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Occupy Nigeria: Chinua Achebe Leads EC Osondu, Helon Habila and Other Authors in Protest


Last Sunday, a group of 38 Nigerian authors, led by acclaimed novelist Chinua Achebe, released a statement in support of the mass protests against the state’s withdrawal of the fuel subsidy. Achebe is joined by EC Osondu, Helon Habila, Tolu Ogunlesi and others in calling the action “ill advised” in light of religious tensions. The Guardian has the story:

Chinua Achebe is heading a group of 38 Nigerian authors who are throwing their weight behind mass protests in the country at the government’s withdrawal of the state fuel subsidy.

The internationally acclaimed, bestselling novelist Achebe was joined by Caine prize winner EC Osondu, Commonwealth writers prize winner Helon Habila and 35 other Nigerian authors in issuing a “Statement of Solidarity with the Nigerian People” on Sunday. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Nigeria since the announcement at the beginning of the year that the country’s state fuel subsidy programme would be discontinued, leading petrol pump prices to more than double to around $1 a litre.

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Read the full statement:

We are troubled by the turn of events in Nigeria, and hereby call on President Goodluck Jonathan and the rest of the country’s political leadership to take immediate steps to tackle the state of lawlessness in certain parts of the nation and address the sense trepidation and rage that has reached dangerous levels within the Nigerian populace.

Nigeria is witnessing a new escalation of sectarian violence, culminating in explosions that have killed or seriously wounded scores of people at churches and other centers of worship and local businesses.

As a people who lost two million citizens in a civil war, Nigerians must bring an urgent sense of history to the gloomy events. 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.

Playwright and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka discussed the protests, saying that he fears Nigeria could descend into civil war. The BBC has a recording of the interview:

Wole Soyinka

As Nigeria faces the second day of a general strike over fuel prices, the country is also dealing with a surge in violence related to religious tensions.

The Islamist militant group Boko Haram has carried out a string of deadly attacks in recent weeks, mainly against Christian targets in the north-east.

Achebe, who last year famously turned down the Nigerian National Honour for the second time, citing his disgust with Nigerian corruption, gave an interview in which he argues that this corruption is at the heart of the fuel protests:

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.

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Achebe’s comments suggest that the fuel crisis goes deeper to the core of Nigeria’s political failings, and explains why “Occupy Nigeria” has come to define discussion about the protest on Twitter. Authors, including Lola Shoneyin, A Igoni Barrett, Tolu Ogunlesi and Chika Unigwe have been sending their support using the hashtag #occupynigeria. Nigerian-based Teju Cole, author of Open City, has also used his “small fates” to comment on the protests:


RT @ikeanya: RT @Nnedi: A quote from the front: “We’ve now occupied NTA. They have armed policemen all over, but who cares?” #OccupyNigeriaThu Jan 12 12:45:57 via UberSocial for BlackBerry

If Goodluck Jonathan removes the subsidy, Nigeria will remove Goodluck Jonathan! Jan 10 13:24:48 via Twitter for BlackBerry®

Abdul Mahmud addressing the crowd when the Comm of Police came to address #occupynigeria Abuja Jan 11 14:28:19 via Twitter for BlackBerry®

There’s no space where I stood yesterday. Taken over by the crowd #fuelsubsidy #occupyNigeria #ojota Jan 12 11:56:17 via Twitter for BlackBerry®

Will President Jonathan declare a nationwide state of emergency? #occupyNigeria #fuelsubsidyThu Jan 12 08:42:56 via Twitter for BlackBerry®

@seyitaylor @temite Only Achebe and Soyinka, that I’ve seen, are making the security issue the focus of their critique. And they’re right.Thu Jan 12 10:04:09 via web

@temite @seyitaylor On the verge of civil war? Are you mad? The guy didn’t say a single word about the security situation.Thu Jan 12 10:00:13 via web

@jeremyweate @tejucole I disagree. Soyinka is mostly right. Nigeria’s creeping towards civil war. Even thieving David Mark admits it.Thu Jan 12 11:28:06 via UberSocial for BlackBerry

Damn it! If not for AIDS, a 74-year-old Fela would be here to witness all this.Thu Jan 12 10:35:24 via web

An unsentimental group of protesters in Ojota, having nicknamed a goat Jonathan, gave it quite a beating.Fri Jan 13 05:56:59 via web

With the sign “No Subsidy, Jonathan Must Go” around his neck in Ojota, Fineboy, 3, a ram, protested the rise in his feeding costs.Thu Jan 12 04:01:54 via web

“As far as we are concerned, there was no shooting,” said police chief Nkemdem in Ibafo. The protester who was shot dead had no comment.Thu Jan 12 07:48:17 via web

“An artist, in my understanding of the word, should side with the people against the Emperor that oppresses his or her people.”—AchebeThu Jan 12 07:18:02 via web

“Nigeria has been ruled by the same cult of mediocrity for at least 40 years.” Chinua Achebe gets it right: Jan 12 06:51:22 via web

No protesters died when policemen opened fire on a crowd in Kogi. But Anas Gambo, standing in front of his own house, did.Fri Jan 13 07:18:59 via web

Little Olateju, born on Wednesday morning in Ibadan, lost his father, a protester, to a police bullet the same evening.Thu Jan 12 13:12:28 via web

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Images courtesy Sahara Reporters, Lola Shoneyin and Chika Unigwe on Twitter


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