Book Title: How Intelligence Kills
Author: Okechukwu Ofili
Date of Publication: 2013
Number of Pages: 273
Reviewer: Uduak-Estelle Akpan
An Ibibio adage says, “When you pluck a flea from a dog’s back, be sure to show it to the dog.” How Intelligence Kills is Ofili’s witty way of following through with this rite of flea plucking; of pointing out shortcomings and calling Nigerians out of passivity.
In a collection of essays with uneven word count, Okechukwu Ofili lays bare, loopholes in the system and the bottlenecks of navigating life as a Nigerian living in Nigeria. With a take-no-prisoner’s approach, he unabashedly talks about the inadequacies with the Nigerian expression of human rights, equity, responsibility, western influence, education, religion, culture and technology - problems that Nigerians are only just beginning to acknowledge.
The use of a playful font type, sketches and personal stories give the book a friendly outlook that will keep even a non-booklover glued to the last page. All the essays are so beautifully written that it is hard to pick a favourite; one that however resonates with me, is the first essay titled “How Intelligence kills” which addresses the errors in child raising and coaching; criticizing methods employed by parents to ensure their wards come out best. Ofili opines that encouraging children to top their respective classes is not bad but implying that slow-learning children are unintelligent is a mistake reinforced by Nigerian school grading system.
Another piece, “What I learned about Nigeria when Dana Crashed” is a touching recap of his experience in the wake of the ill-fated Dana 992 plane crash; a refreshing exposure of our vulnerability and humanness but also a sad confirmation of the notion that Nigerians are mostly reactional with their emotions – hardly expressing them save for times when events of this nature occur.
Coincidentally, I read the chapter “Made in Aba: Why Nigerians Carry Big Hand Luggage” after returning from a drive through an estate where I saw a school with British curriculum named “Nashville”; I could not but wonder about three things: whether I had suddenly arrived in Tennessee, why a Nigerian school had an “American” name and why we are mostly comfortable with finding affiliations between our things and the American or British way. I believe Ofili had at least one of these questions in mind; hence his appeal for us to appreciate what is originally ours.
I agree with Ofili’s critical take on many issues but as is expected of think pieces, some of them gave me pause; an example is his critique of Chinua Achebe’s ending of Things Fall Apart. It is true that Nigerians need to see more enduring heroes in Nigerian literature but I would argue that it is not a reader’s place to decide how a work of art ends. It might be okay to disagree with Achebe’s ending for obvious reasons, but to declare the whole book unfit for the Nigerian child that account would mean that the book had just one aim – making sure the hero finishes strong. On his “Our History of Forgetting History”, I would say that our history is not “not remembered” as he put it, rather efforts to remember them are suppressed by power brokers and perhaps addressing why history is never told would be a fair step in remembering. The representation of “Calabar” as a tribe in the short chapter, “An Hausa Man, A Yoruba Man and an Igbo Man” did nothing to correct the common miseducation that Calabar is tribe or ethnic group rather than a city.
The points are made in the book are sterling; however, the constant use of other countries as yardsticks by which Nigerian standards are measured as seen in “How I got My Driver’s License”, “Corruption is Like Sex So Let’s Legalize It” directly conflicts the writer’s opinions in “Made in Aba: Why Nigerians Carry Big Hand Luggage”. Nigerians, like other humans have the sense of right and wrong, so their performances and ingenuity should not necessarily be as it relates to what is obtainable abroad.
Ofili’s daring ability to mix sincerity and humour while analyzing what I call Nigeria’s boardroom issues is most commendable and apart from expected differences in opinions, How Intelligence Kills is a powerful read that not only reveals to what extent Nigerians have been shortchanged by self and the system but also challenges one to think, act and demand better. It is surely the book for the Nigerian who desires a change, who is wondering why things are the way they are or who needs a shove in the right direction.