The Book of the Week is “Looking For Transwonderland, Travels in Nigeria” by Noo Saro-Wiwa, published in 2012. This ebook’s author spent most of her childhood in England.
Born in mid-1970’s Nigeria– under the rule of a ruthless dictatorship– she was visiting the country for a few months in 2011 to find her roots. Corrupted by oil discovered in 1957, and a colony of the British Empire until 1960, the country has since become somewhat democratized. The author briefly discusses the history of Nigeria and its tribes, the Hausas, Igbos, Yorubas, Ogonis and Binis. Roughly half the citizens are Muslim, mostly living in the north; the other half are evangelical Christian. Many are Pentecostal, living in the south.
The author recounts her experiences of seeing her aunt in Lagos. Her aunt believes in witches, and many Nigerians believe in the supernatural. They also engage in daily public prayer. Saro-Wiwa met her cousin Mabel, a typical Nigerian 20-something who, every day, arrives at her journalism job in late morning due as much to anger and resentment at the nation’s greedy leaders, as due to a long, stressful commute. She gets paid irregularly, every several months; she’s in debt until then.
“A lack of professionalism characterises the top echelons of government, and extends down to the ordinary workers… [Including museum managers]. Nothing works, talent goes to waste, and nepotism is rife.” Approximately six of ten residents of Nigerian cities work “off the books” in the building trade, or selling small-ticket items and food. Water and electricity are considered luxuries. Infrastructure is hardly ever maintained. Instead of verbal mudslinging and spying on each other, to scare their enemies– Nigerian politicians employ cults to abduct foreign oil workers. Networking with militant groups is more likely to lead to a job than a university degree. Besides, due to lack of funding, “Lecturers were reduced to photocopying literature and selling it to students.”
Saro-Wiwa talks to people around the country. One told her about how a friend had died when a fire and explosion resulted from thieves’ punching a hole in an oil pipeline to get at the precious resource. That was not an isolated incident, as, unfortunately, cigarettes and paraffin lamps are items commonly present near Nigerian oil pipelines, which can heat up to about 900 degrees Celsius during a conflagration.
“Nothing in Lagos comes without a struggle or a squabble…” In one illustration, the author makes the quick-to-anger passengers of public transportation– along with the occasional evangelist and beggar riding overcrowded buses– sound worse than passengers in New York City. The disputes over trivial matters of perceived injustices do not usually come to blows, though. The author takes a number of hair-raising rides on motorbikes, too, minus the social entertainment. There are only a handful of traffic lights in Nigeria, but numerous Darwin-award-candidate pedestrians and drivers.
Read the book to learn more about the author’s observations of wealthy students on a college campus, her visits to Transwonderland and various other tourist attractions and a music concert in rural areas, Nollywood, the sorry state of her accommodations, Nigeria’s carnivorous, gerontocratic inclinations, and her other adventures.