A critical reflection on late Professor Chinua Achebe’s interpretations on the state of the nation
By Nura Jibo
When I was in secondary school, I deliberately avoided reading late Prof. Chinua Achebe’s books. I only flipped a few pages of his “Things fall apart”. My reason for avoiding Achebe’s books was due to his controversial literature and literary writings on Nigeria.
As I tried to avoid reading him a great deal, I somehow fell at home with his views on Africa’s image.
Nonetheless, I still prefer Achebe’s than Prof. Wole Soyinka’s lengthy academic exercise on Nigeria and Africa. The only thing that I found interesting in Soyinka’s literary works was his intellectual “judo” or rather debates on “Wonders of the African World” with laconic late Prof. Ali A. Mazrui. Then, I used to “bury” my head in James Hadley Chase’s crime fictions. I shared James’s stories with my “stubborn” classmate (errand pal), Bello Makama (now Prof. Bello Makama).
I and Bello, “Bellollah” as I fondly nicknamed him, never care reading our academic Books. We never cared to listen attentively to our Geography lessons that Mallam Garba Alhassan Dutse (GAD) was teaching. We were not much bothered with Mr. Appiah’s integral and differential calculus that he used to teach us using God’s Man Further Math text. Because we believed we could always go to our class guru, the “Scientist” (late Abdulrahman Tahir) and nicely beg him to “gloss” over what we were taught by Mr. Appiah. May Allah reward Abdurrahman abundantly for doing us a great job. We only paid attention to Mr. Mudashiru Kolawole’s and Sir Isaiah’s Physics class. It became a daily routine for Bello and I to find a place under a tree and gist on Boyle’s, Gay Lussac’s and Charle’s laws of gaseous volumes. Even though I was a bit skeptical about Mr. Isaiah’s ‘travelling’, but non-existent car, but I was always keen on his questions that he would ask on plotting velocity-time graph or acceleration. There was also Mr. Rabiu, our Chemistry teacher. He would come to class with only a chalk and duster to teach us REDOX. And there was no way Mr. Rabi’u could teach you neutralization reaction between water and hydrochloric acid or carbondioxide and you claimed ignorance that hydrogen exists as a gas. He used to politely scoff at anyone of us that fails to understand that its bonding pair nature or/and characteristic makes it exist as a molecule in diatomic form. Probably, it was because of this covalent bond teaching that we got from Oga Rabi’u (the Chemistry Master) that lured Bello into becoming an erudite Professor of Chemistry today. Whilst I never cared to follow suit, but I was then figuring out myself as a potential Earth Scientist that could one day rub shoulders with the likes of Jeffery Sachs of this cosmopolitan planet. And Alhamdulillah (Glory to God) I am now able to sit and deliberate on matters affecting our global climate every year with the Sachs of this world. Then there was late Mallam Babale of blessed memory. When Mr. Babale came on board and started mentioning to us up-head the Sine, Cosine and Tangent values inside the Four Figure Table, we were highly motivated. That man’s retentive memory provoked us so much that we all viewed ourselves as greatest scientists that could change the entire global scientific viewpoints forever.
Subsequently, my passion for telling James Hadley Chase’s stories to my friend Bello grew geometrically. I was also a keen listener to Bello’s narratives on his Dad’s first book, “How to pass exams easily”.
Therefore, the English language teaching and literature in us were genuinely encouraged and supported by our master English teacher, Mr. Samuel Durumba. Baba Durumba as we fancily called him taught us the rudiments of English language with professional temerity. He groomed us so well that any teacher who committed mistakes or grammatical error(s) whilst teaching us, we used to ridicule him/her in our own ways. Every student of Sir Durumba will never forget his common expression of “Oh no! No! No! No! This is a bad English!” We were very afraid of this expression, particularly when one blundered or committed an “offence” grammatically on mechanical accuracy or pronounced a wrong word in the presence of the one and only English language WAEC examiner! One day, something funny happened during our Mathematics class. Our Math teacher, Mallam Idris Shayya was teaching us conic section. He instructed the entire class to listen to his dictation on frustum of a cone. Hear our learned Shayya: “A paper is “FILATENED” (emphasis mine) from one side to form a frustum of a cone at an angle of 45 degrees. Calculate the conic section…” Shayya pronounced “flattened” as “Filatened” as in normal Hausa vernacular!
Immediately he mentioned “FILATENED” instead of “flattened”, I bent down a little and touched Bello’s shoulder from behind. I said, “Bello, Mallam has goofed by burning the White House”. Bello curiously asked: “What?” I said, “Mallam fa ya Kona Farin Gida”.
That very day we received the wrath of that ridicule from Mallam Shayya. That was twenty five (25) years ago! And the rest is history.
Now let’s come back to Prof. Chinua Achebe’s perception on Nigeria and the reason why I must extensively make reference to his phraseology on the trouble with Nigeria and Africa. A week ago I reluctantly picked and read a few pages of his take on the “Trouble with Nigeria”. Very unusual of me, I found my instinct agreeing with late Achebe on the issues affecting Nigeria. I now agree with him in absentia that there is, indeed, a trouble with Nigerian leadership. However, I still disagree with him in principle as he disagreed with Prof. Hugh Trevor-Roper who denounced the existence of African history and its so-called revolutionary proposals.
Where I agreed with Achebe was his very apt explanation on Nigerian system and people. There is seriously no trouble with Nigerian geography. There is very seriously no trouble whatsoever with its location, landmass, climate or weather.
What I found fundamentally wrong and very troublesome are its system and people. The leaders that Achebe blamed the most in his horrible painting of African image are a product of Nigerian people. They never emerged from the moon or heaven. It was the system that bred them so bad that they are very unwilling, unable, timid, cantankerous, adamant, indolent, clueless, callous, insincere, selfish and terribly incapacitated to rise up to their responsibilities. I shall come to this point one day.
As Achebe averred in his rejoinder to Professor Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, what Nigeria needs at this material time “is a leader with no non-sense reputation that can induce fear in the Nigerian system in order to effect lasting change. That leader, according to Achebe “must pursue a radical programme of social and economic re-organization or at least a well conceived and consistent agenda of reform, which Nigeria had suffered and stands in abject need of”.
Indeed, that kind of leader is the one that can bail out Nigeria. He is very far from the “two dices” that are today cast as Nigeria’s presidential options. Both options, in my view, cannot, and will never exonerate the country from the leadership regicides that it is in now. In fact, the duet 2019 presidential contenders had once presided over its affairs, and they made it pass through hash times inter alia and ab ini tio!
The current one presiding over its affairs now was broadcasted world over by the Muslim north as the most sincere and honest leader that could take the country to the Promised Land. He was one hundred percent (100%) believed by most ignorant Nigerians as their only hope that could make their situation better.
Majority of people that had and are still having the “only hope notion” on Mr. Integrity President, never know that Allah will surely continue to test their ignorance perpetually. Because they never know that is only Allah the Most High and All-knowing that could rescue their situation not somebody that camouflages under the name of integrity and allows his party men and women, governors, ministers, senators, representative members, and close allies waxing in corruption. Agreed you are a person of sound morals and frugality. Agreed you exhibited all these qualities in 1984. Agreed you portrayed yourself as “God-sent” to Nigerians in 2015. Agreed corruption has no place in your dictionary. But one cardinal question here is: Do you abhor corruption when all Nigerians have seen videos of a certain governor of yours collecting a fistful of dollars and pushing them in his side pockets? Could you consider yourself a person of integrity that has no hiding place for corruption?
The dishonesty in present Nigeria’s leadership is quite unwholesome to our national savvy. Let me explain how dishonest Mr. Integrity President is.
In 2015, Mr. Integrity uttered that he would reduce the price of a litre of petrol from N87 to N45. Within the span of two years, Nigerians witnessed an unprecedented increase of 164%. A litre of petrol in the country is now sold at N143.
In 2015, Mr. Integrity met the price of a measure of Sugar at N500. Now it is sold at N1000. A 100% price increment! What economic magic could Mr. Integrity apply to bring the price of a measure of Sugar back to N500, one has’nt any idea!
In 2015, Mr. Integrity said he would repair all the four Nigeria’s petroleum refineries and build new ones within one year. Who then is insincere? Who then is unrealistic? Ironically, this pronouncement came from a former Minister of Petroleum that ought to have had ample experience to man this sector, because he knew its internal and external crises inside out. But the flimsy excuse we receive daily from the ignorant and vagabond in politics is that he never knew that the level of deterioration in the petroleum sector is so rotten that all he could was to unavoidably increase the price of petrol in order to salvage the PDP ravaged economy.
In 2015, Mr. Integrity mentioned that he would provide three million employments every year. But he ended up absorbing a paltry 200,000 Npower apprentices. Who then is dishonest and economical with truth?
In 2015, Mr. Integrity promised to get rid of Boko Haram within his first three months in office. How could he get rid of Boko Haram when there is already 3-4 million Almajiris roaming on the streets of Kano and Jigawa states alone, one hasn’t the vaguest idea. The simple fact that Mr. Integrity narrowly escaped death when attacked in Kaduna, that ought to have informed his conscience by making him known that the best way to tackle Boko Haram is to declare state of emergency on all the northern governors to immediately eradicate Almajiri from the streets of northern Nigeria. Only then one could put an end to the parents’ ill-treatment of their innocent children. Who then is deceptive and terribly unrealistic? Mr. Integrity President could not simply deduce that the Shekaus of this world were a product of such cruelty in the name Almajirci in the north.
In 2015, Mr. Integrity said he would stop all government officials from travelling abroad to seek medicare. Six months after presiding over Nigeria’s affairs, he was the very first person that was forced to travel out willy-nilly and seeked medicare.
Today, government officials perpetually travel to Africa’s Egypt or Third World India and get cured whenever they have any health issue that can ordinarily be cured at home. Mr. Integrity no longer has the courage and conviction to make Nigeria’s hospitals the best in the world.
In 2015, Mr. Integrity’s Minister of Aviation had a verbal diarrhea on reviving Nigeria Airways. Up till now all Nigerians could hear was a word of mouth that Nigerian Airliner would be managed by the Ethiopian. What an irony?
One can go on and on, but the issue is we could take days analyzing Nigeria’s systemic leadership failure. The present leadership, in my view, cannot do any good to our children and those yet unborn. Posterity will never forgive you and I if we fail to pause and take a stock of our collective failures as human beings. We will do great injustice to posterity if we fail to tell them the stark reality that we have failed them.
My friend’s three year old daughter, for example, has an amazing IQ. At age 3 she knows how to open an android, scroll it down and reach a menu icon. Click on it and go to videos. Open them and quickly press her finger on the game of her choice. She learnt this when I was already an ignoramus at her age. The children of nowadays are what Zuckerberg Mark braggingly defined as generation M. To allow these kinds of children to be ruled by 70-80 year old men and women is a great injustice to humanity and a sign of absolute greed and schizophrenic overzealousness. It is unacceptable that we have spoilt our time and we are to continue spoiling others’ times and generations.
But as I asserted elsewhere, Nigerian leaders have no shame and conscience. Even the most sincere president is now presiding over their affairs with so many first class corruptible human beings on earth. What an irony?
There is no need in wasting time on the other presidential contender that Nigeria has. His story is another bundle of privatization of corruption in the name of nation building. No need to talk about him. Because doing so is going to be futile and a waste of energy.
Indeed, there is no trouble whatsoever with regional geography of Nigeria. But certainly, there is always a trouble with Nigerian people and its endemic corrupt system.
Today, I wholeheartedly concur with honourable Chinua Achebe i.e. “ Whenever two Nigerians meet, their conversation will sooner or later slide into a litany of our national leadership deficiencies”.
Please note that Chinua made this statement more than thirty years ago! And it is still very fresh and tenable amongst concerned Nigerians.
“The trouble with Nigerian system has become the subject of our small talks in much the same way as the weather is for the English”, said Achebe.
At every five to ten minutes of national broadcast in Britain, hardly one misses an update about their predicament – weather!
Therefore, there is no way Nigeria could build great pyramids as that of Egypt or build bridges or tall structures as that of Engineer Gustavo Eiffel in Paris under its 2019 available presidential options. The UAE, for instance, never developed out of the blues. Its leaders and people had to rise to the development and modernization difficulties. They excelled because their vision is very clear and very sincere. That’s why their bridges and roads are paved with heavy “concrete slabs” and “high tensile reinforcement bars”.
The good Nigerians amongst us that went abroad and excelled, when they are called back home to serve, they never perform or go beyond their pockets or corridors of their office premises. Why? My “friend” and close confidant is one of those best brains abroad that is brought back to serve his fatherland. But he is now enmeshed in this mess! And I strongly believe the corrupt system surrounding him will never allow him perform anything under that Council, which is meant for development. I very seriously pity him in perpetuity! And we have several of them that could not perform beyond their typical hands and mouth! What a wasteful venture?
Hence there is no trouble with Nigeria as a nation. But no doubt, there’s a very serious trouble with Nigerian system and people.
Think! Think!! Think!!!
Jibo, was formally a feature Columnist with Daily Trust and DESERT HERALD stables