There exists a great amount of historical tie between Nigeria and Sierra Leone that would be difficult to be divested every time the relationship between the two countries is mentioned.
As Nigeria’s 50th jubilee independence anniversary is around the corner, it is expedient to reflect on some of the areas and factors that bind the people of these two great nations together. Just like the incumbent Sierra Leonean High Commissioner to Nigeria, HE Henry Olufemi Macauley, said last year while celebrating Sierra Leone’s 49th independence anniversary, Sierra Leone and Nigeria share a strong bond of intermarriages, kinship and friendship at various levels of interaction.
Going by history, Sierra Leoneans who migrated to Nigeria chose Ebute-Meta and Yaba areas of Lagos as primary settlements and emerged as a dominant commercial group in Lagos. They travelled well into the interior, pioneering trade and business. With western education, some of them excelled in professions and became lawyers, doctors and civil servants serving in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abeokuta in the south-western part of Nigeria.
“Consequently,” HE Macauley had said, “we became one people separated by many geographical boundaries but consistently bonded by history, culture and spirit.”
In 19th Century West Africa, national boundaries were less determinate than as we have today and a considerable movement of people and ideas helped shape an authentic West African identity. That period allowed the flow of people whose contribution and influence pervaded the region with greater ease than is conceivable today.
Hence, the extent of this bond has been demonstrated in various facets of the bilateral relations between the two nations. During the civil war days, Nigeria expended considerable military and diplomatic energy to persuade ECOWAS to formally endorse the use of force to drive the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council/Peoples Army out of power in Sierra Leone and reinstated the ousted government of former President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
With the sacrifice of both human (more than 800 lives lost) and material resources including more than US$ 5 billion and grounded fighter jets, Nigeria played a key role in making Sierra Leone survive its gruesome civil war. Nigeria also supported transitional justice through its contribution to the Special Court for Sierra Leone set up to prosecute those who played major roles in the conflict.
Thereafter, Nigeria has continued to be a strong supporter of Sierra Leone’s developmental strides and capacity building effort as is evidenced in various bilateral cooperation programmes in operation such as the Technical Aide Corps TAC in which several batches of medical experts as well as lecturers are assigned to take up duties in various institutions in Sierra Leone for a specific period.
In keynote address His Excellency Ambassador Bangudu Hirse said the signing of technical aid agreement between Sierra Leone and Nigeria was significant as it strengthen the bi-lateral relationship that has existed between the two countries for the past decades.
He said he was honored and privilege to be part of the technical agreement between the Republic of Nigeria and Sierra Leone as the agreement marked another milestone in the history of the two countries. Ambassador Bangudu Hirse said the ties between Sierra Leone and Nigeria is dated since 1961 when the country got its independence, adding that the good ties have continued to grow from strength to strength.
Another notable milestone is the unveiling of the Olusegun Obasanjo Youth Training Centre in 2007 to serve as a platform for young minds to acquire skills that would improve their earning power and be self-dependent.
In the financial services sector, the influx of Nigeria originated banks into Sierra Leone increased the number of banks to fourteen –from five – with multiplier effects on the general populace for them to gain better understanding of banking activities and many jobless university graduates were gainfully employed.
Just last November, the Nigerian Stock Exchange NSE announced that it is seeking some US$33 million in capital for its fifth software upgrade and also to help finance the Sierra Leone stock exchange which was launched by President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma on 17 July 2009 after being inaugurated in 2007. Media reports say the NSE launched the Sierra Leone exchange free of charge.
So much has transpired between Nigeria and Sierra Leone as a result of their ties which spanned as far back as over a century. Mentioned above are some of the benefits that accrued from it. But it is thus not misleading to state that Sierra Leone more than any other country in West Africa, with the exception of Liberia, had benefited and continued to benefit from Nigeria’s generosity, leadership and support. Sierra Leone therefore owed a lot to Nigeria.
The resonating point that HE Macauley made that summed it up and would have futuristic effect on the relationship of both countries is: “Nigeria was there before everybody else came and stayed after everybody left.”
© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.