Author: Chinua Achebe
Publisher: Fourth Dimension Publishing Co. Ltd
Year of Publication: 1983
In presenting a review of The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe, I do not imply that I have more competence than the author, an all time great writer of both fiction and non-fiction. This review is aimed at stressing the glaring points raised in the book almost thirty years ago, and emphasizing how they are still relevant to present-day Nigeria. The book consists of ten chapters which are reviewed below.
Where the Problem Lies
Professor Achebe opens his book with short, precise and vehement sentences on where he believes the trouble with Nigeria lies. “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate of water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.” He recalls that on the morning after Murtala Mohammed seized power in July 1975, public servants despised the traffic hold-up in Lagos and were found on seat quite early because of Mohammed’s reputation for ruthlessness. But is he recommending ruthlessness as a necessary qualification for Nigerian leadership? “Quite on the contrary. What I am saying is that Nigeria is not beyond change. I am saying that Nigeria can change today if she discovers leaders who have the will, the ability and the vision.”
Today, many years after, Nigeria seems not to have found such leaders. Instead, a crop of “democratic” leaders have grown wild with neither the vision nor the ability to position this nation on the path of growth. We have increasingly produced leaders who come to government to “take and chop”, or to put it more idiomatically, to “cut the national cake” which none of them ever cares to bake. Achebe admits that such good leaders are hard to find at any place or time, “But it is the duty of enlightened citizens to lead the way in their discovery and to create an atmosphere conducive to their emergence.” He believes Nigeria is not lacking in those “enlightened citizens” but wonders why “. . . all these patriots make so little impact on the life of our nation. . . Why do the good among us seem so helpless while the worst are full of vile energy?” I think the reason is that some of the enlightened citizens consider politics too “dirty” for them, while majority who subscribe to the if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them philosophy have been transformed into “stakeholders”, “party elders” or any other thing that secures them a place in the voracious chain of sharing oil money an making Nigeria poorer.
In this second chapter, Achebe is again clear that tribalism poses a problem to national integration. “Nothing in Nigeria’s political history captures her problem of national integration more than the chequered fortune of the word tribe in her vocabulary. Tribe has been accepted at one time as a friend, rejected as an enemy at another, and finally smuggled in through the back door as an accomplice.” This is a point that need no explanation. Nigeria today is probably more polarized along tribal lines than she was thirty years ago. The question of “indigenes” and “non-indigenes” continues to present challenges even within single states. Individuals seeking political offices find it quite expedient to use the tribe sentiment to gain favour and support. Achebe laments that, “A Nigerian child seeking admission into a federal school, a student wishing to enter a College or University, a graduate seeking employment in the public service, a businessman tendering for a contract, a citizen applying for a passport, filing a report with the police or seeking access to any of the hundred thousand avenues controlled by the state, will sooner or later fill out a form which requires him to confess his tribe (or less crudely, and more hypocritically, his state of origin).”
One cannot dispute this point. In a way that may have something to do with our craze for certificates, we now have in every state, a department responsible for issuance of Certificates of State Origin – a document that serves to validate and identify “indigenes” of a state from “non-indigenes”. Very few people realize that the Certificate of State Origin actually serves the same purpose as the passports imposed on black South Africans during apertheid in that country. Why are we not satisfied with the fact that we are Nigerians? On Nigerian university campuses, micro-ethnic “associations” out number the professional ones. It seems every village with two or three members on campus, forms a “national association” of its students. All these groups work to advance their interests against those of the others in a competition that discourages unity and promotes suspicion.
But Achebe is more concerned about the tribalism that exists in institutions of the state. He advises that “. . . although we may not be able to legislate prejudice and bigotry out of the hearts and minds of individual citizens, the state itself and all its institutions must not practice, endorse or condone such habits.” One way to do this is to eliminate all practices that require the classification of citizens along their ethnic origins. This has not happened in Nigeria. We are all witnesses to the political tension that heated up Nigeria last year when the issue of zoning in the Peoples’ Democratic Party came to the fore. Political positions, even in the National Assembly are “shared” on a regional basis – something that enthrones mediocrity and inefficiency in the system. Nigeria must go back to the 1950/51 era where it was possible for Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Easterner, to become Premier of Western Region. We must build “. . . a dream-Nigeria in which a citizen could live and work in a place of his choice anywhere, and pursue any legitimate goal open to his fellows; a Nigeria in which an Easterner might aspire to be premier in the West and a Northerner become Mayor of Enugu.”
To be continued