Friday, December 30, 2011

Reading for the Nigerian Progressive

I recently mentioned an interest in getting more Nigerians to read books detailing the history of the nation in a bid to help them understand the hidden and not-so-hidden issues that continue to stifle growth in the country. A couple of people responded with requests for books that I would recommend, hence this blog.
It is my belief that only in understanding our past - the good, the bad and the ugly - can we develop the lessons learned required to improve our present and secure our future. Unfortunately, our present leaders don't read or read without understanding. If this were not the case, we would not have rigged elections, a flawed judiciary, a comatose legislature and an impotent executive arm of government.
This incompetence in government is highlighted by short memories in the polity, and that complex African tendency to "respect" those who lead us. Let us step away from these mental shackles and start using our intellect to challenge those who have failed to earn the right to rule.

Others may have their own favorites, but I hope these 5 book selections juggle memories and re-awaken the fires of nationalism and progression that lie dormant in the hearts of many a Nigerian.

Here goes, in increasing order of relevance to me:

5. My Command by Olusegun Obasanjo.

Those who know me are aware of my latent dislike of General Obasanjo - mostly for gross corruption and lack of accountability while President of Nigeria - then again, there are not too many present and former leaders of Nigeria that I hold in high esteem.
That being said, this work is notable and commendable. Obasanjo, or his ghost writer, does a fantastic job of weaving together the tapestry of the post-Ironsi Nigerian military during the civil war and how it evolved in the space of a few short months into the most fearsome army in Africa (and quite possibly one of the most equipped in the world). This evolution was propelled by both the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, strange bedfellows no doubt, demonstrating the lengths to which the world was willing to go to keep Nigeria - the hope of Africa, apparently - indivisible.
Military and civil war buffs will also enjoy the tales of battle and the subtle power plays that ensued behind the scenes; details that cannot be found elsewhere. All in all, a light and interesting read.

4. Oily Waters by Ikechi P. Ihejirika.
Okay, so I'm a little biased in this one seeing as my father wrote the book. This bias is founded in sincerity and merit, however. As someone who was an insider in Nigeria's oil/gas industry and a pioneer staff and leader in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Ihejirika was well-positioned to witness the power play between oil, national development and politics. His fictional account in this book traces the history of Nigeria from its discovery by Portugese missionary-cum-explorers in the 16th century to the issues that wracked the nation in its nascent years and beyond, in particular machinations by foreign powers greedy for Nigerian oil and their use of certain military and political elites to achieve their objectives. The prose is crisp, and the main character is one that many Nigerians will identify with.
A worthy read for those lovers of consipiracy theories and those with interest in the often murky oily waters of Nigeria who may find out that there is some truth to the myths they grew up with!

3. Why We Struck by Adewale Ademoyega.
The classic story of how and why the first military coup occurred and partially failed. There are many consipiracy theories that surround this coup, including allegations of ethnic bias and selective killings. This book goes beyond mere appearances and explains - in frighteningly lucid detail - the real reasons for the coup. An unabashed socialist/communist to the very end, parts of Major Ademoyega's story tend to get very ideological as he delves into his socialist solutions for Nigeria. While some find these aspects tedious, I found them refreshing. I don't know how many of our current government figures, not to mention social activists and military figures have the intellectual depth that was displayed by the highly astute - and detribalized - trio of Majors Nzeogwu, Ifeajuna and Ademoyega.
A must read for people who seek the truth in strange places and for anyone who has any level of interest in immediate-post-independence Nigeria.

2. A History of Nigeria by Toyin Falola
A true historical account of Nigeria by a leading historian, going back to 9000 BC. Mr. Falola examines Nigeria's pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial pasts with a fluid narrative that makes one feel that they are traveling through the ages, rather than the pages. Like Oily Waters, the book traces the global situations that have shaped - for better or worse - the geographic expression called Nigeria. In a way, one finishes reading his book and wonders how Nigeria can still exist. With the tribal, religious and political differences between the various peoples and groups of Nigeria, it is a minor miracle that the country stands - hope certainly for those who believe that there is greatness yet to be manifested by the Giant of Africa.

1. Nigeria: Oil, Politics and Violence by Max Siollun
In my opinion, this is simply the best narrative of Nigeria between 1960 and 1979. Tracing the genesis of the ethnic and political upheavals the young Nigerian nation faced in the 1960s and ending with the emergence of the second republic, Mr. Siollun presents a very balanced narrative of major incidents in the polity. The political landscape, the young military, the western region crises, the first coup, the counter-coup, Gowon's government and the assassination of Murtala Mohammed are presented with ease and familiarity. Primarily a narrative of the military that would come to rule Nigeria for the majority of its independent years, the book is as unbiased a narrative as can be found. Mr. Siollun has no sacred cows and no taboo topics.
A book about Nigeria for Nigerians by a devoted Nigerian historian.

All these books can be found online on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Happy reading!

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