Magazine article New African

Not Waving but Drowning: Nigeria Is Too Rich to Be Poor, but the Fact That the President's Prolonged Absence Has Made No Difference Whatsoever to the Lives of Ordinary Citizens Is, of Course, Indicative of the Essential Hollowness of the Government's Claim to Power

Magazine article New African

Not Waving but Drowning: Nigeria Is Too Rich to Be Poor, but the Fact That the President's Prolonged Absence Has Made No Difference Whatsoever to the Lives of Ordinary Citizens Is, of Course, Indicative of the Essential Hollowness of the Government's Claim to Power

Article excerpt

I LEFT NIGERIA IN OCTOBER 2009 FOR a three-month sojourn in the UK. I needed to complete a book I had started and knew that I couldn't do so in my father's land. The problems were just too many. At the time we were down to two hours of electricity a day, the internet was erratic and I needed the resources of a first-rate specialist library, in this case the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), my alma mater.

The fact that the book itself concerned one of the pioneers of modern Nigerian literature in English was merely an added irony given that the University of Ibadan, my subject's own alma mater in the 1950s, lacked even a complete set of the influential journal he had edited while a student there, but which was to be found in its entirety at SOAS. Moreover, the staff at SOAS were courteous and efficient, which was more than I could say for their counterparts at Ibadan when I ventured there to test the waters. So I landed in London. My first feeling was one of relief. No more running up and down the stairs to turn on the generator when they took the light without warning, or repeating the unwanted exercise again to turn it off when they brought it back--also without warning. No more waiting for the internet to connect so I could send an attachment, or experiencing the frustration of it breaking up halfway through and having to start over again. I could plan my days, maximise my time and get on with my work. And then, inexplicably it seemed, my relief gradually turned into anger. Why had it been necessary to go to such extremes for something so apparently simple? The anger wasn't only for me. Whatever hardships I had been forced to endure in my father's land were small compared to those of the people who don't have the escape route open to me but must struggle with the contradictions of a country too rich to be poor, as the saying has long had it. So it was that I wrote an article which appeared in this magazine. I wrote it in a kind of white heat and it showed. No sooner was it published than I began receiving phone calls and emails from friends who had heard that I had abandoned my father's land; had, indeed, abandoned them. There were even articles in the Nigerian press which used it as yet more proof that the country had gone to the dogs.

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And now, three months later, I am back. Nothing has changed, of course. There is still no electricity and the internet connection is still hit-and-miss, but at least I have finished my book. Even now I can still hardly believe the amount of work I was able to accomplish in such a relatively short period of time merely because the wherewithal was there for me to do so.

As I said in my earlier article, the waste of manpower occasioned by Nigeria's corruption and the inevitable inefficiency that follows on from it is only one of the more tragic manifestations of a failing state which might yet have already failed but for the veneer of an order which is not order at all but a kind of stupefied incomprehension that 50 years after so-called independence we remain a country without direction. Consider, for instance, the confusion surrounding the condition of the president. Already known to be ill before he even assumed office in May 2007, he has been receiving treatment in a Saudi hospital since November last year in the absence of decent medical facilities in the country he purports to govern. …

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