Famed Author Chinua Achebe On The Occupy Nigeria Strikes-The Christian Science Monitor

Chinua Achebe-Photo credit: Craig Ruttle/AP
By Scott Baldauf, Staff Writer

In an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, Nigerian author Chinua Achebe supports fuel-subsidy protests and says that Nigeria's unrest can be eased by better, less-corrupt leaders.

In this January 2008 file photo, Chinua Achebe, Nigerian-born novelist and poet, is seen at his home on the campus of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, where he is a professor. The author of the globally acclaimed novel 'Things Fall Apart' and other works examining the political failures and corruption of oil-rich Nigeria.

 
In an interview, Nigeria's premier novelist Chinua Achebe says that corruption is the root of the current fuel-strikes crisis, and that the only way to set Nigeria on a democratic path is for Nigerians to select better leaders, and to punish those who "steal from the state."

Professor Chinua Achebe currently teaches at Brown University as the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies. He is the author of the globally acclaimed novels ''Things Fall Apart'', "A Man of the People",” Arrow of God" and "Anthills of the Savannah". He has also published collections of poetry, literary criticism and children's books. In 2007 he received the Man Booker international prize for his body of work from England, and more recently the 2010 Gish Prize. His new book a semi-autobiographical work called "There was a country: A personal history of Biafra" will be available from Penguin in September 2012.

Question: In your 1960 novel, "No Longer at Ease," you write about the coming problem of official corruption in Nigerian society, told through the rise and fall of your main character Obi. What do you think are the roots of corruption in Nigerian society – colonial legacy, corporate power, local business elites – and what will it take to uproot it?

Everything you mentioned has played a part. Nigeria has had a complicated colonial history. My work has examined that part of our story extensively. (No longer at ease, A man of the people and later Anthills of the savannah also tackle Nigeria’s burden of corruption and political ineptitude…) At this point in Nigeria’s history, however, we can no longer absolve ourselves of the responsibility for our present condition. Corruption is endemic because we have had a complete failure of leadership in Nigeria that has made corruption easy and profitable. It will be controlled when Nigerians put in place checks and balances that will make corruption “inconvenient” – with appropriate jail sentences and penalties to punish those that steal from the state.

The first republic produced political leaders in all the regions who were not perfect, but compared to those that came after them they now appear almost “saint like” – they were well educated, grounded politicians who may have embodied a flawed vision or outlook for the country (in my opinion); but at least had one.
 
Following a series of crises that culminated in the bloody Nigeria-Biafra war, Nigeria found itself in the hands of military officers with very little vision for the nation or understanding of the modern world. A period of great decline and decadence set in, and continues to this day. The civilian leadership of the Second Republic continued almost blindly the mistakes of their predecessors. At that point in our history, the scale of corruption and ineptitude had increased exponentially, fueled by the abundance of petro-dollars.

By the time the Third Republic arrived, we found ourselves in the grip of former military dictators turned ‘democrats’ with the same old mind set but now donning civilian clothes. So, Nigeria following the first republic has been ruled by the same cult of mediocrity – a deeply corrupt cabal – for at least forty years, recycling themselves in different guises and incarnations. They have then deeply corrupted the local business elites who are in turn often pawns of foreign business interests.

When I have talked about the need for a servant leader, I have emphasized an individual that is well prepared – educationally, morally and otherwise – who wants to serve (in the deepest definition of the word); someone who sees the ascendancy to leadership as an anointment by the people and holds the work to be highly important, if not sacred. I know that is asking for a lot, but that really should be our goal. If we aim for that, what we get may not be so bad after all.

That elusive great Nigerian leader that is able to transcend our handicaps – corruption, ethnic bigotry, the celebration of mediocrity, indiscipline etc- will only come when we make the process of electing leaders – through free and fair elections in a democracy – as flawless as possible, improving on each exercise as we evolve as a nation.

Once we have the right kinds of leaders in place – the true choices of the people – then, I believe, it will be possible to solidify all the freedoms we crave as a people- freedom of the press, assembly, expression etc. Within this democratic environment, the three tiers of government filled with servant leaders chosen by the people, can pass laws that will put in place checks and balances the nation desperately needs to curb corruption.

Question: During a 2006 trip to Nigeria, citizens told me that they welcomed the government's rhetoric about fighting corruption, but didn't place any faith in lasting change. Do you think a citizens' movement like Occupy Nigeria can be effective where official government efforts fail?

The right to protest, the right to freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of speech…these are all human rights that should be protected in any democracy, indeed in any nation. Any involvement of ordinary Nigerians in a non-violent (peaceful), organized, protest for their rights and improvement in their living standards, in my opinion, as a writer, should be encouraged. An artist, in my understanding of the word, should side with the people against the Emperor that oppresses his or her people.

The hope of course, is that the non-violent protest will eventually lead to change in a positive direction – like the civil rights movement in America, Mahatma Gandhi’s independence struggles in India etc. – if that is the case, then I am all for them.

A functioning, robust democracy requires a healthy educated, participatory followership, and an educated, morally grounded leadership. Civil society has a role to play in educating the masses about their rights – making sure that they understand that the elected officials report to them, that those in positions of leadership are not monarchs – and then insisting through the ballot box or other avenues of the democratic system that their voices be heard.

However, having said that, it is important to emphasize that Nigeria is a complicated country with more than 250 ethnic groups. Protests are often a symptom of deeper rooted problems – in Nigeria’s case, resistance to a fifty year history of leaders essentially swindling the nation of its resources – $400 billion worth - and stashing most of it abroad with little in terms of infrastructure on the ground. Nigeria continues to be held back by the lack of basic amenities – there is epileptic electricity supply (often times blackouts for months), very poor schools, no standard water supply systems, bad roads, poor sanitation…Nothing works – life, schools, electricity, nothing....

Question: The Arab uprisings in North Africa raised hopes that other authoritarian governments on the continent could also be challenged by citizen movements. Do you think the Occupy Nigeria movement has the potential to follow in the Tunisian and Tahrir Square footsteps?

Popular non-violent uprisings as an expression of the feelings of the people should be allowed and protected. I have already made that clear. The hope is that such movements coalesce onto a defined platform with a clear direction and leadership. The problem with leaderless uprisings taking over is that you don’t always know what you get at the other end. If you are not careful you could replace a bad government with one much worse! My hope for Nigeria actually is that the people will channel all that pent-up rage towards a fight for sound democratic institutions – a competent electoral body that can execute free and fair elections…in other words, exercise their frustrations at the ballot box. Movements that begin on the streets… on the ground… should channel their frustrations in a non-violent, organized direction – politically. But the great challenge for Nigeria – one that has stunted her development since independence – is how to convince 150 million people to put aside competing interests, sideline different religions, ethnicities, political persuasions, and build a united rostrum or two with strong leaders to truly bring about fundamental change to Nigeria. That is the challenge.

Question: The statement you signed supporting the Nigerian protests reads, in part, "The country's leadership should not view the incessant attacks as mere temporary misfortune with which the citizenry must learn to live; they are precursors to events that could destabilize the entire country." Nigerians in the past have seen themselves as complacent in fighting injustice. What makes this moment different?

Those that perceive Nigerians as complacent don’t completely understand our history.

Nigeria went through a thirty- month-long civil war that cost over 2 million lives (some say as many as three million); mainly children. After that, my people, the Igbo people, for whose survival the war was fought; were economically, politically, if not emotionally exhausted. The rest of Nigeria was also devastated, albeit, to a milder degree. Let us remember that at the time it was seen as one of the bloodiest wars in history. Following this catastrophe were several decades under the iron rule of Military dictators and civilian adventurers. A people don’t just jump up and protest after they have been nearly annihilated by war and then systematically subjugated for decades with their rights stripped from them for so long. In order to survive, people employ a number of tactics– they adopt a posture of subservience, quietness, etc., but it should never be interpreted as weakness. Human beings are alike everywhere you know. All human beings have their breaking point, it could be a big event or a small one; and for most  long-suffering Nigerians the removal of oil subsidies made life intolerable because it exponentially increased the cost of living – food, transportation, education, water, you name it – over night. Most clear thinking bureaucrats should have seen this coming…as an untenable situation for the population.

Economists often give us condescending lessons in favor of fuel subsidy removal – that fuel subsidies siphon much needed cash away from the treasury of the federal government, that its removal will yield $8 billion; that those who benefit the most in the current system with subsidies are some of Nigeria’s wealthiest citizens; that subsidies further fuel corruption in the oil industry including the state-owned NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation). Other reasons to take away subsidies this group also highlight include the fact that the presence of subsidies prolongs Nigeria’s dependence on fossil fuels, that they are indirectly implicated in the failure of Nigeria to establish and run refineries etc.

What has not been pulled into this entire debate is that the scale of corruption in Nigeria – the Nigerian government – and I am talking about corruption at all levels of government – Federal, state, local government, municipal, etc. – amounts to at least $10 billion a year ($400 billion in forty years). Putting an end to this should be the focus of the present government. Is this amount saved by tackling corruption in Nigeria not more than what would be made available with subsidy removal – and at no cost in pain and suffering to the average Nigeria?

If the present government reduced its own bloated budget, curbed the outrageous salaries and perks of parliamentarians, state governors, and local government officials - that would yield an additional hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars a year. And that at least would be a start. In an environment where corruption is truly tackled, a conversation can then be had with the people about a gradual withdrawal of subsidized petroleum products. But the way it was done, was harsh, even contemptuous of the average Nigeria and that is why it is being resisted.

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I agree

I totally agree with Prof Achebe, obviously a deep concise brief on the problems of Nigeria and the way forward. One would think that with certain 'educated' persons in this present government, the story would be different from the past but apparently not enough research was done if any at all before decisions were made. In certain quarters it is obviously a case on the usual nonchallance prevalent in the Nigerian Government.

You hit the nail on the head Prof.

The fuel subsidy removal issue shows that having good degrees from prestigious universities/business schools do not necessarily translate to good governance and leadership, GEJ, Okonjo-Iweala, Sanusi Lamido, Olusegun Aganga, Deziani and Adoke just proved that to us. They all turned a blind eye to the real issues of CORRUPTION, INEFFICIENCY, LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY, TRANSPARENCY, WASTAGE and HIGH-HANDEDNESS of govt officials (both elected and non-elected) AND TRUST in all tiers of govt which affect every area of our lives as a nation e.g. security, power, water, oil, transport, health, education etc and focused only on getting more money (via subsidy removal) to perpetuate their greed and dastard deeds at the expense of the welfare of the citizens.
Prof Chinua Achebe said it all. GEJ please listen and act on the advice of the wise one.

Sound observation, kudos to Chinua Achebe!

The fuel subsidy removal issue shows that having good degrees from prestigious universities/business schools do not necessarily translate to good governance and leadership, GEJ, Okonjo-Iweala, Sanusi Lamido, Olusegun Aganga, Deziani and Adoke just proved that to us. They all turned a blind eye to the real issues of CORRUPTION, INEFFICIENCY, LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY, TRANSPARENCY, WASTAGE and HIGH-HANDEDNESS of govt officials (both elected and non-elected) AND TRUST in all tiers of govt which affect every area of our lives as a nation e.g. security, power, water, oil, transport, health, education etc and focused only on getting more money (via subsidy removal) to perpetuate their greed and dastard deeds at the expense of the welfare of the citizens.

Prof Chinua Achebe said it all. GEJ please listen and act on the advice of the wise one.

THEY SHOULD DIVIDE THIS COUNTRY

FUEL SUBSIDY OR NOT FUEL SUBSIDY, THIS NONSENSE IS GETTING OUT OF HAND. THEY SHOULD DIVIDE THIS COUNTRY, SO THAT PEACE WILL RAIN. GOODLUCK IS VERY STUPID AND UNBREASONABLE TO HAIL WITH HIM ! ALL POLITICIAN ARE REALLY VIPERS !

Nobody is against subsidy

Nobody is against subsidy removal but corruption, maybe you should open up your head and listen, instead of running your mouth

prof Chinua Achebe a patrotic citizen

i thnk Allah tht we have ppl like prof Chinua Achebe, wole soyinka, muh'du buhari, balarabe musa who r known 4 their honesty n integrity. Prof Achebe u r a gd citizen of ur country, may u live long

the brain was not stolen

The brain was not stolen and could not wish the prof to be in land that does not recognize knowledge and learning, but in Nigeria, education, knowledge, learning,and natural wisdom etc is BOKO-HARAMMED, in all the killings and looting of igbos and the property in the states of the northern Nigeria, who has orgernised any protest rally and match to any of the colonial western offices to condemn the act. take or leave tribe, religion and other similarities attached to life must have it way,until you tell the Arabs, Palestine to be one with Israelis the such would work in this part of the world, if not keep deluding ur self of being one.if have Bible do look on the book of Genesis 16:12,.that legitimate and illegitimate sons of Abraham, pls check on it.the brain is not stolen but being used by the people who knows the value,

First PATIENCE, ADOKE, OKONJO and now DIEDZANI. Who next?

This is no longer an issue of #65 Oil subsidy palaver but about corruption. Goodluck cannot fight corruption.

'On April 7, 2010, a day after her appointment as minister for petroleum resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke flew to Beverley Hills in Los Angeles to revel..'

'By the time the bejewelled Mrs Alison-Madueke returned home a few days later to assume duties as Nigeria's first female oil minister, she had.. handed Mr Aire an invitation to become one of Nigeria's biggest crude oil lifters.'

'As the minister was flying home, Mr Aire also kick-started the process of registering brand new companies with which he planned to lift Nigerian crude. On July 9, 2010, the jeweller incorporated Siseno Oil Nigeria Limited, with him and one Patience...'

First, PATIENCE, ADOKE, OKONJO, DIEDZANI and who next? All too close to Goodluck for comfort.

http://234next.com/csp/cms/sites/Next/News/National/5721486-147/story.csp

I dont think you truly

I dont think you truly understand or read through what Mr Achebe is really saying..Education wow

Fuel Subsidy Removal Strike Update

"Fuel Subsidy Removal Strike Update
Protesters Occupy Femi Otedola's Home, Target Otudeko, Other Subsidy Beneficiaries!

The nation wide strike action against fuel subsidy removal is taking a new twist"

http://societynowng.com/Protesters-Occupy-Femi-Otedola-Home-Target-Otude...

ITS A PITY ACHEBE CANT GO TO HELL

 At this point in time the Nearest thing to hell is life in Nigeria and thankfully the Prof is thousands of miles away.

 The frustrated Hell resident asking Achebe to go to hell actually meant "Come to Nigeria".

The state of Nigeria

Well said sir what we need is power truly in the hands of the people to choose the right leaders. But problem is identifying them. The opposition is no better as they as corrupt if not more than the PDP. So which way Nigeria

u should forever stay in hell

Its like dis fool is enjoying the corrupt money somewhere,talking like a bloated goat..don't go and sit down and rethink,that's if u have plans for ur children's children.drunkard

re: Go To Hell

You will soon "go to hell" with your Clown Prince after we cage him and package his illitrate arse back to where he belongs, the Zoo! You're fetching water with a basket, with that drunken fool who does not know which shoe is right and which is left. It is your father that should go to hell, not the Honourable Achebe!

Wait till Sunday when the ekpo stops running, then come back here and run your aborigine mouth let's see. Slimy near-naked idiot like you, lazy mugu. Didn't you hear he's already bargaining for N120 and labour said, oti o! Dumbo will back down and that is Gospel !!!

GO TO HELL

Where is this dopey Mengistu Haile Mariam from? Surely using an ethiopian name. Losers? As a gainer you are, was it not thru curroption? You dont sound like a smart businessman but a selfish opportunist. Pulling the fast one is not clever.

Nobody will waste precious

Nobody will waste precious time to respond to this useless comment. Sahara should avoid publishing insulting comments. Who should "Go to Hell"!!!

REF: GO TO HELL

The author of 'GO TO HELL' must be out his mind by defending our sickened and corrupted bunch of lunatics that we call Nigerian Government.
I have no doubt in my mind that if he does not belong to the long suffering masses, he must ultiamtely belong to the few bunch of lunatics. He should shut up his mouth and live in the real world where Democracy equates Equality. He should try to live the other side and see the bitter truth that the masses experience on a daily basis.

Can you hear yourself

Can you hear yourself Speak.People like you are the reason Nigerians must keep protesting against corrupt government officials who employ your kind to represent their selfish interests without regard for the citizenry.May I remind you that that 80 percent of Nigerians (Idiots in your words) still oppose subsidy removal.I suggest you shut up if you have no positive contibution as you seem not to grasp the real issues at stake.

Go To Hell

The president must never ,under any condition rescind his decision to remove fuel subsidy. People who are protesting are simply misguided and uninformed jobless idiots and nothing more. A bunch of losers and dope-head must never be allowed to influence government policy. I dare these socialists to look up the word "subsidy" in the dictionary and then show me where in the constitution it recommends that fuel be subsidized. Are you guys kidding me?

With people like this around,

With people like this around, i have unshakable faith in our eventual deliverance.

The Wisdom of the Elders and The Things that have Fallen Apart i

The personality and administration of Goodluck Jonathan has only succeeded in exposing the real nature of the dragon that occupies Aso Rock and which has always been at work against Nigerians both here and abroad. Now that Nigerians have awoken to this reality, postponing the cleansing task and the re-occupation of the Nigerian power space will be suicidal. But, again this must be rescued from the clutches of ethnicism and bigotry.This link (http://www.facebook.com/notes/revfrkenneth-evurulobi/nigeria-to-be-or-no...)points the way forward.

Corruption worse than Leprosy

High percentage of Nigerians are poor nd illitrate nd these ones are often used as tools by these elite politicians who have succeeded in destroying our educational system becos of the fact that they have nothin to loose becos their own children always end up studying abroad. I think is high time we pass into bill laws that will prohibit any serving personel from abroad trips for medical check ups nd their children studying abroad so as to standardise educational nd medical system again.
For instance if minister of power is not performing, why still managing him when he can be brought to book to return every money committed to his office nd face jail term as an eye opener to other srving personels

Corruption worse than Leprosy

High percentage of Nigerians are poor nd illitrate nd these ones are often used as tools by these elite politicians who have succeeded in destroying our educational system becos of the fact that they have nothin to loose becos their own children always end up studying abroad. I think is high time we pass into bill laws that will prohibit any serving personel from abroad trips for medical check ups nd their children studying abroad so as to standardise educational nd medical system again.
For instance if minister of power is not performing, why still managing him when he can be brought to book to return every money committed to his office nd face jail term as an eye opener to other srving personels

Your Eminence,i agree with

Your Eminence,i agree with most of your points raised but i do think that at the moment,the citizenry is united in it's resolve to hold government responsible for it's actions and duties to them,irrespective of where the C-in-C comes from.The current "subsidy" crisis is a good case study!

Well spoken Prof. Well spoken

Well spoken Prof. Well spoken indeed.

Real patriots

Chinua Achebe is one of the few patriots Nigeria has left. When they speak they do not speak lightly. It is easy to follow their argument because it is the wish of the masses.
If the energies of Labour and CSOs were channelled towards ensuring free and fair election, fight against corruption and government wastage, we would probably not have the need to waste time and lives on the subsidy matter.
Unfortunately and sadly, most people out there are products of manipulation of few selfish individuals who have no vision for Nigeria.

Hitting the nail on the head

Prof. with due regards you have said it all. Attempts had been made to polarise Nigeria mostly along ethino-religious axis, but what we are seeing today under the mass protests is the unification of the Nigerian people. This is a great achievement in subduing the hatred created for long a long the divide. NONE of US chose to be where we are today. Nigerians should strive as one entity and identify all the so called cabal and the government should be truthful in exposing the cabal rather than causing hardship to the already impoverished 70% of the over 150million Nigerians living below US$2/per day.
A brighter future and a stable polity is what we need, but this can only achieved with HONEST, UNBIASED, AND FOCUSSED POLITICAL LEADERSHIP.
"Long live Nigeria"!!!

WELL SAID, MY DEAR PROF. THE

WELL SAID, MY DEAR PROF. THE NIGERIAN REVOLUTION IS AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME. WE (NIGERIANS & THE WORLD AT LARGE) MUST ALL PLAY OUR ROLES TO ACTUALIZE IT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. SITTING ON THE FENCE IS NO LONGER A TENABLE OPTION.

Summary of Nigeria's problems

Thank God one of our Icons Chinu Achebe is alive to tell the world the root of Nigeria problem.When given an opportunity to elect leader we should learn to put aside our differences like enthnicity and religion and base our decision on merit.If not we will continue with this problem we have on our hands.

Fuel Subsidy -Occupy Nigeria Strikes.

Nigerian Labor Congress should support their Federal Govt to stop the Oil Subsidy. Meanwhile, the Govt must fix at least one,two or more of their broken refineries. Release oil from the oil reserve and sell it to people at N25.00 per litter so people can move around. Fix some basic infrastructures, rewrite the Nigerian Constitution whereby it will benefit every Nigerian, decentralize authority into 4 or 5 tiers of govt, fight the terrorist that are now operating in the Country.
The Question I will like to ask those that oppose stopping oil subsidy is how many oil producing nation have their oil refinery out side their territory?

L. West Africa Writes from Chicago, USA.