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Shuffering and Shmiling

Adewale Maja-Pearce: ‘Vagabonds!’, 7 July 2022

by Eloghosa Osunde.
Fourth Estate, 305 pp., £14.99, March, 978 0 00 849801 6
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... Perhaps​ I wasn’t paying attention, but Èkó – or Lagos, from the Portuguese for lakes – has suddenly become fashionable, though not always for the best reasons. We can do without another TV documentary on the floating slum that is Makoko (many of whose 100,000 inhabitants shit and bathe in the lagoon they live over) and a further homily about the wonders of human (when not specifically African) resilience ...

Short Cuts

Adewale Maja-Pearce: Nigerian Oil, 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 ...

Our Credulous Grammarian

Adewale Maja-Pearce: Soyinka’s Dubious Friendships, 2 August 2007

You Must Set Forth at Dawn: A Memoir 
by Wole Soyinka.
Methuen, 626 pp., £18.99, May 2007, 978 0 413 77628 0
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... 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 opposition to mount a decent challenge to Abacha’s regime ...


Adewale Maja-Pearce: A Night in the Slammer, 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 ...


Adewale Maja-Pearce: In Northern Nigeria, 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 two from among them, but that was just an excuse ...


Adewale Maja-Pearce: In Monrovia, 6 February 2020

... Afew​ months ago I attended Sunday service at the Chapel of Faith Ministries in the main hall of a primary school in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. The pastor, Prince Yormie Johnson, became a celebrity of sorts in the early 1990s when he filmed his execution of the country’s president in the first months of what would turn out to be a brutal 14-year civil war ...

One Foot out of the Grave

Adewale Maja-Pearce: Kagame after Karegeya, 1 July 2021

Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad 
by Michela Wrong.
Fourth Estate, 512 pp., £20, April, 978 0 00 823887 2
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... The theme​ of the latest Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (it was meant to take place in June but has been postponed because of Covid-19) is ‘Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming’. It is to be held in Kigali, hosted by Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president for the last two decades: proof enough of his continued good standing in the West ...


Adewale Maja-Pearce: ‘Make Nigeria Great Again’, 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 Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone the vote just hours before the polls were due to open ...

Strewn with Loot

Adewale Maja-Pearce, 12 August 2021

The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution 
by Dan Hicks.
Pluto, 368 pp., £20, November 2020, 978 0 7453 4176 7
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Loot: Britain and the Benin Bronzes 
by Barnaby Phillips.
Oneworld, 388 pp., £20, April, 978 1 78607 935 0
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... In​ February 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 Benin the previous year ...

Sing like Parrots

Adewale Maja-Pearce: Ngugi wa Thiong’o, 15 December 2016

Birth of a Dream Weaver: A Writer’s Awakening 
by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.
Harvill Secker, 256 pp., £14.99, November 2016, 978 1 84655 989 1
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... 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 handful of short stories published by a local press in Kenya ...

Feed the Charm

Adewale Maja-Pearce: Political violence in Africa, 25 July 2002

In the Shadow of a Saint: A Son’s Journey to Understand His Father’s Legacy 
by Ken Wiwa.
Black Swan, 320 pp., £7.99, January 2002, 0 552 99891 5
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This House Has Fallen: Nigeria in Crisis 
by Karl Maier.
Penguin, 327 pp., £9.99, February 2002, 0 14 029884 3
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The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of an African Civil War 
by Stephen Ellis.
Hurst, 350 pp., £40, November 1999, 1 85065 417 4
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... 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 in Nigeria to organise their own succession: both ended in military takeover, and with it levels of executive lawlessness that saw one general, Ibrahim Babangida, spirit away US$12 billion of crude oil revenue ...

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 Ambazonia: population, were it ever to happen, roughly five million ...

Army Arrangement

Adewale Maja-Pearce: Nigeria’s march away from democracy, 1 April 1999

... The military should make a clean break from politics to retrieve its fast-vanishing reputation. General Olusegun Obasanjo, August 1993 No, I am not interested in becoming the head of state again. Besides, I am a retired professional soldier. Civilians should elect the leaders they want to become their President. General Olusegun Obasanjo, September 1998 In the early Eighties ‘ordinary’ Nigerians were told by a prominent politician that they weren’t suffering if they weren’t yet eating out of dustbins ...

Where to begin?

Adewale Maja-Pearce: After Boko Haram, 26 April 2018

Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency 
by Virginia Comolli.
Hurst, 239 pp., £12.99, August 2017, 978 1 84904 661 9
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Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement 
by Alexander Thurston.
Princeton, 352 pp., £25, October 2017, 978 0 691 17224 8
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... On​ the night of 14-15 April 2014, Boko Haram terrorists kidnapped 276 girls from a boarding school in Chibok in Borno State in the far north-east of Nigeria. The girls weren’t meant to be there. The school was closed, but they had returned from various parts of the state to sit a physics exam. It later turned out that the terrorists hadn’t intended to abduct them either ...

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 ...

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