Is there a side to the Nigerian story you want to explore? Some misunderstanding to its history? Oh, you need quotes, notes and anecdotes from some Nigerian greats – leaders, writers or famous people. Okay, you are right at home with This House has fallen: Nigeria in crisis. Even if you need little details on some crises such as the Tiv/Jukun crises, the Odi rampage… yes, it’s all here.
This House has fallen captures pre-independence, independence, and post-independence Nigeria right up to the year 2000 – its year of publication. The book is introduced by a Preface and ends in a fitting conclusive Epilogue. In between, there are ten distinct unique standing yet interrelated chapters each with a title to express its contents. Well, most of the times. The titles are not so bare in some situations and it takes going through such chapters to know what it covers. The first chapter, ‘A Coup from Heaven’ for instance opens with the inauguration of President Olusegun Obasanjo related in the present continuous tense. It pauses and quickly goes on to narrate events that have brought to the present (i.e. the narrative present). Basically Nigeria’s history is summarised from the amalgamation up to independence, the civil war, the military years, Abiola, and eventually Abacha’s ‘natural’ death – the ‘coup’ that came from above. Since ‘men’ failed to bring him down in that famed phantom coup, a ‘divinely’ orchestrated coup did the job. Halleluiah! The chapter continues in a last section that covers Obasanjo’s swearing in, a ceremony captured in its full irony where military presence and brutality is experienced – at a democratic swearing in! Obasanjo’s plea is resonated: ‘May the Almighty help us!’ This is the style of Maier weaving historical material of different points into one tight tapestry that makes a perfect (w)hole. You find that one thing led to another that led to another and eventually culminates in the current spot. Yes, just like history.
Other chapters flow on from ‘Voting Day’ (showing a close account of the 1999 voting); ‘Army Arrangement’ (covering the military era and a notable interview with General Ibrahim Babangida); ‘The Ogoni Wars’ (the Ogoni struggle centring largely on Ken Saro-wiwa and his men); ‘The Journey of a Thousand miles’ (the Niger-Delta troubles, unrest and environmental disturbance); ‘The Faithful’ (the Northern unrest between Christians and Muslims); ‘The Children of Ham’ (the middle belt particularly the Tiv and Jukun, also crises in Kafanchan); ‘The Children of Oduduwa’ (the Yorubas particularly Dr. Frederick Fasehun and the Oduduwa Peoples’ Congress); ‘This Animal called man’ (narrowing in on sessions and interviews with T. B. Joshua and Bishop David Oyedepo); and ‘A Glass Cage’ (describing the Igbo side of the current Nigerian tale).
Karl Maier’s use of language in his book is apt and beautiful to read. He is able to write his story convincingly and tell the story of a country that is truly falling apart – or as he puts it, adapting from the very same Chinua Achebe – a house that has fallen. His narrative is made more concrete with his authoritative sources – from such notable names as General Ibrahim Babangida; Fr. [now ArchBishop] Matthew Kukah; the Aku Uka of Wukari; Orchivirigh Dr. Alfred Akawe Torkula (Tor Tiv IV); Ken Saro-wiwa Jnr; T. B. Joshua; Dr. Frederick Fashehun [sic] and several other people. He also interviews everyday people and measures their views of everything. There is evidence of great research, and quotes from notable books on Nigeria’s history and literatures. This is in addition to the author’s pedigree as a journalist on ground for Africa for many years. Maier’s flaw might be seen in his taking sides in his story. Despite this being a work of history, it becomes largely his version of history as he takes sides in many instances running commentaries. Depending on one’s view, this gives him a bias and in some areas, partiality.
Whatever it is, there is no arguing that the book is un-put-down-able. It is greatly informative, entertaining with the author’s fine infusion of literary elements chiefly humour and a story teller’s magic.
TITLE: THIS HOUSE HAS FALLEN: Nigeria in Crisis
AUTHOR: Karl Maier
PUBLISHERS/YEAR: Penguin, London/2002
PAGES: 327 with Epilogue, Notes and Index