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Book Review By N.M Bassey 'On A Platter of Gold', how Jonathan won and lost Nigeria by Bolaji Abdullahi

‘On A Platter of Gold, How Jonathan Won and Lost Nigeria’ by Bolaji Abdullahi is a recent addition to the global collection of political non-fiction books written about Nigeria's leaders.

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'On A Platter of Gold', how Jonathan won and lost Nigeria: A Book Review By N.M Bassey play

'On A Platter of Gold', how Jonathan won and lost Nigeria: A Book Review By N.M Bassey

‘On A Platter of Gold, How Jonathan Won and Lost Nigeria’ by Bolaji Abdullahi is a recent addition to the global collection of political non-fiction books written about Nigeria's leaders.

It joins an illustrious list: Olusegun Obasanjo's ‘My Watch'; Olufemi Ofunsanwo's ‘Awo, Unfinished Business’; David Williams' ‘President and Power in Nigeria, The Life of Shehu Shagari’; Olusegun Adeniyi's ‘Against the Run of Play’; and Peter Odili's ‘Conscience and History: My Story’; to name a few.

Published in Nigeria by Kachifo Limited under its Prestige Imprint, this book has its roots firmly planted at home. The title, 'On A Platter of Gold', is firmly Nigerian too. The phrase itself may be the subject of much debate, but It is a fetching and fitting title for a book that seeks to unveil the intrigues that led to President Goodluck Jonathan 'winning and losing Nigeria'.

'On A Platter of Gold', how Jonathan won and lost Nigeria: A Book Review By N.M Bassey play

'On A Platter of Gold', how Jonathan won and lost Nigeria: A Book Review By N.M Bassey

 

The very first statement in the book, at the introduction, is a quote:

“The presidency is an opportunity that fell unto us on a platter of gold...we didn't fight, we didn't pay, God willed it to us.”  -- Patience Jonathan, June 2013.

This statement sets the tone for the book that undertakes the brave task of telling a story about very powerful people, (many of them still alive and influential) and their roles in the rise and fall of President Goodluck Jonathan. One can already tell that this will be a book with drama, mistakes, schemes and disappointments. One can also tell that this book will tell the story patiently, turning its gaze from character to character, probable cause to probable cause until the tale is done and the reader is satisfied.

In many ways, this book is not only about President Jonathan. It is also about the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and about Nigeria herself. If President Goodluck Jonathan was the political miracle of twenty-first century Nigeria, then the PDP was the miracle worker, Nigeria was the miracle-ground, and Nigerians the cheering crowd.

Over 360 pages, twelve chapters, the book takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride through the history and motives, people and events, choices and challenges surrounding President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan's ascent to the highest office of the land and his loss of the 2015 general election. The book begins at the end. The re-election bid had failed, the famous congratulatory phone call was made and from there it guides the reader in a thorough, thoughtful, painstaking postmortem. Through the author's storytelling genius, we discover the people and the structures that steered President Jonathan into power, the aspirations and slogans that won him the hearts of millions of Nigerians, the choices and the mistakes he made, and the shame that followed thereafter.

'On A Platter of Gold', how Jonathan won and lost Nigeria: A Book Review By N.M Bassey play

'On A Platter of Gold', how Jonathan won and lost Nigeria: A Book Review By N.M Bassey

 

The book begins at the end but it takes us back to the beginning. It explores the impact of events at the very foundations of Nigerian democracy and outlines the forces at play even from the country's infancy. In a chapter titled 'The Empire,' It catalogs the struggles of our past leaders, their triumphs, their failures, their inabilities to predict and prepare. The book traces the origins of the People's Democratic Party from its 'identifiable ancestors the Northern People's Congress, The National Party of Nigeria and the Northern Republican Convention.'  It answers questions every serious Nigerian citizen or history student has asked themselves: How did we get here? How did President Goodluck Jonathan, from a minority tribe, get into power? What was Obasanjo's role? Where did the PDP miss it? Why was the re-election lost? What are the lessons here? What could and should have been done differently? Where do we go from here?

Every reader will not agree with the answers found in the text. They aren't expected to. The book tells the story from the perspective of an insider, one who wanted the President to win (and possibly nurses pain from the loss still). A serious reader won't swallow the information like so many balls of pounded yam, but will take notes, ask questions and come to their own conclusions. On A Platter of Gold, provides fertile ground for further investigation and discussion and highlights areas for deeper thought. It relates events that might have been lost forever otherwise. It tells a story that needed to be told, and it does so brilliantly.

'On A Platter of Gold', how Jonathan won and lost Nigeria: A Book Review By N.M Bassey play

'On A Platter of Gold', how Jonathan won and lost Nigeria: A Book Review By N.M Bassey

 

For many readers, the plot may not be unfamiliar; much of the subject matter has been covered in bits and pieces by the mainstream media, social media and a few books in between, but none tell the story with this level of focus and dexterity. The book is important and necessary. Important, because without a clear record of the events surrounding the loss of the election, many of the facts could easily be lost to posterity. Necessary, because even though many of us watched the events unfold, we may not have known to what extent certain things mattered (or did not), and we may not have cared.

Historical non-fiction has a reputation for being boring -- not this book. On a Platter of Gold is singularly easy to read, interesting and hard to put down. The author's storytelling gifts are generously employed to tell a political thriller tale like none other. Things get worse and worse till the book ends and we are dramatically told “he stood up and left”.

Humour and History aren't the best of friends. The writer, Bolaji Abdullahi, changes this. He has written a book that made me laugh and laugh and laugh. It is hard to show you some of the jokes without giving too much away, but take my word on this: you will be amused. Somefolks have said that Nigeria is full of jokes, but I still think it takes uncommon skill to bring humor to a historical non-fiction book that appears to hurtle towards a tragic end. Abdullahi did that.

The cast of characters in the book are each worthy of their own prequels. The colorful ensemble of major and minor players serve to amuse, amaze and annoy throughout the book. One cannot help but chuckle at the naivety of Odili as "he just sat, alone in the midst of so many people, like an idle semicolon, waiting for words to give it a meaning."  The crafty Obasanjo, the indestructible Shekau, the super-efficient Ribadu, the conniving Aisha Wakili, the outspoken First Lady Patience Jonathan and many other characters guarantee a read that is as entertaining as it is informative.

The best way to read this book is to get a hard copy. My copy is filled with notes on the margins, questions by the paragraphs, and some typesetting quibbles I intend to mail to the editor. I look forward to the discourse that will ensue from the points raised, the observations made. I couldn't help shouting "Dodged Bullet!" when I got to the part where a certain individual had set his sights on the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.

'On A Platter of Gold', how Jonathan won and lost Nigeria: A Book Review By N.M Bassey play

'On A Platter of Gold', how Jonathan won and lost Nigeria: A Book Review By N.M Bassey

 

Speaking of the editor, I must appreciate the work of Ms. Molara Wood and her team. The book has the marks of the excellent developmental editing for which Kachifo is known (see Half of a Yellow Sun). It could however, have profited from one more copy-edit, one more round of proof-reading. The typesetting could also have been improved: many passages and paragraphs needed more white space. They didn't get it. The use of the word ‘proverbial’ each time an idiom/proverb/cliche was used was clunky and unnecessary. A few other words and phrases were in need of more exciting expression. The author says all the glory belongs to God and all the errors to him, I disagree. The publishers could have done better there.

When I turned the last page, I had the peculiar joy-grief mix one feels at the end of a good book. I did not want it to end but I couldn't stop reading it either. It was a good book, important, timely, objective and I didn't want it to end. I wanted to know President Goodluck Jonathan's next steps, the PDP’s present plans, and Nigeria's future prospects. President Goodluck Jonathan was the main character in this book but his thoughts, motivations and perspectives were conspicuously absent. Maybe that is a good thing. Maybe we can look forward to another book by Abdullahi that tells us that part of the story, with the same brilliant storytelling and inimitable humour. Whatever happens next, we can only hope that Abdullahi writes more books in this genre; I am certainly looking forward to reading them.

NM Bassey is a writer, poet, and physician who lives in Nigeria and blogs at thenaijawriter.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter @StNaija

“On A Platter of Gold: How Jonathan Won and Lost Nigeria”, by Bolaji Abdullahi, is available from the following bookshops:

-          Jed Bookstore, The Palms Mall, Lekki Lagos

-          Terrakulture, VI, Lagos

-          Patabah Bookstore, Surulere, Lagos

-          Quintessence, Ikoyi, Lagos

-          Glendora Bookstore, Ikeja, Lagos

-          The Booksellers, Abuja, Abeokuta, and Ibadan

-          Boldoz Bookshop, Uyo

-          Salamander Café, Aminu Kano Crescent, Abuja

-          Bookville World, Port Harcourt

-          Online at Roving Height (Rhbooks.com.ng)

-          Online at Jumia and Konga

-          Page Books, Allen Avenue, Lagos

-          Lara Bookshop, Ilorin

-          Gumba Bay, Shoprite Mall, Sangotedo

-          Abuja Airport Bookstore

-          Glendora Bookstore, Lagos Airport

-          Prince Ebeano Supermarket, Lekki, Lagos

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