Great radio broadcast chronicling Chinua Achebe’s 2009 visit to Nigeria. That was his first visit to Nigeria in several years. Achebe was interviewed by the Royal African Society’s Richard Dowden. Achebe’s son Chidi was also interviewed.
The programme discusses Achebe’s horror road accident that left him paralysed from the waist down.
The legendary Nigerian author Chinua Achebe has died aged, 82. Achebe is most well known for his book “Things Fall Apart”. He died in Boston in the USA. Achebe’s death comes shortly after he wrote his memoirs on the Biafran war.
Sincerest condolences to his family. May he RIP.
“I Thought Herbert Macaulay was a White American”
I was literally heartbroken when not too long ago, a Nigerian acquaintance of mine (born and raised in Nigeria) told me that she thought Herbert Macaulay was a white American. She could recite (in chronological order) most of the post World War 2 American Presidents, but she had no idea that Herbert Macaulay was a Nigerian. She was shocked when I told her that Macaulay was to Nigeria, what George Washington was to the United States of America.
How could a Nigerian born and raised in her own country be so unaware of her country’s past? I soon discovered that she was not (as I hoped) a lone island of historical blindness. When I posted some video clips of Nigeria’s former leaders, Nigerian viewers were stunned by the precise articulation and fluent oratory of men like Balewa and Azikiwe. They seemed totally unaware that Nigeria could actually produce leaders who spoke “Queen’s English” and who sounded intelligent. It occurred to me that probably less than 10% of Nigerians could recognise the voices of Nigeria’s early leaders such as Awolowo or the Sardauna.
NIGERIAN HISTORY: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Why do so many Nigerians know so little about their own country’s history? The blame…actually….I don’t think “blame” is the right word here, but the federal government must take much RESPONSIBILITY for deliberately imposing a ”history blackout” on Nigeria’s younger generation. Nigerian history is not intensively taught in schools largely because after the civil war, the federal government tried to brush the country’s past under the carpet in order to foster reconciliation. It did not want students to know that the country’s early history was rife with ethnic violence, military coups and people who murdered their political opponents in the middle of the night or during rush hour traffic. Teaching that to young people would be an excellent way to raise a new generation of angry embittered racists.
Is the government ENTIRELY to blame though? The absence of a library culture, and Nigerians’ quest for ‘professional’ academic paths such as medicine, engineering, law and accountancy, has naturally increased the alienation of history.
BLAME US, NOT THE GOVERNMENT
Are “we” (the writers) also to blame? Reading historical narratives is not the same suspense filled experience of reading a murder-mystery or suspend belief fantasy of a Harry Potter novel. We writers must present Nigerian history as something more than a mechanical rendering of dates and facts. Chimamanda’s Half of a Yellow Sun (although technically a fiction work) has historical credibility because she weaved real life historical figures like Gowon and Ojukwu into the fabric of a fiction novel. In essence she was “teaching” Nigerian history to her readers in a surreptitious manner.
TIME TO SEX UP NIGERIAN HISTORY
Dry, ponderous academic style renditions of Nigerian history will not do. In my writing I have tried to dramatise the historic events I write about, and bring the characters to life, so as to capture the reader’s imagination and momentarily suspend the reader’s belief that what they are reading is in fact….fact! In the popular vernacular of the Iraq war, we must “sex up” Nigerian history. To interest readers in Nigerian history, we must turn our national characters into “stars”. That is the challenge for me and other writers….
Interview with Cassava Republic Press’ Bibi Bakare-Yusuf on getting Nigerians interested in literature/getting a national reading culture (which Nigeria currently lacks!).
By Maggie of Sociolingo. Maggie is a sociolinguist with a PhD in education and a keen interest in African affairs.
Jan 18, 2011
In the year that many Nigerians celebrate their 50th Anniversary of Independence, it is also an opportunity to reflect on all that has happened since 1960. If you do a search on Amazon you’ll find quite a number of Nigeria books published around this anniversary.
One of these books, Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture 1966-1976, is by Max Siollun, a well respected Nigerian historian, who has a gift of making the history of this complex country clearer to non-specialists.
In his book Siollun opens up one of the most troublesome and distressing periods in Nigeria’s history and introduces us to the mindset of the Nigerian military which has so influenced the turmoil that ensued following independence. Although the book is a historical narrative, it goes beyond ‘dry’ dates and events to take the reader on a journey. The author does this by utilising recently de-classified material and old intelligence reports together with personal knowledge and in depth analysis .
I like the way this book sets the scene by presenting us with a series of maps at the beginning. Before the opening pages we are presented with a map of the major ethnic groups, although I’m not quite sure why that map was not included with the other maps in the preface as it would go better with the map of major Nigerian languages and the more general map locating Nigeria in Africa would have been better in its place, but that is just my preference. The series of historical maps in the preface cover the political development from the four regions of 1966 to the present 36 States and are worth referring back to from time to time.
It is impossible to appreciate the political complexity of Nigeria without a passing understanding of how the country came into being, its ethnic complexity and its mineral wealth and this book provides good background material in the preface and the opening chapter for those who are not so familiar with Nigeria. The writer introduces us to these issues in the opening chapters by describing the situation leading up to independence and introducing us to several strands - political and military – which culminate in the post-independence turmoil of 1966 which was a pivotal and dreadful year.
It is important to understand that like many African countries ‘Nigeria’ was an artificial construct.
The country was artificially constructed by a colonial power without the consent of its citizens. Over 250 ethnic groups were arbitrarily herded together into an unwieldy and non-consensual union by the UK. Nigeria was so ethnically, religiously and linguistically complex that even some of its leading politicians initially doubted it could constitute a real country.
The division of the huge area called Nigeria into the original 3 Regions by the British in the earlier part of the 20th century was largely pragmatic. The very large Northern Region was predominantly Muslim and dominated by the Hausa and Fulani, while the predominantly Christian south was dominated by two competing groups, the Yoruba and the Igbo. Among these main groups were 250 other ethnic groups of varying size. Most ethnic groups had little in common, and Siollun says that ‘The cultural differences between the ethnic groups made it virtually impossible for Nigerians to have any commonality of purpose’. It was within this artificially constructed maelstrom that political divides took on the identity and ideology of the these three geo-political regions. The Western Region in the south was further divided into a Mid-Western region in 1963 after rising tensions and what could almost be considered the first coup plot. The antagonism between the north and south continued after independence and was further exacerbated by the fragmentation in the more numerous south and the uneven distribution of mineral wealth.
It is as a military historian that Siollun has his strength and this shows in his masterly analysis in the chapters that introduce the military background to the coups and the detailed description and analysis of the coups themselves. In some ways, although this is devastatingly real, I was reminded of a detective novel as the protagonists are revealed and their motives and actions analysed.
It would be tempting to give you a chapter by chapter summary of how the coup culture developed, but you’ll just have to read the book to understand the depth of detail that gives a fascinating insight into the way that friends can become rivals and enemies, and to see how Siollun answers the question of ‘how an apolitical professional army with less than fifty indigenous officers at independence in 1960 became politicized and overthrew its country’s government less than six years later’.
The lessons to be learnt from the critical analysis in this book are grim but necessary reading. Siollun’s final points are that ‘most of the coups …. were carried out by the same cabal of officers, and that ‘an unpunished coup will be followed by a bloodier coup’. It is also significant that it was only after 1999 when ‘all the serving army officers who had held political office for 6 months or more were compulsorily retired’ that the events set in motion in 1966 that lead to the military coups and military rule were able to be put to rest.
I think this book will become a seminal source for Nigerian historians and will be a fascinating read for anyone interested in Nigeria and in how coups develop.
Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976) by Max Siollun, Algora Publishing, New York. 2009 ISBN: 9780875867083
I want to say another big thank you for a marvellous review. This time to Vera Ezimora. That’s two great book reviews this week. Last week I was thanking Anote Ajeluorou and the Guardian newspapers. Today I am thanking Vera. Her full review is below:
Book Review: Oil, Politics and Violence by Max Siollun
When I got this book, I was terrified. The two hundred and fifty-five pages, the title of the book (Oil, Politics, and Violence), and what seemed like a smaller than normal font that hugged the white pages, it all terrified me. When will I finish this book? The book wasn’t about fictional characters with dynamic personalities. It wasn’t a book with a plot full of suspense or drama. It was a book based on facts. Political facts. Nigerian political facts. Nigerian political facts on its military coups. Great. Could it get any worse?