“This is Lagos” A Review of Henry Akubuiro’s Prodigals in Paradise

“This is Lagos”

By Adeojo, Mosunmola

Title: Prodigals in Paradise

Author: Henry Akubuiro

Publisher: Lasmedia

Number of Pages: 197

Year of Publication: 2016

Category: Fiction

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In a place where hope is fleeting, dejection and misanthropy reign supreme, resignation to a wretched fate is not an option as a diehard spirit, whether for positive or negative ends must be adopted. This is Lagos where life moves at a fast pace with the innocent, honest and moral being maligned; this is Paradise where the ceremony of innocence is drowned. Prodigals in Paradise gives a panoramic view of the decrepit lives that inhabit slums in the city. Like “Welcome to Lagos”, a BBC documentary which features degradation in dialectical Lagos, Paradise is a city than it is a house as it is home to a variety of characters; vile characters such as Job, Keziah, Junior etc. and ordinary characters such as Akpan, Nicodemus and Komolafe (each with their own peculiarity).

The story revolves around Nicodemus, a young man of 24 who receives the first shocks of false euphoria that define the travel of rural migrants to metropolitan centres, on his first visit to Lagos. With the disillusionment he encounters, Nicodemus struggles to make ends meet while remaining morally upright in the face of sexual (evident in Keziah’s coquetry) and financial temptations. On arrival to Lagos, he meets his uncle Job, who has had a fair share of indiscriminate pilfering in the name of survival with his now-deceased friend, Okon. Presently an Okadaman, Job shares a rent-free abode, Paradise with neighbours like Keziah who doubles as his girlfriend, Komolafe a coffin maker, Akpan a conductor, amongst others. On learning of his father’s death, Job leaves Paradise and for about a year, his absence is hardly noticeable as Nicodemus engages in various money-making ventures which are degenerate to a man of his academic background. Later, he gets a job at a media house to work for six-months without pay after rejecting the initial offer of N5000 Naira per month.

Prior to this time, rumours of eviction notices have been prowling through Paradise and when Junior’s rumours are later confirmed by an eviction notice pasted on the building, Job returns, as a pastor. It is obvious he has made some spiritual contacts so that he is privy to the dilemma at Paradise and thus, surreptitiously uses the opportunity to become a phony pastor who gains a large congregation including a white man, Edward Bolton (his latest client infected with HPV). Paradise becomes a church, Junior, the delinquent boy becomes a disciple of Job and only Nicodemus is not bought over by the change in his uncle. As a result of his inability to appease the mermaid who gives him power, Job’s success winds down as quickly as it rose and he ends up in prison and Nicodemus writes an article on his uncle’s ill-reputed profession.

Detaching himself from the seemingly prevalent narrative of the tumultuous nature of a recovering democracy after military government, Akubuiro in his debut novel tells a tale of masses who have always exonerated themselves from being identified as the ills in the society. To this end, they become the sordid hands that Dickens in Hard Times implies to be the infamous progenitors of man’s inhumanity to man and mismanagement in government. Thus, although the author is able to reiterate the mantra of the government being at the helm of callous governance, his narrative reveals that delinquency is a characteristic of humans in possession of whatever form of power and inhumanity remains a universal phenomenon. Thus, when Nicodemus is job-hunting, he experiences this lack of empathy from the owner of The Voice,

“…A derisive smile tickles his face as he sees the disappointed young man walking up to the gate…‘As I told you, there is no vacancy here, but I don’t want to seem a wicked man; that’s why I want to help you.’”(158)

But Mr. Obong is a wicked man. He is contemptuous and when he eventually gives Nicodemus the terms and conditions of appointment, it is obvious that his statement is ironical.

At the bane of the story are religion and its politics. Religion becomes a manipulative tool and the characters are willing pawns in their own hypocrisy. It is no surprise that Keziah can at once pray to the figure of Christ in her room and later own, have illicit sex under his unfeeling eyes. Similarly, Junior, “…wants to be assured of the financial reward that comes with working in the Lord’s vineyard.” (144) Religion is a safe haven whose keepers are devourers. Nicodemus is privy to false prophecies and by implication, distrusts his uncle’s sudden change. However, while it seems that humans have been able to swindle their way through, using religion as a smokescreen, the divine seems to play a fast one on them as most of the characters end up with greater burdens than they had at the beginning of the story. Keziah becomes pregnant with Edward Bolton’s child and obviously infected with HPV while Job is imprisoned.

Dirt is a motif that runs through the novel to heighten the dilapidation of both the system and the characters. The depiction of dirt as a symbol of decay and social degradation further defines the kind of characters that exist in Paradise. From the start of the novel and to Nicodemus’ horror when he first encounters the façade called Paradise, a woman uses her mucus-smeared hands to wrap buns for a customer. This act parallels a moment of recoil in Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones are not Yet Born, when the main character in repulsion, remembers the numerous dirt that have thickened the surface of a banister he mistakenly places his hands on. In Prodigals in Paradise, this motif of dirt is quite prevalent so that, when the house is repaired, it is but a whited sepulchre that habours a fake pastor, a dilapidating prostitute, a man infected with HPV, a coffin maker, and a vagabond child, amongst other miscreants. Nicodemus, although with a biblical name that symbolises willingness to learn, is different from this throng and happens to maintain his integrity in the midst of the madding crowd.

Nicodemus’ characterisation remains undefined as we struggle to know his relationship with Job; is he his cousin or his nephew? Nicodemus also, seems to be more of a friend or colleague than family. Thus, when Josephine, who should be either his aunt or cousin arrives Paradise, his detachment from the news of his grandfather’s fall and the news of worry at home is quite appalling and makes him less believable. However, the depiction of his character is a reminder of the fallacy of quick success in Lagos and like Adamu in Toni Kan’s Nights of the Creaking Bed, Nicodemus faces disenchantment in the place he had once envisioned to hold euphoric promises. Thus, Nicodemus becomes believable with the experiences he faces and his struggles in Lagos which are similar to the hustling stories of any new comer.

With an enthralling use of words marred by occasional refrain from grammatical exactitude, an all-too familiar story of disappointment, of the dystopic reality that mars the expectations of nouveau Lagosians, is told.  Paradise is home to benighted Lagosians who palpitate within the rhythm of disillusionment in the city of dreams. The constant reminder of, ‘This is Lagos’ a term used to explain away ills and excesses as suggested in Teju Cole’s Everyday is for the Thief, brings to mind the possibility that this peculiarity may perhaps, be palpable in most urban centres; Lagos being a symbolic representation. The novel encapsulates the idea of contradiction and contrariness. Right from its title to characters like Prophet Ahmed Elijah, and acts of honesty being seen as failure, the Janus-faced Lagos becomes a touchstone for everything out of the ordinary.

At the end of the novel, one questions what defines fulfilment while living a sham which Paradise embodies. The characters are living a sham because a prodigal in paradise should denote newness, a change of heart and repentance. However, ironically, these set of prodigals are a perfect fit for the paradise presented in the novel. With the politics of religion, supposed irrelevance of certified education and the irresponsibility of the government, Akubuiro paints a vivid scene of Nigeria’s present socio-political, economic and religious fate. Paradise therefore is a being, the victim which houses these ills and oddities so that it reeks of decay and anomalies. Above all, the book is a thought-provoking piece from an intellectual mind.

 

Reviewed on July, 2017 at the book reading at Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos

http://punchng.com/when-prodigals-in-paradise-visited-unilag/

https://www.vanguardngr.com/2017/07/akubuiros-prodigals-paradise-read-unilag/

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The Journey to Remember to Forget

A review of Donna Ogunnaike’s Experimental Theatre Production; Strelitzia

 

I recollect the taste of baba dudu and sisi pelebe, choco milo and the race for agbalumo as a child. Whether sweets, fruits or candies, they always tasted heavenly. Seeing them as I was ushered into the gate of Strelitzia, a burst of emotions raced through me as I remembered my childhood.

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At the door, there is a call to remember the past. A summon into Strelitzia, the idea that the past lies hidden in some part of the human memory, is an invitation to explore the depths of reminiscence. In the black and white-coated milieu which symbolises the mind, the patient -for that is what one should call the participants who enter this therapeutic abode- comes with a fraught mind about to undergo the surgery of unburdening.

In this piece that features a co-mingling of poetry, music and drama, the spectator is introduced to a light bearer who leads one into the five compartments that make up the process of exorcism of pain. In each enclave, there are symbols that remind one of the past; from old gramophones to big desk radios, projected images of history, old advertisements, and old songs that reverberate through the memory lane, one sees images of the past and nostalgia sets in. That exorcism is at once enhanced in the first closure where a man (Emmanuel Musa) undergoing the pain of sorrowful memory is not at peace with himself. Like the general mood in Gabriel Okara’s Piano and Drums, the audience can relate (an older audience is prescribed as children may be alienated from the surroundings especially with the horror-like atmosphere) and the themes are relevant to young and mature adults.

The silhouette compartment seems to re-assert in the mind of the observer, an examination of the inner self. There, the glaring question is; who are you when no one is watching? Technically, the screen should be more opaque so the audience can see just the silhouette and not the performer within.

Finally, in the fourth and last parts where one encounters the gate-keeper and the poet, the essence of the poet according to Aristotle, as an imitator and a creator, a medium between the unknown and known, is enforced. The audience meets the poet who intimates them with tales, trajectories of humanity and the contradictions that define our existence.  At this point, the audience stands, broken and ready to experience total catharsis. This is achieved through the expression of oneself through the written medium and the washing of hands, like Potiphar, to let go and be reborn. Donna Ogunnaike’s whole ensemble (seeing that the setting is a moveable theatre that can be built to the peculiarities of any space) is at once captivating and liberating. The limited number of spectators fosters intimacy. For anyone who wants to experience freedom in its real sense, especially in this economic recession, Ogunnaike’s Strelitzia, and not a Shrink, is recommended.

 

Adeojo, Mosunmola Omowunmi is a budding young critic on her graduate programme at the University of Lagos. She is studying English Literature and is interested in movies, film and theatre criticism.

Street party

‘Are you married?’

Yes.

‘With or without kids?’

With kids. I have three girls and their dad…

‘…where is he? He should be here.’

Well he works in Port harcourt and is really busy so he sent me over. Yes, I am married. With three daughters.

‘Yoruba. Married. Three girls…err. I would convince Alhaja, i will. I don’t know how she would take the husband issue but i will see what i can do…’

I am married sir. I promise that i am…

‘See you tomorrow madam.’

***

I walked out of his office, with a relief from the normal questions that trailed house hunting. I had viewed beautiful houses by mouth that were monstrous on sight. I had seen barrack-like houses, with prices betraying their dilapidating form, houses  unfit to raise three girls until i met Mr. Sobunmi.

The house, a two-storey building with four flats sat on a well-floored two-plot land. It was a haven with an outhouse for relaxing. Mr Sobunmi in his round-rimmed glasses told me in a matter of fact tone that the landlady was amiable and accommodating and made sure trash was collected by the house’s trash collector and an end-of-the-year celebration for phatic communion was organised on the street. She only wanted married tenants.

I would find out later that the out-house was a no go area; that Mr. Sobunmi had collected money for dumping trash, trash which would sit for two months until the landlady threatened eviction and i would have to pay an aboki; that the 50,000 Naira collected for the street end-of-the-year party was a label for a gathering that never existed.

#MyHouseHuntWahala

Living History

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Beyond what you see

Living History
Episode one
Truth

When it hits one in the face, when it comes, with a force that cannot be contained; it is the truth.

It’s like she knew what she was in for. The banging of the door left the wooden victim creaking silently on its hinges. Her mother had looked at her menacingly in the face and pronounced those words that left her shaking, her nerves trembling furiously; they were trembling still. Their impact was so intense and like an echo in the …valley, they resounded in her aural membrane, the words, those words ‘You cease to be my daughter!’

The previous day, when it all started had been fine, when she had gotten home and decided to tell Mama, was just fine for an evening meal, for a night out with Danladi, for the smile that caressed her lips, for the lonesome feeling she shared towards an unfeeling yet seemingly emotional man. He shared in her smile, his, a grimace that masked the feelings of revenge he harboured.

You can never achieve anything without tending to get in on the inside; a childhood of endless detective cartoons had enhanced that desire to avenge his father. The muse was dead, yes, but didn’t the good book say that the child would partake in the sins of the father and that vengeance will be wrought by generations after? Well, he admitted, the latter was only a fabrication to conform to this burning need his heart so feverishly hunted. He tried not to seem like Hamlet yet he knew the drive was alike. Rather than an elixir of poison in the ear, his father had been tea-poisoned.

One might wonder how Funmi had gotten entangled with a man whose face was a true reflection of his heart. His eyes seemed to search endlessly into the depths of one’s heart. At first, she had feared those huge bulging eyes until three moons after when they became a part of her: having watched them on nights of passion, ecstasy and on angry days when they nearly popped out from their sockets. His frame was the same as any man’s. It was intimidating, his arms large enough to snap a neck into two.

Why hadn’t he done so he sometimes asked himself. Why hadn’t he wrenched hers off its root and perhaps hung it to a stake, making it a premier of a collection of ornament, of the heads of a family doomed to his vengeance.

‘Do you know who his father was?’
mama waited for no answer
’… he was a pain in the neck. He had to go, had to die; for some people have to die for you to move on.’

Funmi stood still as her mother relayed Danladi’s history. Did he know? Did he not? or if he knew, was this all a pretense in order to avenge his dead father on her? Was what they ‘shared’ false? The thought of it alone would make her go insane. These questions ravaged her mind, made her begin to doubt and distant to her mother’s outbursts.

Mama continued waiting for no answer from her mute listener, ‘his father sucked at your father’s marrow. He was a pest, a pain in the ass as you would say. But then he died, he died. Yes he did and you know what? We were happy just that I didn’t know whoever it was who killed him. Otherwise, I would have thanked such a person all my life. You know why and how your father died?’ she continued in the same rage, ‘he did not die as a result of cardiac arrest as Doctor Bamiji told us, NO. His heart gave way to so much excitement at the news of the death of Mustapha. He saw this world last when he got to know that a man who had tormented his life so much, that had made him smell the other side of life was dead. You know what it’s like to be that happy at the death of someone?’ she asked then sneered
‘it’s like when Abacha died. Nigerians were happy. You know it don’t you? You must have read it in one of your books; but you didn’t learn how to be sensitive. You never learnt from history and so you bumped into this temporary façade called love.’

All these she said to a sobbing little body. A little body that harboured a bright mind but a large heart that Mama had always known would be her undoing. She was just like her father, too soft, too open and trusting people without caution. Life was hard, she, Mama was hard. To rule the world, you had to be. There were no two ways about it.

Mama’s philosophy had helped her train six children; what with the money she had fought for after her husband’s death? Relatives who had been ashamed to cross their front steps suddenly became men who ordered her out of the house her money had built its foundation.  Five sessions in court and she had won the case. The race was not to the swiftest but to the diehard man ready to bite fingers that held down his legs on the ladder of success. If possible, chop them off. Mama did not mind.

And so, it was no wonder that her daughter’s connection with  the son of a man who had made life unbearable for her father and who miraculously, had been poisoned by a Good Samaritan who was possibly one of the various victims, dazed her. Thus, she said without thinking twice,
‘I have trained you all and I expect good returns. I toiled and expect good success! But if you decide to stick to this enterprise and refuse to heed  to your mother’s warnings as your children will do to you, you cease to be my daughter!’ with that she left and slammed the door that still creaked from the impact.

On the Journey to Self-preservation👉 The First Calling

Today, i have found what has made me boyfriendless over the years. It itches me as walk, spreads through my body like wild fire in harmatan. It has made me become more cautious, careful and prude.

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Prude is the word. I cannot look into the eyes of a man and feel at ease anymore. The heaving of my chest at the smell of masculinity lets something in me spark that i try feverishly to restrain. If i become one of those who faces stare in cold walls of dark castles; then, maybe my fight would not be in vain.
At 12, I remember running an errand for ma. She held out a note and thrust under my armpit, the already-finished customer’s cloth. I rushed off, as children were wont to do then and got to the house, few metres down the street. The young man who opened the gate, was to my eyes, an uncle as we were asked to call every older man, not old enough to be one’s father. Thus, when i saw him, i said,’Uncle, i am looking for Mrs. Eniade.’ He looked at me in a queer manner, one that gave me shivers and even as i pen this down, still does.
I was walked into the big parlour, gave the cloth to the gigantic woman slowly munching on some green apples and then, i turned my back to leave. I was almost at the gate when i hear a call from behind. Turning, it was the biggest mistake of my life as i hit my newly-grown breast-chest on the wall to which the gate was attached. ‘Kaii!’ I almost spat out. I checked myself quickly as the queer-faced young man moved towards me and i became composed. I was a lady, he was the man.
He came towards me, smiled winked and said,’ why don’t i walk you to your house?’

(“The second coming” is the next episode)

Broken

At a point we began to realise that life was not it seemed. Those who stretched their hands to help were doing it for ulterior reasons. I could share in the laughter of so many people, smile at jokes that would make me massage my aching cheeks and hug a long-seen friend when i didn’t actually mean it.
We became bored of relationships that were only in place because of one thing or the other; of future gains, networking and connections. We were stranded; unable to understand true friendship as life had become,’ Move with people who positively affect your life.’
That could be boring.
Sometimes, we just want to observe. We want to say ‘hi’ to that secondary school mate and leave without exchanging contact. We want to travel round the world without taking pictures and just immerse ourselves in the beautiful landscape without having to show the world proof that we were actually there.
We want to get married, have a baby and build houses without the world knowing.

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This is because sometimes, we are not just interested in this world or how today affects tomorrow.
Sometimes, we just want to live our lives.

I want to take a picture without caring how it looks or whether it is instagram-worthy.

Wish me Well

Wish me well as i cross the seven seas. Wish me well as i tread the path some ancestors have trod. It is not for personal aims or glorification that we go on this voluntary yet compulsory sojourn. No.
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It is to serve our father land. I move onwards, towards Yikpata. This  Yikpata was unlike many. It’s sparse landscape filed with dry trees scared in themselves, should they fall. I looked on with fear as the bus stopped. We were at our stop, the beginning of  para-military training.

When i remember how i had queued in the drizzle, of how,i had carried my luggage on my head in obedience to the shouts of the soldiers…of how in camp, i woke up at 3:00am every morning and learnt to live a robot life, then i would respect all ex-corps members and appreciate their service to our father land.
Whoever said it was easy should think again.