Nigeria, the oil-rich West African nation that holds the largest population of black people in the world, has long puzzled outsiders and baffled its own citizens. In his nuanced, richly detailed, ambitiously conceived book, This House Has Fallen, journalist Karl Maier manages to show why. Combining deft reporting with an astute analytical mind, Maier movingly conveys a sense of the paradox of Nigeria, a nation conceived in hope but nurtured – mostly by its own leaders – into hopelessness.
From 1986 to 1996, Maier served as Africa correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent. If the sharp insights in This House Has Fallen are any measure, Maier must have looked hard and listened well during his stint in Nigeria. Dispensing with the smugness and condescension that often mar books by foreign correspondents, his account of the tragic trajectory of Nigeria’s experience is both compelling and deeply felt.
Maier’s approach, appropriate to the unwieldy tableau of his subject, is to zero in on extraordinary events in Nigeria’s drama. Such moments include the annulled presidential election of 12 June 1993, the groanings of the Ogoni people, the environmental devastation and economic depression of the oil-producing Niger Delta area, the increasing use of violence as a tool for political negotiations, the nascent separatist impulses, the rise of fundamentalist Islamic and Christian sects, and the obsessive kleptomania of Nigeria’s leaders.
In the hands of a less confident writer, the canvas would appear cluttered and unsteady. Worse, it would be a depressing read. But Maier’s judicious sensibility holds the book together as he underlines the robustness and resilience, the sheer ebullience and promise of a people who have been ill-served by self-doubt and cynicism. This House Has Fallen stands as powerful testimony to a human drama that defies logic and comprehension. Maier’s book is an extraordinary achievement.Okey Ndibe
This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7