A satirical take on what it means to be Nigerian or to live in Nigeria, this is a deeply funny book and, at the same time, a very harsh criticism of all the ills plaguing Nigerian society, ranging from religious hypocrisy to corruption, and from small-time scams to police brutality. The abuse of power and the drive for bettering one’s own standing at someone else’s expense can be found not only in the public, but also in the private sphere, and is called the hustle which is effectively omnipresent:
As a Nigerian you know the deal, everything is a hustle: government, politics, religion, all a hustle. The Nigerian God only helps those who help themselves.
The Nigerian God, on the other hand, is the entity that is used to justify any action that is needed in pursuit of the hustle, and whose connection to any particular kind of religion or faith is really non-existent.
Chapters are titled “How To Be Sick”, “How To Use A Business Card”, or “How To be A Good African”, for instance, and they are as deceptive in the simplicity of these on-the-nose titles as they are in their jocularity because in each and every one of them some painful truths and harsh realities hidden under a cover of lighthearted language are presented to the reader. What exactly the author is saying in some of these chapters only began to really sink in after I had already moved on. Other parts are more up-front, especially those on law enforcement and politics because that reality cannot be hidden so easily which makes the aftertaste even more bitter. Furthermore, Elnathan John doesn’t forget the world outside Nigeria, and the chapters on international relations, NGOs, expats, and one on white saviours and their black counterparts are searing.
I really liked this book although I do think it takes a little to hit its stride, and that later chapters are much stronger than earlier ones. I also think that if I had more background knowledge I could appreciate some peculiarities of Nigerian society that are satirized here a little more, but it nonetheless is very accessible even for readers like me that are not quite up-to-date on Nigeria. Overall, informative and enjoyable but also sad and not pulling any punches whatsoever.