A BOOK FOR THIS TIME
- A review of Custodians by Segun Adeleye, published by Stage Books, World Stage Limited.
Pagination: 249. Price: Not stated.
The Segun Adeleye I know until now is a business journalist. Today, a new appellation is being added; and that is that of an author. His maiden outing with Custodians is what we are here gathered to celebrate. We must admit that not everybody who writes stories have the grace of becoming published authors. Indeed, it is an irony that there are many accomplished journalists who are lazy writers, and as such have been denying the society the benefit of insight into the many exclusives in their unpublished notebooks.
Oj this score, this reviewer stands guilty as charged. For years, I have laboured to piece together my Abacha era detention memoirs. For so long have I been unable to do it. So, I congratulate Mr. Adeleye for breaking the jinx as he joins the privileged league of journalist authors. Definitely, it couldn’t have been an easy task putting together a 249-page book, moreso by somebody heading the business desk of a national newspaper that is targeted at movers and shakers of the nation’s economy. I bear testimony to how he stays late in the office, writing stories, editing scripts and planning pages on the computer. So, that he has found time to write a book is an attestation to his determination and doggedness. Books that add to knowledge are essential tools in the process of societal development. Therefore, those who make effort at getting published must be commended for contributing to knowledge.
Custodians could as well be the story of our society, of our time and of our lives. The style is a cocktail of sort. But I must confess that though easy to read, with its flowing simple prose and poetic lines, the book has a somewhat complex plot and sub-plots. The author told me that it is a contemporary fiction. But I will like to borrow Professor Kole Omotoso’s description of his own Just Before Dawn to call it a “faction”, that is a combination of facts and fiction.
Broken into three unequal parts, Custodians mirrors our today’s society in its many ramifications. Part One with the title “Armed Robbers” takes half of the book, with 20 chapters running from page 1 to 129. Part Two in 10 chapters on “Violent Alternatives” covers pages 131-220, while the four-chapter Part Three from page 222-249 is aptly titled “Hidden Agenda.”
The book opens with a dilemma child called Agidirigbi Kokumo, simply called Agidi. Because of the unhappy circumstances of his birth to Boye, a deacon in the village church and Abek, he was what the author called “Asibotan, a spoilt brat.” He was the last and only child of the parents that stayed “after experiencing two infant’s death and three miscarriages.” Before he was conceived, he had already been covenanted to idol “should the child live.” Various pledges were made to the masquerade and the god of the ocean. The naming ceremony was a masquerades affair: they “hooted in his face” named him. It was a foundation that was to haunt him in life. Since the spiritual controls the physical, Agidi indeed grew up shackled, and subjected to all manner of spiritual manipulations. Exploiting the sentiments his parents had for him, he became over-pampered and grew up becoming pompous, indolent and lazy.
Barely able to get to secondary class two after spending an average of two years in a class, Agidi soon got fed up with education. He saw studying in a formal classroom as too cumbersome and simply failed to cope. To show that he really meant to bid farewell to the classroom, one day on his way from school, he side-stepped off the bush path, dug ground, buried his books, and defecated on them,
Against parental entreaties that he should return to the classroom, Agidi joined the police force. This was where the prevailing rot and the ugliness of the police force came to the fore. The calibre of recruits has been a determinant of the nature of police that has been emerging: inefficient, corrupt and indecent. Boye had pathetically summed the public’s negative perception of the police as a no-go area for well-brought up children. According to him, joining the police “is like abandoning the road and jumping into the bush.” Further, in his words: “it’s the union of rogues, everybody there is a thief…it was there that bribery and corruption originated.” Too harsh? May be. Maybe not. Fact is, the police establishment in Nigeria is stigmatised as corruption-riddled and rotten, with the populace having abysmally low regards for it when it comes to matters of integrity. Sadly, the activities of the police in dealing with those they are meant “to serve and protect with integrity” have not helped matters with its
The author however dealt extensively on the sorry state of the police, - or you may say, our police. From the police college where Agidi enrolled, the picture emerging were definitely uncomplimentary: unfavourable odour, extremely flattened mattress, torn carpet, creaking ceiling fan, hot and stuffy room, leaking roof etc were just enough to give anyone a sleepless night. Later encounter with the police on duty were narrations of nightmares.
The condition of the dingy, foul-smelling cell where the inmates/suspects were made to feed themselves was ridiculous. On page 32, the anti-crime team on the ground brought in a man that he was caught wandering. He was labelled an armed robbery suspect as his protestations fell on the deaf ears of the officers. His continuing brutalisation by the police was justified by the insistence that he was found loitering, looking for who to rob.
From page 82 in chapter 10 of part one, an encounter at a police checkpoint was typical of what obtains on Nigerian roads everyday…the wetin you carry syndrome: the ordeal of Bodu and Brand in the hand of officer Paki and colleagues: allegation of stolen vehicle, frisking and searching, bragging and yapping, discovery of “contraband”, possession of illegal item (mercury), offer of bribe, negotiation on bail and the likes.
Bodu’s acceptance and justification of criminality was also typical. When he found that the game was up, he let it all loose. His thesis:
“…You can see that there is any way people can live on their legitimate incomes in (on) this Island. The high cost of things, inflation, you will realise that you spend more than half of your salary on transportation alone, not to talk of feeding, shelter and others. To survive, people have to do one thing or the other, fraud, stealing or anything. It is is the system is moulding everybody to be criminals. Imagine, I am a banker, and I cannot afford to take care of my family. You see, when these guys came up with the idea of the mercury, I measured the risk involved. So far, it does not involve killing somebody for ritual. This is Apolla. It is a matter of luck. If you make your money today, that is all, nobody cares how. Everybody wants to survive. This is business. I just want to try my luck. Look at you too, a police officer, you are not doing well, you are not having things easy. You are not living comfortably. That’s why police collect bribes just to survive…
“Honestly, no matter how you work hard, even if you are a beast, you can hardly make headway. Why? Corruption everywhere. Your salary may not buy a shirt not to talk of saving something to buy a car. So this is why people are into all these deals.” (pp. 85-86).
Seemingly profound? Perhaps. Yet, what is evil is evil. Societies are never built on criminality, no matter the lure. As the Holy Book enjoins in Proverbs 14:34: “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” A word for our rotten society, where rat race is the name of the game, where those who are unable to beat them are struggling to join them, where accolades and honour are reserved for those feeding fat on the collective sweat.
Definitely, there is much a foundation means to a structure. As Agidi’s covenant with dark forces haunted his life, so was the emergence of Apolla as a community a major contributory factor to its turbulence and instability. A cargo ship, Ribo, taking part in the booming and lucrative trade of shipping freed slaves back to Africa left San (Sao?) Paulo port in Brazil in 1864 with 3,550 people on board – heading for Gold Coast. Along the way, it dave in to a terrible storm and sank.
Due to errors in the registration of the ship, nothing was heard of the disaster – until eight years later when an American professor pointed out the fact of a missing ship. It was found that as much as 406 of the passengers, survived the “rage of crocodiles and pestilences,” swam safely to the coast of Apolla where they met “pockets of African inhabitants that had escaped all outside (external?) influences.”
In the prologue, the author had introduced Apolla as an Island sandwiched between two continents – South America and Africa. He also informed that “despite being surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Island still experienced an erratic climate. This was due to the Southwest cold currents that passed through the region, which sometimes carried little moisture and scanty rain. But it sometimes rained heavily with destructive cyclones. The land was sandy but could still sustain the growth of thick vegetation. Running through the Island was River Ribo, which to some extent made life unbearable.” The author also disclosed that Apolla, dominated by blacks became an independent nation when the British colonialists handed over its administration to the black majority in 1963.
From the onset however, it was evident that mere flag independence would not satisfy the enormous aspirations and yearnings of the people. Those entrusted with security were not trusted enough to do what they were paid to do. Those to manage were incompetent and self-centred. The result was a floundering society. It soon got to a head that the desire change became more trenchant. “We must move forward o change our country” (p.129). The argument was that “those that refuse to change are always backward.”
The change imperative of course would mean a ”violent alternative.” Yet, change proved not to be an end in itself. The military that emerged meant another level in the tale of woe. “Despite the abundant natural resources, people are still suffering,” was the lamentation. “The military people do not know anything about economy or management. They only enrich themselves and oppress the people. Majority of the people have been pauperised so that they can be worshipping money, begging the military and their collaborators for favour.”
The realisation of the state of hopelessness led to the formation of MASS (Movement Against Second Slavery) - apology to late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti) which led a rather violent revolt that shook the land. The clamour for democracy became irresistible. There was no stopping until a civil government was enthroned and a “new nation born.” Hopes were however dashed as soon as they were raised. It took a transformed Agidi, “the Asibotan of yesterday” to risk everything in a bid to change his society - going all the way to defend the hard won democracy. It is the classical possibility of being transformed from a waste to an asset.
Segun Adeleye has written a book worth reading. His language is simple. His sentences are brief and in parts, poetic. In view of our nation’s present political evolution, it is a most timely literary effort. The dilemma of a society in transition vividly brought to the fore in the book...especially the intrigues and the attendant political and socio-economic instability that has been the unhappy lot of our hapless society makes for the book’s relevance.
The cover design is attractive in its simplicity. The overall production – layout, printing and binding - is tolerable. He would however need to work more on proof-reading in subsequent edition. His use of abbreviations such as exams - p.1 (instead of examination), ASP – p.29 (instead of Assistant Superintendent of Police) is to over assume that all his readers would be able to decipher what he means to convey.
As earlier stated, his style is not the straightforward narrative. This means that the book is not for all-comers. What is however gratifying is that the message was not lost in the complex and inter-woven plots and sub-plots that characterised the work. Overall, Adeleye has written a readable book, which I’m recommending to all discerning readers. He is by all means an author with promise.