June 12), etc. Usually, when these fall on weekends, the Monday after that particular weekend also becomes a public holiday. This was something children really looked forward to and still do.
- Religious Holidays: Nigeria is a religious country and as such, religious holidays are also respected, especially for Christians and Muslims. We have some religious holidays like Christmas, Eid-Ul-Fitr, Easter, Id-El-Mubarak, etc. These days also allow time to be taken off from work and also give the children holidays to celebrate the events.
- Proverbs and Wise Sayings: One cannot grow up in Nigeria and not be brought up with proverbial sayings. Proverbs and wise sayings are sure to be used by parents, tales by moonlight, or elderly neighbours to correct children and youths as well as advise them.
- Bukka Joints/Mama Put: These are the legendary kiosks and joints that are set up for people to buy food and snacks. These shops usually serve a great deal to workers who are not able to bring food from home or even the menial workers who would quickly need to fill their stomachs during their break times. Depending on the culture and location, all kinds of foods are sold at these joints such as amala and ewedu, ewa agoyin, kunu, afang soup, ofe nsala, etc.
- Nigerian Festivals: There are different kinds of festivals belonging to their various cultures and this is one of the things that bring out the colours in Nigerian festivals. There is the Argungun Fishing Festival, Calabar Carnival, Eyo Festival, Dubar Festival, New Yam Festival of the Igbo, etc. These festivities bring out the excitement of people and solve the issue of unemployment temporarily. The culture and traditions of Nigeria are retained through these festivals.
- Street Food: These can be mistaken for the buka joints and mama put shops but these have more to do with snacks that can be bought on the road/street. For example, puff puff, doughnuts, suya, bole, akara, roadside pap, roadside noodles, local ice cream, etc. These side interests piqued the children and the youths as they could munch it quickly on their way to their destinations.
- African Delicacies: Nigeria is known to have a lot of cultures, therefore, there are a lot of cuisines and delicacies of different cultures. People who are not of a particular culture can learn how to cook different foods of that culture and vice versa. Abroad, Nigerian delicacies are known to be on the high side as they are something out of the ordinary. This makes them quite expensive and valued.
- Cowbellpedia: This is a maths competition that brings together the best students in mathematics from different schools nationwide. Students are known to outdo themselves and be the best during this competition and the winners are known to be displayed everywhere and used for brand advertisement, hence, the struggle to win. Other participants also win gifts such as school bags, lunch boxes, stationeries, etc.
- End-of-Year Parties: End-of-the-year parties are like the highlight of every child’s year. Some schools call it “Christmas parties” because it falls within the Christmas period. These parties are sometimes free, while other times, they are paid for. Children come to mark the end of the year in total and also the end of the first term of the academic year. Food and drinks are provided, the character of Father Christmas is present and sometimes, gifts are available too. It is usually a swell time.
- Street Football: This is popular among the men and boys. Usually, football is casually played on the streets. Other times, it is played in the compound or in abandoned compounds. This activity usually aids in bonding over the male group or the peer group of boys. Different sets are played and as children, when the owner of the ball carries his ball, the game has ended.
- Knockouts and Bangers: These are known as fireworks used during the festive seasons, especially during the Christmas season. Floor “bangers” are thrown to the floor which causes a lot of noise and the air “bangers” are shot up into the sky. There are different sounds attached to these knockouts and it is usually fun counting the numbers as they go off. For example, three-sound bangers, five-sound bangers, twelve-sound bangers, etc.
- Mummy and Daddy: This is a game played by children in their toddler and pre-teen years. In this game, a group of people act as a family which mostly consists of a mother, a father and a child. Sometimes, there are more people involved which make up the extended family but the smaller the better. This play usually comprises different themes that span the basic Nigerian life known to the small minds of children. It usually ends or breaks up if they are called back by their parents or if a fight ensues.
- Boju Boju: This is the Yoruba name for “Hide and Seek” but it means to cover your eyes. The way this game goes, there are usually a group of people who are interested in it. One person covers his or her eyes and sings the song “Boju Boju” while everyone finds a place to hide. The caller covers his eyes so that he will not see the hiding place of anyone, it is his duty to find people wherever they hide. He is only allowed to open his eyes when the word “shi” is shouted. It means to open.
- Ten Ten: Also known as “clapping game.” Players stand facing each other, clapping their hands and moving their legs to a rhythm. They must ensure they don’t raise a leg directly facing the other opponent – which means it is OK for a player to raise a left leg when the other raises a right leg. Once a girl or boy raises the wrong leg, the other girl scores a point.
- Suwe: The English name for this game is called “hopscotch.” To play this game, a total of 12 boxes are drawn on the ground, six each, and each player is meant to hop with one leg over where the boxes their seeds touch. Seeds can be in the form of stones or pebbles and are thrown before them moving, in respective order from the first box to the twelfth box and after all has been hopped over, houses are formed. Seeds of other players aren’t supposed to touch these houses else they are out of the game.
- I Call On: This is a game that requires physical strength and exertion. A large circle is drawn on the ground and is divided into subcategories of any category. These subcategories are chosen as play names. For example, if the category that day is news stations, players choose the names of any Nigerian news station as their play name, e.g. NTA, AIT, STV, SuperScreen, etc. So, anyone starts with the calling and shouts a particular play name. Every other player then runs afar. The bearer of that play name then jumps to the middle and shouts “stop” and then jumps to the closest player to him or her. Every player has a total score of 100, once anyone is caught, the score of the caught person depletes. The first player to reach zero is out of the game.
Nigeria is filled with so many experiences and events, some bitter, some sweet, some bittersweet. There is still more to be written on but for the sake of celebrating Nigeria at 63 years, the list stops here.
Being part of Nigeria is something to be proud of despite events that have shaken the country. Great countries did not get to where they are today without their own experiences. We hope that with this article, you remember the fun moments you had while growing up and those who did not experience them are educated.
Happy Independence, Nigeria!