Interspersing family history with telling interviews and personal insight into the condition of independent Nigeria, Peter Cunliffe-Jones has achieved here, a detailed and informative, but also intimate and enjoyable portrait of Africa's giant. On the personal side, Cunliffe-Jones tells the stories of his ancestral cousin, Edward Spenser-Burns, a well-travelled opportunist who visited Nigeria during his service acquiring Congolese territories for King Leopold's Belgium, and of the author's grandfather Sir Hugo Marshall, who was heavily involved with the drawing up of Nigeria's constitution for independence; a well-intentioned but misguided constitution, which he gradually developed strong misgivings about. In these family histories, there is a good level of detail, and it is fascinating to see such clear accounts of a Nigeria and Congo which naturally differ to the regions as they are today. Most importantly though, Cunliffe-Jones refuses to give their stories a sugar-coating because of their family connections, and thus his portraits are firm and fascinating depictions of two decent, but somewhat misinformed figures, who did more damage than good to the regions they were posted to.
The book flits between these tales, and Cunliffe-Jones' potted histories of Nigeria, as well as his own musings on the region, and interviews he conducted in Nigeria. Though he tackles each of these facets of the book, in an interesting and enjoyable manner; the threads of his narratives seem to clash a little too much, and the book sways rather too much between different stories, and issues at times. The book's other downside is the fact that some of the material in the later, issue-specific chapters of the book, on issues like Corruption and Oil, go over some of the material discussed earlier in the book, a little unnecessarily. Still, these are minor qualms. Cunliffe-Jones' interviews are solid and inquisitive, the histories he gives of post-colonialist issues like Biafra, are concise and well-grounded, and his style is likeable and readable, if without a real flourish. All in all, this is a very good book on the politics, problems and people of both colonialist and post-colonialist Nigeria; one of the most populous and most misunderstood regions in the world. For students of the region, or for those with an interest in the Nigeria, or just looking for a good African history, I would definitely recommend 'My Nigeria'.
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