On the Spot with Eric Teniola

January 14, 2020

This house has fallen


By Eric Teniola

THIS House Has Fallen-Nigeria In Crisis is a 327-page book written by Mr. Karl Maier who lived in Nigeria as a foreign correspondent for two years, from 1991-1993, and returned often on reporting assignments.

According to him, he had inputs in writing the book from Chris Alagoa, Richard Dowden, Yomi Edu, Anthony Goldman, Phil Hall, Michael Holman, Nick Ashton-Jones, Peter Cunliffe-Jones, Bill Knight, Abidina Coomasi, Father Matthew Kukah, Dr. Suleiman Kumo, Bashir Kurfi, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, Clement Nwankwo, Nduka Obaigbena, Barnaby Phillips, Patrick Smith, Olukayode Sokoya, Mathew Tostevin, Bala Usman, William Wallis and his two angels; Ken Wiwa, Simon Yohanna and Kabiru Yusuf.

Maier quoted, in the book, Professor Wole Soyinka, Professor Chinua Achebe, Major General Ishola Williams (retd.), Bobo Brown of Shell Petroleum Development Company and the Publisher of City People magazine, Mr. Seye Kehinde. The book was published in 2000 by the Penguin Books.

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Since the publication there have been reactions on the book. Mr. Nicolas Okpe said “the book is typical post-colonial prejudice by Western journalists”. The book x-rays Nigeria’s past and present problems. The major issues missing in the book were kidnapping and Boko Haram; if not one would think the book was written just last week.

No doubt one may not agree with what the Western world is saying about Nigeria judging by their failing leadership and noting that most problems that have affected Nigeria today were created by the colonialists themselves.  It helps if we are to listen to what others are saying about us, either right or wrong. Maier was the Africa correspondent for The Independent from 1986 to 1996, and has contributed as well to the Washington Post and The Economist. In the Preface, Maier declared: “Designed by alien occupiers and abused by army rule for three-quarters of its life span, the Nigerian state is like a battered and bruised elephant staggering toward an abyss with the ground crumbling under its feet. Should it fall the impact will shake the rest of West Africa”.

He then added “very little trickles down”. In the official arenas of international discourse – the United Nations, the World Bank, the media – Nigeria is known as a “developing nation”, a phrase that conjures up images of economic progress of the sort experienced by the West or among the Asian ‘tigers’; Nigeria, like so many countries in Africa, is patently not a developing nation. It is under-developing. Its people are far worse off now than they were 30 years ago. The government spends up to half of its annual budget on salaries of an estimated two million federal, state and local government workers; yet the civil service remains paralysed, with connections and corruption still the fastest way to get anything done. The armed forces are equally in shambles.  Up to 75 per cent of the army’s equipment is broken or missing vital spare parts. The Navy’s 52 admirals and commodores outnumber serviceable ships by ratio of six to one. The air force has 10,000 men but fewer than 20 functioning aircraft.

“Colonial Nigeria was designed in 1914 to serve the British Empire, and the independent state serves as a tool of plunder by the country’s modern rulers. Nigerians spend a good part of their lives trying to get the better of the government for their own benefit or that of their family, their village, or their region.

“Rare is the head of state who acts on behalf of the nation. The people are not so much governed as ruled. It is as if they are armed and barricaded themselves inside the company safe. Nigeria’s leaders, like the colonialists before them, have sucked out billions of dollars and stashed them in Western banks.

“So far the West has done little to help and has often made matters worse. It is hypocritical of the West to blame Nigeria for corruption, fraud, and drug running and to demand that Nigerians own up to their foreign debt, while at the same time allowing the funds garnered from such nefarious dealings to be deposited in Western banks.

“A man who receives stolen goods is called a fence, but what do you call a country that is in the business of collecting stolen goods?” asked Dr. Folarin Gbadebo-Smith, a U.S. educated dentist and businessman, while in his Lagos office one day.

“They lend Nigeria money, somebody here steals the same amount and gives it back to them, and then they leave these poor Nigerians repaying what they never owed. The role of the Western powers has been totally disgraceful.”

Maier went further to state that: “Nigeria could, however, follow another. Its potential is huge. Its tremendous wealth, if properly channelled, holds out the hope that a stable government could unleash the unquestioned energy and talent that pulsates through the rich ethnic mosaic.

“The human capital is there. Thousands of Nigerian professionals are well educated and skilled to drive the country forward. Anyone who has visited Nigeria’s markets and witnessed its people endure the constraints of bad government and the sinking economy can testify to the country’s resilience.

“Among its writers it boasts a Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka; the Booker Prize winner Ben Okri; Chinua Achebe, whose Things Fall Apart is arguably Africa’s best piece of postcolonial literature, and rising young talents such as  the playwright Biyi Bandele Thomas. Nigerian professors grace university campuses across the United States and the world.