Professor Remi Sonaiya has raised in this small book, the central philosophical question about the condition of the African or even the black man on earth.  It is a question Africans ask themselves frequently when they are alone amongst themselves.  Why is the black man so backward?  Why has the rest of the world left us so far behind?  Why have we become contemptible third class passengers in the world’s aircraft, driven and operated in turns by white and Asian men?  Why are we perpetual consumers, of what others produce? Why is it that we have not only been left behind by the rest of the world, but that ominously, the developed, civilized and enlightened world is accelerating away from us with the speed of light?

 

From the very first word in the introduction, this book bluntly expresses the pain and turmoil ravaging the heart of every rational and right thinking black man. The Writer asks in clear anguish:

 

“What do so many countries, mostly in the West, do right – or, at least, what were they able to do so well in the past to significantly improve the living standards of their populations?  How come several Asian countries are also succeeding in turning around their lot and bringing their populations into an era of prosperity?  And why have we, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, been unable to do the same? What do we do wrong, or what critical notions have we failed to comprehend, imbibe and successfully apply, thereby ensuring that we remain the poorest, most underdeveloped, most disorganized, most unstable, most disease-ridden, most poverty-stricken region of the world, with unacceptably low – and, arguably,  the most deplorable – standards of living on the globe?  These are the issues this book seeks to grapple with.

 

How, and maybe ultimately, why, have others been able to build lasting structures, institutions and systems that work fairly well basically, almost regardless of the political leaning of their leaders at any given time, or even of allegations of corruption that might be leveled against them?  The facts are clear: in these countries the streets are kept relatively clean, water flows through the taps, electricity supply is certain, except in unusual cases (for instance, during maintenance or in times of bad weather), and more than a few aspects of life are, to a large extent, quite predictable.”

 

Of course the Author did not simply sit down to catalogue a list of lamentation points for the black man in Africa.  She raised the fundamental issue of backwardness, tried to find answers to the problem and proffered solutions as the various chapters indicate.

 

The book contains five chapters with very revealing titles.  After the introductory chapter, which is an expose` of the problems, she delves into the possible causes and suggests solutions in the remaining four chapters, namely:

 1.         What did the slave trade do to Africa and what can Africa do with it?

2.         How on earth did others do it?

3.         What must we do with ethnicity, religion and culture?

4.         How will we redeem our political culture?

5.         Where do we go from here?

 

The Author has made a valiant effort to explain why some parts of the world are developed and running smoothly and efficiently, whilst ours is stuck in rot and chaos.  She quotes Francis Fukuyama’s three components of a modern political order, namely;

 

(i)        a strong and capable state.

(ii)       the sub-ordination of the state itself to the rule of law and

(iii)      the accountability of government to all citizens.

 

These concepts and values are missing in African Countries and societies.

 

Another idea considered by the Author is the geographical or climate factor.  The idea being that a harsh temperate climate compels innovation, invention and adventure, whilst a friendly tropical climate creates a disinclination to engage in any activity that promotes the ascent of man.

 

Finally, addressing the issue that is in most minds, but which is ever hardly expressed in these climes, the Author states as follows:

 

“It is no longer politically correct to suggest that Africans are inherently incapable of organizing themselves into a viable state – and this is probably the opinion that not a few Westerners continue to hold.  Better to keep quiet, then, than to stir up accusations of racism.”

 

Nevertheless, an accurate record of the standard of governance in black African states since the independence era of 1960, leaves the enquirer in doubt as to whether we are fit to rule ourselves.  Attempts to blame the slave trade for our plight are simply pathetic, because as the Author reminds us, we were happy and eager collaborators with the white slavers in the trade.  We gladly sold our own people to the slavers.  In any case, the slave trade has been over since the 19th century.  How long can we continue to flog that dead horse?

 

My humble view is that our present condition is inherent in our nature.  That is what we have been doing to ourselves for centuries and we are not yet ready to change.  The Author herself seems to admit this fact at page 19 of the book when she asks the following pertinent questions:

 

“Why has it taken so long for black Africa to throw up true leaders since independence over fifty years ago – leaders, visionary, energetic, competent and committed to the common good?  How can we redeem political leadership in Africa and in Nigeria specifically?  This is the concern that Chapter Four focuses on.  We continue to suffer in our own land, not in some foreign country to which we have been carried away as captives, in spite of bountiful resources which could be tapped to give us better living conditions.  How do other countries turn out good leaders, and how can we do the same?”

 

In his book entitled The Diaries of Mr. Michael, published by the Griffiths Audio-visual Company (Nig.) Ltd.,  Fola Arthur-Worrey put his finger on the answer in the following passage at pages, 5 – 6, in which an observer was complaining to God for not planting natural disasters in Africa, especially in Nigeria.

 

““My Lord”, he ventured, “we cannot help but notice that you have placed a phenomenon at almost every point on the globe.  But every time you reach that corner of Africa, you hesitate and then move on.  You haven’t put a single disaster there.  Do you have a special place in your heart for that land?  You have always taught us to be fair, to be just, to be equitable, and yet ...”

 

A long silence passed as God concentrated on what He was doing; and He was finished.  He sat up and turned on His heavenly seat to capture their collective attention with a wisdom-filled and penetrating gaze.

 

“Indeed,” He said, “You have learned my lessons well.  To be fair, to be just, to be equitable, these are the most important elements of humanity.  And so have I been in this exercise.  How fair, just and equitable would it have been to saddle that land with natural disasters when the very people I intend to put there are a disaster in themselves.  Would you not consider me a wicked, perverse and unmerciful God if I saddled them with such catastrophes?  How would they cope with their own inherent weaknesses in addition to natural disasters and not disappear from the face of the earth?  No! For them, the test is a special one, it is how they can make sense and build character out of their own peculiar situation, out of their own perverse attraction for self-destruction and waste.”

 

It has even been suggested in some quarters that if there were to be an exchange of populations between Africa and Europe, in 50 years, Africa will be like Europe and Europe will be like Africa.

 

In sheer exasperation, at the African World, the Author wonders whether the backwardness decay, filth and sickness of African Countries can be traced to the ‘i’ and ‘a’ with which some of their names end; Liberia, Tunisia, Nigeria, etc.  She observed that the i.a. suffix tends to be the end of a long list of diseases, like, amnesia, anemia, bulimia, diphtheria, dyslexia, malaria, etc.

 

“Nigeria, a diseased country living up to the primary functional meaning of its suffix? That seems to be the reality being witnessed, most dishearteningly, for ours is a nation languishing in the throes of the most incomprehensible degree of want and deprivation, whereas we have all that is required to make us a haven to be sought after by all, from far and near. Is there truly malediction in that suffix?”

 

Still not relenting, she notes that other countries which also end with the letters ‘i’ and ‘a’ like Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Russia, tend to be crisis-ridden, but Malaysia, seems to have done well inspite of the same suffix; (she wrote before the disappearance of MH 370).  She adds that the loveliest flowers in the world all end with ia, namely, Zinnia, bouvardia, heliconia, gardenia, etc.  So tongue-in-check she concludes that the fault is not in our name but in ourselves.  We are the ones giving ‘i’ ‘a’ a bad name, not the other way round.

 

In the search for the source of our problems, the Author finally lands where the national consensus has currently placed it, on our so called leaders, more properly described, as rulers.

 

“Our leaders have been incapable of realizing that keeping the people in poverty is simply not in the interest of any nation; the chicken will always come home to roost.  Would there be so much violence in our country if we all lived in decent houses, in a clean environment, with services like water and electricity constantly provided, as well as good schools and hospitals, and comfortable buses, trams and trains available to move us and our goods around?  People are not that crazy; no sane person would choose to give up a quiet, decent and comfortable life and instead prefer to spend their days vandalizing petroleum pipelines.  There is no peace in the land because our leaders engage in actions that promote violence.”

 

This book is relatively small – about 170 pages, but it manages to capture every conceivable aspect of the problems of Nigeria and Africa: corruption, indiscipline, lack of industry.  She also correctly identifies a centralized federal system, centralized resources and a power bloated centre,  as one of the major causes of our backwardness.

 

“Many of the problems we have with our political class derive from the over-centralized federal system we run.  The centre is far too powerful given that it controls too much of the nation’s resources.  Our federal government owns all the mineral resources within the country, no matter where they are found.  This is a great anomaly. Should resources not belong to the localities in which they exist, such that the people in that region are the primary beneficiaries?  The current system of  having the federal government own all of our resources and then hand out portions to all the states has made us lazy and complacent, especially since the discovery of crude oil in the Niger Delta.  Since everybody was being given their share of the income derived from the exploitation of petroleum, other areas of economic activity have become neglected, particularly agriculture, with the production of important crops like groundnuts, cocoa and cotton plummeting.”

 

Apart from the poor and incompetent standard of governance generally, the availability of so much money at the Centre leads to corruption.  The Author states that:

 

“It can also be argued that too much money in the central government has fuelled corruption to the insane level it has now attained in Nigeria.  No wonder people have clamoured for a federal character principle – to ensure that they too have access to their portion of the loot. There is so much money to steal, and people have been doing just that. It is now difficult to recall all the various scandals involving officers of different federal agencies – the Police,  the Pensions Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the NNPC, the Ministry of Aviation, and even the National Assembly where our supposedly honourable representatives meet in their hallowed chambers to regulate our lives.”

 

This book is the best discourse on the subject of the problem with Nigeria and Africa, since Chinua Achebe’s book of that title decades ago.  It is a meticulous and wide ranging assemblage of the acute short-comings of our society and our rulers since independence.  For us adults and grown up Nigerians, it puts “under one roof”, so to speak, a diagnosis of Nigeria’s long list of ailments, tries to identify their sources and causes and then proffers solutions, particularly in the last chapter; which is a letter to the young people of Nigeria.  After a lengthy apology to the young ones for the injuries inflicted by the older generations on them, the Author describes the plight of the present generation of Nigeria in the following dramatic manner.

 

“You could have had a better life growing up, but we completely impoverished your parents.  Your dad was laid off when production almost ground to a complete halt at the factory where he worked because there was no electricity to keep the machines running. He lost his job, and you lost your dad.  Because he could not find another job he began drinking and staying out late.  One day he simply disappeared, and the next thing you knew his corpse was brought home for burial. At such a tender age you had to start hawking bread in the mornings before you left for school and as soon as you got back.  You had no time to play anymore. I apologize.

 

For all the wasted years; for all that could have been and was not; for your little sister who died of mala           aria and the accident that killed several of your classmates on the Abuja-Lokoja road; for the hours you spend fetching water every day; for the fumes of the many generators you’re forced to inhale and the toll it takes on your tender lungs; for having to go hungry or not knowing what it feels like to have a really full stomach; for the tattered and “Tokunbo” (used, imported) clothes you wear; for the filth in your neighbourhoods and the shacks in which you live – I apologize.”

 

This is followed by a clarion call on Nigerian youths to wake up from their slumber, and to get involved in the struggle for power in order to have a significant input into governance. It is a call to salvage and to wrest the controlling power levers of the country from the callous and irresponsible generations in order to put this country on a path to sanity and development.  For this purpose, the Author lays down some basic standards and values the young ones must imbibe if their political leadership is to create a different and positive impact.  These are hardwork, honesty, truth, justice, fairness, respect, dignity, simplicity and compassion.

 

If only it were possible to make this book a compulsory text book in civics in all secondary schools in Nigeria, there would be hope for the future of this Country. This book is a complete guide about how to be a patriotic and committed Nigerian.  It is about how to save this Country.

Additionally, the prose of the work is elegant, the Author’s use of the English language is attractive, lucid, pleasant and enjoyable to read.  In certain passages, she waxes lyrical, even poetical.  This is most evident in her satirical dissertation on the many sided characteristics of the suffix ‘ai’.

 

My only criticism of the work is that the selfless, service, honesty and integrity of Nigeria’s first generation politicians and statesmen and women was not acknowledged by the Author.  Probably carried away by the grievous sins of the later generations of politicians and the grave wounds the latter have inflicted on all of us, the Author overlooked the fact that Nigeria started its march into independence with worthy leaders.  The type of invidious and toxic characters who have invaded the political space since January 1966, have infact resulted in an ever ascending profile of our original leaders: Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and their colleagues of the first Republic.

 

What the Author of this inspiring work is urging Nigerians to do, is to return to that glorious era of exemplary leadership when the only reward sought by leaders was the opportunity to serve, not the opportunity to steal, loot, plunder engage in obscene accumulation of public resources, oppression, election rigging and the total disdain for human rights, accountability, democracy and the rule of law, all of  which are currently prevailing in Nigeria and Black African States