Chibok Girls book cover by HabilaIn 2016, Nigeria's Chibok girls have continued to dominate the news from Nigeria. In October 2016, Boko Haram released 21 girls. The NY Times reported that another 83 girls may get released soon. The NYC newspaper also says that 100 girls (of the original 270 who were abducted) may never want to return home because either they are brainwashed or ashamed to face their communities now that they are "damaged goods."

On December 5, 2016, Chibok Girls: The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria by Helon Habila will be released. The publisher sent me an advanced copy to review.

The book is dated even before it hits the stands, since it does not capture the latest news of the release of 21 girls nor the possible 83 who may also return home. Still, it's a good 130-page overview of the situation so far. 

Habila gambles by going into the lion's den. He travels to Chibok and the surrounding area to pick up first-hand knowledge of the state of affairs. For that reason, I recommend the book. 

What is disappointing is the book's length. At 130 pages, it's doesn't go that much deeper than what you can gleen from reading internet articles for a couple of hours. I've been following the situation and I didn't learn much. But for someone who knows little, this is an excellent summary. Moreover, because it's a personal account, it can be riviting at times. Its anecdotes are telling. Like this one:

In Northeast Nigeria, there are signs telling drivers that it is illegal to give bribes at checkpoints, with a phone number to call if a soldier solicited for bribe. This was the face of the new government in 2015, elected with promise to wipe out corruption and Boko Haram. Abbas told me he had tried the numbers and they didn't work.

It's such a classic African story. I have several of mine own like that.

Habila is reasonable most of the time, but I strongly disagree with Habila when he writes:

"I used to wonder why the facilities at our airports and in almost all public buildings in Nigeria or always broken and sub-standard, until I realized it was not accidental. It is a way of controlling the masses. The masses must never be allowed to think they deserve standard service."

This is a terrible and silly argument. It's unproductive victimhood. The reason airports and public buildings are a disaster in most of Africa is that its leaders are incompentent and Africans just don't care that much about it. 

Imagine you're the head of some African state and that you want to control the masses. What would be more effective: 

a) Have pathetic buildings, screwed up roads, and crumbling airports?

b) Have infrastructure like Switzerland?

You don't need to ask my African wife to know that (b) is the answer. If people are fat and happy, they're far less likely to protest. That's why most of the violent, ugly demonstrations and civil wars happen in countries with incompetent leaders and not in Scandinavia.

Let's not pretend that Africans can easily make pristine infrastructure and that it's simply a crazy desire of their leaders to "control the masses" that is artificially creating such a situation.

Moreover, if Africans deeply cared, they would force their leaders out. And sometimes they do. However, they usually replace them with other incompetent leaders. And so the infrastructure remains a disaster. You can't say that the crappy infrastructure is an "accident" nor is it on purpose. It's simply a side-effect of having rulers who are idiots and a people who tolerate them. 

While it's important to learn about the Chibok girls, it's also not to pigeonhole Nigeria with this tragedy. As Habila notes, "Nigeria is Africa's most populous country, with around 200 million people and over 400 ethnic group, each speaking its own distinct language. As of 2015, Nigeria is the world's 20th largest economy, with a GDP of more than $500 billion. The country is the 7th largest oil exporter in the world."

In other words, there's much more to Nigeria than the sad story of the Chibok girls. But if you desire to learn about them, this book should be part of your library.

VERDICT: 7 out 10

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