On January 25, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie headlined the Paris edition of the Night of Ideas, a cross-continental initiative run by the French Institute, featuring public discussions on topical issues. Adichie’s conversation with French journalist Caroline Broué was an absorbing exchange themed “power to the imagination”.
It went smoothly, until it didn’t. During an exchange regarding politics and education in Nigeria, Broué asked: “Are there any bookstores in Nigeria?” to the audience’s and Adichie’s bafflement. In true Adichie form with intelligence and reason she responded: “I think it reflects very poorly on French people that you have to ask me that question.”
It turns out the French journalist Caroline Broué made a failed attempt at irony but the thoughtless question caused a twitter uproar none-the-less. Especially considering the number of extraordinary writers who’ve come from Nigeria over the years, including Adichie, the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Flora Nwapa, and Buchi Emecheta, to name a few.
These acclaimed writers are well-known and widely read in Nigeria and around the world. It made Caroline Broué appear incompetent. Obviously the smallest bit of research on her part could have alleviated the situation.
An opinion piece posted by The Guardian attempted to see the other side of the controversy and address a parallel issue regarding the decline in reading books in Nigeria and so in publishing. But the piece is an issue that nations around the world are experiencing, including France. Even Chimamanda addressed this on her facebook page after the event as she too tried to reason Broué’s strange question.
The article written on The Guardian by a fellow Nigerian went right over the heads of commenters. Some of the comments were truly frightening for their ignorance.