By Olayinka Oyegbile
Not many African political leaders are known to have publicly declared their love of reading. Former US president Barack Obama popularised the idea of a recommended reading list and he still shares his annual choice.
As a communications scholar and a book reviewer, I made a short list of essential reads for Nigeria’s new president. My selection of books is based on what a new president needs to know when he takes the reins of a deeply divided and disillusioned country.
Nigeria has many problems. Disunity deepened under the Muhammadu Buhari government, and galloping inflation has led to a shortage of essential goods and services. Insecurity remains a challenge too.
The Trouble with Nigeria, by Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe, Nigeria’s preeminent novelist, took a break from fiction in 1983 to write The Trouble with Nigeria. I recommend it first because of its slim size. Many of our leaders have a well-known disdain for anything intellectual or rigorous.
The incoming president should find time to sit down and pore over the 68 pages of this book and see what Achebe has said about our country. The writer says: “The trouble with Nigeria is leadership.” Simple. The president should then ask himself how he can make a difference. Perhaps after reading this small but powerful book, the incoming president might see where he fits into the “trouble” with Nigeria and how to fix it.
From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000, by Lee Kuan Yew
I know this is a big book. But it earns my recommendation because it is written from experience. Achebe was never a leader of a country. Lee Kuan Yew was. As prime minister of Singapore, he led a nation that was poor, scorned and derided. But through stern determination, he led it out of the dungeon.
Nigeria needs a leader like Lee, without his dictatorial tendencies. Nigeria has long been a subject of scorn, even among its own citizens who have decided to vote with their feet in search of better fortunes in other countries.
How did Lee transform his small, decrepit country into an internet economy? There is no need to reinvent the wheel for Nigeria; this has been done in Singapore. All the president needs to do is adapt it to local needs.
Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
I recommend this book because it is simple and straightforward without economic or political jargon that might bore or scare the incoming president. Daron Acemoglu is an economist at MIT while James A. Robinson is an economist and political scientist at the University of Chicago.
The authors did a great job of synthesising the reasons why nations fail – it’s an easy read. Many have argued that Nigeria is failing or has failed because of its culture, geography, climate or ethnic composition. These authors have punctured all that.
The new president will get a clear picture of how to move out of the bind Nigeria is in, 62 years after independence and 24 years after a return to democracy. To the authors, nations find themselves where they are because of the choices made by their leaders in setting up economic and political institutions. They conclude it’s possible to break out of the poverty cycle. This is what Nigeria needs now to restore citizens’ faith in the system. It is political and economic institutions that underlie economic success.
Understanding Modern Nigeria: Ethnicity, Democracy, and Development, by Toyin Falola
Abiodun Alao, a professor of African Studies at King’s College London, writing a blurb for this book, said: “Falola has brought together, under one cover, answers to all the questions anyone may want to ask about Nigeria.”
Toyin Falola is a Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities and a distinguished teaching professor at the University of Texas at Austin in the US.
This is truly a magisterial book about Nigeria. In its 672 pages it covers everything about the country from colonialism to post-colonial and modern times, religious identities, fault lines, youth, popular culture and politics.
It is arguably one of the most detailed books about contemporary issues in the country. The new president can learn a lot from it.
New York, My Village: A Novel, by Uwem Akpan
Unlike the four other books, this is fiction. Why a novel? It earns its place because fiction has a way of telling some home truths that non-fiction may gloss over. In this book about the Nigerian civil war (1967-70), Akpan has been able to give a voice to the minority.
Nigeria has been dogged by the issue of a majority accused of lording it over minority ethnic groups. Akpan’s short stories and autobiographical pieces have appeared in various magazines locally and abroad. He currently teaches at the University of Florida.
In this novel, Akpan gives minorities a voice. The majority have to listen instead of ramming their ideas down the throats of others. The incoming president would gain a lot from reading this book and understanding that we must always have the patience to listen to the minority.
Olayinka Oyegbile is a journalist and communications scholar at Trinity University, Lagos