Nigeria’s endemic tribal and religious conflicts are examined in email debates.
In light of the recent kidnapping activities of the Islamic militant Boko Haram group, Nigeria is back in the international headlines. This book shows that the country’s turmoil is nothing new. The Nigerian civil war (1967-70), also known as the Biafran War, “destroyed the moral and social fabric of the young nation to the extent that we have not yet recovered from it,” Abure and Akinwole write. Nigeria is home to three major tribes—the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa —that have been vying for power since the country won its independence from Britain in 1960. The nation is also split between the largely Muslim north and mainly Christian south. Religion and tribalism, the authors argue, have prevented Nigeria from overcoming its past, in part because historical truth has been replaced by distortions serving ethnocentric agendas. In an attempt to “correct the unbridled and continuous manipulations of history daily presented to us as truths and facts,” the authors eschew a conventional approach, choosing to reproduce debates they had with friends at home and abroad. Conducted mostly via email, the discussions range over such subjects as the existence of God, the causes of the civil war and Nigeria’s endemic corruption. “[I]n a country of ethnic nationalities where the various ethnic groups just barely tolerate each other, there will be an abundance of corruption,” the authors note. The email debates do not lack passion—one interlocutor accuses Akinwole of “pour[ing] venom” on the Igbos—but the book generates more heat than light. Because the authors assume a basic knowledge of Nigerian history and politics, non-Nigerians will likely get lost in the polemical thickets. The book touches on such post-independence Nigerian leaders as Gen. Yakubu Gowon and Lt. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu, but the epistolary format isn’t conducive to textured portraits of Nigerian people or their culture. By the time the authors recommend solutions to Nigeria’s problems, including church-state separation and a civil rights bill, it may be too late for all but the most patient of readers.
A burdensome format can’t quite capture the tumult.