Introduction and background
Elnathan was born in North-West Nigeria, Kaduna state. A 38 years old satirist, lawyer, and the writer of Born on a Tuesday, Becoming Nigerian, (short stories shortlisted for the Caine Award of African writers; Bayan Layi, Flying) and other literally works.
This was an easy choice for me. Through Google search, this book caught my eye. I am not Nigerian, but I have lived and interacted with Nigerians from the North and South, Muslims, and Christians from different cities and of different ethnic groups. Becoming Nigerian reminded me of the semester I spent with a Nigerian family, living under the same roof, and going to the same University. I was a student, my friends (husband and wife) were staff at that University.
We spent a lot of time together, going for parties at the embassy and cinema on weekends as well as shopping. Some evenings after class at the University, we drove back home together and my Nigerian friend (my lecturer) would be tired and ask me to drive. I was inexperienced, never driven in the busy roads of a major city. A truck shone bright light and I swerved, he was not angry but sternly stated, never run away from anyone on the road, stay on your lane and drive. He constantly kept asking me why do I leave so much space in front of me, for who? Drive, bumper-to-bumper, do not leave a lot of space or be afraid of anyone, he said. This was scary and exciting at the same time, he showed aggression, and passion. It was incredible learning from him in class and outside class.
Through my friend, I met a lot of Nigerian students and residents. I interacted and ate with them, I learnt from them and heard so many stories of many adventures back home and some even said, “It is sad that we do not get along as well back home as we do here”. He must have been reflecting on his experience with fellow Nigerians back home. Where we were, we had a great time, ate together, and had fun. Families came together once a month to reconnect with a familiar homely environment. The best of times I spent at any embassy, was at the Nigerian embassy.
This book is like a dummy’s guide to understanding the Nigerian people, economy, and society. Be(com)ing Nigerian: A Guide is a humor filled read with entertaining play-on words that depict the realities of life and its challenges through the eyes of the writer. The writer uses wit and hilarity to discuss serious topics such as dictatorship, corruption, hierarchy, and power plays in the Nigerian society. In his own way, a brilliant way, he dissects the Nigerian experience and makes the reader feel and understand serious historical and current events through the writer’s satirical eyes.
The writer has a unique style and uses words deliberately to capture the soul of the Nigerian identity throughout the book. The writer plays around religious teachings, using the art of storytelling and humor to shine a light on historical events, as well as day-to-day realities of the Nigerian experience. For instance, he discusses the origins of Nigeria saying, “In the beginning the British created the Northern and Southern protectorates. Now, the nation was formless and empty, and darkness covered our collective identity”.…
Among other things, the writer mainly talks of the flaws of being Nigerian and how Nigeria as a country functions in a very funny way. He discusses spirituality, politics, crime, poverty and so many other things. The range of the writer’s coverage is wide as he covers things such as traveling outside Nigeria, being a kidnapper, being an expatriate in Nigeria and so on.
The writer shone light on politics in Nigeria with a clever statement, “Blessed are those who covet and reaps the poor of all their money for theirs is the political kingdom”. This carries a lot of hidden meaning and reflects on a lot that is happening across the African continent. Greed, corruption, empty promises, and abuse of power at the expense of the majority who are poor.
The history of regime change in Nigeria is not an exception in this book as the writer describes the change from military regimes to democratic civilian-led governments. He describes past events using a bible-like style of writing…… “And the decades passed, and the military rulers stripped their garbs and uniforms and transformed into civilian rulers. And they declared: ‘Old things have passed away and all things have become new’”.
Worshiping the Nigerian God.
He explained why as a Nigerian you ought to Pray for everything, such as power-cuts and bad governments. Be a prayer worrier, pray hard against evil spirits and witchcraft. The writer goes further, explaining that Nigerians believe in God and the power of prayers, pray before you steal ballot boxes, or just before killing someone, always pray. How to be a Nigerian pastor; spiritual leaders turning religious organizations into personal businesses for further financial gain. He points out extravagant wealth among pastors, some being able to afford private jets and lavish lifestyles, how to pray before you rob and kill.
How Nigerians conduct meetings. The writer talks of the idea of timekeeping during meeting and implies that If you are boss in Nigeria, you can waste other people’s time. Also, as part of becoming Nigerian, make sure you express yourself by disturbing everybody. This reminds me of the advice I got from my Nigerian friend, “ When you feel you are in trouble, such as when you are about to be asked for a bribe by a traffic police or get robbed in a public space, make as much noise as you can, at the top of your voice state your case to attract people and hopefully deter your enemy as you get some help. Never take it on the chin alone, scream and let anyone who is near you know exactly what is happening to you”.
The writer also talks about being a Nigerian writer. To retain originality, just say, you do not read other books on the same topic to not be influenced by other writer’s work. No need for research. Say, I want to be original; I do not read much. This will garner support for your work. Further he talks about journalists who understate the severity of the situation because they feel it is their duty to say something like ten people died to not make the Nigerian public feel bad over a tragedy.
The writer says, never ever explain satire. In an effort to not give too much away, on my part, Becoming Nigerian has a satirical tone that makes it fun to read, clever play-on words makes it unforgettable and in-depth knowledge of the writer makes you wonder. At first, you laugh, after a while, you start thinking and finally reflecting on several issues that are not only limited to the Nigerian experience as our stories, in Africa, are similar.
Be(com)ing a Nigerian was a mental journey to the Nigerian mindset, funny, and mostly an eye opener. The writer used the limited pages of the book to discuss the Nigerian way of life in an exaggerated, satirical, yet relatable manner, always reminding readers of what it means to become Nigerian.