Reviews – Becoming Nigerian: A Guide × Elnathan John

To be Nigerian is to be a hustler, and Elnathan teaches that in his book.


From the yellow and black cover of the book, which makes one imagine Lagos and its danfos, though the yellow is not the too-ripe mango yellow, with the pregnant police man standing like a tree, and the loud mosques and blaring churches on the back cover—“Becoming Nigerian” is a delight.

In that very first chapter Elnathan summarizes all that the book is about: Nigeria, a country where politics and religion and everything else is a hustle; and this is basically because Nigeria began as a hustle, the white man’s hustle.

Even Love is a hustle. It is just as political as our dirty politics: there are ways to play your cards, and there are ways not to. As the man, you have to be very protective of your woman; as the woman, ‘never ask who his female friends are’. The man must never do something as stupid as go to the kitchen; but the woman must understand that cooking for her man is magical while the so-called romantic words is a waste of time.

The book begins “IN THE BEGINNING…”, with the colonialist, and leads us to the now. In the first chapter, there are eight Bible-like chapters: The first chapter tells of the beginning of Nigeria, in a Genesis way of how the British said: “Let there be Nigeria and there was Nigeria”. Then he dwells further until we get to a retelling of the beatitude: ‘Blessed are those who steal from the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of political rebirth.’ He ends this chapter in Chapter 8 with what I call “Aliko’s Prayer.”

Elnathan writes: The benevolent dictator gathered all his disciples and taught them a new prayer. He said,

You must pray then this way:

Our father, who art Aliko, hallowed be thy wealth…

In very subtle ways, he condemns these things and those perpetrating them. Elnathan points no finger, although his finger is everywhere.

This engrossing read is a must-have for seasoned Nigerian-watchers and a uniquely informative guide for newcomers to Nigeria, with its tongue-in-cheek look at Nigeria’s relationship to itself and the world culturally, socially and politically. This book is a guide, a kind of manual on what it means to be Nigerian.

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