Adewale Maja-Pearce

Adewale Maja-Pearce lives in Lagos. Legacies, a collection of essays, is due in 2022.

Short Cuts: Nigerian Oil

Adewale Maja-Pearce, 6 January 2022

Nigeria pumps out​ 1.5 million barrels of oil a day, making it the biggest producer on the continent. The multinationals – Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell et al – in partnership with local firms and the state oil company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, have made billions from it, and oil accounts for more than half of government income. But next to none of this money...

Strewn with Loot

Adewale Maja-Pearce, 12 August 2021

InFebruary 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, a British expeditionary force sacked the ancient city of Benin. They exiled the oba, or ruler, Ovonramwen, and carted away more than four thousand pieces of sculpture, known collectively as the Benin bronzes. The attack was prompted by the killing of several men belonging to a British expedition who had tried to enter...

Kagame has successfully deflected criticism, partly thanks to Western guilt over the genocide (a recent report commissioned by Macron said that France bears an ‘overwhelming responsibility’) and partly by implying that criticism is a vestige of colonial condescension. But Western opinion may be starting to turn against him, at least if Michela Wrong’s book – and the favourable reception it has received – is anything to go by. And Kagame’s standing isn’t helped by his economic record. The supposed miracle he has worked over the last twenty years has turned out to be a sham. Officially, the Rwandan economy has been growing at a rate of 7 per cent a year, but according to an anonymous statistician in the Review of African Political Economy only South Sudan has experienced ‘a faster increase in poverty’. Two-thirds of the population now lives below the poverty line, an increase of 15 per cent in a decade. 

From The Blog
28 October 2020

On Thursday morning, I stood on my upstairs balcony in Surulere in Lagos and watched the smoke from a burning building. It turned out to be the house of the state governor’s mother. (The family house in another suburb was also torched.) Nearby, the headquarters of our House of Representatives member was spared the same fate only because it was next to a hospital, although all the windows were broken. It later transpired that politicians had been hoarding food – beans, noodles, sugar, salt, garri, rice, vegetable oil – meant for Covid-19 relief, some dating back months, in warehouses up and down the country. Nigerians of all ages were aghast. In some instances, even the soldiers sent to guard the warehouses – the police had made themselves scarce – assured the looters that they were there to keep the peace and not prevent them from carting off what was theirs anyway.

From The Blog
19 October 2020

I am far from alone in admiring the protesters’ growing sense of their own inherent power, gaining in confidence with every passing day. Their dignity and self-possession mock the shamelessness of those who have so carelessly squandered their future; and at the same time they are asking how we could have allowed this state of affairs to prevail, six decades after Nigeria’s independence.

From The Blog
31 March 2020

It is cold comfort that this time around the wealthy cannot flee to London and Delhi for medical treatment, as they did during the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Every day, we hear of prominent people getting tested, even when they don’t have any symptoms, while ‘ordinary’ Nigerians who fear they may have caught the virus are told to come back in 14 days’ time. Covid-19 is known as ‘the rich man’s disease’: you needed the wherewithal to travel abroad in order to catch it in the first place, and the wherewithal to get tested on your return, having infected the ‘masses’ in the process.

Diary: In Monrovia

Adewale Maja-Pearce, 6 February 2020

Corruption and hypocrisy tend to be systemic: if you see them at the top you’re sure to encounter them at the bottom. Liberia has been rebuilt with impressive speed; the road networks are now even better than they were when I was last there. But the graft has got worse. On my trip in a shared taxi from the border of Côte d’Ivoire to Monrovia, a journey of about eight hours, we were stopped more than half a dozen times by Immigration and Customs and charged an informal fee each time. On one occasion on the Liberian side, having refused to pay, I was singled out for a one-on-one interview by a ‘chief’ in the privacy of his office: ‘a big man like you’, he said, could surely ‘find something’ for him. We both laughed as I peeled off a few notes from the wad of local currency I had to cart around for this sort of occasion. Anyway, he explained, it was a security issue: no money, no surveillance, and no safety for travellers or foreign nationals. Didn’t I know about the civil war that had raged in Liberia back in the day?

Diary: ‘Make Nigeria Great Again’

Adewale Maja-Pearce, 9 May 2019

At​ 35 per cent, the turnout for Nigeria’s general election in February was the lowest since democracy succeeded military rule twenty years ago. During the three weeks I spent on the road in the run-up to the vote, it became obvious from the fitful campaigning and the paucity of crowds at rallies that numbers would be low. Matters weren’t helped by the sudden decision of the...

Prospects for Ambazonia

Adewale Maja-Pearce, 25 October 2018

On 5​ January this year, Nigerian security operatives abducted 12 men from a hotel in Abuja, the federal capital. All were members of the self-styled government of the Republic of Ambazonia, Africa’s latest secessionist movement in neighbouring Cameroon, and all were refugees in Nigeria, some of long standing, among them Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, the would-be president of the aspiring...

Where to begin? After Boko Haram

Adewale Maja-Pearce, 26 April 2018

The scene was set for the rise of an extreme sectarian movement. There would be no shortage of foot soldiers: Comolli points out that with a population approaching 200 million, Nigeria has ‘the highest number of non-attending schoolchildren in the world’: 10.5 million in 2010, the last year for which figures are available. Most are concentrated in the north, where ‘70 per cent of the population is illiterate.’ All that was needed was an eloquent figure who could applaud the governors’ embrace of sharia while pointing out that they fell far short of the code of conduct they favoured.

Sing like Parrots: Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Adewale Maja-Pearce, 15 December 2016

In 1962​ the young Ngugi wa Thiong’o had a piece of good fortune. He had left Kenya for Uganda, where he was enrolled as an undergraduate at Makerere, in Kampala. As he explains in Birth of a Dream Weaver, the third of his memoirs, the university was hosting a conference on ‘African writers of English expression’, and he was invited to join a panel on the strength of a...

Towards the end of this, his third volume of memoirs, which covers the period from independence in 1960 to the death of General Sani Abacha in 1998, the 64-year-old Wole Soyinka is preparing to infiltrate himself back into his native Nigeria to confront the latest manifestation of military adventurism. By 1998 he had been in exile for three years and was impatient with the failure of the...

Diary: in Northern Nigeria

Adewale Maja-Pearce, 12 December 2002

The rioting in the Northern, predominantly Muslim city of Kaduna that forced the organisers to withdraw the Miss World competition has brought into question once again the viability of the project called Nigeria. The riots themselves were triggered by a newspaper article suggesting that the Prophet Muhammad would have approved of the presence of the beauty queens, and perhaps chosen a wife or...

Feed the Charm: political violence in Africa

Adewale Maja-Pearce, 25 July 2002

Last December, Chief Bola Ige, the Nigerian Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, was assassinated. The political violence that has ensued will culminate in elections next year, when the ostensibly democratic Government of Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired general, hopes to return for a second term. Its chances of success are slim. There have been two previous attempts by civilian Governments...

Onitsha Home Movies: Nigerian films

Adewale Maja-Pearce, 10 May 2001

The last decade has seen the emergence of a new kind of film industry in Nigeria. The results are known as ‘home movies’ – they are shot straight onto video and sold direct to the public. One of the new, independent television stations, MBI, was the first to air a home movie every evening. The slot was so popular that the Government-owned Nigerian Television Authority...

From The Blog
18 October 2016

In the run-up to last year’s presidential election, Patience Jonathan, the wife of Nigeria’s then president, warned women what they were letting themselves in for should they reject her husband in favour of Muhammadu Buhari. The last time Buhari was head of state, as a military strongman in the mid-1980s, ‘he said women should be confined to the kitchen,’ she said. ‘But under Jonathan’s administration, women have been liberated to contribute to national development. If you vote for Buhari again, you will return to the kitchen.’ Her advice was ignored and Buhari was duly elected. Everybody was happy at first. Sixteen years of mind-boggling corruption had left the people clamouring for ‘change’, which quickly became the new government’s mantra. And then everything went horribly wrong.

From The Blog
30 October 2015

Frederick Lugard is a pivotal figure in Nigerian history. The colony’s first governor general, he effectively created and named it in 1914, amalgamating a multitude of disparate ethnicities, languages and religions into one of the most patchwork countries in the world. He compared the subjects he conquered to ‘attractive children’. In 1894, Lugard had led an expedition through the ancient kingdom of Borgu on behalf of the Royal Niger Company, to secure treaties with the local emirs ahead of his French counterpart during the so-called European scramble for Africa. He succeeded except for the westernmost outpost of Nikki, which subsequently fell into what is now the Republic of Benin. I was recently part of a 22-strong delegation which retraced Lugard’s steps through what is now Nigeria’s Middle Belt region.

From The Blog
2 April 2015

I have never made a secret of my distaste for Muhammadu Buhari – ‘the least awful option’, according to the Economist – and I am not doing so now that he has been declared winner of the presidential election in Nigeria. One of the more notorious dictators during the long years of the military, he now claims to be a born-again democrat. Perhaps so. All will be revealed after he moves into Aso Rock on 29 May, with the proviso that he will be obliged to work within the terms of a constitution he cannot abrogate by decree.

From The Blog
15 January 2015

There is much talk here in Nigeria of the world’s muted response to the latest outrage by the Boko Haram Islamic insurgents who sacked the entire town of Baga in the beleaguered north-east while any number of heads of state gathered in Paris to mourn the deaths of 17 French citizens. Double standards? Perhaps. But if so, what should we say about the silence of President Goodluck Jonathan in the face of the wholesale slaughter of his citizens – 2000 according to initial reports; 150 according to the government – even as his French counterpart was to be seen everywhere exhorting his people to stand firm? Nine months ago, when Boko Haram abducted more than 200 schoolgirls, it took the president nearly three weeks to acknowledge that anything had happened. Nobody knows what Boko Haram want and perhaps they don’t know themselves. We only know what they don’t want, most famously ‘Western’ education.

From The Blog
9 May 2014

Were 276 girls abducted from a government secondary school in the town of Chibok in north-eastern Nigeria on 14 April? That anyone could ask the question, as the president’s wife allegedly did last weekend, says much about the mess we’re in. It took the president more than two weeks to call a press conference to tell the world: ‘I don’t know where they are… there is no confirmation of the location of the schoolgirls, you are a journalist, you know more than me.’ We are still none the wiser, even as Western powers descend on the country to help find them. We are not even sure of the numbers involved, which have fluctuated between 200 and 300; but the story seems to have finally woken everybody up – both in Nigeria and abroad.

The military should make a clean break from politics to retrieve its fast-vanishing reputation.

Diary: A Night in the Slammer

Adewale Maja-Pearce, 19 February 1998

We had just reached the outskirts of Lomé when my shared taxi was flagged down at a police checkpoint. One of the Togolese officers asked me for ID. I handed him my Nigerian passport. He looked at it, nodded his head in a way that suggested he had discovered something significant and ordered me to get out. I was perplexed but didn’t think there was any reason to worry. I knew there were periodic security alerts in Togo. General Gnassingbe Eyadéma, in power since 1067, was refusing to bow to popular pressure and quit office. It was for this reason that independent Togolese journalists were regularly detained and their newspapers impounded.

A Nation of Collaborators

Adewale Maja-Pearce, 19 June 1997

No Nigerian Despot had ever flouted civilised standards with such impunity as Sani Abacha when he murdered Ken Saro-Wiwa and his fellow Ogoni activists on 10 November 1995. The rumours going the rounds over the following days only added to the widespread suspicion that we were about to enter a period of state-sanctioned brutality which would surpass the worst excesses of all previous military regimes. It was said that Saro-Wiwa was denied his last request to see his wife and his 91-year-old father; that the noose failed three times before his neck finally snapped; that the military governor of the state, the man who had declared Saro-Wiwa guilty even before the start of what passed for a trial, rushed down the steps of the scaffold in order to ensure that he was well and truly in possession of a corpse; that the corpses of the Ogoni Nine, as they came to be called, were thrown into a mass grave and then soaked in acid; and, finally, that the entire sordid event was videotaped and the result rushed to Abuja, the administrative capital.


D.A.N. Jones, 12 July 1990

Men who get their memoirs published are generally confident enough to report, gleefully, their victories over particular opponents, and to try to explain any defeats. There is another sort of...

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