“The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.”
Chinua Achebe, The Trouble With Nigeria, 1983
“Since 1960, many attempts have been made to diagnose the trouble with Nigeria. Chief among the usual suspects have been, “tribalism,” corruption, and bad leadership. May I submit that these are symptoms, not the underlying causes; the fevers, not the malaria or typhoid parasites. Our problems are much more serious than corruption & co. They include identity crises of various kinds, a lunatic elite, cultural schizophrenia, Eurotoxification and the fact that Nigeria is not a nation but a noyau—i.e., a society of inward antagonism, one held together by mutual internal antagonism, one which could not carry on if its members had no fellow members to hate. And if we want to end the troubles of the Nigerians, we must dig deeper to find the fundamental causes.”
Chinweizu, Lugardism, UN Imperialism and the Prospect of African Power. February 18, 2006
There are societies that plan for everything; they plan for the known and the unknown. These societies are not at the bottom of life’s totem pole, they are at the top. When a tragedy catches them napping, they enter into the chambers of introspection, lick their wounds, learn their lessons and vow never to let the evil overtake them again. And it rarely ever does. The tragedy of Nigeria is that her challenges are always couched in the present tense. Her crises never go away, because her leaders are incapable of learning anything new that does not involve stealing the treasury blind.
As our nation’s leaders turn away in criminal indifference to the senseless slaughter of her children in the name of religion, we must ask ourselves these questions: Why is it that citizens of a nation must depend for survival on the largesse of their brethren, not on the robust mechanisms of the state? We have heard the stories coming from Maiduguri and Onitsha for over five decades. What is the excuse of the state, this time? Our leaders studied in some of the best schools in the West. This they know: In America, it is possible for the lowliest black to be in the same room with the most evil member of the Aryan race and not only survive the experience, but thrive despite the experience. Because, America with all of its imperfections prides itself on providing structures that define her citizens’ morality, rather than relying on the morality of individuals to do the right thing. That mindset is a subtle but powerful philosophy that separates robust states from failed states. We must now turn to the prophet Chinua Achebe and echo his simple words: It is simply and squarely a failure of leadership, no ifs, no buts about it. It is a failure of leadership.
Our leaders have failed our people one more time and they have failed our people miserably. There is absolutely no excuse for the mayhem that plays out in Nigeria every day. It is criminal: Under the watch of a greedy cabal of intellectuals, pastors, priests, imams, and our agbada-clad weevils, our land burns, roasting helpless children, men and women whose crime was to be born in a land of abundance – an abundance of thieves. It is a failure of leadership.
This brings me to Chinweizu. Chinweizu apparently disagrees with his good friend Chinua Achebe. If Chinweizu is to be believed, Chinua should stop obsessing about the symptoms of deeply rooted Nigerian issues. According to him, the fundamental trouble with Nigeria is not a failure of leadership; it is “Nigeria itself – the Nigerian state. This Lugardist state, by which Nigeria was invented and is maintained, has been a disaster for the Nigerian peoples/nationalities and their society.”
Chinweizu’s outburst occurred in Lagos on February 18, 2006, when his friends gathered to celebrate the man, a venue where he gave his lecture on Lugardism, UN Imperialism and the Prospect of African Power.
By all accounts it was a nice gathering and his friends honored him mightily. In appreciation, Chinweizu retaliated with the mother of all lectures, a 55 – page stream-of-consciousness brain dump. One suspects that those of his friends who survived the long agonizing wait to the end of the lecture would not be organizing another event for their friend any time soon. The long standing ovation at the end of the lecture was perhaps offered in gratitude to God for the end of a long ordeal in the hands of a giant.
Yes, Chinweizu is a giant among giants and there is a lot to celebrate about this uncompromising champion of any and everything African. It is a crying shame that Chinweizu always allows belligerence to cloud whatever he has to say about Africa’s ills. There is a lot to say and Chinweizu remains an important voice in the debate about the way forward for the black race. He is a legend in his own right, a renaissance man whose trademark has always been his legendary fearlessness. Never one to shy away from controversy, he has always spoken his mind on a wide range of issues from African literature to the scourge of AIDS, to reparations, and to the condition of the black race. At a time when the works of literary giants like Wole Soyinka and Christopher Okigbo were garnering nothing but fawning, uncritical reviews, Chinweizu et al (the Bolekaja boys) lashed out and dismissed their work as obscure works lacking in originality inasmuch as they carefully aped Eurocentric structures and attitudes of English literature. In 1986, when the West rewarded Soyinka’s obscure creations with the Nobel Prize in Literature, Chinweizu snorted with barely concealed derision and launched the now infamous ogbunigwe bomb that ridiculed the award as – “the undesirable honoring the unreadable.” If today’s Nigerian poets are readable, it is quite possible that some credit goes to Chinweizu and the Bolekaja boys.
So what did Chinweizu have to say in his long lecture? Not much. Certainly not much that is new.
Here is a summary of Chinweizu’s thesis in his own words:
“1] The 20th century has been the most disastrous century, so far, for Black Africa. It was the c
entury in which, under colonialism, Black Africa was subjected to culturecide at the hands of White Power. That culturecide destroyed our ability to resist the genocide that is now taking place. As a result, this 21st century is likely to see the physical extermination of Black Africans, unless those now under 30 organize and defeat the extermination campaign that white power has already unleashed on Black Africa. Therefore,
2] The problem of the 21st century is the problem of African Power – how to build it, and enough of it, to end the long era of our defeats and disasters in the race war, to prevent our extermination, and to ensure our dignity.
3] We should particularly note that Lugardism is a false framework, and these Lugardist states, Nigeria included, are the wrong foundation for building African Power.”
The three propositions in themselves are probably appropriate starting blocks for engaging in a robust debate about the issues that has Chinweizu exercised. He stumbles badly when he begins to expand on his propositions. As far as I could decipher it, Chinweizu reveals to our shock that Nigeria, indeed Africa is in big trouble. Surprise, surprise, we did not know that. He then proceeds to torture us by tracing the long tortuous history of our problems as if we did not know this. And then he rests by laying the blame squarely at the feet of the almighty white man. And the Arab. And Lord Lugard (for producing that “Lugardist” state called Nigeria! Sniff! Wail!). In between this alarming journey of discovery, Chinweizu assures us that the white man created our problems and when our problems could not exterminate us, he created AIDS to eradicate us. Furthermore he points out that there is a patented cure for AIDS (complete with patent number); however the white man has refused to release this cure to needy blacks because, you guessed it, of course we are black and the white man dearly seeks to get rid of everyone one of card-carrying members of that invasive species called the black race. Then he finishes off his lecture, his detractors would say, his listening audience, with a flourish. The cure for all of this wahala (including AIDS, I imagine) is something called African Power! Brilliant!
Unless this was a lecture delivered to an admiring throng of blithering idiots, it was at best a patronizing, perhaps condescending sermon to a choir of intellectuals already educated in these matters. Who really needs to be told at this point that ours is not a democracy? Not even General Olusegun Obasanjo believes that he is running a democracy. Who needs lectures on “Lugardism?” And what is this about African Power? Is that a clichéd term for true emancipation? It is really hard to cut through the clutter; Chinweizu must like the sound of his voice. Chinweizu’s lecture was probably a decent paper in the eighties when it appears that some of the thoughts were originally formulated. Today, it is sadly dated and it shows. A clue: He points to the “Asian tigers” as worthy models of economic viability. That was true in the eighties and the nineties. Today, Chinweizu can only mean that Nigeria should study the flaws that drove those nations into financial crisis. It should be a simple matter for anyone to google that information on the Internet. Today, very few credible economists outside of Nigeria would recommend the fiscal policies of the Asian Tigers. For those who still read books in this age of the Internet (I don’t! How analog) there are a plethora of books out there, books like Robert Garran’s Tigers Tamed: The End of the Asian Miracle and Victor Mallet’s Trouble With Tigers: The Rise and Fall of South East Asia. Chinweizu should follow his own prescription: Africa needs original thinkers to devise policies and structures that are suited to Africa’s unique needs.
There is no way to sugar-coat it: Chinweizu’s analysis of the AIDS crisis was irresponsible. His take on AIDS was baffling, if not possessing of a strong delusional, paranoid streak. AIDS is the big gorilla in our room. That beast will be the end of us if not tamed. We are told that in some African societies, if the cure for AIDS is a clean cup of water, people would still be dying of complications from AIDS.
In all over fifty pages of analysis, there was not a single mention of the word Internet in terms of its implications for Africa’s empowerment (or demise). That is a fatal flaw. Further, his dismissal of virtually every institution of global engagement (UN, AU, NEPAD, etc, etc) was a ringing call for isolationism that would, if heeded speed Africa into extinction. With thinkers like this, who needs white enemies? Taken together, his analyses and prescriptions are deadly – a Molotov cocktail of voodoo nationalism, voodoo economics and voodoo science. No people would wish to survive on such a carcinogenic diet.
So, where should we begin? There is a lot wrong with Chinweizu’s analysis. He is barking up the same tired baobab tree. His guns should be turned on our intellectuals and our leaders. They are in bed together scheming and colluding on myriad ways to make the populace miserable. It is a profitable enterprise for them. Most Nigerian intellectuals lack credibility when it comes to the issue of meaningful reform. All over the world, Holocaust museums remind us daily of the days of Adolph Hitler, that dark era when it seemed that the entire world had gone mad. They remind us that Hitler owes much of his perverse success to the unwavering industry of Nazi intellectuals like Paul Joseph Goebbels. How long would Hitler’s campaign have lasted without Dr. Goebbels? Paul Joseph Goebbels had a Ph.D in Literature and Philosophy. Africa continues to be cursed with her own Hitlers. And her own Goebbels. Today, Nigeria is being ruled, some would say ruined, by a cabal of highly educated criminals, most of them with terminal degrees. It is enough to make you sick. Chinweizu’s rage is misplaced. The white man is the least of our problems. The Arab is the least of our problems. The enemy is us. We are the enemy.
Chinweizu’s rage is misplaced. Even as we bicker, our intellectuals and our leaders are in the same hotel lobbies, lobbing blame at each other for the royal mess that we are in. They take breaks after each self-serving exhortation, down bottles of good wine and resume blaming each other for the mess. And boy is it a mess. There are not enough agbadas to clothe the PhDs in Aso Rock. The looters currently holding Nigeria hostage are the world’s most educated human beings. What has the white man got to do with our collective lack of will? If we are evidently smart enough to know that the white man acts only out of its self interest, what are we doing waiting around to be screwed? It makes no sense.
There is nothing new in Chinweizu’s observation that Nigeria needs to be restructured. What have our leaders done in the past six years that have affected in a positive sense, the structure of Nigeria? Every option for Nigeria is on the table, including its dissolution. Even the matter of the dissolution of our failed state would require effective leadership. Who will bell the cat? To date, the only attempt so far to look at Nigeria’s constitution has been shamefully self serving: General Obasanjo’s goons have been combing the constitution to ensure that he can somehow inflict a third term on us. What does that have to do with the white man? We are now told that same-sex marriages are illegal in Nigeria. What has the white man got to do with this mess? At what point must we start holding these fools truly accountable for their deadly buffoonery?
Chinweizu’s analysis is too deeply rooted in old paradigms. Our traditional notion of nation states surrounded by physical boundaries is under serious attack by the realization that thanks to advances in technology nation states are being morphed into each other. We are inching gradually from communities of many to communities of the individual linked together like a true confederation of the whole. In other words, the individual would truly become the nation state. African intellectuals should think out of the box and help fashion a new economic blue print for African societies that can thrive in the new dispensation.
African leaders ought to deploy Western notions of economics with common sense that is firmly grounded in the reality of our condition. The reality, of our condition, should be guided by the belief that it is also possible for us as Africans to negotiate (with the West) from a position of strength. Contemporary economic models were built to accommodate commerce within physical boundaries. The notion that African societies should allow the efficiencies of supply and demand to lift them out of the doldrums of poverty is dangerous because there is actually no such creature as a pure market. It is possible perhaps to devise solutions that take into account a harsh reality which is that for many African nations the first task ironically is to build robust infrastructures that can withstand the rigors of the economic pills that Western style economists are advocating.
When you cut through the clutter and the belligerence, Chinweizu offers up some truths. Nothing new but they are true. As intellectuals and as a people we have held ourselves hostage to the best and worst thinking of the West. We have held ourselves hostage to the largesse of the West. We have held ourselves hostage to our fears that we are somehow inferior if we don’t make our own rules for living life on our own terms. And the result is that every day we inch towards irrelevance.
It is not only in the area of economics that we have blindly aped the ways of the white man. It is true that we are the sum of our experiences. As Africans, we have allowed alien cultures and norms to totally subsume our collective identity as expressed by our cultural practices. Even as we advocate the acceptance of practices that have enabled certain societies to prosper, there is the ever-increasing reality that African customs and traditions are being wiped out wholesale as unwholesome. We have deserted our gods, preferring alien gods who respond to our needs rank indifference. We are a race without our own gods, doomed to the whims and caprices of alien gods whose offspring view us as sub-humans. That should worry all of us. The new religion that we as Africans have embraced (at home and in the Diaspora) is the most eloquent testimonial to what Chinweizu is railing about. This new Christianity, this new evangelism, this new Islam that accepts any and everything uncritically is a drug unlike any pernicious addiction before it. It threatens to join forces with AIDS to force our people off the surface of the earth. We ought to fight off this new scourge that threatens to conscript all of our people into the cult of darkness from which there is no reward and no return. For, in this cult, the only winners are the millionaire-high priests, shameless myrmidons of the darkness-god, the almighty dollar. A pox on all their temples. Their temples have become temples of doom. Their priests gather the dispossessed and dispossess them some more. Their priests gather crooks and bless their loot. A pox on all their evil temples.
We must hold our leaders accountable: Our leaders have failed us. Under the watch of a greedy cabal of intellectuals, pastors, priests and imams, and our agbada clad weevils our land burns, roasting helpless children, men and women whose crime was to be born in a land of plenty – plenty thieves. Even as we bicker, democratically elected governors of oil-rich states are openly looting the treasury. Their unemployed are riding water taxis, latter-day Adaka Boros openly asking to be slaughtered by a murderous state. Our guns should be turned inwards at our leaders.
It is really very simple. Our people are not asking our leaders to take them to the moon. No. Our people are not asking our leaders to build the next supercomputer. No. They are not asking our leaders to be the next nuclear superpower. No. They are not even asking to be fed. No. They are asking to be left alone. Our leaders cannot pull that off. Now, that is incompetence. What has the white man got to do with that?
Chinweizu is right about some things. It is true that Africa is facing the fight of her life and she is not even fighting back. Every day that passes, Africa inches away from relevance, pulled away from glory by her thieving sons and daughters. Chinua Achebe is right. We are living witnesses to an abject failure of leadership. We ought to hold our leaders responsible for the shame that Nigeria has become. Our leaders have failed us and they have failed us thoroughly. I have always felt that we need to rely on robust structures to serve our societies and our people. I have always felt that we need structures, not individuals, to define our morality. But we now know that we need men and women of character, to build, protect and nurture these structures so that we may all prosper. Who will bell this cat? Our leaders have failed us. A pox on all their houses. Soyinka is right. We were sent the wrong people. We asked for statesmen and we were sent executioners.
Let the debate continue.