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Celebrating independence

Celebrating independence
Members of the Association of Nigerians in Northeast Saskatchewan pose for a photo prior to the cutting of the cake during Nigerian Independence Day celebrations at Plaza 88 in Prince Albert. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

When Dr. Olukayode Olutunfese arrived in Nipawin he was the only Nigerian in the community.

Now, there are four Nigerian families on his street alone.

The change took some getting used to for Olutunfese, who lived for three years in Oakville before moving to Saskatchewan, but he’s glad to be part of a growing Nigerian community in northeast Saskatchewan.

“Initially I thought, ‘you know what? I’m going back to Oakville’ and I’m still here nine years later,” Olutunfese said with a grin. “It’s been great. That’s the truth.”

After nine years, a lot has changed in Northeast Saskatchewan. Now, there are four Nigerian families on Olutunfese’s street. He says Nigerians are eager to live in Saskatchewan and contribute in any way they can.

On Oct. 1, Olutunfese and others celebrated those contributions, and looked forward to others as part of Nigerian Independence Day festivities held at Plaza 88 in Prince Albert.

“We’re seeing a lot of Nigerians immigrate and move into Canada and make positive impacts,” he said. “I think it’s going to continue to be positive.

“It’s not just bigger cities. It’s small towns, where you don’t expect to find them.”

Families from across the northeast attended the Oct. 1 Independence Day celebration. The event featured traditional dancing, singing, and food, as well as a theatrical performance by Nigerian youth, and a formal high school debate on whether technology provided more harm than good.

Dr. Joseph Akinjobi, the newly elected president of the Association of Nigerians in Northeast Saskatchewan, said the event gave everyone a chance to relax and reconnect after a difficult last two years.

“We need to wind down sometimes,” he explained. “An occasion like this allows us an opportunity as a people to come together as a people, as a group, and then celebrate our diversity, and that’s a good thing. That’s very good.”

Nigerian youth from around Northeast Saskatchewan perform the Nigerian and Canadian national anthems during Nigerian Independence Day celebrations on Saturday, Oct. 1 in Prince Albert. — Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Akinjobi said Nigerians love to display their cultural diversity. Nigeria has more than 200 tribal groups, each with their own songs, dances, and food, and everyone had a chance to show their heritage at the Oct. 1 celebration.

However, the meeting had another goal too: the goal of making their voice heard. Akinjobi said Canada and Nigeria have a very positive relationship, and that means many Nigerians are immigrating not because they are escaping poverty or war, but because they want to experience life in a different part of the world.

They also want to contribute to their communities, something Akinjobi said the Association of Nigerians in Northeast Saskatchewan would strive to do going forward.

We want to leverage our different skillsets. We want to leverage our individual differences to produce positive results in the communities where we belong,” he said.

If you have a Nigerian moving out and coming to Saskatchewan, it means a lot of positives for Saskatchewan people. If you look around, you see the lecturers, the doctors, the surgeons, family physicians, who are making positive impacts in Saskatchewan growth. I lot of us we are leaders in communities across the board.”

While the Nigerian population in northeast Saskatchewan is growing, the country itself still has more than 250 million people living in it. That includes more than $15 million people alone in metropolitan Lagos, the country’s largest city.

Akinjobi says he expects to see even more Nigerians moving to Saskatchewan, and the association will be there to give them a sense of belonging in their new home.