Title: Nigerians…in Theory: Our Quirks, Habits and Idiosyncrasies
Authors: Joe Abah & Yemi Adesanya
Place of Publication: Ibadan
Date of Publication: 2022
Number of Pages: 361
Name of Reviewer: Isaac N. Obasi
The writing and eventual publication of a book from various ideas systematically generated from the Twitter social media platform, within a short period of time, is an attribute and initiative which only the quick-witted can achieve perfectly well. As many social media followers already know, in the past few years, Dr. Joe Abah became a household name on Twitter where he was raising one form of controversial statement or another. Unknown to many however, he was intentionally and systematically generating those controversies towards harvesting honest views of Nigerians who were enthusiastically responding to his delight. As the book puts it, “over the course of a year, Joe Abah wrote a daily proposition on Twitter in a series known as ‘#TodaysHypothesis’.
Interestingly, Yemi Adesanya who eventually ended up as his co-author, was a regular and an enthusiastic debater on Twitter on issues raised by Dr. Joe Abah. The various hypotheses (170 of them) as the book rightly pointed out, are not all hypotheses in the strict academic sense, but they are real propositions meant to provoke healthy debate thereby capturing the views of Nigerians on a wide range of issues. Nigerians …in Theory: Our Quirks, Habits and Idiosyncrasies is an exciting book which calls for a wider dissemination of its ideas to help provoke even greater discussions beyond the Twitter platform. This is the essence of this review.
Broad Thematic Areas of Coverage
The book which is organised in a unique and an unconventional manner has eight broad themes which will pass for Parts or Sections in a conventional sense. These broad thematic areas contain a total of 170 (Hypotheses/Propositions) that make up the book. Each of these 170 Hypotheses/Propositions, is equivalent to what are conventionally called chapters, and which we prefer to call titles here. Consequently, the eight broad thematic areas of coverage are: (a) Socialisation which contains 26 titles; (b) Economy which comprises 24 titles; (c) Lifestyle with 21 titles; (d) Media/Technology containing 10 titles; (e) Leadership/Organisation with 29 titles; (f) Religion comprising 11 titles; (g) Politics/Governance which has 29 titles; and lastly (h) Family/Relationship with 20 titles. It is important to point out that some enthusiastic debaters on Dr. Abah’s Twitter handle proposed parts of the 170 Hypotheses that Dr. Joe Abah included in the book.
By way of observation, looking closely at the number of propositions raised on the broad thematic areas, the distribution shows that the specific broad thematic areas of politics and governance as well as leadership and organisation generated more hypotheses and discussions than others. It was as if this was confirming an overarching hypothesis which is that Nigeria’s problems squarely rest on fixing the politics-governance-leadership-organisation nexus. This implies that when the problems in these areas are fixed, the rest would be easier to resolve. More importantly, this again goes to confirm the 1983 thesis of Prof. Chinue Achebe (in his book The Trouble with Nigeria) that “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.” Looking back now, every knowledgeable person can confirm that Nigeria’s troubles have more than quadrupled and are even threating its existence. It is therefore not surprising that the politics-governance-leadership-organization nexus, raised more concerns than other equally important thematic areas. But what are some of these 170 propositions covered by the various themes? This is the subject of discussion in the next section.
Review of Contents
The Nigerian state and society like others elsewhere, have their peculiar characteristics in terms of ways of perceiving and doing things. These are what the book rightly captured as quirks, habits and idiosyncrasies. Whether these peculiar characteristics are accidental or habitual, they have in totality come to define a people called Nigerians. This is why in my view, the book rightly talks about Nigerians in theory… while the quirks, habits and idiosyncrasies constitute the practice or what can be called the behaviour. We will now highlight few propositions under some selected thematic areas. Some themes will be highlighted more than others.
In the thematic area of Socialisation, one of the propositions raised is that “society’s temperature is regulated by the elite. They selfishly heat it up, and selflessly cool it down as necessary.”(p.12). Readers know that it is the elite who manipulate ethnic and religious sentiments for private gains. One other proposition is that “the more sanctimonious a person is, the more likely they are to be hiding a shameful secret.”(p.21). This resonates well with readers who know that many corrupt Nigerians are among those who parade their piety in public places. A third one is that “when people don’t hear or understand what you say, they’re more likely to laugh sheepishly than to ask for a repeat or an explanation.”(p.23). The fourth proposition is that “no matter the difficulties today, one day, majority of people will remember today as “the good old days’ for some things.”(p.31). The last proposition we are highlighting in this section is that “Nigerians are more likely to use a seatbelt because of the Federal Road Safety Corps than for their own safety.” (p.47). This proposition lends credence to a popular claim that Nigeria is a lawless country where impunity reigns among the rulers and the ruled. The rulers see themselves as being above the law.
In the thematic area of Economy, some of the propositions are: (a) “The less buoyant the economy, the starker ethnic and tribal tensions become.”(p.53). Readers can add ‘religious factor’ to ethnic and tribal tensions. This trinity of factors constitutes one of the serious banes of Nigeria. (b) “Of all the ills that kill the poor, none is as lethal as bad governance.”(p.68) (c) “The better a government becomes at managing incentives, the faster its economy would grow.”(p.70). This is in line with the general thinking that a proper management of incentives in Nigeria is one of the antidotes of controlling corruption which is killing the economy.
On Lifestyle, some propositions are: (a) “Nothing happens ‘only in Nigeria.’ Nigerian exceptionalism is a lazy myth.”(p.109). Readers can recall that the usual way people say this is that “it is only in Nigeria”, and that many of those who say this have not even travelled out of Nigeria to know what obtains in other countries to warrant this fallacy of over-generalization. (b) “Banning the sale of alcohol in sachets will reduce alcoholism, family problems and death.” (p.123). Some readers would see this as provocative, and would be ready to contest it further.
Under Leadership/Organisation, some propositions are: (a) “Employees are more likely to be demotivated by a feeling of unfairness than by any other factor.”(p.179). We believe that this is one of the reasons why the public service is both ineffective and inefficient because nepotism and cronyism stink to high heavens. (b) “People who are hardworking and tenacious are more likely to be successful than people who are gifted and talented.”(p.191). This is in line with the popular quote of Zig Ziglar (which has also become a popular Human Resources Management saying) that “It is your attitude, more than your aptitude, that will determine your altitude.” (c) “The more wretched a director in the Nigerian Civil Service looks, the wealthier they are likely to be.”(p.201). We can only add that this is one area where a Ph.D research needs to be carried out on the administrative behaviour of civil servants in successfully hiding corrupt practices while in service.
On Politics/Governance, some propositions are: (a) “The stronger an anti-corruption case, the faster the health of the accused will deteriorate.”(p.261). Readers will recall that this has been a trend over many years now, and that not much has been done about it, even when claim of health deterioration is faked. (b) “The younger our Governors and Senators, the worse they are.”(p.303). Readers can add that such younger governors and senators have become good students of the old politicians who showed them the crooked and corrupt way of doing things. (c) “The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.”(p.306). Nigeria serves as a perfect example. (d) “99.9% of Nigerians chase/accept political appointments as a means to get their share of the national cake.”(p.307). This is a mild way of saying this as many would say that such people are going there to join others to loot the treasury.
Nigerians …in Theory: Our Quirks, Habits and Idiosyncrasies, is a book that many would not like to drop after picking to read., as it captivating, exciting, interesting, and yet provocative to some who may propose alternative hypotheses to the ones generated and discussed in the book. For many, the book makes the point that there are atypical behaviour that can be characterized as Nigerians arising from their quirks, habits and idiosyncrasies. The book helps Nigerians to understand who they are, and why they act the way they act. The book is therefore very useful both for further research and leisure-reading. And for those whose hobby is reading, they have a very new and good companion.
•Prof. Isaac N. Obasi is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja, Email: [email protected]