Wednesday 11 April 2018

“Are You Not A Nigerian?” By Bayo Olupohunda

Nigeria is a country of momentary happiness with gloomy footnotes. Bayo Olupohunda’s Are You Not A Nigerian? captures the depth of the Nigerian narrative; an ambiguous tale of a country abutting on the shared borders of bleak hope and resignation. Are You Not A Nigerian? is a collection of about 80 essays. These are essays that had been written at various times; essay that attempt to ascribe meanings to the hodge-podges that Nigerians face. Nonfictions are often the closest genre to seeking closure. Stripped of euphemisms, everything jabs as they should. Are You Not A Nigerian? is a collection of everything that is wrong with this country, with us, and every other thing that defines us. 

With an unpretentious simplicity, Bayo Olupohunda addresses sundry issues. Those issues range from the personal to the political. This is perhaps the reason why everybody should write, even if it is a tweet; documenting experiences adds to our total social constructs as humans. And there is really no humanity without that documented constructs. When you look at Are You Not A Nigerian? for instance, you see where we have been as a nation and why some futures may not be possible if we continue perpetuating our typical selves. 

The Nigerian narrative could be quite a bore. There is nothing that has not be said. Everything in Nigeria has a literature on it. However, one of the objectives of literature is to constantly probe the human condition, and until Nigeria goes extinct, it will always be a material for writing. Knowing how tepid collections of essays like this could be if not well handled, Bayo Olupohunda souses everything that is wrong with this country in interesting personal notes. There is a limitation to the Nigerian narrative as a tale of a dysfunctional political entity; this is because nothing shocks anymore. Our evils are not even creative enough to entertain, they are just cyclical – the Nigerian government is bad; we have thieving politicians; nothing works except the individual; the whole system is simply fucked. We all know all those already. About the only thing that works in Nigeria is the individual’s attempt at bracing the Nigerian odds. 

Also, there seems to be a pattern to this collection. This book moves in a climax. Are You Not A Nigerian? builds tension like a fictional piece. It moves from the personal and the domestic to things that are very political. The book opens with “Encounter With A Blackberry Babe”, a luscious tale of a bad date. In there, Bayo Olupohunda attacks Nigerians’ impulsive consumption flair. The writer does not even spare his dates. This is personal. “Encounter With A Blackberry Babe” narrates a date gone wrong because the girl will not take her eyes off her phone. This is the madness technology has created.
“What’s your BB pin? she asked, raising her BlackBerry screen-glazed eyes. Her fake Yankee accent was drowned by rancorous voices and the din of heavy metal music blaring from the Hi-fi speakers of the high-end nightclub in the heart of Victoria Island, Lagos….
“I don’t use a BlackBerry,” I said, quick and brusque.
“How would you not have a Blackberry in this day and age?” The shock in her eyes said words her mouth did not speak.
Then, she seemed to switch off completely. She became even more distant. For the rest of that evening, when we somehow managed to find something to talk about, she would look past me, as if addressing a phantom.
In “I Am A Woman Wrapper”, “Nollywood’s Violence Against Women”, and “Women and Rape Culture”, Bayo Olupohunda runs a poignant commentary on the condition of being a woman in this country. To be othered as a woman is hard enough, to be othered as a woman in Nigeria is worse: you are unclassified; you are not even at the periphery, no agency, no existence, no voice, you are nowhere. In “Lamentations of a Battered Husband”, Bayo Olupohunda however flips the script. Domestic violence is not always man on woman, it could be otherwise too. “Lamentations of a Battered Husband” tells the rare ordeal of a man at the mercy of his wife. 

“Ebola in Obalende” and “Losing my Appendix” both portray a society that has lost its humanity and its health care system. In both moving narratives are individual’s laudable attempts at redemption. There is an essay for everything in this book. This collection is that definitive. 

The eponymous essay, Are You Not A Nigerian?, paints the condition of this nation is its very bleakness. There are two things that kill faster in this country – diseases and the Police. The latter is deadlier. This collection is journal for constant remembrance. You should read this book.

Sunday 7 August 2016

Fishing the Women in "The Fishermen"

In this review of Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen, Ada Chioma Ezeano does an interesting feminist reading of the book. Finally, there is a response to the question for a feminist reading of the text raised in our earlier review of the book. In this review, Ada Chioma Ezeano is thorough. 

For a complete reading, read our earlier review of the book here


Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Benjamin are fishermen who only discover their adventurous skills when the chief ventricle of their home leaves the home in Akure because his employer, the Central Bank of Nigeria, transfers him to Yola. Prior to this transfer, the Agwus fear no evil; the boys only fear their father who guerdons their skins for even insignificant wrongs. In The Fishermen, Obioma raises a prophecy that looks into the politics of gender while fictionalizing the society’s obtainable stories about the dependent woman.

The book hinges its story on the shoulders of Adaku Agwu, the mindless mother that leaves her sons to wander away because her husband is away, and in bits, chronicles about the gossipy hawker, Iya Iyabo, who can only raise malnourished sons because her husband is dead, about the woman who sleeps with a mad man because her husband is dead, and then about Abulu’s mother who raised a mad son, and a thieving son and a harlot because her husband is away. All these women are evidences that there are negative effects of having women depend solely on the man.

Chigozie Obioma’s story is a well told story that depicts the dullness of the other gender in the 1990s, just around when MKO Abiola’s raised hopes of presiding Nigeria gets annulled in 1993. It delineates the accumulated silence and passivity of the women and the dire consequences of this inordinate virtue on the society. It is studded with necessary pulchritudinous words and aims at leaving the reader with ultimate satisfaction. He weaves a resplendent story that reveals the adventurous spirits of boys, the dependent traits in women and the heroic genes in men. The gamut of his oeuvre lies in the grand depiction of the deception garnered for the women by the society.  It also shows the consequences of raising a girl-child to become nothing but a pride to her groom, the beautiful bride who drops her pride to groom her groom. In the African society, a girl-child that cooks all is preferred to the one that knows all.    

Adaku’s performative identity reveals her to be a helpless dependent female. She is simply a helpmate who upholds the irrational binary often invoked in regard to women. Under her nose, her first four boys break free to become what they should not be. And breaking free means shattering windows, hitting the crippled, skipping school, fishing fish and then the apocalyptic prophecy.  Adaku didn’t see that the gradual disappearance of Eme Agwu from the home caused an ebbing of her sons’ uptight discipline. And as a ‘falconer’ she stands on the hills to watch her sons die a slow death. ‘She is only fully realised in the presence of (her husband). Her maternal vigilance falls apart with his (Eme Agwu) momentarily absence.’

Another remarkable thing about Adaku is that she tells a plethora of embarrassing stories while her husband discusses politics and banking. Her husband is a banker while Adaku runs a fresh food store in the open market, and only tsked when her husband ordered her to quit going to the market on Saturdays. He changed her closing time from 7pm to 5pm. Still, she only tsked. Never mind that this is the same man who ignored his wife when she repeatedly reminded him of the consequences of leaving his growing boys for her alone.
All the women depicted in The Fishermen needed the umbrella of a man to be. And when there is no man, the women, like Iya Iyabo, whose husband, Yusuf, died in the war in Sierra Leone, swim in the seas of endless needs. She perfectly raised two malnourished sons while hawking groundnut and stories.

There is Aderonke who kills her husband, Biyi. Aderonke is another woman who depicts the passivity of women in the society. Here is a woman who depends on her drunken husband for money. Her child, Onyiladun, is sick, and instead of finding alternative means of procuring drugs for her sick child, she prefers to sit and wait for the drunk man to come home and bring the money as a man. But Biyi brings on something else. He beats her and her sick child, and to save her sick child as a mother, she commits murder. 

The mad man, Abulu, has a mother who remains nameless. Abulu’s father embarks on a journey and does not return, and there are three children to raise. However, can she cope without a man? Her daughter leaves home to become a harlot. Her sons become thieves. And she mindlessly stirs the insane one with the sight of her nakedness, and he rapes her. In her motherly presence, her son’s madness detonates after killing her brother. She couldn’t help because her husband isn’t there to help. If only she is conditioned to be independent.  
If only all the women in the book are conditioned to be independent…
The Fishermen is indeed one book whose footstep can cause a stampede. Obioma reminds the society, once again, of what is at stake if the society keeps raising girls to depend on the men in their lives, if the girl-child is expected to be nothing but a man’s daughter or a man’s wife. The narrative does not fail to deeply highlight the consequences of an unequal system for both genders. In fact, it mirrors Adichie’s statement that ‘Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice.’ And Obioma has demonstrated that gender, if unchecked and uncorrected, will pose great dangers to the society.

Monday 8 February 2016

"On the Bank of the River" by Ifeoluwa Adeniyi

On the Bank of the River is a mesh of narratives. Enitan’s story hatches other stories, weightier stories. And characters in their different shades.  Though the story, for me, didn't start up with the desired pace, I find consolation in the fact that I pressed on. And I did get to that point where putting the book down became a huge challenge. This anticipation, you should note, is not because there is a tinge of novelty in the plot. NO!  It gets to a stage in the build up of the plot where you can without mincing words link some loose ends in the story. It is a love story. But not just a love story; the intricacies therein are nothing short of magical. You should read this book for its dissimilarity with Africa Magic.

Love could look so simplistic, so ordinary until it is subjected to the crucible of life's complexities. Love is not love until the dross finally comes off the face of the silver. Until you have fought with every will within to assert who or what your heart really wants to follow. That doesn't mean situations you would rather have stuff in the ass of any of the world's malcontents won't rear their horned Grendel's heads. Matters of the heart are really complex. 

On the bank of a river, we find the concept of home play out as both young and old in Obade ascribe a considerable amount of value to the river in their village. It doesn't just serve a recreative purpose; it is a home. A home transcends piles and piles of blocks set on some firm base. It's a place of solace, a place where every arm around, visible or non-visible pulls you into the warmth of reassuring embraces. On the Bank of the River has shown that home could be anything. Anybody. Anywhere. For Enitan, the concept of home can only be linked to her auntie, Jibike, as well as the river.

Enitan. She could have passed as the centre of the plot. She isn't. Her life is only a platform for which the complexity of humanity can be put on display. Enitan is the present that leads us back to the past. We don't know who Enitan is until her past, before her birth, is unravelled. Enitan is the reason we meet the like of Adeoye, a promising young doctor, Asake, and her sister, Jibike, Mama Yeye, their aunt and their recessive father figure. 

On the Bank of the River is narrated in snips of alternating times. You have references being made to the Nigeria of the 70s and 90s. In fact, a couple of chapters are years. The temporal setting of this novel is sensitive to the socio-political situation of the country at such times. The military rule in the country in the 90s does not escape mention in the novel. This reminds me of Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah and the treatment meted out to journalists therein. It's the same thing in Adeniyi's book. Paul and Nomenclature (Adeoye) are both victims of this. You remember Achebe's Ikem and Chris? Beatrice? If you haven't met these guys, fix a date with them, you really need to.

Resistance does not necessarily have to be a grand thing. It starts from the seeming trivial things. There is a bit of racism that reflects in the relationship between Adeoye, his uncle's wife, Angela and the trio of Root, Stem and Xylem. Having to call humans Root, Stem and Xylem is a thingification of their persons. Significance is attached to this naming act considering the source it comes from: Angela. Angela, Adeoye's uncle's wife is white and earlier in the novel we see her argue vehemently with Adeoye on issues of race and colonialism. However, a little but significant instance of resistance in the novel passes a message across:

'''Xylem?'' Adeoye repeated the name, and then said it again, remembering his elementary biology.
''That is out of the ordinary.''
Angela replied, ''I just love 'xylem' as a word, that's why. But I never call him that because he hates it.'
''How was he able to get away from that?''
''When a man makes bold enough to say no, you cannot force a name down his throat...''' [Emphasis mine](203-204)

In a generation that is trying all it can to go back to its roots, what Ifeoluwa Adeniyi does with language is laudable. I appreciate that the diction amply reflects her culture. She flexes her cultural muscle well in the book. My only issue with this feat is the italicization of indigenous words. African literature ought to have risen beyond this, I think. We should not ascribe triviality to such things as this. Let's put our cultures on display. It isn't wrong for a reader who doesn't understand what a word means to consult the gods of cyberspace. If we must italicize every indigenous word that features in our works, then the indigenous names too ought to be captured, slant. It must be said, by the way, that Adeniyi's language brings delight. I watch out for language a lot and she does not fail to deliver. Here are some:

“Whilst the moon glowed and the cool breeze took its toll on the flesh, Asake began to dance. That artistic wriggling warmed them all into a submission that made them still. Her body movements twisted with her back going back and forth in an endless rhythm. She controlled the beat with her body movements, tapping the ground with her legs as she danced. When she bent down in style, she stood up by shaking her buttocks to the rhythm of the song...At a particular point when she bent down, she danced round in that stance with an equal grace as though she was standing up...” (70)
And this:

“This woman who was not her mother made her smile and she knew her own mother could not even make her smile on the memories they shared, were she to die. After long episodes of memory-orchestrated smiles, Enitan let the torrents flow in a stream that if possible would bring the dead to life. The torrents were necessary to wash away the grief. The grief was necessary to sink in the reality. The reality was most important to live life again.” (106-107)
And I love the innuendo here:

            ''What do you mean by fresh and dry pepper?'' Nomenclature asked Jibike.
''The legal wives are the fresh ones now and the concubines are the dry ones,'' she replied.
Paul chuckled. ''Fresh pepper o., dry pepper o, they are both pepper. Maybe you should consider the properties of dried pepper that make it irresistible to men. First it is easy to use, no unnecessary rule, no time limits. they are also readily available. They could be more peppery, you only need to look around for a good one. You know what I mean?'' Jibike's husband collapsed in laughter at what Paul had said...
''The flavour the fresh one gives you is better. it has a good taste, a holy taste''... (239)
I don't have a doubt Ifeoluwa Adeniyi's next book is going to be definitely better. While I wait for that, I'll read On the Bank of the River again. You should have a first read if you haven't.