A Literary Appraisal of Kyuka Lilymjok’s Hope in Anarchy: Tracing the Early Style and Voice of an Author

Ajima, Maria

Department of English

Benue State University Makurdi



Kyuka Lilymjok is a man of many parts; being an erudite lawyer and also a renowned writer of repute who has produced many literary works. Hope in Anarchyis his first novel and there is much one can learn about his generational outlook from his first imprint in the literary world. This chapter undertakes a literary appraisal of Hope in Anarchy in order to trace the early style and voice of the author. In achieving this, it adopts Critical Realism as the theoretical framework. Next there is a study of the structure and style, then themes in the novel. In the exploration of the novel, the chapter looks at how corruption and injustice in the fictional world of the Republic leads to a revolution by its citizens. It also points out similar trends of thoughts like migration, environmental concerns, socialism and the like, started in this novel that Lilymjok goes ahead to explore in his later works. The chapter establishes that in this work, Lilymjok shows a development of a peculiar style of accessibility in language, apathy for corruption and injustice, a concern for justice and fairness in society, humour laced with sarcasm and irony in his works; and a leaning towards humanism. It notes the similarities that the author has with other great African writers, especially in thematic preoccupations and style, which show him to be a socially committed writer.


Human society is dynamic and constantly undergoing changes. Such changes happen gradually and may because of their evolutionary character be imperceptible to the ordinary eye, while others can be instant and disruptive of the way of life of any particular society. The artist belongs to those citizens who keep an eagle eye on happenings in society by recording the things taking place in their artwork. The artist does such recording either with a view of shaping the future for the better or to act as the conscience of society by awakening it to its shortcomings and how to overcome them, or to aestheticize ordinary experiences into pleasurable artifice for the entertainment of that society; or it may be a combination of these various factors taken together. A consistent and prolific artist leaves his/her peculiar stamp in the works s/he creates that becomes a signature that everyone can identify such an artist with. In the end, anyone coming across such a work can immediately point to the artist as being the creator. In literature, this stamp or signature of an author can be discerned in what is referred to as the person’s styleand voice.

Style specifically refers to an artist’s manner of linguistic expression in prose or verse; how he says things. A writer’s distinctive or peculiar style can be classified as high or grand, middle or mean; or high, low, or plain style (Abrams and Harpham 312; Dada 5). On another note, Abrams and Harpham refer to an author’s voice as “a pervasive authorial presence, a determinate intelligence and moral sensibility, who has invented, ordered, and rendered all these literary characters and materials in just this way” (228). By “this way”, Abrams and Harpham most likely imply an author who plays an important role in the overall effect of a work on a reader, whose values, beliefs, and moral vision serve implicitly as controlling forces throughout a work, helping to sway the reader to yield the imaginative consent without which a poem or novel would remain an elaborate verbal game (228). From the foregoing, it can be noted that the world view of an author is a major force that gives shape to the author’s voice and style in his or her literary works.

Those familiar with the creative writings of Kyuka Lilymjok can easily classify most of them under the plain style which is relaxed and conversational without unnecessary ambiguities and complications. This chapter sets out to interrogate Lilymjok’s style and voice in Hope in Anarchy, his first published novel, released in 1993. The chapter hopes to interrogate how the author’s perspective started being grounded from his early period of writing towards laying a distinctive voice and style that can be ascribed peculiarly to him.

Definition of Key Words

  • Anarchy: Anarchy refers to a state of lawlessness, recklessness and disorder. Nwachukwu–Agbada et al describe an anarchic society as a confused, disorderly and unfocused society that is at the point of disintegration (395).
  • Corruption: Corruption can be said to be dishonest and/or unethical conduct by a person or group of people in any position of trust or authority, often towards personal or private gain. Mbachaga notes that corruption is a global crime that has been with all kinds of society throughout history noting that it is universal in nature and can be perceived in different forms (20).
  • Hope: Hope can be defined as an expectation, a wish, or basic optimism. The Webster’s Dictionary defines hope as a feeling that what is wanted will happen, or to want and expect.
  • Humanism: Humanism is a general principle that upholds that people’s obligation and duty is to promote human welfare through every means possible. It can also be said to be the doctrine that emphasize self-improvement and realization through the intellect devoid of pretensions. Abrams and Harpham note that the concept was coined in the 16th century and has evolved into various strands of thought. The Humanism strand that this chapter finds apt in which to situate Lilymjok’s brand of humanism is that which evolved from the Renaissance era in which the school of thought tended to emphasize the values achievable by human beings in this world rather than in an afterlife. Related to this is the strand of humanist essentialism, which among other outlooks, hold that every human has certain basic features common across all races and possessing such capacities, humans are able to recognize themselves and to acknowledge a common humanity, whatever the individual and cultural differences. Such essentialism, it is believed, provides adequate grounds for establishing basic human norms and values and is also in fact indispensable to justify claims for social and political justice on behalf of any oppressed, excluded, or marginalized minority (123-125).
  • Social Injustice: Thisrefers to the presence of imbalance in the society where certain groups people are denied their rights and treated unjustly. It can also be said to be a situation where unjust practices and activities are being carried out in society.
  • Revolution: Revolution can be said to the overthrow of an established order which will involve the transfer of state power from one leadership to another and may involve a radical restructuring of social and economic relations (McLean and McMillan, 461). Thus, one can summarily say that a revolution is the overthrow of a government or established order by those who are governed or those under such an order.

Plot Synopsis of Hope in Anarchy

Hope in Anarchy is a social oriented novel that looks at a class oriented society filled with injustice and hatred between the people across a class divide. The society is divided into the Haves and Have-Nots – the rich and the poor. The Haves are represented by characters like the Great Lafimo, the Okimes, Mrs. Narosi, Okeoduoma, the President and so on. On the other hand, the Have-nots are represented by the family of Solo, his son Ahoka, Ojoro their neighbor under Asabeni bridge, Bewudi and his wife, Kela and others in similar condition.

The central figure in the novel is Ahoka who is born to the family of Solo, a struggling ex-serviceman and therefore, into the midst of grinding poverty. Ahoka loses his mother at a tender age due to the inability of his father to pay the Eight Thousand Rida (the monetary unit of currency used in the fictional world of the novel) the deposit required at the Beku city hospital she is taken to when in labour pangs. Because the hospital bill could not be paid, the hospital did not attend to her despite her pathetic condition:

‘When she started bleeding profusely, the nurses around scampered into different wards to avoid having to speak with her blood that was coming out to plead with them.’ (p.42)

Solo’s life seems destined for pain and tragedy as is evidenced in his loss of his gratuity on the very day he collects it after a three year wait: On the day he collects his gratuity of Four Hundred Thousand rida, he is robbed of it at gunpoint. Unable to pay his rent following the robbery incident, Solo and his family are thrown out of their one-room apartment in Desowa. A destitute father and son are now forced to live under one of the bridges between Beku Island and Desowa where they continue to fight against a life of want and despair Ahoka’s mother pregnant cannot live under a bridge with her husband and son. She goes to live with her brother in Desowa where she eventually dies.

Ahoka and Solo are treated like lepers by the rich. Along the line, Ahoka falls in love with Sindra, the daughter of the Great Lafimo, a rich man.

Conditions in the Republic get so harsh and the people, particularly the Have-nots felt that order has failed them and enough is enough. The anarchist Jokulo rallies the poor into believing that the only hope for a better life is in a revolution that will tip the balance of power in the Republic in their favor. Exorcists a revolutionary group is formed to purge the rich who are either calling the poor the way they call their dogs or when they see them at their gates threatening them that they will send their dogs to them for them to explain to the dogs what they are hanging by the gates for. Also the government which has joined the rich in trashing the poor is to be purged. After purging both the rich (called sharks in the novel) and the government – the two sides of the same dirty coin – the coin of sharkism or oppression (153), they will establish Lucifer’s Kingdom where everyone will prosper by the strength of his arm or perish by lack of such strength.

The government derided in the book as a joke provides no basis of hope for the poor. The police who have forgotten they are not armed robbers capitalize on the crisis to enrich themselves. The judiciary that does not remember justice only serves to incense the poor to revolt against order. The sordid situation in the Republic is graphically captured by Jokulo the anarchist thus:

The Republican police were sent to arrest armed robbers but did not return. It was later learned they had joined the armed robbers. Eventually, both the police and the armed robbers were brought to the judges for trial, but the judges joined them. This is the order of things in our Republic today.’ (p.184)

In revolting against the above unfortunate situation, the exorcists with a sick philosophy of running society and vicious in their actions eventually implode and the revolution fails after a bloodbath. The novel ends as things are about returning to status quo. The only thing that seems to survive the raging upheaval is the love between Ahoka and Sindra

Literature Review and Theoretical Framework

Taking a general overview of literary writing in Africa, one can point to how African writers have tended to reflect different thematic preoccupations that have shaped the socio-cultural and socio-political face of the African continent. These issues range from efforts of writers like Chinua Achebe, Elechi Amadi, Flora Nwapa and so on who wrote to establish the fact of Africa’s socio-cultural, religious and political existence even before the white man ever set foot on African soil. Most of this forms the core of African writing which Agema notes as ‘committed writing’ when he states that “African writing for the most part has remained committed writing. This is a point that critics would easily agree on with evidence shown from the cannon of the continent’s literature from writers of the first generation to the current one” (‘Born on a Tuesday…’ p.140)

Following independence, Emenyonu records how writers like Chinua Achebe in his second novel No Longer at Easepursues the theme of disintegration of African traditional society as a result of the external forces imposed on the system by the whiteman. The group of post-independence writers whose ranks include Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ayi Kwei Armah, Peter Abrahams and so on focus their writings on a neo-colonial Africa whose citizenship is disillusioned and disenchanted with the global new-imperialist linkages which continue to oppress the masses of African people. The dynamic and constantly changing trend of writing which also now reflects changing living conditions in human societies has continued in the contemporary era with socialist leaning authors like Ama Ata Aidoo, Ben Okri, Festus Iyayi, Bode Sowande, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Hyginus Ekwuazi, Femi Osofisan, Bose Ayeni-Tsevende with Kyuka Lilymjok joining the train. In view of all these, Asomba writes: “Having criticised in their writings the evils of colonialism, they now look around and try to highlight both the virtues and the evils of their present societies and to point the way to the future” (p.3).

One of the major issues that confront contemporary African societies and the so-called developing world at large is corruption and it has formed the core of several African writings as exemplified in Achebe’s No Longer at Ease and A Man of the People and Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, to mention a minute few.

Corruption can arguably be said to be as old as society with every nation having its own tales of the woes of the blight. It is a negative phenomenon that has ill effects on man’s life. It is the leaven that leavens the dough to quote the Bible. Corruption occurs in different dimensions both in the individual persona and the society as an entity.

Webster’s Dictionary describes corruption variously as something putrid, depraved, defiled, full of errors, venal, perverted, decomposing, and impure. It is also dishonesty, a general lack of integrity and/or use of a position of trust for dishonest gain. The foregoing description of corruption shows how negative the blight is to life and society. Recognizing its harmful consequences, people around the world always try to purge their societies of it using diverse means that range from the cultural, moral, spiritual legal and so on. According to Oshionebo and Mbachaga in their introduction to the book Literary Perspectives on Corruption in Africa I, the issue of corruption and the attendant problems it poses to the overall wellbeing and development of society is a matter of concern that has received serious attention from the pen of writers and composers in Africa. They state that playwrights, novelists and poets have continuously taken swipes at the cankerworm of corruption. To these two scholars, the arts must continue to sound the drum against the corrupt, retrogressive and oppressive proclivities of politicians by engaging themselves actively in the political and economic issues of the times in a bid to sharpen the social awareness of the masses (1-3).

Lilymjok’s Hope in Anarchy, no doubt, falls into the mould of creative works that critically expose corrupt practices as exemplified in the Republic, an allegorical name for a developing country where corruption is rife. Several scholars have examined corruption as a thematic focus in literary works and as a standalone topic. However, only few have delved into examining Lilymjok’s Hope in Anarchy probably because it is a fairly recent book. Examples of works on corruption in general by scholars include works such as Nom’s ‘Africa and the Question of leadership crisis: A Revisitation,’ Yecho’s ‘Corruption: Bane of Democracy in Nigeria’; Tsaaior’s ‘The Private, the Public and the Prophetic: Politics of Achebe’s Art and fifty years of Things Fall Apart’; Ogbonna’s ‘The Nigerian writer, Corruption and National vision’; Ediri Okwoli and Geoffrey’s ‘Critical Assessment of Millennium Development Goal 1 (MDGs p.1): Eradication of Extreme Poverty and Hunger in Nigeria’; Balogun’s ‘The Revolutionary African Novel and Socialist Realism’; amongst several others. These show the concern of the scholarly world in tandem with the world of artists with the devastating effects of corruption on society and their vision on how to eradicate the deadly disease.

Though not many critical works exist on Kyuka Lilymjok’s Hope in Anarchy, there are some specific scholarly works on the book; these include J. O. J Nwachukwu-Agbada et al’s work and O. Victor Ogbeide’s article online. The next section takes a brief look at the works of these scholars on the novel.

Nwachukwu-Agbada et al’s work on Lilymjok’s Hope in Anarchy is a detailed and meticulous essay carried out for the purposes of assisting ordinary level students studying the text for the Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (SSCE) set by the National Examination Council (NECO) between 2007 and 2011 when the novel was on the national syllabus. The analysis which is more or less formalistic in approach gives a detailed account of formal elements of the book such as plot, setting, themes, characterization, point of view and the author’s style. The analysis makes some pertinent points which are of interest to this chapter. For example, the analysis shows that in the novel, Lilymjok had to pull down the ‘edifice’ of tomorrow’s kingdom, later known as Lucifer’s kingdom perhaps to correspond to the pulling down of the fortress of evil. This might be because Lucifer is another name for the devil, and no artist supports a victory by horror and negative forces (p.390). Nwachukwu-Agbada et al also posits that no government or governance based on coercion survives in the long run as it can be seen that no single African country run by the military has been credited with any noticeable achievement or progress during or after such periods of forceful rule.

In terms of style, the critics observe that Kyuka Lilymjok engages in a florid use of idioms, metaphors, similes, proverbs, Pidgin English, slangs, deployment of direct local words and expressions foreign to English among other stylistic devices used. This chapter agrees with Nwachukwu-Agbada et al and their observation on the distinctive style of the author and note that this is a peculiarity that is noticeable in his subsequent writings thus establishing a recognisable voice. Another important point Nwachukwu-Agbada et al make about the message of the novel is that poverty begets violence and by making Solo and Ahoka to go out for job searches, the author shows how Ahoka observes things, asks questions, and exhibits some level of awareness and eventual realization. It also brings about an appreciation of the importance of education as it is obvious that the uneducated and the poor have no bargaining power in the Republic.

Victor Ogbeide’s ‘Revolutionary Action in the Recent Nigerian Novel: A Study of Lilymjok’s Hope in Anarchy’ examines the narrative of the novel that leads to the revolution led by Jokulo including the unforgiving socio-political circumstances in the Republic. It examines how the revolution fails when Jokulo gets power-drunk and exhibits anti-humanist traits against the ideals of the planned kingdom of social justice envisaged by the revolutionaries. Ogbeide posits that the novel should more or less be regarded as a metaphor or a huge irony because if the shortlived regime of Jokulo and his men are anything to go by, then the novelist is actually hinting at the fact that any government borne of anarchy or lawlessness is not likely to last long. To the scholar, therefore, a major significance of the novel worth celebrating is its active confrontation of the oppressive reality. Ogbeide’s assessment no doubt espouses the artistic contents of the novel in its metaphorical and ironical contents. His assessment of the active confrontation of the oppressive reality portrayed in the novel is a critical departure from where this article hinges its theoretical platform on, which is critical realism.

This current chapter interprets critical realism as deriving from two theories which are ‘critical theory’ and ‘realism.’ Critical theory, according to Macey, in The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory is a term that refers to a whole range of theories which take a critical view of society and the human sciences or which seek to explain the emergence of their objects of knowledge. The aspect of critical theory used in addressing Lilymjok’s Hope in Anarchy is the aspect that takes society as its object; the aspect that seeks to give social agents a critical purchase on what is normally taken for granted; and the aspect that promotes the development of a free and self-determining society by dispelling the illusions of ideology (p.75).

Realism, as described by Habib in Literary Criticism from Plato to the Present: An Introduction, aims at offering a truthful, accurate and objective representation of the real world, of both the external world and the human self. To achieve such an aim, realists according to Habib, utilize strategies such as use of detail, avoidance of what is imaginary and mythical, adherence to the requirements of probability, inclusion of characters and incidents from all social strata dealing not merely with rulers and nobility; focusing on contemporary life rather than longing for some idealized past; and using colloquial idioms and everyday speech. Underlying all these, according to Habib, is an emphasis on direct observation, factuality and experience. On his part, Maik Aondona Ortserga emphasizes that realism “recognizes that fiction refers to imaginative writing that accurately reflects the fact that life as it was lived in the past, or could be lived in the present [and] may deepen one’s aesthetic response to a work of fiction” (160). Agema pushes it further stating that “[w]hen writers’ works are steeped in realism, they are unlike what someone would find in fictional sub-genres like fantasy or fables. In essence, writers remain faithful to their surroundings by showing a world that a reader can feature in without having to conjure the extraordinary” (‘Keep this…’ p.277-8). He continues on another note that “[t]here are many aspects to realism but the one most common, especially in African literature, is social realism. Social realism explores the various issues affecting the society. In contemporary Africa, these issues negatively impacting on society, on the most part, are shown either to be caused by government or triggered by it” (288).

Lilymjok’s Hope in Anarchy is a realistic portrayal of life. The novel really depicts “the pathetic circumstances of the masses in society in which the oppressed and the oppressor coexist” (Ogbeide 259). As is inherent in the concept of realism, progress or change is a natural process involving trial and error toward improvement or refinement. Thus, a reader of Hope in Anarchy is likely to be confronted with what Ogbeide alludes to as “The naked violence in (the) novel as seen in several long barbecue knives streaming blood and nauseating sexual abuse that characterize Jokulo and his men…” (263-264). Oppression in the novel is naked. It is therefore logical that violence oppression provoked in the novel be naked. Nakedness begets nakedness and violence begets violence.

One notes that these gory scenes are not the exclusive reserve of pages of fiction like Hope in Anarchy, but are actual depictions of contemporary reality in many communities in Nigeria and several other countries. Happenings in the novel so much reflect real life in Nigeria where violence and looting are rife that whenever there is violence and looting in the country, the novel comes to mind. Poverty and several incidences in the work are such that can easily be noticed in reality in Nigeria and indeed many African countries thus justifying the use of critical realism as the framework for this critical discourse.

Lilymjok not only confronts his readers with gory reality but styles his work such that there is hope of awakening readers to seek change of such ugly realities in terms of at least abridging the yawning gap between the rich and the poor seeing the dangers of anarchy lurking around if this is not done. The realistic portrayal of class differences in the novel and the contemptuous behaviour of the rich towards the poor makes one reader of the novel to say the novel is too true to be fiction. It is this realistic portrayal of the situation between the rich and the poor that makes reading the novel under the framework of critical realism apt.    

Structure and Style in Hope in Anarchy

The novel Hope in Anarchyis a twenty-nine chapter novel that opens with the epigram: “Order is a trick authority has sold to the poor. When the poor find the lie in order, they will return it to the seller with a sword.” This epigram, like those of Ngugi wa Thiong’o in Petals of Blood,give a hint of the conflict that takes place between established authority and the deprived masses in the novel’s verisimilitude. The plot of the novel is linear though made complex by the flashback narratives of stories told within the main storyline itself. A prominent example of this is Solo’s recollection of a python falling off the planks of their roof on top of him and his wife in the past during his military service in Kwawe. Such stories abound in the novel adding literary layers and complexity to the storyline while also giving the reader insight into the past of the characters.

Stories-within-a-story style of Kyuka Lilymjok in Hope in Anarchy which is his first novel is reflected in virtually all his subsequent novels: A main story is told. Then minor stories that may be said to be the maids or servants of the main story are told to serve the main story. The main story is the river while the minor stories are tributaries that flow out of it. Though tributaries that should take from the river, these minor stories by sublime artistic design strangely give to the river by making the reader appreciates the river more. Sometimes, these minor stories are streams that flow into the main story thereby boosting its texture, density and meaning. Apart from the stories-within-a-story style turning the main story into a party of stories, it stands the author out as a story merchant with a rich repertoire of stories.  

The geographical setting of Hope in Anarchy is draped in disguise through the use of fictional names of places which bear no apparent resemblance to the known names of real places. This gives the novel allegorical attributes. An allegory, according to Abrams and Harpham, is a narrative, whether in prose or verse, in which the agents and actions and sometimes the setting as well are contrived by the author to make coherent sense on the “literal” or primary level of signification, and at the same time to communicate a second, correlated order of signification (5). In this regard, one can point out that names of settings such as Beku, Beku Island, Desowa, Voro and so on are allegorical in that they have been contrived by the author. However, on the level of signification and by the way the author describes happenings in the contrived settings, one can make some deductions and connect them to certain places in reality. Thus, the major setting of the novel can be said to be Lagos. Places such as Beku Island, correlates with Victoria Island, Voro with Ikoyi and Desowa with places like Ajegunle, Agege or the like, Hacul beach sounds like Bar Beach and so on. This points to a key skill of Lilymjok’s evocation of place which makes readers familiar with the settings he writes about identify with these places without necessarily calling them by name.

There is some level of intertextuality in Hope in Anarchy when one considers the similarities existing between how certain post-colonial elites join forces to explore ways of further oppressing the masses in locations such as the social club called Club de Gallery Human de Vampirists which has its membership drawn only from the rich and powerful (30). In many ways, the club operates like the elite robbers that gather at the cave in Ngugi’s Devil on the Crossto boast of ways they have been perpetuating the oppression of the masses and acquisition of illegal wealth since the colonial masters pretended to have handed off from extorting the wealth of Africa.

Intertextuality can be found in the prison scenario in chapter twenty-three of Hope in Anarchywhere Biyaku and Ahoka spread the exorcism gospel. The sensitization campaign in Hope in Anarchy is similar to Ngugi’s depiction of Matigari’s efforts in his detention cell where he conscientises the prisoners to the injustices prevailing in the land and the need for the downtrodden to rise up and fight for their rights (Matigari 52-66). Such intertextuality situates Lilymjok in the corpus of socially committed writers.

Alluding to literary influences on an author, Emenyonu points out that until an African author has developed his own artistic style, no matter from what sources, appreciation should focus on what the author has done with those influences within the context of his own work. To Emenyonu, “when [an author] has developed a style that can be called his, the critic can then talk about the process of the artist’s growth and have something clearly to analyse comparatively from one work to the other” (8).

Kyuka Lilymjok has developed his own style and voice. His style and voice is plain. From his first work, Hope in Anarchy,he adopts a revolutionary stance that is against injustice and inequality in society. However, though his vision in this novel is revolutionary, he does not bring the revolutionary message to a neat logical conclusion. There are question marks over the methods the so-called exorcists adopt to bring about the revolution. Their methods are harsh, cruel and inhuman leading to an implosion of the group.

Even before reading the novel, one wonders if there can be hope in anarchy. After reading the novel and seeing its outcome, one sees there can be no hope in anarchy. One then wonders why the title and the story it tells. One then infers that the novel is a warning to society of the dangers of oppression, exploitation and dehumanization of the poor by the rich and the government. The novel warns society of anarchy lurking in the dark waters of oppression, exploitation and dehumanization of the poor by the rich and the government.

Characterization in Hope in Anarchyis divided into good and bad character types. Ahoka and Sindra the protagonists clearly lean to the positive side, while Jokulo, his cohorts and the rotten police force lean to the negative. Division of characters into good and bad is symptomatic of socialist leaning novels. Such novels employ mainly stock characterization. However, the author in Hope in Anarchy does not just portray his characters blandly. He invests them with emotions. For example, Ahoka is portrayed as an emotional character that easily breaks                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              into tears on something happpening to him that tells him the thing is happening to him because he is poor. Other characters are similarly treated. This points to a sublime artistic rendering of characterization. 

The diction employed in the novel is simple Standard English and Nigerian Pidgin. In the early days of African criticism, notable critics like Emenyonu referred to Pidgin English as a “low order brand of Nigerian English heard most commonly among not too – literate cosmopolitan dwellers” (66), which is true to some extent. However, Pidgin English is highly regarded in today’s contemporary world. This is what leads the writer and poet, Eriata Oribhabor to explain that Pidgin is not something to be treated with disdain since it is a language that is widely spoken across Nigeria and beyond. He even goes as far as suggesting it be made Nigeria’s lingua franca just as has been done in southern Cameroun (18-19). By using simple Standard English and Pidgin in Hope in Anarchy, Lilymjok succeeds in reaching both elite and lower class readership thus likely to succeed in a sensitization mission. He uses this also to depict a realistic contemporary African society, like Nigeria, where standard English and Pidgin are used for communication beside other indigenous languages. The use of Pidgin and English in the text establishes linguistic hybridity common in most post-colonial nations.

 Lilymjok also follows the tradition of Cyprian Ekwensi in his urban novel Jagua Nana. According to Nnolim in Approaches to the African Novel, two strands can be identified in what he terms the urban or city novels “fathered” by Cyprian Ekwensi. Nnolim states that Ekwensi’s city novels exemplified by his Jagua Nana are typified by heavy didactism and the use of Pidgin English by low-down characters. Such linguistic hybridity constitute the ingredients of the novelistic Potpourri. Nnolim points out that Ekwensi’s tradition is followed by “the sons of Ekwensi” who include popular writers like Kalu Okpi and the Macmillan Pacesetters series writers. According to Nnolim, these writers have tended to exaggerate what Ekwensi conservatively set out to draw attention to by being far racier than Ekwensi. These writers, Nnolim says, make a cult of spicy prose, copied from pulp fiction of James Hadley Chase, Denise Robins, Harold Robins and Nick Carter (238-239).

This chapter agrees with the above view of Nnolim. Traces of the urban/city genre can be found in Lilymjok’s Hope in Anarchy as can be seen in use of American slangs, the type of gangsterism engaged in by Jokulo’s group and so on.

However, Lilymjok’s voice in the noveldoes not stop at just portraying a popular city story; he also delves into what Nnolim describes as the next trend in the evolution of the Nigerian novel which is writers brandishing the “sociological-cum Marxist wand, priding and even flaunting themselves as radical writers with a clearly enunciated ideological bent, … out to reform society, if possible, by imbuing in the populace, through their writings and pronouncements, with enough revolutionary fervour, if possible, rise up and effect a social revolution.” This group of radical writers Nnolim identifies as the “Komfess artistes” and they are identified as Femi Osofisan, Kole Omotoso and Bode Sowande. They were later to be joined by writers like Festus Iyayi, Sonala Olumhense and Ben Okri (239-240).

One can also classify Lilymjok’s artistic voice among the radical oeuvre of African or Nigerian literature due to the concrete radical revolutionary group in the novel led by Jokulo and his compatriots. The radical revolutionary message and actions are present in Hope in Anarchy. It is only the fact that the revolution in the novel ends up aborted that leaves its revolutionary vision uncertain probably because the author is rather more interested in basing his vision on what he concretely sees happening around him which justifies the critical realism approach used in reading the novel in this article.

Hope in Anarchy; can there really be hope in anarchy? How can there be hope in a set up anyone can be victim any time? The paradox of the title rings through the text of the novel ending in a burlesque of everything hope. The title of the novel merely serves notice of the absurdism that can be thrown up by frustration and hopelessness of the poor in a nation order has failed them.

While the preceding section focuses on unearthing the structure and style of Hope in Anarchy,the next section treats how Lilymjok’s voice becomes distinct in the way he addresses themes of injustice and corruption in the social set up of Hope in Anarchy.  

Themes in the Social System of Hope in Anarchy

The prevalent themes in Hope in Anarchyareinjustice and corruption as manifested in the Republic where the story line is set. One can easily note these twin themes through the experiences of the family of Solo. Solo has been discharged from the army but it takes three years of begging before he is paid his discharge gratuity of Four Hundred Thousand Rida. The novel narrates that “…he always returned home with a baleful story of a corrupt bureaucratic bottleneck that was denying him his gratuity. Finally he was paid after backhanding the pension officer and the desk clerk who … on the day of his payment had looked at him like a dog eyeing a fat bone” (12). This scenario points to corruption and injustice in the system. In an article titled “Culture, Corruption and Internal Security Management in Nigeria”, Adegbe et al documents a whole series of corrupt practices in Nigeria to include bribery and extortion in the internal security agencies of the country. Other forms of corruption listed by the authors include planting, faking or distorting evidence and framing innocent citizens to create a false impression of their own performance or to cover up crimes; mounting of illegal road blocks, aiding and abetting criminalities, passport racketeering, extrajudicial killings, collusion with criminals and providing illegal security for criminals, hiring and selling arms to armed robbers, participating in armed robbery themselves and so on (46-60). Incidences of such nature abound in Hope in Anarchy.

The very day Solo gets his gratuity of Four Hundred Thousand Rida paid to him, armed robbers attack him and his family in their one room apartment and have the money taken. As the narrative puts it, “Ahoka’s problems started the day his father received his army discharge gratuity” (12). With the armed robbery incident, the family becomes separated with Ahoka’s pregnant mother going to live with her brother and he and his father having to go and live under Asabeni Bridge between Desowa and Beku Island. Asabeni Bridge where they live is a desolate, no man’s land location with tall grasses serving as walls of their new home and mosquitoes that feast on their bodies. To survive, Solo does the job of a watchman for a rich man, Okime, while Ahoka picks empty plastic bottles and cans at locations like Voro, Beku Island or Desowa. Voro and Beku Island are residential areas for rich men called ‘sharks’ in Beku while Desowa is where the poor live.

The treatment Ahoka and Solo undergo in the hands of the rich point not only to the class divisions that exist in the Republic, but also to the inhumanity and injustice that the poor suffer at the hands of the rich. One day while looking for empty plastic bottles and cans a rich man accosts Ahoka telling him off thus:

“You children of wretches! ‘The man bellowed, stubbing out the dead end of his cigar. ‘Can’t you ever think of other places to ferret for your bottles other than this neighbourhood? I mean there are too many flies around here without you adding to them.” (7)

The statement by the rich man at Voro shows the contemptuous attitude of the rich to the poor that makes them equate the poor with flies. Seeing the poor as flies the same rich man in Voro barks at Ahoka when he sees him still hanging about his fence: ‘‘If I come out and find you still standing there, you will have to explain to my dog what you are nosing around for.’’ The rich not only demonstrate disdain and contempt for the poor but also harass them by setting their dogs on them. The Haves also electrify their fences so that people – particularly the poor – might get electrocuted by them when they come in contact with them. The children of the rich also display sauciness to the poor as can be seen in Bemi’s behaviour to Solo. It is all this demeaning behaviour of the rich to the poor that made the poor react the violent way they did when Jokulo roused them to revolt against the rich and government of the Republic.  The poor’s reaction is a validation of Isaac Newton’s third law of motion that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The poor finally claim their delinquency and the rich their just deserts.

Desowa, the habitation of the poor, is described as an overpopulated suburb of Beku with no streets or house numbers; “most of its houses were shacks and sleazy make shifts” (107). This conglomerate of tinder points to the uneven development that characterises the abode of the poor vis-à-vis the rich. The living arrangements are dehumanizing. Sometimes, Ahoka goes to Hacul beach to fetch sea water for people who needed it for medicinal purposes or for making charms. As for Solo, Ahoka’s father, his work for Okime is so poorly remunerated at Six Thousand Rida per month that he cannot pay the deposit of Eight Thousand Rida for his pregnant wife in labor to be admitted into hospital. Without medical attention, she bleeds to death at the Beku City Hospital. Solo is also unable to pay Ahoka’s school fees of Seven Thousand Rida demanded by the school authority for the newly introduced book policy in all post-primary institutions in the Republic. As a result of this, Ahoka gets thrown out of school in his fourth year forcing him to bottle picking with the vain hope of going back to school. At this point, Ahoka is downhearted and asks questions of life thus; “What had he done? Has poverty become a crime in the Republic? And even if it were, did he commit it? His mother died because they were poor; he was leaving school because they were poor” (58). Ahoka in such pitiful state draws a feeling of pathos from the reader because he does not just contemplate his poor state, he weeps that day until his eyes swell.  

The situation between the poor and the rich gets to such a terrible level that the society wakes up one day to find the family of the Okimes gruesomely murdered. The genie has been led out of the bottle. Bad blood has led to spilling blood. Suspicion is thrown at Solo their watchman who has suddenly disappeared into thin air. The heir to suspicion has come into his estate! Meanwhile, Ahoka heir to poverty suddenly comes into a mini-fortune when he finds a missing ring. Seeing huge money coming his way, all he thinks of is how to flee the Republic he had fared so badly in. When Mrs Narosi tries dissuading him from going to the Unted States where he wants to flee because according to her he will be discriminated against in the U.S, he says:

‘I have heard you ma,’ he said in a firm voice. ‘But even here in the Republic, I have never been welcomed, not to talk of being given a chance. I have always felt like living among people worse than strangers: enemies ma. Ma, I hate the Republic.’ (116)

Mrs. Narosi, typical of the mean behaviour of the rich in the novel, cheats Ahoka. She gives him Three Hundred Thousand Rida instead of the One Million Rida she had earlier promised paying the finder of the ring. This, despite the fact that Ahoka additionally finds a ragbag she claims is a family heirloom more valuable to her than the gold ring. The very person who wants him to stay in the Republic cheats him. The irony is a laughing one. In her mean behaviour Ahoka’s raison d’état of hating the Republic finds expression.

As if being cheated is not bad enough, Ahoka’s reward money is stolen by the police, arrested by the same police, maltreated and framed. Ahoka’s maltreatment and frame up by the police gives an indication of an existing police brutality and corruption in the Republic.

Ahoka’s sufferings make him to hate his country the Republic and to voice out a desire to migrate to the United State of America. When Mrs Narosi seeks to give him her boys’ quarters to stay instead of the reward money, he says: 

‘No, ma, …. I also did some thinking before running here. It is the money I want, not a house. I want to flee this rotten Republic as fast as a plane can take me to America the land of hope.’  (116)

The desire to migrate to more developed countries, a creative strand present in Hope in Anarchy, Lilymjok later actualizes in two subsequent novellas: A Journey of Hell to Heaven and the Deportee. The authorial voice through the personae of Ahoka who shows tremendous awareness of the harsh environment around his abode under Asabeni bridge also spotlights Lilymjok’s early interest in environmental issues. When pondering his state of joblessness, Ahoka is shown wondering, “It was clear that he could not get a job in any of the factories polluting the air in Beku with their smoke and stuffing the gutters with their bloated waste” (59-60). Such environmental outlook is later to blossom in Lilymjok’s subsequent novels such as The Death of Eternity, Twilight for a Vulture, and The Lone Piper and the Birds’ Case.

It is in the course of Ahoka’s unjust imprisonment through a corrupt police and judicial system that the reader gets the revelation of what has been behind the spate of killings of rich people in Beku society. The explanation comes through Biyaku, an elderly inmate of about sixty years in the same cell with Ahoka in Jaruwa prison. In explaining the whereabouts of Solo, he reveals to Ahoka about the existence of a group of poor people who have banded together to fight the rich. Their conversation in Pidgin goes thus:

‘Make you never wori your head again,’ Biyaku said with a mischievous smile. ‘Your papa dey kankpe and helele for Mermaid Shell.’

‘Why you dey take talk concerning my papa play?’ Ahoka said, bitterly […]

‘The tori na long one; Biyaku said, the smile sliding off his face. ‘And na because of dat tori I dey here. As sharks and the President their friend get Club de Gallery Human de Vampirists for inside Beku Island, na so we poor people come get Mermaid Shell for Riakere rocks between Beku and Harkowa. And as sharks dey sit down dey plan how dem go continue dey suck poor man blood, na so poor men dey tanda dey learn how dem go swallow sharks and dem sea inside Mermaid shell.’ (139)

As Biyaku reveals, Jokulo’s strategy of recruiting poor people into his revolution is killing rich men and recruiting the servants of the rich men he kills into his revolutionary army. The servants ill-treated by their masters jump at the anarchist’s pet project. Joculo and his co-exorcists are brutal and ruthless in their attacks showing no mercy to their victims.  

Jokulo who is the leader of the group has two degrees but because he has no godfather or money to bribe his way through the corrupt system, is left jobless. He reaches a breaking point when his brother who has been sustaining him losses his job. He decides to establish a kingdom he calls tomorrow or Lucifer’s kingdom, while the fight for the kingdom is called exorcism (141). “Na gun go rule for dat kingdom; not the stupid, weak biro wey send me and you to dis hole; wey dey make weak people dey chop and strong people dey die for hunger.” (141-142). The symbol and bond of the group is that of a gun and a rising dragon. The gun and the dragon are branded on the bodies of initiates. Biyaku reveals to Ahoka that his father Solo has been drafted into that kingdom on the day the Okimes were brutally raped and murdered.

The Robin Hood-like philosophy of the group seeks to establish a kingdom of the poor, run by the poor and for the good of the poor. Grinding poverty, oppression and humiliation of the poor in the Republic has taken the poor of the Republic to the border between order and anarchy. Where they are with frustration and anger, the poor of the Republic can’t be called back to order and peace. So they crossed the border into anarchy and violence.

As the case is with the Republic, it is with Nigeria which by the way is the Republic written on fictionally by Kyuka Lilymjok. In Nigeria, every day, poor people in particular, keep crossing the border between order and anarchy into anarchy. Boko Haram insurgents, for example, are to some extent poor Nigerians that crossed the border between order and anarchy into anarchy, and are still crossing it every day. Rampant cases of armed robbery, of kidnapping and abduction of people in the country are instances of people crossing the border between order and anarchy into anarchy. People are not only migrating illegally from Nigeria to other countries, they are migrating internally from order into anarchy.

The nation is not only literally having internally displaced people from the violence of Boko Haram and the herdsmen/farmers conflict, it is in a metaphorical sense having internally displaced people from the violence of poverty and hopelessness. While one can see the IDP camps Boko Haram and the herdsmen/farmers conflict has bred only in some parts of the country, the IDP camps armed robbery, kidnapping and abduction have bred are everywhere in the country – victims of armed robbery, kidnap, abduction and their relations are everywhere in the country. These people are internally displaced from peace and happiness. In the case of kidnapped and aducted people still held hostage by their kidnappers and abductors, they are not only internally displaced from peace and happiness, they are physically internally displaced.

Most poor people in the country who migrate from order to anarchy are those who cannot or who choose not to migrate from Nigeria to other nations. If they can’t go outside for hope, they will find it here however.

When Ahoka could not migrate to America the land of hope to realize hope in the order of America, he migrated from the order of the Republic to anarchy to realize in anarchy the hope lacking in the order of the Republic. Hope he nust have; in order or anarchy.

People migrate from Nigeria to other nations in search of opportunities. The same way they migrate from the country in search of opportunities, they migrate from order to anarchy also in search of opportunities. Put another way, those who migrate from order to anarchy do so because they think there are no opportunities in order but there are in anarchy. Put another way still, order in Hope in Anarchy, having decomposed opportunities of the poor, the poor in search of opportunities they can’t find in order decompose order into anarchy hoping to find opportunities there. Looting, for example, is an opportunity the poor don’t have in order but do in anarchy. In the Republic of Hope in Anarchy, it is people in government positions that have opportunities of looting in order and that is why the poor decomposed order to create their own looting opportunities in anarchy.  

Under the tyranny of authority and the rich, the poor of the Republic for a long time danced to the drumbeats of oppression, hunger and humiliation ‘‘sweating and groaning under the business.’’ (Shakespeare Julius Caesar Act IV Scene I). Fed to their back teeth with the music of the rich and authority, they composed for the duo a song to which they cannot dance. 

The weird phenomenon of people migrating from order to anarchy places Nigeria between a rock and a hard place; in a catch-22 situation. Either way the nation must have its poison. On one hand the nation frowns at illegal migration to other countries; on the other hand if people don’t migrate to other countries, they will migrate in the country from order to anarchy. Should Nigeria then allow or even encourage its poor to migrate to other countries the way Britain made its people to migrate to places like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe to save itself from internal turmoil? This is hardly a good way out of the dilemma in todays’s world. Britain which is now against immigration was able to successfully send its people to places like Australia because that time these places were largely unoccupied. Today everywhere is occupied. The way out of Nigeria’s catch-22 situation is for the leadership of the country to curb corruption and improve the lot of the poor.

Poor, his father already recruited, Ahoka agrees to be drafted into the exorcism gospel (149). He and Biyaku succeed in drafting many fellow prisoners into the group while outside the prison walls Jokulo and his men continue with their reign of terror (169-172). 

While the initial philosophy of the group is altruistic, their methods of going about their mission lead them to a state of ruthless anarchy. As poetic justice would have it, the group ends up turning against itself leaving Jokulo and his henchmen in disarray. As one of the men notes, “To my mind, it is better to be ridden by fellow men than by dragons” (197); meaning the oppressive rule of sharks in the Republic is better than the oppressive rule of the exorcists. As a wild and violent melee breaks out among the exorcists, Ahoka whispers mournfully to himself, “I have always heard my father saying it is not throwing an elephant on the ground that is difficult, but holding it and skinning  it […] What else can one say about a kingdom that rose and fell at the gate of a prison?’ (198-199). This signifies the end of the brutal revolution. Ahoka’s statement points to the difficulties that revolutions encounter when not well thought out and when they do not embody concrete humanist values.

With their rags on their backs, hungry and homeless, the poor of the Republic cross the border between order and anarchy into anarchy where they hope to find food, shelter and clothes. Among these poor souls are perhaps people like Ahoka who want to migrate to other countries but could not. If they were able to, the Republic would have exported poverty and perhaps violence to other nations and would have been spared the implosion it suffers. Failing to migrate to other nations, these poor souls migrate to anarchy where they detonate. They are however unfortunately disillusioned by anarchy: There are no homes, food or clothes in anarchy. 

Hope in Anarchy is a socio-political statement by Kyuka Lilymjok that the rich and the government should not allow the poor to be driven to such desperation that they would lose hope in order and pin it on anarchy. The poor should not be driven to such distraction that they will point at the king.

The novel as all Kyuka’opens with an epigram that order is a trick authority has sold to the poor; when the poor find the lie in order, they will return it to the seller with a sword. In its first publication, the novel had on its front cover the image of a poor young man carrying a sword dripping blood. He was a poor man returning to the rich and government a lie they had sold to him; he was returning not only the lie, but returning it with a sword.

While serving notice on the rich and government to beware, the novel also serves notice on the poor that anarchy will not serve their end as it will not serve the end of the rich and government. Anarchy creates a Kilkenny cats’ situation that assures the ruin of the poor as that of the rich and government. It creates a dance of death in which everyone dies by lottery. The solution for the rich, poor and government therefore remains the threesome looking out for each other.


This chapter undertook a literary appraisal of Kyuka Lilymjok’s Hope in Anarchy focusing on his voice and style. It undertook a definition of terms before balancing the discourse in an existing body of knowledge on the book and its themes. Next, the theoretical framework was established. In the major discourse of the work, this chapter looked at the structure of the novel showing its basic components and the style of the author showing its peculiarties. A thematic analysis was also done showing social injustice and corruption as the major subjects of the novel. In the general literary appraisal of the novel, similarities of style and themes between Lilymjok and other African authors were drawn. 

One can infer that Hope in Anarchyis a book that warns of the dangers of bloodshed and anarchy that loom ahead of any society that continues to allow majority of its people to wallow in penury and deprivations of the basic needs of life while a few swoon in opulence. In such situation as that in the novel, bitter persons who are left hopeless and despairing like Jokulo, Biyaku, Barau, Yegema, Haman and so on can spearhead a bloody revolution that is ferocious and cruel to inflict pain on the society that has without conscience maltreated them.

Another early moral value of the author one can detect in Hope in Anarchy his first novel is his abhorrence of injustice and corruption. In his subsequent writings, Lilymjok continues to raise his voice against the vices of corruption and injustice. His novels such as Bivan’s House and Sieged, are consistent with his stance in Hope in Anarchy.

In addition to all of these, one easily notes Lilymjok’s realistic portrayal of recognisable themes, characters and locations – despite the use of names that might not be easily traced in reality. The diction he employs is simple so that it can be accessible to a lot of people. This is the hallmark of realism, as noted by Ferdinand Asoo when he states that the “concept emphasizes not just the social relevance of art but focuses on accessibility of a text to the mass of the people, presentation of realistic characters and situations” (10).

It is apparent from the foregoing that the author is a humanist with a voice and style that have endured into his subsequent works. One can also say that Lilymjok, as shown in this work, is a realist writer with similarities to other great African writers, who are socially committed and write with a view of bringing change.

Finally, social tension and conflict between the rich and the poor are continuous afflictions of virtually all human societies through time and space. Hope in Anarchy dwelling on this tension and conflict in a biting, ingenious and shocking manner no doubt has all the trappings of a world classic.

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