Artistic licence and insurgency in Nigeria II
In a previous piece, we focused on the fact that artists i.e. writers posture that they are writing fiction. Whereas, what is being written is essentially a blend between the writer’s imagination and reality. The reality in this case happens to be the various shades of the insurgency in the Northern part of Nigeria. From a distance, the omniscient observer can be forgiven for thinking that the Boko Haram phenomenon is a straight forward feature. As the author reveals, there are several layers to the reality known as BH.
In the process, the writer through the narrator has exposed some of the rot in the Nigerian military and the society at large. In other words, Boko Haram is really a black box. When that box is opened, what you see is that, like all wars, repugnant features which border on stench, seep forth. One of these happens to be the fact that in the ongoing insurgency, there is what you can call, Carpet Baggers.
These are soldiers, who in reality are only in the war venture, for maximum profiteering. The words of the author are worth recalling here. According to him, the soldiers in Damaturu are busy selling petrol; while those in Baga are busy selling fish. Similarly, those in Madagali are busy selling cows.
Meanwhile, again and as revealed by the author, there is an Alhaji Abdulahi, who is stupendously rich and he continues to rake in huge profits from the Baga area, where fish resources are massive. So massive that, as stated in the book, fish worth N1.4 billion gets exported to the cities of Port Harcourt and Lagos, on a monthly basis. It is a revelation which gives some insight into the opulence, which is Nigeria’s lot or luck.
And as an aside, the situation is also a pointer to the endless possibilities which exist for Nigeria in the post-oil era. However, what is more pertinent in the context of this review is that Abdulahi, the rich fish merchant, is in the rather generous habit of giving huge sums of money to the officer-combatants who are in fact on his payroll! So with this kind of interesting, if shady situation, even the combatants will not want the war to end.
The foregoing probably explains the famous and wry contentions of a Pogo: We have met the enemy, and he is us! In other words, it bears restating that, it is simplistic to regard Boko Haram as the only enemy. There are certainly other enemies most of whom are embedded in the Nigerian Army itself and other members of the country’s colluding elite – as amply demonstrated by Wale Okediran in this book.
Another repulsive side which emerges from the ongoing situation is that, as in all wars, and as ruefully deposed by the narrator, those who are having to do the fighting are the children of the under-class. A situation, which more than anything else, will also prolong the war. This is because the children of the fat-cats in Abuja continue to live it up in the self-same city and other plush locales like London and New York.
Another nuanced dimension of the war is the role of the various aid agencies. Ostensibly, they are neutral, or supposed to be. In reality they are carriers of information from one side to the other, such that those who are in the know, appreciate that they are in reality, combatants whose janus-faced role, contributes more than anything else to the prolongation of the conflict.
The narrator himself was also caught in this web of perfidy, a situation which resulted in the loss of around 120 lives – all of whom were his fellow soldiers and compatriots.
Therefore, and in view of the foregoing, the picture that emerges from this book is a bleak one. This is because as adduced earlier, although Okediran merely fantasized that his work is fiction, the reality as revealed by him in the book, is that Boko Haram will be with us for a long time. This is partly in the light of the treachery and economic dimensions of the conflict. It is a conflict, which also sucks in other social formations like Niger, Cameroon and Chad. Invariably, this transnational factor has dire implications for the rest of the continent.
As things stand, on one hand, while one can contend that Magadali is a thriller; I want to state that this is only one way of looking at it. The writer, unwittingly perhaps, has some of the unattractive features of the Nigerian State. And in the process, has exposed its underbelly. And here, I am not putting the blame solely on the current managers of the State. It is a long-term malady which goes back to the near criminal neglect of those areas in Nigeria in previous decades.
One way of validating this assertion is to engage in a counter-factual. Why is there an absence of the Boko Haram kind of situation in other parts of the country? The answer lies in the fact that some form of massification has attended a critical area like education in other parts of the country and to this extent; a phenomenon like Boko Haram is largely absent.
It is not too late to embark on this measure, for this is perhaps one of the major ways in which the sect can be contained. Indeed, if and when the implicit and explicit prescriptions in the book are blended with the recent study on Boko Haram by the Tony Blair Institute, chances are that the obituary of Boko Haram will be in sight.
All told, the author must be appreciated for his effort. Under the cover of fiction, he has managed to expose some components of the Nigerian State. And the picture which emerges of this political animal is an ugly one. In the proces , the author has largely fulfilled one of the major functions of a writer – which is that, all said and done, the writer is a kind of prophet whose duty is to signpost for leaders and society, the perils ahead and the consequent solutions that are urgently needed.
Achebe did it, as witnessed in ‘A Man of the People’, Okigbo did the same in his famous poems which fore-shadowed our tragic civil war and very much the same thing can be said for Nadine Gordimer, who long before the end of Apartheid, signposted the end of that infernal regime, on the platform of one of her famous works: Some Monday Morning for sure.
Certainly, and with this work, Magadali, Wale Okediran has joined this distinguished company. If this is not done, one can almost contend here that the mortality of the Nigerian State is only a question of time.