Another politician, this time the former AGF and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, has a new book out titled, “Burden of Service: Reminiscences of Nigeria’s former Attorney General.” Typical of these publications, the media houses get an advance copy and publish some of its most controversial contents to stimulate audience interest ahead of the public presentation. Given that what was excerpted from Adoke’s book so far has not as been provocative as previous similar publications, I doubt it will generate the heated exchanges one has come to expect of this growing body of political literature. One thing, however, Adoke joins the list of other politicians who contribute to one of the curious paradoxes of Nigeria: a leadership class that frequently publishes books amidst the staggering reality of overwhelming illiteracy.
Think about it; Nigeria is one of the societies with the highest number of illiterates in the world. Even where people can get an education, there is a high likelihood that the knowledge imparted in them lacks quality and its contents cannot engender social transformational. Despite that gloomy reality, Nigeria has so many schools; every other house or uncompleted building is either a school or will soon become one. Nigeria also has a growing number of universities, both private and public, but still contends with an abundance of uneducated and the poorly educated. Many of the private universities are undersubscribed because of their costs, thus making the enterprise of tertiary education an oversupplied one. Just the other day, the NYSC Director-General, Brig. Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim, claimed some graduates could not recite the alphabet. Virtually nobody disputed with him over the plausibility of that shocking claim. We have come to terms with the reality of having more schools yet sinking into the atrocious depths of illiteracy and miseducation.
Given all those, one wonders why the political class churns out books. Who is their reading public? Relative to our nation’s potential, there is not much going on by way of a reading culture. The same leadership class that loves to publish books is also the one that has actively overseen the deprecation of the education sector, sabotaged intellectualism, and banalized the acada culture by publicly using Ph.Ds. and professors to run their errands. To be a culture where people pick up books by their leaders to read, you must at least have a flourishing intellectual culture, an educated and economically empowered citizenry who care enough about governance to want to read their leaders’ memoirs. Where is the labor they engage in to cultivate a reading culture among the people for whom they are producing books?
While in office, many of them do not as much as betray a hint of erudition in their governance conduct but when they leave, they write a book! So, what is it about books that fascinate Nigerian leaders that producing them is taken as an imperative? Or, what is it about the trappings of book publication and the subsequent public presentation carnival that compels them to want to publish one? Many of these books are hardly ever available after they are publicly presented with fanfare, and it is reasonable to conclude that they were produced for reasons other than public consumption. The unfortunate thing is that the scholarship that tackles topical Nigerian issues, written by academics and public intellectuals hardly get as much press as these vanity publications.
After a politician is ousted out of the political game and they do not have many moves left on the political chessboard, they write a book. They claim they are giving an account of their “stewardship” (a word that vain Nigerian politicians have battered into meaninglessness) whereas the book is just an embellished account of their achievements while in office. The books are mostly the same in their content, all their writers professing their undying love for Nigeria and stating the hard work they put into public service. If they had been accused of corruption, they use the book to burnish their image by either responding to critics or giving a hagiographic slant to their activities while in service.
None of them ever admits to stealing money, making corrupt deals, or undermining Nigeria in any way. Yet, whenever they leave office, Nigeria is almost always worse off. A politician serves under a corrupt government, leaves and writes about becoming “An Accidental Public Servant” or tells us that “Fighting Corruption is Dangerous.” Some others manage to publish theirs with funny titles such as “Conscience and History” or “Burden of Service.” Some narcissist even titled his book after a self-awarded appellation, “Founder of Modern Yobe.” One of them, in the bid to sanitize his public image as the politician that muzzled democracy in his state and repressed the people he pretended to serve gave his book a corny title, “Triumph of Destiny.”
That is how we end up with volumes of book that frequently look back at where we have been; politicians trying to refurbish their inglorious roles in our history but do not offer much by way of looking forward. Some of the books are an exercise in self-obsession, an observation you can make from their titles that are screaming, Not my Will! My Command! My Watch! My Story! My Life Story! They leave office, but it is all still about them. Even those that who deservedly lose an election write on “My Transition Hours.” They spend more effort in the book registering their bitterness at being rejected than critically reflecting on why they lost.
In Nigeria, some politicians who write their own books, some have their books ghostwritten, while others hire someone to write a book about then. For the last category, the art of biography is an exercise in image-making; nothing else is on offer. Elsewhere, biographers at least attempt a rigorous study and critical analysis of their subjects. In Nigeria, not quite. Biographies are almost always a celebratory affair, and that is why they come off as hardly insightful. You smell the agenda of a book titled “Excellence in Governance and Creativity: Legal Essays in Honour of His Excellency Nyesom Ezenwo Wike CON, GSSRS, POS” from a distance. When the Chief of Army Staff goes to a public presentation of a supposed fictional book in his honor that labels him a “legend,” you know better than expect to find something worth ruminating over in such writing.
In 2016, while President Muhammadu Buhari’s body language was still healing the sick, they launched two books about him in quick succession. One was a vanity project. The other book, “Muhammadu Buhari: The Challenges of Leadership,” was an authorized biography that described Buhari as “a major ally of the West in the fight against terrorism, poverty, and corruption.” His leadership mettle had barely been tested, but the book had jumped ahead of itself. Today, there are few people left who can convincingly argue Buhari is fighting anything other than shadows. Aisha Buhari too joined the train when she published a book on “Essentials of Beauty Therapy.” Its public presentation was an occasion for politicians to gather and play the politics of I-remain-loyal before the leader with the power to make or mar their political destinies. On such occasions, the book itself is a side attraction.
Outside religious materials, the reading culture in Nigeria is quite poor. The fetish of publishing by our politicians does not mean there is an intellectual culture fueling their production. Like many good things, the book is just another tool serving their ends because it is totemic of erudition and intelligence. If the Nigerian leadership class had actual veneration for books, they would be more concerned about the social and economic mechanisms that sponsor the production and circulation of books. They would invest more in the education sector to increase literacy level and rejuvenate the flagging reading culture by providing relevant resources for millions of Nigerians who will love to read but can barely afford the luxury. For now, it is safe to conclude that for our leaders, a book is no more just another souvenir to distribute at their vanity parties.