oo Saro-Wiwa, the daughter of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian writer and non-violent activist who was tried by a special military tribunal and hanged under the military dictatorship of Sani Abacha, has written a compelling, personal, and thoroughly enjoyable account of her travels through a country that doesn’t usually have many lines dedicated to it in tourist books: Nigeria.
After the brutal and unjust death of her father (which caused international outrage and got Nigeria suspended from the Commonwealth for over three years), Noo Saro-Wiwa experienced years of disconnectedness from her parents’ homeland. As a child, she was forced to leave England and spend her holidays in Nigeria, something that she did not enjoy at all, because she would rather have gone to the Caribbean or Spain like her friends. As an adult, however, she decided to return ‘home’ and travel through the country as a diasporan and a journalist. The result of her ‘homegoing’ is this book, a wonderful account of her travels, a tale of reconciliation, an enticing look into Nigeria, its problems and the causes behind them, and an accessible introduction into the rich history of the young nation.
The book is the perfect mix between funny travel stories, the author’s experiences and culture clashes with Nigeria and its people, and some serious insights into why Nigeria is the way it is. The account is candid, personal, and critical without being demeaning. Saro-Wiwa has this typically ‘Nigerian’ way of looking at her own country: she laughs about some aspects, seriously criticises others, never fails to explain the reasons behind the problems, and always remembers that no matter what, home is home.
Initially, though, Saro-Wiwa feels and behaves like a typical tourist: stuffing money in her shoes and her credit card in her bra in case she gets robbed in Lagos, but after a short while, she braves the bumpy okada rides throughout various cities, and travels from the south-west to the far north of the country, absorbing and relishing in the different cultures and climates of this unruly giant of a country.
By the time she finishes her travel by returning to Port Harcourt (a city in the very south of the country, plighted by unrest and corruption caused by the discovery of large oil reserves in the region), she has a new understanding of her country and the reasons behind her father’s anger and his relentless pursuit of justice for the Ogoni people (his tribe) and the people of the Niger Delta more generally. Noo Saro-Wiwa shows that she is indeed her father’s daughter through her sharp and brutally honest observations of the problems of Nigeria. She sees that the country and its people are struggling, that the political elite is corrupt to the core and unrelenting in its merciless exploitation of the country and its people, but she does not despair or run for the hills. She sees the beauty in Nigeria, with its natural beauty and diversity, but her heart surely belongs to the diversity and the beauty of the Nigerian people.
Apart from some serious laughs (mainly because some of her experiences could have come straight from my own experiences in Nigeria), I learnt a great deal about the country and it has definitely changed some of my perspectives. As a non-Nigerian with family ties in the country, I really related to Saro-Wiwa’s account and especially the more candid and personal moments of discussions about / reflections on the future of the country and my or Saro-Wiwa’s potential place within Africa’s largest economy. So, whether you know nothing about the country, live in Nigeria or in the diaspora, this book comes highly recommended and I think it will not disappoint.