Insurgency in Nigeria is no news to anyone and the need for writers to tell stories about the dire situations in Northern Nigeria is not to be overlooked since it is widely believed that literature mirrors the society. It is not just writing about an incident that is required but a skilful use of the art of storytelling to persuade the readers to see deeply and even more closely, the effect this menace has had on the society and therefore rise to action.
Chiedu E.Dieyi’s debut novel is based on the popular Chibok incident where 276 girls were abducted by Boko Haram, therefore bringing a hidden town to the global stage and marring the community for life. Girls who were preparing for the compulsory West African Senior School Certificate exams were suddenly ambushed in their school and whisked away leaving parents, teachers and the community at large in despair.
The story does not in any way differ from the real incident but just situates fictional characters in a popular story that the world tells easily because of the mass coverage that it got. The author focuses on three girls as major protagonists who were kidnapped by the insurgents. They are Aisha, Margret and Deborah. The author shows how these three girls bond together to face the odds in Sambisa forest where they were held captive. The camp is depicted as a very unconducive place to live and the girls faced torture like gang rape, molestation and abuse.
However, the more interesting aspect of it is the bond that forms between Deborah and Shettima (one of the insurgents). They grow fond of each other and fall in love. The space and setting of the novel transcends Borno to the seat of power where the President is faced with choosing to do what is right and his concern for a re-election bid. The President, Chris comes to understand that there are traitors within his government and tries to stay above the situation. He is advised to divert funds from the IMF loans that was to be given to fight insurgency and use it for his campaign. The author therefore uses this to show the shabbiness in the way the government handled the case. More infuriating is their refusal not to acknowledge that the event occurred in the first place.
This novel is quite an interesting one drawing from an already familiar storyline. The author’s language is a bit journalistic because it reads as though he reports the events rather than tell a story. Despite this style of writing, the story still stands out as what readers hear on the news but is somewhat given a human face through the characters in the book. The weight of terrorism is felt by Nigerians daily especially those in the North. Many have lost farmlands, sons, daughters, brothers and everything to insurgency. Nigeria has become a concern to global communities because of the spread of Boko Haram insurgency. If it is not curbed would lead to more catastrophic events in the country. More bewildering is the handling of these issues by the government who have the responsibility to ensure the protection of life and property. One can therefore say that this book has been written to be put on the sands of time so that we don’t lose sight of what has happened, the lives that have been lost and the careless actions that have been taken so we can forge a path towards avoiding those pitfalls again.
The characters, Aisha, Deborah and Margret are Christians who draw faith from God by praying. They also enjoy the support of one another even though they had to watch some of their friends die because of sicknesses that could have been treated in a hospital. More important to the plot development in the book is the affection one of the insurgents feels towards Deborah. It is what one can describe as Stockholm’s Syndrome. It is a condition where the hostage forms an alliance with his/her captors just so he/she can survive. Deborah was urged by her friends to utilize the affection Shettima had for her to her advantage and theirs as well. The characters become more resilient as time goes on in captivity. They become more resolute to survive which is a strong message that anyone who is determined to pull through any hard situation can find light at the end of the tunnel.
The plot is linear as everything flows in one direction while its setting navigates between Sambisa, Chibok and Aso Rock. The linear structure adds more to the journalistic telling of the story. The writher rather than using a more in-depth narrative style with language, uses his language to tell rather than show.
According to Oakley Hall, “Fiction is the unfolding of a tale, the events of which exist, before the writing, only in the writer’s mind. His effort is to enable the reader to experience those events he has seen in his imagination. To do this he must arrange patterns of stimuli to evoke those events that are not real but only ink smudges on paper. Writers of fiction have invented, borrowed, stolen, and inherited a bag of tricks to provide those evocations. The sum of these tricks is the art of literature.” (1989:3). However while this author does ‘report’ a national story, he doesn’t wield all the necessary tools to evoke the feelings that the reader should feel as he reads along. For example, he basically comments rather than delve deep into the psychology of his characters so that the reader can truly understand the depth of feelings of pain, sorrow, happiness or sadness. For example, “Shettima’s face fell. A sense of mixed feelings ran through him. He battled to understand why religion should divide him from the object of his attraction. The thought of converting to Christianity irritated him.” The dilemma of mixed feelings was barely explained nor thoroughly understood hence giving it a sense of shallowness.
The high points of the novel makes it fit well in the epochs of African literature’s thematic preoccupations which is the need to speak truth to power. African writers have been known to expose society and governance for what it is. Chiedu Dieyi does this when he also speaks of the events that occur in the corridors of power well hidden from the eyes of the masses. This breeds a sense of disappointment in the reader as Dieyi exposes the failings of leaders and how irrelevant national interest is when placed side by side with personal and political interest.
In all, the story is a good one. It moves rather smoothly and will please a reader who doesn’t enjoy too many twists and turns in a story thereby complicating it. However, the story is very predictable because the events portrayed are well known to the average Nigerian which should have made the author put more into it to at least elicit some form of surprise at some few junctions in the novel. Good one, Chiedu Dieyi.
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