Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Governor's Wife

After a lull during which he returns to the bottle and the skirt, ace investigative reporter peter Abel receives a distress call from the Bammaka State Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr. Idi Camp. Idi, who left a UN job in New York to serve his state. Idi is about to be sacrificed by the ruling party for his integrity or assassinated by his party, the opposition, for betrayal. Abel's investigation, which begins with a close shave with a ritual murder, makes startling revelations of corruption in high places. They loot the state treasury into their foreign accounts and buy property in London; and then receive the people into prayer and fasting and ritual sacrifices over the impoverishment of the state. But that does not shock Abel as much as the discovery of the steamy romance between the Governor's wife and the party chairman, who lured the Governor into power. The duo has all the gear - lots of money, satanic ruthlessness and tons of attitude to hunt Abel and the Camps. And a lot more to go for power after the death of the Governor in a sandstorm.
:: Editorial Reviews

Reviewed by Reviewed by Olayiwola Adeniyi of This Day Newspaper, Lagos, 16 November 2004.

The Governor's Wife by Bisi Ojediran, Booksplus Nigeria Limited, Lagos, 2002 Pp. 328 It is no longer the issue that Bisi Ojediran, a celebrated Business and Economy journalist before he veered into the corporate world decided a few years ago to ensure that he wrote a book a year because but for last year, he had been faithful to that promise. What is now the issue as it should be for all writers who wish to be taken seriously is the quality of what he has been churning out. Is it just about a passion or a commitment to the arts? What is new about what the author has set out to do, especially for one writing within the genre of popular fiction? Beginning from Survival of the Beautiful to such other titles as Love Wars and Sacred Seduction, there is a character that has remained a constant feature, in fact the protagonist; he is Peter Abel, the investigative journalist who has the knack of always involving himself in matters that are of little or no concern to him. That of course is the world of the journalist. What makes Peter Abel interesting though is the fact that his is no adventure just for the sake of it. There is always that desire to rescue society from an impending doom. He succeeds most of the time but not without some risks. The Governor's Wife is not any different. It is still or supposed to be about the world of the restless Peter Abel but then there are so many significant differences from this new offering when compared to earlier ones. One the author shows evidence of greater maturity in the handling of form.

One of the greatest virtues of scholarship is humility to learn more. And this has been the case with the author. He has in the past two years employed the services of Laurie Rosin, editor of 36 Bestsellers and Sol Stein who for over 36 years has edited and published some of the most successful writers including the immortal James Baldwin. All of this information becomes necessary if only to appreciate how far the author has gone and in what direction he is headed. Of course, this does not in any way mean that he has written the long awaited Nigerian Bestseller. The journey is still on. What will interest many readers of The Governor's Wife is two-fold; there is the ever exciting world of Peter Abel and then the social relevance of the work. No matter how hard the author tries to claim that this is just a work of imagination, it is obvious that he has 'borrowed' from events of recent memory in the country. Paradoxically though, this is what some may consider as a drawback of the novel. For an adventure story, the novel is overloaded with so many issues that even Peter Abel seems overwhelmed. But then Ojediran may just be working on a middle of the course kind of novel. The burden of the African writer is that he cannot engage in the luxury of art for art sake like his counterparts in other parts of the world. So, even in the world of adventure-soaked scandal sheets, there must be some space for social relevance. As the book advertises on the blurb, this is a story of drought, poverty and death of the ruled; the opulence, adultery, attitude and puppeteering by a few members of the ruling class. For Peter Abel, this provides a basis for another call to action after his exploits in Sacred Seduction.

He receives a distress call from Dr. Idi Camp who is the Commissioner for Agriculture in Bammaka State. He is about to be sacrificed by the ruling party by the ruling party for his integrity. Even the opposition party for which he has sympathy already feels that he has betrayed the party and either way, the result will be death. But what really is the problem? The state is being confronted by the problem of drought largely caused by government's insensitivity to the environment, and instead of confronting this problem; they decide to play politics with it because it could affect their electoral fortunes now and in the future. Rather, they find it more convenient to call on the people to fast and pray and make ritual sacrifices as if it is a spiritual problem. For them, what is more important is how to win the support of the people in spite of the prevailing economic problems. And due to the nature of the African society, religion comes handy as a veritable tool of oppression. They would therefore spend much money on building party machinery than investing in agriculture and other welfare programmes for the people. Of course, the problem would not abate and so, there is the need to further hoodwink the rather gullible public and make some scapegoats. Camp would not be a part of this and he finds allies in Dr. Nicholas Maka, the Director-General of the Bammaka Environmental Agency and Professor Dika, all of whom are considered as irritants because of their avowed commitment to make a difference. Abel's findings are as intriguing as they are mind boggling.

First, there is the problem of a reluctant Governor Huud who is only brought to that position by a greedy few who see in him a willing tool which they can use to continue to hold on to the reins of power and swindle public funds. The governor of course soon joins them making nonsense of his pedigree as a good administrator. His case is made further worse by his power drunk wife who in spite of her obvious shortcomings, insists that the office of the First Lady with a yearly budget of N250 million be created for her. And to ensue that this is achieved, she employs all forms of subterfuge including offering her body to Tiko, the party chairman who though is impotent. She would not allow both local government chairmen and commissioners rest with her incessant demand for contracts which are hardly executed. This of course is only symbolic of the moral bankruptcy within the system. But is the governor a willing accomplice? He does not come across as a man with a mind of his own and so, he is easily swallowed up by the system. The corrupt three are actually the ones running the affairs of the state with the governor serving only as a rubber stamp. What he can't stand though is seeing Rika, his wife become First Lady. If there is going to be a position like that, it will only be occupied by the pretty Comfort Deree who is however playing hard to get. What comes out of this is what the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti calls "Power Show". Rika, wife of the governor, described as ambitious, greedy and jealous, will not give up her struggle. She at some point ensured that Comfort was arrested and it was only upon her release that she discovered that her 'crime' was her being seen to be getting too close to the governor. All Rika seeks are power and money and of course, sex, even of the perverted kind! She is ready to go to any extent to achieve this. Between her and the clique of three; Tiko, Yaro and Uma, they run the affairs of state in a manner that only the protection of their interests matter. They are by their own moral standards doing really well with fat bank accounts both at home and abroad. It matters little if they people are daily facing the scourge of global warming. Peter Abel is determined to help the society arrest this rot but the question is how far he can go given the resources available to the corrupt politicians. He deploys all of his ingenuity to this assignment even at the risk of his life. There are so many issues at stake. There is the sadistic killing of Dr. Camp's wife and children which though can be traced to some powerful people in the society like Rika and the political henchmen and of course, empowering the people through the provision of relevant and truthful information on how they are being governed. He almost loses his life in the process but like any good actor, he survives to fight another day but not before he was able to make startling discoveries.

What has Lajan, the leader of the opposition got to do with the death of the Camps? Lajan actually sent hired assassins after Dr. Camp who mistakenly killed the wife and children.Abel avenges their death by Killing Laja. But then the battle is far from being over because Tiko and his group are still determined to continue the onslaught against those supposedly working against their interest, especially those regarded as the intellectuals among them. They decide to blackmail them by working on what they describe as the principle of collateral damage which means that if one man goes down, all the others will go down with him. Their main targets are Professor Dika, Dr., Maka and Dr. Camp. And as a first part, they decide to buy a house in the name of Maka in highbrow Manhattan, New York.With the death of Lajan, things become very uneasy for the government and between Dika and Maka, there is a determination to make the government do what is right in terms of response to the environmental problem being faced by the people and of course. There is the overwhelming evidence of poverty in the land. The governor thinks the time is ripe to blackmail Dika with the Collateral Damage thesis. It works. But then, it only makes the conflict a little more complex. The students have joined in the fray. And all attempts to bribe their leadership fail in spite of the activities of the likes of Jimmy Penta even as Abel makes more discoveries while taking care of his health in London. There he meets Millie, wife of Tiko who incidentally was the one who rescued him from Operation Desert Storm. She warns him though that Tiko and his group would waste him if he is caught. "A long future lies ahead. Stay away", she warns. Back at home, Soto, the Chief Priest at Limi, whose gods seem to have failed him continues his assault on the people especially those who think that the problem goes beyond the gods. He first kidnaps Sadi, the brother to Dr. Camp but is later substituted with the irreverent Penta who had gone to see him to deal with Konto whom he says "has stolen his star". For the government of Governor Huud, there seems to be no respite. And this is where Abel makes his final attack. He calls the governor to let him know that all of his misdeeds and those of his associates have been uncovered. But instead of responding to the allegations, decides that it is time for the intellectuals in government to go. He is set to make them the scapegoats for his own inefficiency. Before making the speech though, the unexpected happens. The helicopter in which the governor and his aides are traveling crashes as a result of a fierce sandstorm. And this marks the end of the insensitive and corrupt regime. Abel still feels the job has not ended because Rika and Tiko are still alive and he came out with a story which eventually leads to their arrest.

Without doubt, The Governor's Wife is a remarkable improvement on earlier works by Ojediran. The craft is better handled and there can be no missing the growing confidence in his handling of form. It makes an interesting read for people of different levels. It is a lot more realistic. Like Survival of the Beautiful, this novel has a great film potential. More than his earlier efforts, this work is socially relevant in a manner that all those conversant with recent happenings will be able to draw a parallel. What is now referred to as the First Lady syndrome is a serious bane of contemporary Nigerian politics. Unfortunately, it has very little to do with bringing government closer to the people. It is all about ego tripping and personal aggrandizement and playing politics with other people's lives. But the book is not just about Theodora, the Governor's wife, it is about all those who connive to perpetually keep their society in a prostrate position all because they want to sustain and perpetuate their hegemony and they will stop at nothing to achieve this. On the other side are the conscientious few who like Peter Abel, Dr. Camp and Dr. Maka who are ready to make personal sacrifices to ensure the well being of their society. Camp and Maka would lose nothing if they decide to leave their lives quietly pursuing their careers but they decide to join in the rescue of their society. In the process, some of them are rubbished and Camp even lost his wife and kids.

It was only a fair ending that the beautiful Comfort Deree did not fall for Huud but fell in love with Camp. It will be an unfair assessment to say that the book has no shortcomings. One, it is peopled by more than a few flat characters who contribute little to the development of the plot. What this means is that the story would have still read well without them. They slowed down the pace of the plot which affects a reader's concentration. There were those who were given too much prominence when they could just be another 'waka pass'. Soto, for example. Same with Muni, the village rascal who is later sacrificed by the state. May be, this novel is meant to be different from the earlier ones. Unlike his other appearances in other works, this is not really the story of Peter Abel; he has to share the spotlight with others. It could be though that the author is saying that ever' the never say die investigative journalist could be overwhelmed or that it is time to explore the idea of collective action to deal with collective rot! Why for instance, did Abel have to kill Lajan instead of handing him over to the police? While the language is really tight, there are few typographical and mechanical errors that must be corrected in subsequent editions. On Page 326 Huud is referred to as President instead Governor. P. 305, 'government' in the second paragraph should have read 'governance'; on p. 306, the second 'a' in the last paragraph is wrong while the past participle of wear' on page 247 should be 'worn' and not 'wore'. The author also uses the wrong objective pronoun in the second line of p. 234. 'Her' should have read 'him'. Similar error is found on page 90 where 'his' is used in place of her' (second paragraph) The second main paragraph where Konto is being quoted on page 208 is not too clear. The last paragraph on page 85 which runs into page 86 also deserves a second look. Despite all of these though, The governor's Wife is a welcome addition to a growing genre of which the author is a major player. And once again, Bisi Ojediran has demonstrated his commitment to developing and improving his art. Hopefully for those it ministers to, it will be a good though uncomfortable read. His real bestseller may not be long in coming. This is a good gift for the new year and some food for thought before the elections.