Nigeria

"Nigerians," says Daily Times chief editor Tony Mamo, "are by nature a capitalist people" with an "intensely individualistic spirit" just like Americans.

Indeed, what strikes a visitor to this bustling land again and again are the similarities between Nigerians and Americans and even the national character of the two countries.

True, the United States is today highly developed while Nigeria is struggling to make its take-off. One is nonetheless reminded here of America at the turn of the century - a young, naturally rich nation bursting at the seams with raw development in all directions at once.

In both cases, unbounded capitalism sums up the spirit of the nation, with all its excesses of fortune and poverty, its spawning of corruption and robber barons and its high regard for individual aggressiveness. One has only to tangle with a Lagos taxi driver or market woman to realize how aggressive Nigerians can be. The only consolation for a hapless foreigner is that Nigerians seem to be even more combative with each other.

Editor Mamo, speaking of the Nigerian national character, also notes the high "spirit of adventure" among his countrymen, driving them to seek fame and fortune all over Africa and even farther afield, in Britain and the United States in particular. Again, the stuff America was made of.

NIGERIANS SEEM as well to have the same love of self-criticism about their nation, combined with the same rabid nationalism when dealing with outsiders, as many Americans. "A Nigerian abroad in the United States of Britain will say the worst things about his country. But if you (a foreigner) say the same thing, he will attack you violently," remarked Mamo.

This spirit of intense self-criticism recently surfaced in a local editorial entitled "The Ugly Nigerian," inspired, to be sure, by "The Ugly American" and asking all the same questions about why Nigerians are not loved abroad.

THERE ARE somewhere between 11,000 and 15,000 Nigerian students in the United States every year, and a lot more will be coming under a new government plan to send as many as 100,000 youths abroad just for vocational and technical training.

Back in early 1977, Brig. S. M. Yar'-adua, chief of Supreme Military Headquarters and Nigeria's de facto prime minister, decided the government had to do something about the lack of middle-level managers and skilled technicians to run the country's $32 billion economy.

So he sent out messages to all embassies in Lagos asking for help. The United States, anxious not to be outdone by the Soviet Union, quickly responded. In September, the first group of 500 young Nigerians arrived in America and were dispersed to various two-year junior and vocational colleges. Another 500 came in January.

Unlike most educational assistance programs sponsorel by the U.S. government, this one will cost the American taxpayer nothing. The Nigerian government is tapping its own oil wealth to pay the $8,300 annual cost per student.

Just how many Nigerians will eventually go to the United States under this plan is uncertain. Another 1,000 are expected for the coming school year, and the total could eventually mount to anywhere between 10,000 and 50,000.

One noticeable result of this growing wave of American-educated Nigerians is a slow turning away from this country's traditional orientation toward Britain, the former colonial power. Daily Times editor Mamo feels Nigerians schooled in America are more successful when they get back home than those who went to Britain. "Their eyes are more open," he says.

EVEN LAGOS, black Africa's largest city with 4.6 million inhabitants, is beginning to look like an overcrowded American city. There are elevated highways running all around the city's three islands now and six lane freeways going in and out of its congested urban sprawl.

Not only is the skyline, dotted by skyscrapers, beginning to resemble somewhat that of New York, another island city, but one has the feeling driving in from the airport of being on the Long Island Expressway with one crucial difference - rush hour is forever in Lagos.