There Was a Country by Chinua Achebe
by Adam Nossiter
Rumors of Nigeria’s demise have been somewhat exaggerated. This turbulent and magnetic African megastate endures despite its intense regional, religious and other divisions (the country has an estimated 250 ethnic groups and more than 500 languages).
Nigeria did fracture once, however, and it is this story that Chinua Achebe, a giant of African letters, tells. His memoir of the moment describes when the country, yoked together artificially by British colonizers, split apart at a cost of more than a million lives.
Nigeria is the Texas of Africa: it’s big and loud and brash, a place of huge potential, untapped talent, murderous conflict and petroleum riches. It also has a singular capacity for irony and self-reflection that is both cultural habit and survival tactic. It is difficult and often dangerous to get by in Nigeria unless you are a fortunate member of the infinitesimally small and mostly corrupt oil-fed elite. Acute awareness of your surroundings is a necessity; along with it goes another Nigerian trait, thinking and dreaming big.