Book Review: Time to Reclaim Nigeria, a book of essays by journalist and columnist, Chido Onumah
By Prof. Harry Garuba*
When I received the soft copy of the galleys of this book in the short interval between committee meetings, I was so captivated by the title that I immediately started reading and had to be reminded by phone that the second session had begun. The idea of reclaiming Nigeria struck a deep chord in me as I recalled the many incidents of tortured delay at airports as soon as I produce my passport. Or the moments of discomfort and dissimulation when someone notices your decidedly non-local accent and asks the inevitable question- where do you come from? – and, instead of proudly proclaiming your Nigerianness, you pause and then answer with your own question – why do you want to know?
These incidents that take place either in transit or outside the country are mirrored within the country by the anecdotes you hear all the time about the impact of corruption and inefficiency on everyday life. The frustration is palpable.
Every Nigerian can tell you their own tale of woe about the state of the country, from stories about the frequency of the petty roadside bribe to the brazen looting of public resources; tales about the deadly infrastructure of roads and the inefficiencies of public utilities. But what most of us do not know is that we can reclaim the country from the corrupt and inept leaders who have turned it into a vast moral desert, a place where nothing works and where there is no conception of the public good. This is precisely what this book admonishes us to do: to reclaim the country from those who have brought us to our knees. As you go through this book, you cannot but agree with the author that it is truly time to do so.
This book provides us with a historical record of wrongdoing spanning roughly the just-over-one decade of the return to democracy in Nigeria. It brings together the many columns written by one journalist over the years in different newspapers and magazines commenting on the state of the nation and its leaders, showing us the many wrong turns we have taken on the road. The 65 pieces collected here serve to remind us of the disparities of opulence and poverty that mark Nigeria, the plunder of its resources by an avaricious elite, the venality and chicanery of politicians, the utter disregard for the niceties of governance and accountability, and the list of odiousness continues without let. The repetitive folly the book details is only alleviated by the logic and lucidity of Onumah’s prose which compels you to keep reading.
Every year end, I often find myself rereading old newspapers – before I thrash them - to relive the fury and the frenzy of commentary on the topical issues that dominated the news that year and assess which of these have faded into oblivion or diminished into inconsequence. Reading through Chido Onumah’s pieces brought that feeling of perspicacity that hindsight provides, except that the catalogue of malfeasance neither seemed to have faded nor diminished; it was like returning to an old wound that simply refuses to heal or be cauterised no matter how you try. In spite of the relentless bleakness of the landscape of turpitude it maps, it is important to note that the anchoring premise of this book is that surely, this recurring nightmare has to stop. It’s time for us to dare to dream.
Home, they say, is where the hurt is; but home is also where hope nests. Time to Reclaim Nigeria takes us through the hurt to the home of hope. If you are still reading this, it’s time to embark on this journey from hurt to hope with Chido Onumah’s book as guide and compass.
*Harry Garuba is the Head of Department and Associate Professor in the Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town, South Africa. He has a joint appointment with the English Department. His teaching interests include: African Literature; Postcolonial Theory and Criticism; African Modernities; and Intellectuals/Intellectual Traditions of African Nationalist Writing.In addition to being an author and poet, he is a member of the editorial advisory board of the Heinemann African Writers Series and one of the editors of the newly established electronic journal Postcolonial Text. He has an active interest in African and postcolonial literatures and has published a volume of poetry Shadow and Dream & Other Poems, and has edited another Voices from the Fringe.
His recent publications have explored questions of mapping, space and subjectivity within a colonial and postcolonial context and issues of modernity and local agency, especially the nature and form of African inflections of the modern.