Africa
June, 2004
Part I: Lagos, Nigeria Part II: Chinese Community in Lagos
Part III: Know more about Nigeria

Part Ií@Lagos, Nigeria

On the June 25 (after a break in Italy of which I will speak later) my pilgrimage takes me to Africa. I had planned to visit two African countries, Nigeria and Cameroon. Unfortunately I an unable to go to Cameroon, due to the cancellation of all flights. I like to share with you my experience in Lagos (Nigeria).

A day before leaving Rome for Lagos, I realize that I need a visa. Everyone is telling me that it will be impossible to get a visa in a few hours. I try. I rush to the Nigerian embassy in Rome. I explain my case to a Nigerian employee, who seems to understand my situation, and without paying any tea-money, I get my visa in three hours. The only favour my Nigerian friend is expecting from me is to put him on top of my prayer intentions (which I do!).

While waiting for my plane at Milano airport (the plane was very late), I meet some very interesting Nigerian people: a bishop and three priests who have spent a few years in Italy studying theology. They welcome me to Nigeria in a very warm way. Some Nigerian youth (in order to kill time) start a football match inside the airport, and the Italian hostesses seem to enjoy the match!

The plane arrives in Lagos very late in the night. Mr Chow ( a very good friend from Hong Kong), is at the airport with some Nigerian friends from his factory. Mr Chow takes me to a very comfortable hostel, run by Chinese from the mainland. There are many Chinese living here. Some of them speak Cantonese. The ideal place for me to understand the Chinese community in Lagos.

The following morning, Mr Chow drives me to a few Catholic Churches in Lagos. My first impression is that Nigerians are very religious people and very respectful of Church authorities. I have the impression that the cultural model of the chief in the village or at home, is transposed into the Church structure. All priests tell me that 90 to 95% of the Catholic population go to Church on Sundays.

On Sunday (June 27) I concelebrate Mass at St Leo, a very large Church that can accommodate 5000 people. Every Mass is packed. The Liturgy is very lively. The participation is good. The singing is excellent. One thing that strikes me is the participation of all Parishioners (even in the material maintenance of the Parish). After communion there is an extra procession for a second collection, he harvest levy. The Mass goes on for more than two hours.

I try to understand why Nigerian Christians are so religious. A protestant deacon, who works in Mr Chow's factory, shows me a Protestant Church that can hold 100.000 people. It looks like the Coliseum in Rome! As a deacon, he tells me, he goes to Church three times a week, after work, from 10 pm to 3 am for prayer and fasting! The following morning is back to work! I ask many people whether they think that once Nigeria will develop into an industrialized country, then the religious zeal will diminish. They all reply that that will not happen in Nigeria! Religiosity is in their blood!

I notice the same religious zeal with Muslims. I was talking to one of the drivers of Mr Chow's factory, when suddenly he told me that he had to do something very important: he gathered three co-workers and in a corner they knelt down and began their prayer.

The same thing I noticed at the airport. A large Muslim family knelt down in the airport, in front of all, and prayed facing Mecca for a few minutes. The children were all dressed in very modern occidental fashion, with long chains, fancy clothes and punk hair style!

Everybody in the airport took this as an ordinary thing.

One fervent Nigerian Catholic lady makes a very interesting remark: she couldn't understand why in Nigeria intense religiosity can easily coexist with a very spread corruption at all levels of society. And truly corruption is the obstacle No. one to progress. In these few days I have spent in Lagos, I have seen many instances of corruption. Road blocks of cars, whose main purpose for the police is collection of tea-money. This is something very sad. Nigeria is a very rich country in natural resources (oil, gas, precious stones), but the people are poor!

One typical aspect of Nigerian religions is their territorial distribution: the South (where all main oil resources are) is Christian (both Protestants and Catholics). Muslims are a minority. In the North is the opposite. Muslims are the majority. Traditionally Muslims are mainly in the federal Government and the army.

Top of page

Part IIí@The Chinese Community in Lagos, Nigeria

I had no idea of how many Chinese I would find in Lagos. After a few days here I begin to realize that there are many. From various sources I have come to the conclusion of 15.000 or 20.000. Commerce is their main occupation. In the hostel where I live, I meet people who import motor-cycles from China. In Nigeria there is a great demand of motor-cycles. They function as taxis. Very often three people sit on a motorcycle! Textiles, shoes, clothes are also in demand. You find super-markets, restaurants run by Chinese everywhere. Mr Chow takes me to China town (there are two China towns in Lagos). Mr Chow explains to me that he has been working in Lagos for more than 20 years in the textile industry. I visit their textile factory. It is a huge factory. They used to employ more than 2000 Nigerian workers. They sold all their textiles here in Nigeria. Today, they have a tremendous competition from textile imported from China, which are cheaper than the ones produced here in Nigeria!

Chinese factory staff (the one on my left is Mr Chow, my kind and genererous host during my stay in Lagos. The two Nigerian ladies are workers at the same factory.

The owner of the factory is from Hong Kong. Most of the staff are from Hong Kong too. They have been here for many years. From them I learn a lot. I have the chance of having quite a few meals with them. They have been very kind and extremely helpful to me. I meet three Nigerian ladies who help in the kitchen and laundry. They are Catholics. I am deeply touched when one day one of them gives me some money to buy fruits!

I have asked some local priests whether there is any pastoral plan for minorities. Often I get the answer that minorities should come to the Parish and integrate into the local community. But how can they come if no one evangelizes?

Top of page

Part IIIí@Know More About Nigeria

The following are the notes I had prepared in Hong Kong, before starting the journey.

Nigeria has the largest population of any country in Africa (about 120 million), and the greatest diversity of ways of life, cities and terrain.

Today there are estimated to be more than 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria. While no single group enjoys an absolute numeric majority, four major groups constitute 60% of the population.

Virtually all the native races of Africa are represented in Nigeria, hence the great diversity of her people and culture.

But as for most other African nations, Nigerias different ethnic groups are forced to co-exist within artificial boundaries drawn by the European powers that had formerly controlled the region.

Portugal was the first European power to establish trading stations in the 1400s. The Dutch, British, and other countries vied with Portugal to control the lucrative slave trade that was organized out of Nigeria and by the 1700s, the British controlled most of the coastal region. The tide changed after Britain abolished slavery and sought to eliminate slave trading. In 1861, Nigeria was made a British colony.

Nigeria became an independent nation on Oct. 1, 1960, and a republic in 1963.

But political instability and wars between different ethnic groups, as manifested by coup after coup, has been a constant in the country. In 1999, the first popularly-elected president in 16 years came into office.

Until 1976 the capital of Nigeria was Lagos, but in 1989, the government moved the capital to Abuja. Today, Lagos has become a huge city, with an estimated population of more than 10 million.

In 1996, Nigeria political structure became a federation of 36 states.

The two main religions are: Islam (50%) and Christians (40%). Indigenous religions (10%).

There are many different languages. English has remained the official language. Much has been said and written about Nigeria, her people and culture, economy and politics, that sheds light on the tremendous potential of this African Giant. However, little is known to the outside world about the many exciting tourist attractions available in Nigeria: Historic sites nestled amid rivers and rain forests, breathtaking mountain vistas, remote creek villages, miles of pristine beaches and exotic national wildlife reserves. There are also museums, festivals, music and dance, a rich cultural mange right down to everyday traditional markets. These are just some of the spectacular sights and sensual delights awaiting the traveler to Nigeria.

Top of page