Call for Papers

Civic Dissent in Nigeria: Literature, Film, and Media

Special Issue of Matatu, Journal for African Culture and Society (2022)

Guest editors:

Pavan Kumar Malreddy, Goethe University Frankfurt, Chijioke K. Onah, Cornell University

This special issue takes stock of civic dissent in the guise of public display of violence, which is often used as a political tool, a leveraging principle by multiple power stakeholders in a pluralistic society like Nigeria. It examines key events that shaped postcolonial Nigeria, particularly those that bring civic dissent into the public sphere to evoke both local and international responses – be it through media, protests, riots, unauthorized use of violence, or open display of arms. In the post-9/11 context, much of this civic dissent has been absorbed into the global discourses on the war on terror, which are often domesticated by postcolonial nation states such as Nigeria to suppress local dissent as well as unresolved ethno-nationalist aspirations. Challenging this, the special issue advances the notion of civic dissent as a conceptual platform to understand public manifestations of unfulfilled nationalist aspirations, unabated ethno-religious tensions, unequal distribution of resources, chronic disruption of democratic institutions, and other such contesting practises that are both socially embodied and historically crystallized since the formal end of colonialism. Such expansive definition of civic dissent includes civil wars, political coups, shadow or parallel governments, insurgencies, terrorism, and acts of public violence – all of which feature as prominent themes in postcolonial Nigerian literature, films, and media narratives.

Most notable among these events are the coup and counter-coups of 1966, which brought the looming cultural and socio-economic differences between Nigeria’s large ethnic communities such as the Igbos, Hausas, and Yorubas, as well as many smaller ethnicities to the forefront of inter/national politics – which culminated in the ethno-regional ruptures between South, North, and Eastern Nigeria as evinced in the most momentous event in Nigeria’s history: the Biafran War of 1967-70. The subsequent political coups – both attempted and failed – have led to a deep entrenchment of civic distrust in democratic institutions which were being periodically disrupted and reshaped by ethno-religious, fraternal, and regional interests. Other concurrent events such as the Maitatsine riots (1980-85) which inspired the current-day Boko Haram (2009 to date); the Niger Delta insurgency (1990s to date); the farmer-herder crisis (2000s to date); and the End Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) movement (2017 to date) have all captured the public imagination both within and outside Nigeria due to the open nature of their dissent, and the attempts by their respective stakeholders to gain leverage through organized protests, kidnappings, sabotage, acts of terror, media wars, and outright public executions.

Taken together, these events have not only exposed the regional disparities that always ran along the major ethno-religious axis but also the internal ruptures within and among the so-called ‘oil communities’ in the South. In addition to these historical conflicts, Nigeria has witnessed a strong wave of civic protests against an anti-LGBT bias of the state laws, the criminalization of youth (SARS) as well as police brutality, the periodic clashes between Hausa-Fulani Muslim pastoralists and extremists groups in the North, the sporadic violence between Southern farmers and Fulani herders, to say nothing of the growing resistance to environmental destruction in the Niger Delta, which resulted in the execution of renowned writer Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995 – an event that inspired a broad array of environmental movements, literature, films, and documentaries.

Corresponding to these political developments, there has been a growing body of literature, film, and media discourses responding to the various events of civic dissent outlined above. These include fictional works on the Biafran War as well as the spate of political coups (post-1970s) such as Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah (1987), Chris Abani’s Graceland (2004), Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus (2003), and Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel (2002). In addition to these, other more recent Nigerian novels such as Chigozie Obioma’s The Fisherman (2015), Richard Ali’s City of Memories (2012), Uwem Akpan’s story “Luxurious Hearses” in Say You’re One of Them (2008), and Ishaya Bako’s latest film 4th Republic (2019), among many others, have exposed the fault lines of secular civic life since the third Nigerian Republic. With the onset of the oil conflict, too, there has been a bourgeoning output of novels, films, and documentaries on the Niger Delta which include Christie Watson’s novel Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away (2011), Helon Habila’s Oil on Water (2010), and Kaine Agary’s Yellow-Yellow (2006), as well as Ahmed Yerima’s play Hard Ground (2006), Ilse van Lamoen’s documentary Daughters of the Niger Delta (2012), and films such as Curtis Graham’s Blood and Oil (2019), Frank Rajah Arase’s In my Country (2017), and Jeta Amata’s Black Gold (2011) and Black November (2012).

More recently (post-2009), Boko Haram has emerged as the subject of several literary works: Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday (2015), Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree (2018), and Patience Ibrahim and Andrea Hoffmann’s memoir A Gift from Darkness (2016) have mediated the crisis. Among other arenas of civic strife, particularly on the struggles of LGBT communities, Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Tree (2015), Nnanna Ikpo’s Fimi Sile Forever (2017), and Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater (2018) have been particularly noteworthy. In addition to the above, there are a number of fictional works and media productions that both document and diagnose everyday forms of dissent as well as the routine violence of civic life in the domains of bureaucracy, law and policing, slums, urban spaces, and political mobilization: Michael Peel’s A Swamp Full of Dollars (2009), Obianuju V. Chukwuorji’s Delusions of the Patriots (2019), Olu Obafemi’s play Near and Distant Cries (2018), Teju Cole’s Everyday is for the Thief (2007), Akwaeke Emezi’s The Death of Vivek Oji (2020), and Nollywood films such as Stephanie Okereke Linus’s Dry (2014) and Child Bride (2019).

In view of such a prolific body of literary and filmic responses, this special issue invites essays that read the various instances of public violence outlined above – and the corpus that represents them – as manifestations of civic desires that envision a reconstruction of Nigeria’s public sphere, as opposed to their dismissive treatment in the global discourses as acts of terrorism. In particular, we invite essays that respond to the following themes in the intersections of literature, theory, film, and media in Nigeria:

  • Democratic desires and aspirations in literature and film
  • Public violence and civic dissent
  • Secularism and post-secularism since the Biafran War
  • Formation of civic desires through conflicts
  • The uses and abuses of public violence
  • Memorialization of public violence
  • The conflict of the Niger Delta
  • Islamic extremism and the challenge to sovereignty
  • Violence against sexual, ethnic, and racial minorities
  • Environmental degradation and protests
  • Inter-ethnic conflicts, homonationalism, and democracy; and
  • Civic formations in urban spaces

Please send proposals of 500 words to the co-editors at cko34@cornell.edu and malreddy@em.uni-frankfurt.de by 10 September 2021. The essays (6000-7000 words) will be due by February 2022. Please format your essay according to the according to the Author Instructions of the journal.