Expect a Miracle

By Jheri St. James

A Nigerian Mosque

     “Nigeria was truly awesome, a place where almost anything is possible and almost anything can happen. A motorbike driver with a baboon on his back, a decaying corpse lying on the roadside, small fishing villages next to giant gas flares, stylish bars that could be in New York or Berlin, and maniacal car drivers that think nothing of driving at breakneck speed against the traffic on a highway. And then there is Lagos with its 16 million people, the largest city on the continent, and with a reputation that couldn’t be worse. But I loved it, as this city has character and is bustling with life. But the true reason I enjoyed Nigeria so much is that Nigerians are friendly and warm people and great communicators, and this made me feel very welcome in this amazing country.” (Michael Fuenfzig at

Nigerian Architecture at Warri

     The people . . . aren’t they what make every country either great or horrible? A great Nigerian person named Iheanacho Nwankwo was our soil collector in Nigeria. His soil came from the River Niger, Onyeama coal mine and Enugu urban sites. He says, “My country, Nigeria, was named after the discovery of the River Niger. The name ‘Coal City’ as ‘Enugu’ is fondly called is because the state have[sic] the largest coal deposit in the country. The significance of the sample from Enugu Urban soil is to have full representation of the type of soil found in Enugu metropoli.” Mr. Nwankwo included aerial photos of Enugu, Nigeria, as well as photos of himself posed nonchalantly, holding the DHL box and the jar of soil.

The anacho "Achor" Nwankwo

     In another photo, Gary Simpson’s son, Ryan, holds the package taped up with the Nigerian flag sticking out the top, having received it at the other end of the route. Both men have a look in their eyes of history in the making; the significance of their actions apparent in their eyes. Two more photos show Mr. Nwankwo holding the yellow dirt in his hand and aboard a boat loaded with the same soil.

Ryan Simpson, son of the Artist Gary Simpson

     These are the moments that make Common Ground 191 so meaningful to us here in Laguna Beach, California, USA. Gary and the staff relish sharing the feelings visible in photos like these—and the invisible energy in our hearts. Thank you, Mr. Nwankwo.

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     When researching a place like Nigeria, the information collected must be brand new, because Nigeria is a country changing every minute of every day. “Live fast; die young,” might be an apt motto for this country of 129 million souls. The life expectancy at birth is only 46.74 years, and the median age is only 18.63 years. “Estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected (June 1005 est.)” CIA – The World Factbook

Oshogbo Sacred Forest Sculptures

     “Following nearly 16 years of military rule, a new constitution was adopted in 1999, and a peaceful transition to civilian government was completed in Nigeria. The president faces the daunting task of rebuilding a petroleum-based economy, whose revenues have been squandered through corruption and mismanagement, and institutionalizing democracy. In addition, the Obasanjo administration must defuse longstanding ethnic and religious tensions, if it is to build a sound foundation for economic growth and political stability. Despite some irregularities, the April 2003 elections marked the first civilian transfer of power in Nigeria’s history,” says the CIA World Factbook.

     Water plays an important part of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s being. In this country named after the Niger River, two rivers form a “Y” that empties into the Gulf of Guinea, the Niger and the Benue. Nigeria is bordered by Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. There is the Bight of Benin in those harbor waters as well. A bight is a bend or curve in the shoreline, and a wide bay formed by such a bend or curve.

     Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is composed of more than 250 ethnic groups; the following are the most populous and politically influential: Hausa and Fulani 29%, Yoruba 21%, Igbo (Ibo) 18%, Ijaw 10%, Kanuri 4%, Ibibio 3.5%, Tiv 2.5%. The religions are mainly two: Muslim 50%, Christian 40%, and indigenous beliefs 10%.

     Nigeria, once a large net exporter of food, now must import food, because of political instability, corruption, inadequate infrastructure and poor macroeconomic management. Nigeria’s former military rulers failed to diversity the economy away from over-dependence on the capital-intensive oil sector, which provides 20% of the GDP, 95% of foreign exchange earnings, and about 65% of budgetary revenues. In the June 2005, G8 plan to wipe out 18 African nations’ $40-billion debt, Nigeria was not one of the 18 qualifying countries, even though it has the highest debt in Africa. Because it is plagued by corruption, the benefits of oil production have not trickled down to most people. In order to qualify countries must reach targets for good governance under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, set up by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in 1996.

The Palace Zaria in Nigeria

     The most populous country in Africa, Nigeria accounts for approximately one-quarter of Africa’s people. Although fewer than 25% of Nigerians are urban dwellers, at least 24 cities have populations of more than 100,000 and 45-60% of the population are expected to reside in or around metropolitan areas by the year 2015.

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     Simultaneous with some of the above statistics, life pulses on in Nigeria. Many of the above photos indicate an artistic, architectural and verdant forest life. In addition, some of the Nigeriaworld newspaper headlines for the time of this writing (October 2005) read: “Nigeria on-screen: ‘Nollywood’ films’ popularity rising among emigres”; “Nigerian hip hop superstar Tu Face Idibia for NTV awards in Portugal”; “Why Nigerian Governments should Invest in the Arts”; “Guinness Nigeria Pic’s Icon: Michael Power is Back”; “From SNA Lagos, three days of Art, Workshops”; “My vision for Nigerian artists—Shehu”.

     Movies, music, TV, government, sports, philosophy—surely these are the things that build a culture as well as CIA statistics on economics, death rates, population makeup, and warfare?

     We’re banking on that here at Common Ground 191, focusing on the earth, art, and people—fusing them together into a statement regarding the importance of that peaceful place on earth beneath the AIDS deaths, the starvation, the government corruptions. And it is so fulfilling to read the statements of support from people like Mr. Nwankwo, from whom we still hope to hear more of his story. All over the world, people are collecting soil and wishing us the best, totally supporting this important project.

The Little Bee Eater and the Lizard Buzzard

     Perhaps our idea is as tiny as this tiny, little bee eater, who survives somewhere in the forests and urban areas of Nigeria. Perhaps like the little bee eater, it too will survive and find its place in something so enormous as the world, the earth, a planet where anything can happen. We build our world-wide web domains, our countries, our cities, towns, villages, houses, our relationships with families, friends, enemies and rarely stop to consider that absolutely anything is possible. Anything really can happen. Grim statistics change; wars end; people are born who impact the entire globe; people who impact the entire globe die. Live fast, die young? Live well, die anyway? Life’s a bitch; then you die? Life and the way we live it, for however long it lasts, is a choice. Our choice here at Common Ground 191 is to honor the stage upon which this drama is played out—the soil, the magma, the unchanging and undying earth.

An Example of Nigerian Architecture





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