Tuesday, October 25, 2011

114. The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe

Title: The Trouble with Nigeria
Author: Chinua Achebe
Genre: Non-Fiction/Socio-Political Articles
Publishers: Heinemann
Pages: 68
Year of First Publication: 1983
Country: Nigeria

Read for Amy's BAND

The Trouble with Nigeria is a book of frustration of what could be termed as the Nigerian (African) Condition. In this book, Chinua Achebe spelt out, without playing around with proverbs, aphorisms, and such  curlicued manner of speech, the reasons why Nigeria, and perhaps most African countries, are facing such ginormous and seemingly unsurmountable developmental challenges. In 'Where the Problem Lies', the author specifically identified and attributed the problem. He writes 
the problem with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or 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. [1]
And what more could be said. In most homes in Ghana, the contents of this little book have been discussed by people who are not even aware of its existence. Thus, it could be deduced that the problems facing most developing countries are similar and intersecting.

Tribalism, illusion, indiscipline, corruption, and others were identified and discussed as the major problems facing or hindering the development of one of Africa's most populous country. Using succinct examples Achebe explains why tribalism leads to inefficiency, most especially when tribal people are hired for a position instead of competent and efficient people. Being modest of oneself is another problem the author identified. Here, Achebe seems to be proposing a complete behavourial change, advocating less talk and more work; he seems to prefer some form of conservatism whilst delivering on them than having inconceivable optimism and fantastical imaginations and doing nothing. The author describes it best:
One of the commonest manifestations of under-development is a tendency among the ruling elite to live in a world of make-believe and unrealistic expectations. This is the cargo cult mentality that anthropologists sometimes speak about - a belief by backward people that someday, without any exertion whatsoever on their own part, a fairy ship will dock in their harbour laden with every goody they have always dreamed of possessing. [9]
In 'Leadership, Nigerian-Style' Achebe compared statements from the biographies of two of Nigeria's veteran politicians: Dr. Azikiwe and Chief Awolowo. The underlying idea of both statements is the aggressive and wanton acquisition of unimaginable and superfluous wealth. This, according to Achebe, shows an
absence of intellectual rigour .. [11]
and a
tendency to pious materialistic wooolliness and self-centred pedestrianism [11]
Which produces not selfless leaders but leaders hunched with corruption. And this, Achebe continues (quoting James Booth), shows 'a poverty of thought ... [that] is in contrast to the expressions of ideology to be found even in the more informal works of Mboya, Nyere and Nkrumah!' 

This 'absence of objectivity and intellectual rigour' was even present at the nation's formation, Achebe argues, when the founding fathers chose On Unity and Faith as the new Nation's motto; concepts which are not absolute in themselves but 'conditional on their satisfaction of other purposes'. Achebe argued that such vague non-absolute concepts like Unity and Faith must be questioned: Unity to do what? And faith in what? He questioned why they never chose such absolute concepts such as Justice and Honesty which can not 'easily be directed to undesirable end'.

Even concepts such as 'patriotism' is questioned. He writes
Spurious patriotism is one of the hallmarks of Nigeria's privileged classes whose generally unearned positions of sudden power and wealth must seem unreal even to themselves. To lay the ghost of their insecurity they talk patriotically. [16]
Several issues germane to the development of a country are discussed in this book. He mentions the issue of traffic and the way and manner in which road-users break all the rules. Such is the rampancy of their acts that to be seen to be doing the right thing, such as being in your lane rather than follow those using unauthorised routes, is tantamount to being folly, a stranger, or a combination of these. And this he attributed to egoism; each person thinking of his own self interest at the expense of the others. At the waiting-lot, the one who comes late thinks he is the only one in a hurry and therefore would push all others to get onto the car, when it arrives. The most indiscipline of them all are the leaders, who think that they are above the law and the people, behaving like the animals in that Orwellian novel. They seek preferentially treatment anywhere they go. Even in traffic, they move when the traffic shows red and dare that policeman who tries to arrest him. By their act, they give stamp and legalise illegalities, authorising the citizens to follow suit.

The most revealing topic of all is the chapter on corruption. In this chapter, Achebe presented graphic details of the amount of money that are siphoned from the system in the form of plain theft by politicians, inflated contract figures, salary payment to ghost-workers, and more. He demonstrates, comparatively, what it amounts to and what edifices that could have been built with such resources. Such was his frustration that when the then Nigerian president Shehu Shagari said that corruption in Nigeria has not as yet 'reached alarming proportions', Achebe responded:
My frank and honest opinion is that anybody who can say that corruption in Nigeria has not yet become alarming is either a fool, a crook or else does not live in this country. [37]
In just over sixty pages Achebe defined and showed what he thinks is the trouble with Nigeria, but which has become trouble with Africa. This is a book that's worth the read by all who want to cause changes and lead this continent to achieve its potential.

Having not read this book, I wrote an article on this blog on July 07, 2009, that the reader might also be interested. I titled it Facing our Demons, where I discuss the major problems facing us as a country, Ghana. And I was shocked to see the overlapping causes.

ImageNation Rating: 4.0/6.0


  1. Glad to hear you liked this - he can really say so much, so well, in so few words can't he?! Thanks for the link as well to your earlier post.

  2. Yes, Amy. In just under 70 pages he tells of the problems and how to handle it. It's also graphic.

  3. Graphic, it is. I enjoyed this too.

  4. The books bites even the untouchable....!very clear work from asober mind

    1. the books reflects the injustices in most countries


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