Tag Archives: Nigeria

The Chibok Girls by Helon Habila

‘The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria’

Two years after Book Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls, Helon Habila travels to Chibok town, in Northern Nigeria, to track down the survivors and the bereaved families of the girls. On 14 April 2014, this once peaceful and sleepy town was rattled by the terrorist group Boko Haram when they took the girls, with only a few managing to escape on the way. When Habila visits the town he witnesses how ruined, sad, and depressing the place is – bullet holes on some houses, some roofs still burned down, and the abandoned street sides. It’s also not easy to get into Chibok as access is restricted.

On the day they took them, the Boko Haram members told the girls that they were soldiers, there to protect them from the terrorist group, and herded them into trucks. When Habila returns the second time to meet the girls who’d managed to jump off the trucks, they tell how the terrorists called them infidels and that they ought to be married. The terrorist’s ideology is against most aspects of modernization, Western influence, including Western education.

Habila’s account of this tragedy includes the state the parents are in. Some have died from stress-related illnesses, while some have carried funeral rites, seeking closure. Helon Habila also goes to the place that is the Heartland of Boko Haram and visits some of the landmarks in the Boko Haram war. His investigation has heart-breaking results, some revealing the state of displaced women in refugee camps, not all refugees but some are housewives impoverished by the war.

I learned a lot from this short yet powerful book. Habila’s account of this tragic story enlightens us on not only the kidnappings but also the way it was handled, the lack of concern for the masses, the manner in which an intense and sensitive issue like this can be mishandled in a place that is rife with corruption and focused on showcasing itself as an economic success.

Reading The Chibok Girls has also highlighted how the effects of terrorism spread out beyond the victims themselves. There’s a continuous pain that is left behind, permanent for most. There are still over a hundred girls missing, and the ones who were released carry scars with them. These girls were forced into sex slavery, starved, raped, abused, impregnated… I also learned how vulnerable women and girls are in times of war. However, another thing we may overlook, which I gathered from the account of one of the girls who managed to escape from the trucks, is how young boys are also recruited into the terrorist group and trained and turned into killers.

This is a heart-rending yet necessary book. In the midst of tired and recycled stories told in news reports, The Chibok Girls is much needed.


The Carnivorous City by Toni Kan

“Lagos is a beast with bared fangs and a voracious appetite for human flesh.”

Lagos is known for its restlessness, its hustle and rapidly growing population. It’s the economic engine of Nigeria but also humming with people trying to reach into its pockets for survival.

I’ve read quite a number of modern Nigerian literature and most of them, even the most positive and beautiful stories, have a piece that would fit with the next to create a picture of Lagos truly as a carnivorous city. This story dives into this city to show us how sharp its teeth can be.

Abel Dike is a small-town teacher whose brother Soni is a criminal turned grandee. Soni has it all – the mansions, the beautiful wife and child, the millions, the flashy cars. One day his Jag is found in a ditch with music blaring, and Soni nowhere to be seen. There is no blood, no damage, and nothing to suggest gunshots. Abel arrives in Lagos to join the search for his brother and so begins a journey that will swallow him full into the belly of Lagos.

Through the rollercoaster trip of suspects and stories, Abel still doesn’t find his brother. But while he’s searching, signing cheques for things that need to be maintained and taken care of, he’s overwhelmed by the quick change that has taken place in his life. He went from his shabby lifestyle to wearing his brother’s luxurious shoes just overnight.

This story shows the contrast between brothers, one the hero and the other a coward. The distance that can occur when close people go in separate ways. We see the character take over his brother’s life, in almost every sense and along the pages we don’t know if he really wants to find his brother or not.

The Carnivorous City has drama, seduction, betrayal, and loyalty. We witness the madness and brutality of Lagos. In Abel’s pursuit we discover how in this flesh-eating city, in the life of money and greed, trust is a “shapeshifter.” Trust is likened to quicksand and we see for ourselves as Abel meets all kinds of people that worked with and for his brother.

Kan articulates his story well, bringing the city to life and drawing a clear picture for the reader to really get in there and get a good experience. The climax can be difficult to find and when found does not really punch you in the gut. However, the plot is good enough to have you leafing through for hours. 

I’d recommend this to readers who enjoy modern African literature that is honest with its representation but does not seek sympathy for it. It’s not a poor country, poor city and its people, but rather authentic and entertainingly frank.