Debut novelist Nnaziri Ihejirika is the author of A Rainy Season. He spent most of his formative years in the thriving city of Lagos, Nigeria. An alumnus of the University of Toronto, he retains an avid interest in African history, literature and infrastructure development. Here he discusses the socio-political background that influenced his debut.
None of the many military dictatorships in Nigeria’s history squandered as much goodwill as General Sani Abacha’s regime between November 1993 and June 1998. As a young boy who came of age during this time, an awareness of the socio-economic impact of his government and observations of the individuals forged by this environment provided the backdrop for my debut novel, A Rainy Season.
Abacha’s predecessor, General Babangida, was a politician in uniform and his charisma, oratory and policies were cultivated to maximize his political appeal. However, his attempts at transitioning Nigeria to democratic rule failed in June 1993 when he was pressured by his colleagues to annul elections that were considered free and fair. From the ashes of Babangida’s regime came Abacha and his promise of political reform and discipline. Doing away with the transitional administration left by Babangida, Abacha was backed by pro-democracy activists who believed his promise to reinstate the June 1993 election results. Even Moshood Abiola, the presumed winner of those elections, gave tacit support to Abacha’s palace coup.
Within two years, Moshood Abiola was in prison for seeking his mandate. Ken Saro-Wiwa, the populist social critic was hanged on trumped up murder charges. Several serving and retired military officers, including former Head of State Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy, Shehu Yar’Adua, were sentenced to life in prison for plotting a coup against Abacha. Newspaper editors were routinely harassed and arrested. Political opponents were assassinated in broad daylight on the streets of Lagos. As a result, the country was turned into a pariah state on the international stage. Developed countries limited visas to Nigerians, rendering escape nearly impossible for all but the wealthy or those lucky enough to win the US diversity visa lottery. Economically, oil – the country’s main source of foreign exchange – traded at eighteen dollars a barrel and inflation was as high as 47.5% in January 1996!
Living in Lagos, I witnessed the depths to which the citizenry fell as they struggled to survive their daily existence. I saw schoolteachers, bribed by desperate parents, assisting students during exams. The clergy openly courted the rich, with no regard to the source of wealth. Young women offered their bodies to those who could offer material comfort. Young men, lacking gainful employment, took to crime and ethno-religious fundamentalism. When asked, people said “conditions are what make the crayfish bend”. Rationalization of misdeeds became a popular pastime…
It is easy to understand the reaction, palpably captured in A Rainy Season, to Abacha’s death. The book’s characters are fictional, but many of the social ills which currently plague Nigerian society were incubated and birthed during that dark era. Nearly two decades later, it is time for Nigerians to realize something they did during those dark days – the question is not whether the country’s ethnic, religious, gender and class fault lines will lead to its downfall. The question is whether or not its people will join hands to ensure Nigeria’s salvation.