|This House Has Fallen: Midnight
By Karl Maier
304 pages, $26
Even after a year of democratic leadership, Nigeria
is hardly stabilizing. The imposition of sharia, Islamic
law, is causing turmoil in its vast northern region, while oil spills
and petroleum fires pollute and strip its damp, lush south. Poverty
is pervasive. This is a country where teaching hospitals often lack
running water or electricity, where men defecate at the sides of
principal thoroughfares, where crippled war veterans beg en masse
at roadsides. Nigeria's university system is a shambles, its government
confused, its economy a disaster. And Nigeria's estimated 120 million
people - who represent more than 300 ethnic groups - are restless.
Although the United States has largely ignored Nigeria's
struggles in the past, it would be wise to start paying attention.
Nigeria is the biggest U.S. trading partner in Africa, the fifth
largest supplier of oil to the American market, and the world's
10th most populous nation. At this precarious moment, with a civilian
government in power for the first time in nearly 20 years, Nigeria
stands as a tall example of West Africa's promise. If it fails,
breaking up into separate countries or regions, a civil war is almost
certain - one that threatens to be at least as bloody as the Biafran
War of the late '60s,
which claimed a million Nigerian lives. Furthermore, neighboring West
African countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, which have relied
on Nigeria in the past for peacekeeping missions, may become further
destabilized, throwing the region into turmoil.
Karl Maier's new book, This House Has Fallen: Midnight
in Nigeria, offers a sobering appraisal of the numerous crises
the country currently faces. A former Africa correspondent for the
London Independent and author of two other books about
Africa, Maier has learned to negotiate the notorious difficulties
of Nigeria with confidence, if not always ease, and he shows it
off with this book. Moving through the proud Yoruba southwest, the
restive Igbo-dominated east, the Ogoni oil country and the Muslim
(Hausa) north, Maier tells the story of each place with interviews
and vignettes. Along the way, we meet village elders, political
activists, unemployed youths; we see churches and mosques, sometimes
a chief's house. From these people, we understand that Nigerians
are direct, articulate and often funny, and that they love to talk.
We also learn that they live on the brink of disaster.
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