NIGERIA AT A GLANCE.
A country like Nigeria can be seen as one of the most populated and widely inhabited country in the continent Africa. With so much cultural, political and economic impact around the globe.
Yet Nigeria’s incredible complexity composed of dozen of ethnic groups and languages can be daunting even to those interested in learning more about the country, especially those interested in unraveling its beauty and secrets.
The nonspecialist can also be easily misled/confused by the famous image of Nigeria as a land of Internet scammers (Yahoo Scam), political fraudsters, drug traffickers and more recently, fanatical jihadists.
Three recent books, however, make The Nation more accessible to a novice/learner who knows practically nothing about the country and more comprehensible to the specialist. These books take up the core issues and problems that are presently facing the country, especially the Fulani Herdsmen/Boko-Haram crisis and other issues of insurgency that are currently the future of Nigeria’s democracy.
John Campbell and Matthew Paige’s Book: “Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know®” is the most explicitly introductory of these texts. Written by an Ex U.S. ambassador (Representative) to Nigeria (Campbell) and a former U.S. intelligence analyst (Paige), the book is organized and displayed as a series of questions and answers.
These short units are helpfully organized and displayed into thematic chapters concentrating and focusing on history, economics, religion, politics, security, foreign relations, and trends. The politics chapter, for example, is rich, informative and communicative with one unit taking the reader through an archetypal day in the life of a Nigerian politician.
For illustration, Campbell and Paige cover Boko-Haram tormentous evolution in just a few pages covering all the key turning points. Similarly, the authors take a pitiful glance at Nigerian democracy, highlighting the corruption and rigging that permeate elections but also noting the country’s positive milestones — especially a transposition of power by the ballot box elections in 2015. Concise and expert, the book belongs on the shelf of any student of Africa.
Brandon Kendhammer and Carmen McCain’s “Boko-Haram” overtly narrates and richly contextualizes the story of Boko-Haram, the jihadist group based in Nigeria, conjoining together the observations of scholars and Nigerian journalists, analysts, and authors. The authors examine Boko-Haram’s own story; the insurgency’s impact on Nigerian politics and society; and the question “Who Speaks for Boko-Haram’s Victims?” Critical of media coverage of the conflict as well as of influential Nigerians’ sometimes self-serving efforts to speak for victims, the authors note ordinary Nigerians’ “deep longing for a peaceful multi-religious and multi-ethnic society.”
THE “BOKO-HARAM” INSURGENTS
The question of who cries out for the affected appears all over the book, as the authors deftly assess the diversified, disjointed range of people who felt the impact of the insurgency, all of whom bring both distinct perspectives and deep biases.
For example, the authors show that there is no such thing as a single “Nigerian Christian perspective.” While many Bystanders’ picture Nigeria as having a “Islamic north” and “Christian south,” the authors report on northern Christians’ experiences.
In one insightful passage, the authors write, “Because of their experiences living alongside Muslims, northern Christians can sometimes be powerful voices against the stereotypes and mistranslations of the region proffered by Christians in the south.
Yet their pasts as lesser entities have also made many of them suspicious of the motivations of the northern elite.” The divisions sown by the conflict, the wide circulation of conspiracy theories, the authorities’ penchant for obfuscation, and Boko-Haram’s “flexibility in the face of changing circumstances” all inform the authors’ unenthusiastic but justified conclusion that Nigeria should expect more conflict.
THE NIGERIAN FLAG.
Carl LeVan’s “Contemporary Nigerian Politics: Competition in Time of transposition and Terror” examines the 2015 election, when the brand-new All Progressives Congress (APC) party defeated the largest ruling party in Africa, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
LeVan argues, simply but refreshingly, that the APC defeated the PDP by campaigning “on economic issues.” Here LeVan breaks with the widespread but crude (and sometimes implicitly racist) idea that African elections are always about big men mobilizing their own ethnic groups and never about voters thinking through issues for themselves.
Although the book is not about Boko-Haram, it does ask how the movement’s violence has affected Nigeria; LeVan analyzes what he calls “the paradox of democratic counter-terrorism,” in which politicians may attempt to pander to voters through showy but ineffective gestures at repression.
This idea informs LeVan’s predictions for Nigeria’s future, which are a notch more hopeful than those of Kendhammer and McCain, but still quite sober: “Nigeria may have navigated the treacherous waters of party turnover for the first time in 2015.
But it has yet to prove its democratic constitutional nerve by asserting civilian control over the security services, reining in its politicians, and institutionally adapting to stress points confronting the Fourth Republic.” By highlighting the causes, mechanics, and limitations of this election’s crucial turnover of power, LeVan’s book offers an admirable and sophisticated view of one of the most important elections on the African continent in this century.
Nigerians could be forgiven for raising an eyebrow at a spate of books in which white Americans seek to explain Nigeria to the world.
On social media, at conferences, and elsewhere, questions about power dynamics in the global academy are surfacing more and more. Cohorts of young scholars in Africa and in the Diaspora — perhaps most prominently in Somali studies — are increasingly challenging the mantle of authority that white Western scholars wear. All the authors reviewed here, however, have spent substantial amounts of time living, working, and researching in Nigeria.
All have made extensive efforts to cite widely from the vast literature produced by Nigerian academics, journalists, novelists, and others. Outside the pages of these books, the authors have all collaborated substantially with Nigerian peers while elevating junior Nigerian scholars. In the best-case scenario, the expansion and clarity of Western academic literature on Nigeria will be paralleled by growing access, for Nigerians, to the resources and platforms to publish and promote their work.
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