The best books about post-independence Nigeria

Alexander Thurston Author Of Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement
By Alexander Thurston

Who am I?

From the moment I first began reading about Nigerian history, I was drawn to the country’s complexity – the mix of religious traditions, ethnic groups, languages, cultures, and intersecting histories. As a graduate student, I delved deeper into the history of Islam in northern Nigeria, first by reading the secondary literature, then by exploring primary documents, and eventually by conducting my own fieldwork. Sadly, as my interest in Nigeria grew, so too did the country’s ongoing tragedies, including the violence perpetrated by Boko Haram. Nevertheless, there is much more to Nigeria than conflict, as is amply demonstrated by the tremendous contributions of Nigerian novelists, musicians, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, and scholars.

I wrote...

Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement

By Alexander Thurston,

Book cover of Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement

What is my book about?

Boko Haram is the story of the most violent and destructive movement in recent Nigerian history. From its murky origins in the far northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Boko Haram (a nickname that loosely translates as “Western education is forbidden by Islam”) grew into a mass movement – and then into a deadly insurgency. The book traces this evolution, focusing on turning points such as Boko Haram’s armed uprising in 2009, its effort to carve out its own territory in 2014-2015, and its convoluted internal schisms. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Muslim Modernity in Postcolonial Nigeria: A Study of the Society for the Removal of Innovation and Reinstatement of Tradition

Why did I love this book?

Kane’s book offers readers a rich portrait of the northern Nigerian religious movement Izala. Kane shows how the movement brought together preachers, businessmen, and ordinary Muslims who sought to change how Islam was practiced in Nigeria and beyond. Izala sparked bitter debates by challenging the Sufi orders – mass organizations headed by shaykhs who wielded special spiritual charisma. Rejecting Sufism, Izala offered a new way of being Muslim in a rapidly changing country.

By Ousmane Kane,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Muslim Modernity in Postcolonial Nigeria as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book deals with Muslim modernity in a country with the largest single Muslim population in Sub-Saharan Africa. It provides much needed new grounds for comparative study. Until now, virtually all socio-anthropological works about any specific African country are either authored by nationals of that country or by Western scholars. This book is an exception because its author is an Islamicist and a social scientist from Senegal trained in the French social science tradition. Therefore, his work offers an original perspective in the study of Nigeria.
In addition, the study of Islam south of the Sahara has so far focused…

Book cover of Soldiers of Fortune: A History of Nigeria (1983-1993)

Why did I love this book?

Siollun’s Soldiers of Fortune (and its acclaimed sequel, focusing on the consequential 1993 elections and what came after) take readers inside the last few military regimes that dominated Nigeria. Given that so many of the characters Siollun discusses still loom large in Nigerian politics today, the books are indispensable for understanding the country and its trajectory.

By Max Siollun,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Soldiers of Fortune as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

‘This book is the story of Nigeria’s political journey between December 31, 1983 and August 27, 1993. This is the story of how things fell apart.’

The years between 1983 and 1993 were momentous for Nigeria. Military rule was a time of increased violence, rampant corruption, coups, coup plotting and coup baiting. It moulded the conditions and character of Nigeria today, forcing seismic changes on the political, economic and religious landscape that nearly tore the country apart on several occasions.

Soldiers of Fortune is a fast-paced and thrilling narrative of the major events of the Buhari and Babangida era. The…

Half of a Yellow Sun

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,

Book cover of Half of a Yellow Sun

Why did I love this book?

Adichie’s Americanah is more famous, but I prefer Half of a Yellow Sun. The novelist brings to life the enormous debates and traumatic ruptures of 1960s Nigeria, giving a sympathetic but far from rosy view of the breakaway Republic of Biafra. The unforgettable characters and their entangled lives anchor the reader in a historical period – including Nigeria’s 1967-1970 civil war – that still haunts the country today.

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Half of a Yellow Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Winner of the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007, this is a heartbreaking, exquisitely written literary masterpiece

This highly anticipated novel from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is set in Nigeria during the 1960s, at the time of a vicious civil war in which a million people died and thousands were massacred in cold blood.

The three main characters in the novel are swept up in the violence during these turbulent years. One is a young boy from a poor village who is employed at a university lecturer's house. The other is a…

Book cover of Pentecostal Republic: Religion and the Struggle for State Power in Nigeria

Why did I love this book?

Scholars of Africa have devoted tremendous attention to Pentecostal Christianity in recent years – and Obadare’s Pentecostal Republic is the best treatment of Pentecostalism in Nigeria. Obadare teases out the interplay between Pentecostalism and politics, a relationship that now reaches the highest levels of Nigeria’s political life. The book is a crucial for understanding the elections of 1999 and ever since, and will remain important for understanding Nigerian politics as elections approach in 2023.

By Ebenezer Obadare,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pentecostal Republic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Throughout its history, Nigeria has been plagued by religious divisions. Tensions have only intensified since the restoration of democracy in 1999, with the divide between Christian south and Muslim north playing a central role in the country's electoral politics, as well as manifesting itself in the religious warfare waged by Boko Haram. Through the lens of Christian-Muslim struggles for supremacy, Ebenezer Obadare charts the turbulent course of democracy in the Nigerian Fourth Republic, exploring the key role religion has played in ordering society. He argues the rise of Pentecostalism is a force focused on appropriating state power, transforming the dynamics…

Book cover of Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria

Why did I love this book?

Nigeria’s most famous economist and the current Director-General of the World Trade Organization, Okonjo-Iweala is a formidable figure nationally and globally. Her memoir about her time as Finance Minister during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo (in office 1999-2007) gives insight into debt relief negotiations and major economic reforms. Those reforms look less transformative in retrospect – at least 40% of Nigerians remain mired in poverty, and Nigeria’s debt has climbed again, including during Okonjo-Iweala’s second stint as Finance Minister – but the memoir remains important for understanding Africa’s largest economy.

By Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reforming the Unreformable as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A report on development economics in action, by a crucial player in Nigeria's recent reforms.

Corrupt, mismanaged, and seemingly hopeless: that's how the international community viewed Nigeria in the early 2000s. Then Nigeria implemented a sweeping set of economic and political changes and began to reform the unreformable. This book tells the story of how a dedicated and politically committed team of reformers set out to fix a series of broken institutions, and in the process repositioned Nigeria's economy in ways that helped create a more diversified springboard for steadier long-term growth.

The author, Harvard- and MIT-trained economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,…

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