“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.