Chinua Achebe's The Trouble With Nigeria: A Review By Halima Olajumoke Sogbesan


Title: The Trouble With Nigeria
Author: Chinua Achebe
Length: 68 pages
Publisher/Year: Fourth Dimension Publishing Co. Ltd 1983
ISBN: 0435906984
Genre: Fiction


Chinua Achebe, the literary genius, starts the book by asserting that, “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.” This gets me interested in what he has to say for the remaining 67 pages of the book. Though the book was first published 29 years ago, towards the end of the twentieth century, it is relevant to modern day Nigeria with all its troubles and challenges.
My introduction to Chinua Achebe was through Things Fall Apart. In an article featured in The Guardian, a Nigerian newspaper, approximately 8 million copies of Things Fall Apart have been sold since it was published in 1958. I found Achebe’s writing brilliant and easy to comprehend. In fact, I’m not surprised at The Paris Review’s reference to the literary genius as, “the father of modern African literature.” As a result, I looked forward to what the pages of The Trouble with Nigeria had to offer, and I was not disappointed.
In the preface, the then younger Achebe states that the book has been written for his children and their peers throughout Nigeria. The book, as he further states, is an argument about their future.
The table of contents clearly outlines the troubles with Nigeria. In the first chapter, he introduces the topic, and then uses eight chapters to discuss the trouble with Nigeria in detail.
In a Nigeria that was dealing with issues of tribalism, high rates of corruption, and the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War, the book couldn’t have come at a better time. It explains the problems with the 23 years old Nigeria, and makes suggestions about how those problems could be solved.
The problems that Achebe discusses are tribalism, the false image of Nigeria as a nation, the Nigerian style of leadership, patriotism, the social injustice and the cult of mediocrity, indiscipline, corruption, and the Igbo problem.
Achebe uses the first person narrative technique in the book. Using this technique, he incorporates fascinating stories that reinstate his arguments. He also uses sarcasm, and humor to make the book more interesting. These elements make the content of the book stronger, and so I relate to it better.
There are things to learn. In the book, it is quite unbelievable that sometime after independence, Nigerians put Nigeria first. The Nigerian of the time would say, ‘I am Nigerian’, before hinting at being Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo. Though sad to note, Nigeria had also planned to become a force to reckon with in terms of its development by year 2000. It is 2012 and we are still projecting into the future.
I thought the most interesting chapter in the book was chapter two on tribalism. Achebe says about the tribe, “Tribe has been accepted at one time as a friend, rejected as an enemy at another, and finally smuggled in through the back-door as an accomplice.” In this chapter, Achebe ridicules so called ‘nationalists’, who are in the actual sense, the perpetrators of tribalism. He mentions names and cites examples of how people, like Obafemi Awolowo, played tribal politics.
Outside politics, Achebe laments on the detrimental role the state of origin plays in a so called unified Nigeria.
I was disappointed in the author’s chapter nine on The Igbo Problem. Just 40 pages away, Achebe bashes the idea of tribalism, and then ironically, he writes a whole chapter that fuels the idea. In the chapter, Achebe portrays the Igbo as superior in character. However, the words in bold struck me the most. Achebe says, “They (Nigerians of other ethnic groups) would all describe them (the Igbos) as aggressive, arrogant and clannish. Most would add grasping and greedy (although the performance of the Yoruba since the end of the Civil War has tended to put prize for greed in some doubt!). I thought that was inappropriate of Achebe and the remark contradicted some of the lessons from chapter two.
The book ends well with chapter ten on the example of Aminu Kano. In this concluding chapter, Achebe explains that change is possible in Nigeria. He praises the simplicity of Aminu Kano, and compares him with Mahatma Gandhi. The last sentence is particularly interesting, “Nigeria cannot be the same again because Aminu Kano lived here.”
This is a book Nigerians should read, especially to understand that the problems of the country did not start today. Every young person should read the book. As the ‘leaders of tomorrow’, it is imperative that the youth know the problems of yesterday and look at their relationship with what is obtainable today. In a Nigeria with even more contemporary problems, such as security issues, and a disturbingly high rate of corruption, young people need to help try to fix some of these problems. If they cannot fix them, then they should not contribute to them.
In The Trouble with Nigeria, acclaimed author Chinua Achebe addresses his country’s problems, and the challenges that hold back Nigeria from moving forward. The following passage, perhaps, best captures Achebe’s thoughts:
‘The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.’ Pg1
Although this book is only sixty-eight pages long, it provides a powerful analysis of why Nigeria has failed as a country. The chapter titles clearly spell out the problems that Achebe identifies – Tribalism, False Image, Leadership, the Nigerian Style, Social Injustice and the Cult of Mediocrity, Indiscipline, Corruption among others.
On corruption, Achebe poses several questions – What is Corruption? What has become of Corruption in Nigeria? Is corruption on the increase or decrease in Nigeria? And, here, Achebe does not mince his words:
‘My frank and honest opinion is that anybody who can say that corruption in Nigeria has not yet become alarming is either a fool, a crook or else does not live in this country.’ Pg 37
Achebe goes on the write about the publication of the Weekly Star of 15 May 1983 that had on its front page under the title, ‘The Nigerian and Corruption’. It reads:
‘Keeping an average Nigerian from being corrupt is like keeping a goat from eating yam.’ Pg 38
The writer uses these essays to show where the trouble with Nigeria really lies and I could not agree more with the author. This is one book that may interest citizens and leaders alike. Although the title reads, ‘The Trouble with Nigeria,’ I strongly believe that this is a book that applies not only to Nigeria only but also to so many other countries in the world.
Achebe’s The Trouble with Nigeria was first published by Heinemann (1984), and reissued by Fourth Dimension Publishing Co in 2000.


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