National Day in Nigeria occurs every October 1st to commemorate the independence of Nigeria from colonial British rule in 1960.
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It is a public holiday and a time of great patriotic fanfare, which serves to unite the highly diverse people of Nigeria around a common cause. The holiday is also sometimes referred to as “Independence Day”.
For thousands of years, various local tribes lived in what is now Nigeria, but the story that led to the independence of the modern state began in the 1500s, when European explorers and merchants made contact with coastal Nigerians. They soon founded port cities, most notably Lagos, to facilitate their trade in the region. While Spanish and Portuguese arrived first and Germans attempted to make incursions, it was the British who eventually came to dominate the area.
In the late 1800s, the British Royal Niger Company took possession of southern Nigeria, but in 1900, this area came under direct control of the British government. In 1914, northern Nigeria was added to form the present borders of modern Nigeria. While the British presence led to moderniszation, the people of Nigeria still longed for independence, particularly following World War II.
The decline of the British Empire and the nationalist movements sweeping across Africa in the post-war world led to the granting of Nigerian independence on October 1st, 1960. The new state had a parliamentary form of government at first but switched to a federal republic three years later on October 1st, 1963. Beginning in 1966, a series of military coups seized control of the nation until, finally, on October 1st, 1979, democratic rule was restored. Thus, there are three major events in Nigerian history that all occurred on National Day.
National Day celebrations begin officially with a presidential speech broadcast to the nation on TV and radio from the capital city of Abuja. Next, a flag raising ceremony is held and the army moves down the capital’s streets in a parade. The soldiers engage in various Nigerian dances, while people from all 36 of Nigeria’s states join in the festivities.
National Day is a day to remember the heroes of the independence movement, both soldiers and prominent figures who led the push to escape from under colonial rule. It is used as a time to encourage unity among the nation’s 500 ethnic and linguistic groups and its three main religious groups, that is, Christians, Muslims, and Animists. This is a challenge in a rapidly growing nation of 182 million people, but National Day highlights the common history and traditions shared by Nigerians all over the nation.
You will want to experience the parades, cultural activities, and other official National Day events. However, some other activities tourists may wish to engage in while in Nigeria on National Day include:
- Visit the Nigerian National Museum in Lagos. Here, you can see Nigerian artwork, statues, carvings, archaeological finds, and “ethnographic” exhibits.
- Relax at The Bar Beach, on Victoria Island in southern Lagos, the most popular of a number of beaches stretching along the coastal areas of Lagos.
- Tour Nigerian national parks, such as Yankari, Gashaka Gumti, Cross River, and Kamuku. You can hunt in game reserves, go on safari, engage in ecotourism in the native forests, and enjoy all manner of local wildlife.
- Stop by the National Children’s Park and Zoo in Abuja. There are camels, crocodiles, elephants, giraffes, ostriches, monkeys, and other animals on site. The park is located within sight of Aso Rock, a large outcropping that is Abuja’s most conspicuous geographic feature and a popular tourist site.
- Shop at the Abuja Arts and Crafts Village. The “village” consists of numerous small, traditional-style Nigerian huts that sell local artwork, traditional jewelry, various figurines, clothing, leather bags, and more.
National Day is the perfect opportunity to explore Nigerian culture and history. Anyone visiting Nigeria at this time of year will find plenty of celebrations to join in and plenty of other activities to take part in.