~ Uzoma Onyemaechi ~
JAUNDICED JUSTICE: A Careless Whisper and You are History by M. O. Ene.
Published by Reedbuck, Inc., 2000. 260p. ISBN 0-9521-610-01
Jaundiced Justice is appropriately titled, considering the weaving of the characters and the plots that are involved. From the main characters (Pa Chijioke, Dogo, Ganja, Tony, Kilah, Boma, Ngozi, and Garba) to the sub-characters (Chuka Chijioke, Mercedes, Maduebo, Mary, Badmus, Mata Hali, Seamus, Adamu, Mairo, and Bayo), the book is captivating. The book opens with a poem etched on the cell wall that summarizes the essence of the title of this book.
"Alive and well but waiting for death,
To pay a debt to a society in great strife.
The trials of human race end in grief,
Giving back the rat-race ashes to Earth.
But nothing justifies the loss of life,
Deliberate loss of a human life.
There is nothing right about death,
Though the opposite of life is death.
And the fear of death breeds life;
Legal death should not be rife.
This is injustice:
The role of Pa Chijioke in this novel is comparable to the role of Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. The only difference being that Pa Chijioke welcomed Christianity while still partaking in his people's traditional activities; Okonkwo for his own part, refused the advances of Christianity completely.
The novel is a mirror of the events that have shaped Nigeria during the past thirty-five years of coups and counter coups. This is a well-researched book with each character being given a clear identity and an in-depth background to assist the reader. A whole chapter is devoted to each major character with sub-characters also addressed.
For those who witnessed the Biafran-Nigerian Civil War, this book is a refresher course to the events that led up to it, that shaped the war, and that took place after the war, albeit the characters are fictional. The major powers of Europe, Britain and the Soviet Union, were part and parcel of the war. They were busy financing and staffing (provision of military advisers and personnel including Mercenaries) both sides, but more on the Nigerian side, the war in order to gain control of the oil business. "No war is a civil war: some big brother has a finger on the pulse of the mutual destruction, and yet another sticky finger on the pulse of eventual reconstruction." [p.74]
The book delves into the causes of the war: from the negotiated independence that led to the first republic and its massive bribery and corruption at all levels, the lack of public safety, tribalism, how the war was fought on both sides (strategies, collaborations, saboteurs), to the roles played by: Boys Company, BOFF (Biafran Organization of Freedom Fighter), BOSS (Bureau for State Security), the Nigerian Air force (missing targets and bombing civilian enclaves), the Biafran Air force under the command of the Swedish Count Carl Gustaf von Rosen, and, finally, the effects of starvation, hunger, and crime.
The book focuses more on the activities of the Nigerian Army seen through the eyes of the hero of the book, Col. Yohanna Dogonyaro Sem aka Dogo. He tries to make a profession out of military life and instill some sense of purpose in the troops around him. Unfortunately, those above him have other ideas on how to run things, preferably for their own gain. He is innocent, and na´ve, at times, of the goings-on around him. He took a lot of things for granted, such as his own security knowing fully well the consequences of dealing with officers like Ganja. Later, Dogo pays a dear price for this oversight--with his life.
From Dogo's point of view, the participants in the conflict are using it as a way of securing their own futures, with their proposed plans to murder both the British Prime Minister and the Commander-In-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces at the same time and place, thereby incurring the wrath of the British Military, inciting them to intervene. Thanks to Dogo, their plan falls through. However, the main perpetrator of the plan (Ganja) never forgets the role Dogo played, and looks for a way to get even. Ganja and his cronies accuse Dogo falsely of participating in a coup d'etat. They try, convict, and execute him for a crime he never committed.
The military is busy fighting their war of ambition on the side rather than concentrating on finding a solution to the war at hand. "Men are dogs of war; beasts who would fight rather than talk to each other." [p.133]
The book continues on the politics of the war. The military leaders jockey for power using every means within their reach including murder, deceit, prostitution, blackmail, and etc. ad nauseum. They leave no stone unturned. As they say in the military, a dog-eat-dog attitude was the order of the day. They all forgot that those who live by trickery eventually find themselves victims of treachery. "A careless whisper and you are history." [p.131]
Not since Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe has any novel been so successfully used to explain aspects of Igbo culture, language, norms, values, and traditions without loosing sight of the larger picture. The explanation of Igbo rules on marital fidelity is very direct albeit chauvinistic, "the rules were stacked against the woman: Just one strike would send her back to her father, older and stripped of matrimonial benefits. The bride's family repaid the dowry if she remarried." [p.29].
The description of Igbo people as "a restless race of republicans, ideational individualists, and avid adventurists, they are profoundly proud people-even avoidable arrogant..." is quite accurate. The author further describes, "the Igbo are generally honest, humble, and hardworking. As long as you don't try to exhibit or flaunt superior traits, they will treat you as equal..." Anyone interested in finding out the source of the resourcefulness of Ndiigbo will find some answers in the author's description of capitalism "the concept of capitalism is part of Igbo religion. Everyone believes that Chi Ukwu, the Almighty God, has destined us all for great things. This allows individuals and their 'chi' (angels) to negotiate their ways past paths of prongs and deities known and unknown..." [p.29-31]
"There are seven types of names an Igbo might bear in a lifetime: birth-day name, surname, given name, reincarnation name, pet name, nick/age-grade name, and title/society name. Day-of-birth names are restricted to the fourb native-week days (Eke, Orie, Afo, Nkwo), but they provide a wide array of creative options?" [p.41] So when the question is asked, "what is in an African name?" The answer would be, "A whole lot!" [p.41]
The provision of a glossary of words used in the book at the back of the book is very helpful for readers who may not be familiar with both the Igbo language and some Nigerian slang.
Even though the book was very interesting, it never answered some nagging questions that bother me. For example, whatever happened to Mercedes and her family? Also, was Dogo really executed going by the scenario painted on p.196-199? One would expect to see a conclusion that would pull the main characters together in some form of resolution. Unless, of course, the author plans on writing a sequel to this novel that would unite most of the characters. I would look forward to this very much.
All in all, the novel shows what happens to people when events surround and overtake them. It also shows how innocent people can become victims of circumstance, powerless over their own destinies. It is a lesson for all on the need for vigilance, to prevent becoming another sad statistics, history repeating once again. This is a book worth reading and you can never put it down until you're done for it holds your interest from start to finish.
"Knowledge flows through Books. Libraries are Custodians of Books, therefore Custodians of Knowledge. Visit your Local Library today and increase your Knowledge for Knowledge is Power."
--Uzoma Onyemaechi, 2000.