Tobi Jaiyesimi

Achebe's The Trouble With Nigeria

By Tobi

10 quotes from Chinua Achebe's The Trouble With Nigeria.

Image: AP / Craig Ruttle via  The Atlantic .

Image: AP / Craig Ruttle via The Atlantic.

Achebe, Achebe, Achebe. I have gushed countlessly (okay, maybe twice) about his writing and why it never fails to resonate. One, for his ability to mirror the truth, and unapologetically so. Second, for his storytelling; his hilarious yet sharp-cutting narratives. More than anything, what distinguishes his work is its relevance – from his anti-colonial African Trilogy to A Man Of The People – which permeates several decades. This latter reason, notably, is major thanks to the fixity of Nigeria’s - its leaders and populace - unwillingness to implement radical change to upturn its history.

In his infamous booklet written in 1983, The Trouble With Nigeria, Nigeria’s years of political instability feature yet again as a canvas. The author brazenly discusses 10 fundamental areas that “cripple” and “inhibit” Nigeria as a state, people and nation. Achebe pools his varied experience and excerpts from daily newspapers to prove, indeed, that “the only thing [Nigeria] has learnt from experience is that we learn nothing from experience.” Of the numerous quotes favourited, I share 10 that that will leave you snapping your fingers while reading The Trouble With Africa Nigeria.

 

1. Where The Problem Lies

2. Tribalism

Whenever two Nigerians meet, their conversation will sooner of later slide into a litany of our national deficiencies...consigning a life-and-death issue to the daily routine of small talk.
Nothing in Nigeria’s political history captures her problem of integration more graphically than the chequered fortune of the word tribe in her vocabulary.

3. False Image Of Ourselves

4. Leadership, Nigerian-Style

I know enough history to realize that civilization does not fall down from the sky; it has always been the result of people’s toil and sweat, the fruit of their long search for order and justice under brave and enlightened leaders.
A basic element of [Nigeria’s leadership] misfortune is the absence of political thought of our founding fathers — a tendency to pious materialistic woolliness and self-centred pedestrianism.

5. Patriotism

6. Social Injustice and the Cult of Mediocrity

A true patriot will always demand the highest standards of his country and accept nothing but the best for and from his people.

...the real explosive potential of social injustice in Nigeria does not reside in the narrow jostling among the elite but in the gargantuan disparity of privilege they have created between their tiny class and the vast multitudes of ordinary Nigerians.

7. Indiscipline

8. Corruption

There is indeed no better place to observe the thrusting indiscipline in Nigeria than on the roads: frenetic energy, rudeness, noisiness...
Nigerians are corrupt today because the system under which they live today makes corruption easy and profitable...

9. The Igbo Problem

10. The Example Of Aminu Kano

The lack of real leaders in Igboland goes back, of course, to the beginnings of colonial administration...the average Igbo leader’s mentality has not been entirely free of the collaborating Warrant Chief syndrome.
...you have told us that you want our votes so that you can serve us. If we get killed while you are getting the vote, who then will you serve?

Have you read Achebe's The Trouble With Nigeria? What are your favourite quotes?


 

TBBNQ Reads: Easy Motion Tourist By Leye Adenle

BY TOBI

Image:  Zaynab

Image: Zaynab

The 48 hours after reading Easy Motion Tourist are somewhat similar to that of the entirety of the book - that is, a perpetual rush of emotions for both the characters and (now) the reader. In what starts off as an official trip and perhaps a hopeless bid for self-validation and/or actualisation, Guy Collins - a British wannabe journalist - voluntarily arrives Lagos to cover an election story. Like a kid who waves a hand through a fire to see if it burns, Collins sets out to discover the night life in Victoria Island, Lagos — or crudely, to find black loving.

Collins quickly learns that Lagos not only burns with a devouring intensity, with greed and poverty as oxidant and fuel, but also fiercely consumes. By virtue of his failure to adhere to his manual on residing in Nigeria - in other words, by being present and simultaneously videoing - Collins is caught in the middle of a crime scene: a mutilated naked female body found in a gutter, and thus assumes the position of a lead in the investigation that shapes the main plot of the novel.

In interchanging narratives - which I loved - told by an unknown narrator and Collins, the author, Leye Adenle, eases the latter and the reader into the underground economy in Nigeria; one “where sex and perversion [are] mixed freely with violence and death.” Amaka - a fierce, sexy and intelligent lady with a phenomenal awareness of self - commands the attention of the reader as she unveils this pervasiveness, and the sophistication of the Nigerian sex work industry from the second chapter. 

 

The Chase

The author’s solid characterisation and the rawness in imagery allows for another central theme -  the trade of humans-for-money - to be explicitly explored. Chief Amadi - a prominent and affluent Lagos ‘big boy’ - introduces this line of business to Catch Fire, who in turn, reels in Knock Out and Go Slow by the hook of desperation. This tag team of headhunters - widely reminiscent of the network involved in the famous Otokoto hotel, which the author also references - are driven by their quest to make quick bucks.

Unlike Amadi, these other characters are careless enough to leave the trails that open up the same investigation Collins is webbed into by Inspector Ibrahim. What unfolds is a crime story woven into the fabric of Lagos; in the same way in which the paths of Amaka and Collins align. The moments of intense suspense are, however, balanced with the right amount of humour: from HotTemper’s irrationality and Collin’s naïvety. Not for once did it feel like there was anything missing - I mean, just Amaka’s sass was enough to keep a reader on alert!

 

Dark Cracks and Plaques Of Righteousness

Doubling as a prostitute on ‘assignment’ and a guardian angel to sex workers, Amaka offers a different perspective to prostitution in Nigeria. The author does a good job in creating a voice for the females involved in this shadow economy, by telling their own stories. The reader is also exposed to the hierarchy of risks involved in prostitution: from being arrested, to being physically abused (Florentine), to the extreme of being the subject of ritual killings.

Adenle, in writing these stories, gives a fictional push for the legalisation of sex work. Considering the violence against these women, this subtly becomes an idea that lingers in the mind of the reader. Amaka’s role of maintaining a database of all ‘customers’ and her network of female workers seemingly becomes valid; forcing one to adopt a new lens to these women - humans, first, then vulnerable (but not illegal) labourers. 

Though I found this interesting, I did tire of the references to choice, in pertinence to prostitution. I found that the feminisation of poverty and the lack of agency and voice stringed with the narratives on sex work was conflicting. I grappled with the idea that all sex workers are victims of the socio-economic conditions and secondly, that choice and poverty are mutually inclusive. To some extent, the former massively contributes to the motives for engaging in sex work, but does this really erode choice?

 

Hover around the charts below for statistics.

Educational Attainment

Motives Of Engagement

Data (In %) Based On Study By Fawole and Dagunduro, Conducted In Abuja.

Source: Olufunmilayo Fawole and Abosede Dagunduro, 2014. Research paper here.

 

In a survey on 305 female sex workers (results illustrated above) in Abuja, Fawole and Dagunduro found a link between socioeconomic factors and motives for engaging in the Nigerian sex industry. What is actually more gripping is the fact that 74.7 percent had at least started secondary education. In this study and another conducted in Lagos in 1990, unemployment and financial limitations, and broken homes (50 percent) and poverty (18.67 percent), were respectively noted. Exogenous factors as a precept for sex work? This, I understand.

Notwithstanding, I do question (amicably, too) the proposition that “for them [Adenle referring to sex workers in Easy Motion Tourist], prostitution was not a choice, […] [but] a lack of choice.” That is, “they had all been forced into that life when the ran out of choices.” Florentine, who had previously been taken care of by her aunt, however deliberately substitutes this for independence. This, in line with Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street’s Sisi, alludes to an element of choice, however marginal, in prostitution.

Another assumption tied to ‘choice’ is the argument that women previously assaulted are subservient and more susceptible to selling their bodies. Not only does this study negate this argument by showing that only 20 percent of sex workers had previously been raped, Amaka - who was sexually assaulted at young age - is depicted to have made a decision in selecting her line of business. One could however argue that Amaka - unlike the other ladies and Aunty Baby - was ‘shielded’ by wealth and education, and thus, cannot be compared. 

 

Poetic Injustice

This, in no way, subtracts from the sheer brilliance of Adenle’s Easy Motion Tourist. The truth is: walking a quarter a mile in their shoes could drastically change one’s perspective. I appreciate the author’s argument and even more, the fact that he makes each character so real. He shows that Knock OutChief Amadi, ‘Rose’ and Chief Ojo are among us, and the reality of Nigeria’s underground economy, which we ignore. We, however, probably seldom hear about them in-house, unless they sip through the crack, and into the arms of international media.

In this sense, the reader is exposed to the tug of war between power and justice. One in which virtue is punished and viciousness is rewarded; integrity is awarded with early retirement, whereas those who are to protect are the backbones to those who devour the country. This poetic injustice is subtly noted amid the author’s kind portrayal of a highly effective Nigerian Police Force, intelligence unit and responsive intensive care unit — the three of which Nigerians long for. 

Oh, if only Adenle’s words were horses, pigs would fly!

 

Dear Leye

My letter to the author.

The end of Easy Motion Tourist left me very uneasy. Simply: I could not believe Adenle’s guts. He took my emotions by full force, and had my heart racing through the last pages, only to toss all, with reckless abandon, into further suspense. I no longer had a reason to bombard my read buddy with excitement at 2am, nor a good enough reason to jump out of sleep at 4am to read. What I was left with was an emptiness and a need for closure on the love affair we shared over 327 pages of crime fiction. 

Though I have largely focused on the discourse on choice and the lack of it in prostitution, this does not change the fact that Easy Motion Tourist is easily one of my favourite reads, so far, this year! The palpitation that followed the twists were unbearable — especially from chapter 50! This book, I tell you, is guaranteed to leave one heart broken, with heart-in-mouth, or both. I, however, take joy in knowing that my healing is coming in its sequel - When Trouble Sleeps - in 2018. This makes the book an exception to “the rule” - that is, an ‘ex’ worthy of reconciliation. 

Dear Leye Adenle,

You were made for this - do not stop. 


Have you read Easy Motion Tourist? What were your thoughts?

Purchase a copy, here, or if in Lagos, send us an email at info@thebookbanque.com.

 

Where To Read In Lagos: Part I

This article is the first in a series on where to read in Nigeria. The Lagos edition is split into two parts - one covering Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki, and the second covering Lagos Island and the mainland. 

BY TOBI

Sometimes, reading at home just does not cut it. Your attention is often either being pulled in ten thousand directions, or your inspiration tank could easily find itself on reserve. For me, quirky and creative spaces with good bites and great coffee make the perfect work spot! On moving to Lagos, one of the first questions I asked anyone I met was "where would be a good spot to work or read?" My flexible work hours and a recommendation by writer and photographer, Eloghosa Osunde, have had me scouring through Lagos for the cosiest and most inspiring spots - few of which I share below.

 

CAFE NEO

Image: Cafe Neo; pictured is the Agoro Odiyan outlet.

Image: Cafe Neo; pictured is the Agoro Odiyan outlet.

The moment your loyalty points are racked up enough to buy you a cup of coffee or two in just six weeks, you know that the coffee is either really good, or you have an addiction to tend to. Pleading guilty to both charges, though more of the former, this is my Cafe Neo story

Cafe Neo is where the freelancers, entrepreneurs and writers in Lagos convene - I tend to call it Lagos' Starbucks! Each outlet has a peculiar and vibrant feel, with clean and earthy decor; the workspace, with the exception of their 'pop up' outlets, would usually have a combination of sofas, stools and chairs, so you can stand, bend or stretch as much as it pleases you.

Their coffee is the best (or second best - Four Point's cinnamon latté is surprisingly good!) I have had in Lagos. Non-coffee lovers are also in for a treat as they also offer fresh juices, hot chocolate and wine. Nibbles wise, they serve the yummiest carrot cake and offer a few pastries and snacks. My advice would be to grab a meal before committing your day there, unless calories are your thing.

For a fairly quiet or an outdoor Neo experience, go to the Adeyemi Lawson outlet. If you go on a Sunday, consider watching an open-air movie afterwards. Of the five of eleven outlets on the Island I have visited, my favourite, however, remains Cre8 - the Agoro Odiyan branch in VI. If you visit, tell Precious that I sent you! You will walk away with the warmest smile, and the best-made drink!

Tip: you can have your hot drinks made with caramel, vanilla or chocolate syrup! If you are lactose intolerant, ask for Soya milk. You also want to have your croissant hot!

Go For: Coffee, meeting (new) people, free wifi, music and good vibes.

Avoid If: Quiet reader, on a diet, and do not want to see someone you know.

 

ART CAFE

Art Café is indeed a hub for inspiration. It has a bohemian, hippy and chique feel to it - something like a convergence of Central European Countries, France and the Middle-East. If you are looking for somewhere "alté"or retro, Art Café in VI, is certainly the place for you.

If it is not hanging from the ceiling, you can find art hanging on the wall next to you, or in the gallery downstairs. It is the perfect spot for a creative to get lost in! They serve hot drinks, chapman, wine and beer (on tap, too!) and in true cafe style, a few bites - although I must confess that I was not impressed with the turkey toastie I had, especially not for the price.

That being said, it is a little pricey. If you are balling on budget, this is certainly not the place to stunt. While the ambience is fantastic, it loses a few points for comfort as the tables are so far away from the sofa. If you are solely there to sink into a book, the sofa is perfect. If like me, however, you have back pains, ditch the sofa, and come with a pillow for the regular chairs. 

If you prefer to work silently, Art Café may not be the place for you, as you will seldom find indoors nor the cute terrace quiet. Even on less busy afternoons, you are guaranteed to assimilate two stories - the one you are reading, and the one spilling from the next table. Consider visiting the gallery, and then walking down to Browns' on the same road - Eloghosa swears by their pancakes!

Tip: go on a Friday afternoon, and unwind with a shandy, addictive nuts and live music playing from 7pm on Friday nights. You can also get your hot drink made with Soya milk!

Go For: Art Gallery, Bohemian inspiration, free wifi, and draft beers.

Avoid If: Hungry, minimalist, and not a fan of people watching.

 

BOGOBIRI house

Bogobiri has a special place in my heart for thousands of reasons. You feel its eclectic, pan-African and antique vibe as soon as you walk through the gates. Turn to the left for its restaurant, walk straight down to a mini library and space of open mic nights, or turn right for its souvenir shop.

The real gem is, however, the Nimbus Art Hub, which can up found up the spiral stairs by the graffiti encased wall. The space is heaven for all art-lovers, history- and culture- enthusiasts, music lovers and bookworms. You are welcomed by an extensive library with a wide range. If you are looking for an old book, or looking to uncover your roots through literature, look no further!

From the quirky chairs to the hand-placed shells on the walls, Bogobiri is all sorts of feels. The first time I visited, I walked into a room with old vinyl records of the greatest African classics, and danced and sang along to Ipitombi as the Art-gallery manager, Chike, educated me on pre-colonial Africa and the importance of history, books and heritage. Need I say how at home I felt?!

The space is great for reading, and meeting other like-minded people. A plus is the delightful food - it is affordable and good value for money! It does take a couple of minutes, so be prepared to get through a chapter with a cup of tea. If you are looking for a stay-cation in Lagos, their hotel would make the perfect spot. You might just be lucky to get fresh Moringa leaves like I did, too!

Tip: sign up to become a member, and have access to their extensive library! They have live music playing on Monday/Wednesday nights; Spoken word on Thursday night and Reggae on Saturdays!

Avoid If: On a diet, uninterested in (African) history, and detest nature. 

Go For: Art Gallery, great food, a discovery of self and history and fast wifi.

 

JAZZHOLE

Jazzhole is your one-stop-shop for everything (Afro-) Jazz and Juju music: from old school Sino Bakare to new school Asa. What draws you in is, however, their array of books on display! Again, with a wide range - that is, from classic books to your latest authors - Jazzhole has it all.

Just a few minutes in, you are bound to get lost in its vintage feel, and forget you are in Lagos! The space is such a stark contrast to the madness you walk in from on Awolowo road in Ikoyi - it is warm, friendly and exhilarating! Further down is a cute work space with a homely cafe and a live music set-up right opposite it. Here, you can also grab cakes, coffee, tea and freshly made juices.

With Jazzhole, I would caution that discipline is needed in abundance. You can easily spend your time drooling over their books, or feeling so inspired, you finish your read in no time! To be honest, either way is a win-win. The former was the case when I visited with Niki, who could not stop gushing about authors I knew nothing about, and literature on the Soviet Union. 

The 'downside' about Jazzhole, however, is the price of the books - they can leave you clutching your chest tightly, and your purse tighter. Thus, budget ballers, beware! For me, it makes such a cute and artsy spot to read as it drowns out the noise of Lagos. The tables and chairs are quite small, so do avoid bringing your whole library. Ask for Mr(s) Tejousho if in need of a story or two! 

Tip: they often have jazz nights, listening sessions and (international) artistes play.

Go For: Jazz or live music, fresh juices and smoothies, and classic literary finds.

Avoid If: On a budget and like spacious reading/working area.

 

A few other spots I would recommend would be Blowfish, Maison Fahrenheit and Radisson Blu - all in VI; Wheatbaker in Ikoyi; Four Points in Lekki. These are all hotels with beautiful and calming poolside spaces. The latter's rooftop and restaurant downstairs are perfect reading spots!


Got any favourite reading or working spots in Lagos we should know about? Kindly share below or via our social media pages, and let us know why it's a must-go!