What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Understanding Nigeria, a country of pain, promise and complexity

Read the Full Transcript

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    All this week, NewsHour special correspondent Nick Schifrin brought us stories from Nigeria, a series we have called "Pain and Promise."

    He reported on the country's fight against Boko Haram, tracked its economic boom, detailed the depths of Nigeria's corruption, and the abuse of gays.

    We end the series with a conversation, and to William Brangham.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    I'm joined by the series' correspondent, Nick Schifrin, and Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose acclaimed book "Americanah" tells the story of a young Nigerian woman who comes to the U.S. for her education.

    Welcome to you both.

    Chimamanda, I would love to start with you.

    You have seen this week we have been reporting on your home nation of Nigeria, and trying to give viewers a better understanding of that country. You obviously know much more about the country than we could. What is it you think Americans still need to learn about Nigeria?

    CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE, Author, "Americanah": I think the series tries to do that, which is that Nigeria is a place that is very complex.

    And there's a lot of complexity in Nigeria, that it's — it's Africa's most populous nation. And it really is incredibly diverse, and that the north and the south, for example, can sometimes feel like two different countries.

    And the story about Nigeria that's often told now in the news is Boko Haram. And it's — there is a lot — it's mostly in the north that that is happening. And there is a lot in the north that people like me who are from the south don't necessarily understand. And so the idea that somehow every Nigerian is one thing is something that I think needs to be…

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Corrected?

  • CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE:

    Yes. I suppose to. I hate to sound like a head mistress. It must be corrected.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Well, this has been, I think, a problem for the United States and many Western countries, that we often only pay attention when the bomb are going off, when there is a disease, when there is a conflict.

    Given that you have spent some time in the U.S. and obviously a good deal of time in Nigeria, do you think we're coming to a better understanding? Are we looking at nations now not just through this lens of crisis?

  • CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE:

    I think some progress has been made, but I think more could be done.

    So, an example I was just thinking about is women and gender. Nigeria was in the news recently because of the Chibok girls who…

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    These were the girls abducted last year by Boko Haram.

  • CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE:

    By Boko Haram, yes, which is a horrible thing.

    And many, many other girls also were abducted, not just the Chibok girls. And boys were abducted. I think the story then become this very narrow story about a few girls being abducted, but even more interesting, it became a Nigeria-wide story. So, people would ask me about the Chibok girls and people would ask me about the education of girls.

    But what is interesting is that the south is where I come from. It's actually boys who are not being educated. The rate of education of girls is higher than that of boys in the southeastern Nigeria. Now, that is not the case in the north.

    But just to say that there is texture and this complexity in the country that — that often is not even — not even so much misunderstood, is not even known about in the U.S.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Nick, you obviously helped drive this reporting in a big way. Why is that you chose to go to Nigeria in the first place?

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    I think that it's important that Americans understand how important Nigeria is.

    Not only is it Africa's most populous nation. It's the fast-growing nation. It's the fast-growing economy. And it's the U.S.' number one trading partner. There will be more Nigerians by 2050 than there will be Americans.

    And the U.S. has a huge stake in Nigeria, and vice versa. There's a lot of cooperation right now happening between the U.S. and Nigerian governments. That's new. And there is a real need, I think, for — this applies to the whole world, but certainly for West Africa and certainly for Nigeria, for Americans to have a little more understanding, a little more empathy with a country that is often depicted in a singular lens.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Your reporting touches on the issue of corruption in particular. And you present some very harrowing stories, from cops shaking down citizens on the street to all the way to the very top, to high-level government corruption.

    Did you really find it — was it that pervasive? And what does that do to a society?

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    It helps create Boko Haram. That's really what happens.

    Yes. The answer to your first question is yes. Now, you know, I'm not Nigerian. I don't experience this on a daily basis. Many people do. But I think it's important to point out that it's different in different areas. There are places where the cops are worse and there are places where the cops are better.

    And there has been an improvement in the last few months. There's what is called the Buhari effect people are talking about, with a real, almost single focus by the president, a new president.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    … president, his campaign to rid corruption.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    A very high-profile, singular focus on corruption.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Chimamanda, I know you have written and spoken about how deeply religious your country is, fundamentalist Islam mostly in the north, equally fundamentalist perhaps Christian in the south.

    What — how pervasive is that? What does that do? How is that felt in the daily lives of Nigerians?

  • CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE:

    First of all, I think I should say that the different kinds — there's — really, I call it a religiosity that started in Nigeria, really, I would say, in the early 1980s, mid-1980s.

    And I think a lot of it started when our economy went down. So life got more difficult, people got more religious. And it became for the Christians — and I can talk about Christianity more, because that's what I know — people started going to Pentecostal churches.

    So, sort of the more orthodox denominations of Christianity were abandoned, Catholicism, and Wiccans. And people started going to Pentecostal churches. And then it became a kind of prosperity preaching, religiosity.

    What it does to people really — and, I suppose, for me personally, I feel very strongly about it — it closes our minds. Of course, there is fundamentalism on both sides. There is Islamic fundamentalism, which results in just horror and Boko Haram.

    There is this Christian fundamentalism, which results in such things as what we call the anti-gay law in Nigeria.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    There is a unification between Christian and Muslim leaders, which is generally south and north, but even Christian leaders in the north, against homosexuality.

    And, combined, those — those powers really push the politicians, who already believe that perhaps, but definitely pushed them to pass this bill last January, same-sex marriage prohibition act.

    Nobody's been sentenced under the bill. I mean, this is — not only can you get 14 years for being gay. You can get 10 years as a parent if you don't knowingly — if you don't turn in your gay son or daughter if he or she is out. And they came together and pushed.

    And I just want to make one quick point. The fundamentalism is separate. I mean, Northern Nigeria is Islamic, and — but there is a lot of people who aren't fundamentalists.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Right.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    And I think that's just important to say, that Boko Haram's victims, more than three-quarters of them are Muslim.

    Boko Haram sends people into mosques a lot more than they send people into churches.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    With bombs.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    With bombs, yes.

    So, I think it's important to say that most of the people who are victimized by Boko Haram and most of the people who are having to fight Boko Haram are Muslim. And they are fighting that fundamentalism.

  • CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE:

    Yes. Yes.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    All right, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nick Schifrin, thank you very much for being here.

  • CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE:

    Thanks.

Listen to this Segment