29 Oct Book Review: Hope for a sinking ship: SMILE, MY BELOVED COUNTRY
Author: Emeka Onwusorom
Publisher: Parresia, Lagos
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
The ending of Emeka Onwusorom’s Smile, My Beloved Country, betokens the ideal Nigerian and political messiah we merely fantasise about –better still, a grand persona in a compelling guerilla soap. A Daniel has come to justice here, and the Augean stables have got a makeover. The rest is hunky-dory.
The name of the protagonist –Ayo Musa Okeke –in the novel lends itself to a normative discourse. This is an enigmatic archetype. Ayo is Yoruba, Musa is Islamic and a common name among the Hausa, while Okeke is Igbo. Get the whiff: larger-than-life characters, like Okeke, could mend a riven political contraption like ours.
The Nigeria of this novel is sick, undone by criminality, fear, corruption in low and high places, the collapse of social infrastructures amid political uncertainty. Beyond the fetid space and sordid boom, there is an indicator of hope. A Don Quixote is seen an impractical idealist, but Okeke’s impractical ideals hook a fish, and it is a big catch: the presidency of Africa’s largest country!
The author’s linear plot exposes the rot in the fabric of the society from the opening pages. A professor of Agricultural Science, Okeke arrives Nigeria from the US after a long while and is shocked at the airport. A beggarly throng of immigration and customs official waylay him with requests. Outside the airport, an eagle-eyed robber on the lookout for a returnee with dollars trails him to a hotel. Luck smiles on him, however.
From here onwards, the novel cackles and intrigues loop. There are no propitious omens that the protagonist of the novel is in for a getaway. All through, the authors ask questions of governance in Africa.
You mustn’t be a wanderlust to locate the time and space of this work. The scenic descriptions, the vehicles on the roads –Peugeot 504 & 505 –and the ill-fated transition to civil war rule programme mentioned in the novel are emblematic of the Nigeria of the 1980s and 1990s when the military was in power, and beauty of living was dragged.
In the narrative, the author weaves a fortuitous occurrence to elevate Okeke to the zenith. The life of Chief Boni Konida, a well-known figure in Nigeria, famous for his journalism, is cut short by an adversary, having been chosen as the Social Conscience Party’s presidential flagbearer.
The devilish Wewe Jumanji is at the centre of everything bad in this fiction. The writer offers us a hint: “After a lifetime of bickering in the political and making his way to the centre of the society, Jumanji now thought of himself as the wisest, strongest, most successful and most popular man on this side of God’s green earth. Nigeria was his territory, Lagos his headquarters and his constituency was all over the land…” (p.19).
On the other hand, Okeke is presented as a conscientious citizen, but ours is a society where playing the saint sometimes boomerangs, the novel tells us, yet it is a country where the crescendo of violence ratchets by the minute. For instance, Boni Konida is killed by assassins, and no passerby stops to assist the dying man save for Okeke.
Even when he reports the murder at the Ekema police station, the police prepares him for a scapegoat. Amid the failures of the police, Okeke finds an exemplary policeman in Inspector Andrew Goma, who returns his seized passport and advises him to return to the US for his safely. But the police commissioner Banderi is chagrined.
The limited time Okeke stays in Nigeria, however, is enough to worm him into the hearts of many Nigerian, with his incisive articles in the local media. Back to the US, his cause for a better Nigeria never flags.
Politics is a dominant theme in this work. To erase evidence on the murder of Konida, masterminded by Wewe Jumanji, the commissioner of police, working in concert with him, gives the go-ahead for the former to get rid of Inspector Andrew, who, luckily, survives the assassination attempt. Jumanji is gunning for the presidency and doesn’t want any strong opposition on the way. Inspector Andrew resigns and goes underground.
Okeke soon becomes the beautiful bride to be courted by the SCP for the forthcoming presidential election. He buys into their manifesto and returns to Nigeria amid a hero’s welcome. His sterling qualities make him the favourite, and, expectedly, he wins the presidency ahead of the scheming Jumanji.
To me, the narrative ended after Okeke ascended to power in chapter 24. The remaining two chapters can best serve as newspaper articles on good governance in Africa. In fiction, you show, and not tell as the author has done in the concluding chapters.
Emeka Onwusorom’s Smile, My Beloved Country, is a new addition to writings interrogating postcolonial conditions in Africa. Here is a committed writer who believes we can get it right by getting rid of square pegs in round holes and sly turncoats on our political sphere.