Department of English
Benue State University Makurdi
Many so called developing nations remain in a perpetual state of underdevelopment with citizens denied basic needs such as food, water, shelter, clothing and such related necessities of life. This is attributed to poor and unfocused leadership. A number of these countries were colonised by western imperialist masters. Though independent, rulers of these developing countries are still tethered to their past colonial masters instead of identifying with the generality of their citizens. One would have thought that having gotten independence after going through grueling struggles in many cases, people of developing countries would feel challenged to break the yoke of oppression and take over their destiny. Unfortunately, in most cases such is not the case. Corruption is ravaging most of these nations turning them to basket cases always moving around the world cap in hand begging for bailouts.
A few people with conscience in such nations try to address the unfortunate situation. These few people include creative writers, social critics and commentators. Yet the terrible situation persists with little hope in sight. Concerned with this unfortunate state of affairs, this essay joins the debate of finding a way forward. It does this by studying two novels of a socially committed writer, Kyuka Lilymjok erstwhile Adamu Kyuka Usman in Bivan’s House and Sieged. On analysing the two novels using the post-colonial theoretical framework, the essay finds that a number of African writers have exposed the factors of underdevelopment by nations hitherto enslaved by colonialists. Many African writers in particular have written works exposing the intrigues responsible for the underdevelopment of hitherto colonially enslaved nations. These writers belong to a handful committed people who desire to see true liberation of their nations. This paper shows Kyuka Lilymjok has joined the train of these committed people through his racy and witty writings.
The seemingly intractable social woes of African countries have led writers of the continent to a situation Charles Nnolim classifies as lachrymal; that is bemoaning the state of affairs rather than proffering viable solutions to the mess African nations are steeped. Most writings of the pre and post-independence eras have tended to dwell on the social ills bedevilling Africa, in most cases, exhibiting tons of disillusionment and despair. However, of recent, when Kyuka’s writings began coming into limelight, most readers apathy to literature appear to have been suddenly dispelled by the manner he has chosen to approach matters that have mostly fallen into the sphere of the familiar and mundane. This awakened interest in the creative novel has to do with the peculiar style Kyuka brings to bear on his literary craftsmanship. There is no doubt that Kyuka, like the Chinua Achebes, Wole Soyinkas, Flora Nwapas, Niyi Osundares, Olu Obafemis, Zaynab Alkalis, Femi Osofisan, Abubakar Gimbas, Chuma Nwokolos and others before him, exhibits a concern for the gripping corruption, political malfeasances, religious extremism, moral decadence and all manners of ills that continue to ravage the existential foundations for the continued survival of developing nations like Nigeria. He has brought a fresh voice into the debate such that his works have become must reads. His sassy, comic and witty way of writing makes his novels irresistible
Most of the themes Kyuka Lilymjok espouses in his novels are woven around issues of corruption, political brigandage and religious extremism. Most of these themes are contemporary issues that are familiar to most developing nations’ readers. Kolawole Ogungbesan frowning at contemporaneity in literature states in his essay “Literature and Society in west Africa”, that “The west African writer is so involved in the present plight of his society that he often forgets that he has a duty to art … Writers who rest their works too heavily on contemporary social and political problems run the risk of being out dated” (qtd. in Ker 30). However, Ogungbesan clarifies this point when he states: “in the long run, it is the art that should matter. They (writer) should not only examine contemporary issues, but strive to bring these out in a form that is dramatic and memorable and refrain from putting shoddy wares in the market” (qtd. in Ker 43). This means that Ogungbesan does not so much dismiss contemporaneity in writing, but is only that addressing these contemporary issues should be done in an artistic well-crafted manner.
Kyuka’s novels duck the out dated smear of contemporaneity and topicality Ogungbesan decries. Though the themes Lilymjok addresses in his novels are contempraneous and topical, he handles these themes in a very artistic manner. While serving the didactic end of society through the morality that sounds through his works, he serves the end of literature through the literary devices and aesthetics he brings to bear on his works. He serves the didactic end of society by expressing the collective view of the people, particularly the poor masses, through the voice of certain personae, for example Talgon in Bivan’s House. This way, his characters become the voice of everyone. Thus, Talgon for example, acts as a representative figure who successfully represents the reader’s desire to express his anger against a corrupt, decadent system.
He serves the end of literature by the literary style he adopts to craft his message. This style is filled with artistically designed humour and sarcasm which enhance the delight and pleasure derived from his novels. This enhances the aesthetics of his art and moves his works to the realm of the truly artistic.
The varieties of styles adopted by Kyuka Lilymjok are demonstrated in the course of analysing the contents of his novels which are treated under themes of corruption, political brigandage, religious extremism and et cetera. The analysis is carried out using two novels viz: Bivan’s House and Sieged. The next section looks at the theoretical framework adopted in the essay.
Postcolonial theory is adopted in this study. Bill Ashcroft et al posit that, the term though problematic particularly with regard to the prefix ‘post’, refers to the wide and diverse ways used in the study and analysis of European territorial conquests, the various institutions of European colonialisms, the discursive operations of empire, the subtleties of subject construction in colonial discourse, the resistance of those subjects, and, most importantly, the differing responses to such incursions and their contemporary colonial legacies in both pre-and post-independence nations and communities (187). Clarifying further, Ashcroft et al point out that the term “postcolonial” is widely used to signify the political, linguistic and cultural experience of societies that were former European colonies. The theory is an appropriate framework for explaining the literary pre-occupations of Lilymjok’s Bivan’s House and Sieged as the author makes it quite obvious that Bivan’s House is a colonial appendage of the British and the United States of America colonial legacies (Sieged 153, 201-202). In this essay when the word is written as post-colonial with hyphen, it refers to the period after colonialism; when written without a hyphen, it refers to the theory. The critical features of the theory most applicable to the two texts include, abrogation, appropriation, hybridity and the use of indigenous words and sentences which the author does not translate, but which contextually translate themselves.
Definition of Some Key Terms
Corruption: The act of being dishonest, taking bribes, being depraved, rotten or putrid.
Political brigandage: Acts of banditry and lawlessness in government affairs.
Religious extremism: Religious beliefs are excessively sentimental involving violence and hostility directed at persons of opposite beliefs.
Theme: The main idea(s) or motif in a work (of literature) or other works.
Style: The manner of writing peculiar to an individual.
Abrogation and Appropriation: Abrogation is the rejection by postcolonial writers of a normative concept of ‘correct’ or ‘standard’ English used by certain classes or groups, and of the corresponding concepts of inferior ‘dialects’ or ‘marginal variants.’ According to Ashcroft et al, abrogation has been used to describe the rejection of a standard language in the writing of post-colonial literature, and individual’s cultural and political activities such as film, theatre, history, political organizations among others. Abrogation may abrogate any centralizing notion of the ‘correct’, or standard way of doing things and redefine the practice in a different setting (5-6). The term “appropriation” implies the taking over of English Language by non-native English users where they are made to bear the burden of their socio-cultural experience and environmental peculiarities. Incidences of abrogation and appropriation permeate the language of Lilymjok’s Bivan’s House and Sieged.
Hybridity: According to Ashcroft et al (118-121), hybridity refers to the creation of new transcultural forms within the contact zone produced by colonization. In the case of Bivan’s House and Sieged, one can see a hybridity of style deployed by the author in mixing western novelistic form and features of the oral tradition in terms of songs, African orality (storytelling techniques, proverbs, and epithets) among others.
In an article titled “The Post-Colonial State, Ruling Elites and Political Instability in Nigeria”, George Akwaya Genyi succinctly captures the basic roots of corruption, religious extremism and political instability in a developing country, a framework into which a fictional entity like Bivan’s House can be fitted. He interestingly points out that state corruption has become an institutionalized process of creating and expanding the bourgeois class based on the criteria of an established relationship with the state, “it is …political power which creates the possibilities of enrichment and which provides the basis for the formation of an economically powerful class, which may in due course become an economically dominant one” (52-53). One can see how intense the struggle for political office is in the two novels under examination. Elites engage in fierce struggles to outdo one another in the bid to capture state power as an avenue for primitive accumulation of wealth. The consequences of such internecine strife provide fertile environment for violent politicization of religion, riots, murders et cetera – incidences that abound in Bivan’s House and Sieged.
Maria Ajima, in an article, traces religious violence in E. E. Sule’s Sterile Sky and Lilymjok’s Bivan’s House to irrationality, religious intolerance, rumour mongering, weak state institutions, lack of civic education, poor educational background, social inequalities, and poverty (112-127). Ajima’s article is one of the early writings that show an interest in the themes reflected in the works of Lilymjok.
In the article “Terrorism, Insurgency and Gender in Nigeria”, Dorathy Nguemo Afaor, using Nigeria as an example, points out that the country’s democratic transition does not appear to be consolidating due to lack of transparency, accountability, rule of law, and the genuine demonstration of leadership capacity to protect fundamental human rights and also due to weak key government institutions which enable corruption to thrive with impunity (174-175). Afaor’s statement is a true reflection of what Lilymjok portrays in the setting of Bivan’s House and Sieged demonstrating that developing nations like Bivan’s House lack honest elite leadership and strong institutional frameworks that can genuinely liberate such societies from moral and material poverty.
In the essay, “The Image of the Contemporary Nigerian Politician in Wale Okediran’s Tenants of the House”, Moses Joseph points out how most Nigerian politicians exhibit gross ineptitude in the management of the affairs of the state, rig elections, induce electorates, unleash violence, thuggery and political manipulations in a bid to remain in power by all means. He gives examples of writers and critics who have presented to their readers, the various images of a typical Nigerian politician. The examples Moses gives include Charles Nnolim, Chukwuemeka Ike, Bello Musa Dankaro, Chinua Achebe, Ola Rotimi, Olu Obafemi, Remi Raji and Niyi Osundare. Using Wale Okediran’s Tenants of the House as a textual example of the money driven politician, Joseph summarizes the Nigerian politician as a person who practices politics not driven by ideology or principles, but by intrigues, mischief and grand conspiracies against national interest. Joseph also notes that many Nigerian writers, from the pioneer stage to the contemporary era have been up and doing in their exposure of the vices of the politician in order to bring about the much needed change for a better society. The focus of Joseph’s paper is to draw attention to writers of developing nations out to expose the wrongs of leaders in their societies in a bid to improve the moral tone of politics and governance in such societies.
In his essay, Olatunji identifies some of the pro-democratic and anti-democratic traits in Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God pointing out what consequences or lessons such character traits could have on the current democratic experiment in Nigeria, Olatunji writes:
Ezeulu is being tempted to desire self-perpetuation in the priesthood. He would have loved to be vested with the power to choose his successor. But the same supernatural force that handpicked him still has that prerogative to pick someone else as his successor…one of the implications of the foregoing for our political office holders is that though it is natural for them like Ezeulu to have personal interest, they need to place the common interest of the generality of the voters above the personal concerns…the politicians who find themselves in various position must see themselves as holding the concerned authority in trust for the gods that voted them into offices if we are to enjoy the democracy. (656)
The quotation speaks for itself.
Other points Olatunji makes on the relevant character traits in Arrow of God and the current democratic experiments in Nigeria have to do with the fact that an individual cannot fight the will of his society as doing so can bring a man to insanity as in Ezeulu’s case. Secondly, that the populace in a democratic tradition should not destroy the polity but rather help their leaders; and that politicians should not break ranks and betray trust by engaging in anti-party activities. Not betraying the party by anti-party activities will inculcate in party members the values of integrity and forthrightness. Olatunji also points out the need for detribalizing as exhibited by Ezeulu when giving a truthful testimony before the white colonialists which makes him to be deemed fit for appointment as warrant chief. To Olatunji, Ezeulu stresses that truth, native intelligence, pragmatism, self-control and tenacity are qualities that do not go unnoticed but are means of great reward for the person possessing these and his community (657).
Olatunji’s points are in respect of the Nigerian situation. So are political issues raised in Lilymjok’s novels; these issues are applicable to Nigeria currently experimenting ideals of democracy.
Synopsis of Bivan’s House
In the novel Bivan’s House, Talgon the protagonist acts as the third person omniscient narrator through whose vantage point, most of the events in the novel are recorded. The story of Bivan’s House covers a period of about three days. The plot trajectory begins when Talgon is seen pursuing a rat and thinking of the antics of rats around the environment of his office. From there, the narrative follows Talgon to a wedding at Durmi, where he gets involved in a violent religious incidence which leaves him wounded and stranded. As he tries to get back to his home in Bangora, he picks up a stranded child of three years, seeks for shelter at Beckin’s home where he exhibits his healing talents with herbs and playing of the mondo. Eventually, Talgon ends up in detention at Bangora police station where after experiencing a series of hardship and extortive demands, he is released by the orders of the common calabash of Bangora Local Government in a fiat of political showmanship. The storyline of Bivan’s House ends on a note of uncertainty and hopelessness.
Corruption in Bivan’s House
In Bivan’s house, corruption has so pervaded and permeated every fabric of the society that even persons under police detention are not spared the scourge. Not only do the police seek to extort money from detainees, detainees with brute force that can dominate other detainees extort what they can from weaker detainees. This can be seen in the case of the detainee nicknamed “the king of the cell”. The king of the cell is a perpetual detainee who has so gotten used to detention that he seems to prefer living in prison or police detention than living in the regular society. As king of the cell, he harasses and oppresses other detainees with impunity. When Talgon is detained in the same cell with him, he not only slaps him, he orders him to kneel down and seizes his shirt to keep himself warm (162). Corruption in Bivan’s house is revealed through the internal monologues of Talgon on the various experiences of corruption he has gone through or witnessed. Talgon’s thoughts on corruption in Bivan’s house range from his experiences with the contracts he pursues, his time as a security officer at the Gamubi University, corruption in the education sector, in the courts, in practice of religion, in the transport sector, et cetera. Corruption in Bivan’s house is so widespread that both the rich and the poor are corrupt; it appears no one is immune from the scourge. While conversing, detainees in Talgon’s prison cell express their wonder at the phenomena thus, “But why are our people so corrupt? Everything and everyone is for sale and yet we never seem to get enough money from all the sales we make. It’s so bad” (152). On the trek to the police station with the common calabash, voices in the crowd exchange remarks about corruption thus:
‘Bivan’s house is ablaze with corruption. The roaring flames are licking the sky like the seared bottom of a pot.’ ‘God may have to snatch his legs from the leaping flames or he would be singed’. ‘Bivans’ house is a rotten cow vultures and hyenas are feeding on without anyone shouting haa!’ ‘Fakers, scammers, conmen, moral derelicts of all kind are on the loose in the country like loose cannons.’ (168)
In the first remark, a metaphor is used which compares corruption to fire as “roaring flames” and as being “ablaze”. Just as fire licks the object it is attacking, so is corruption licking Bivan’s house. In this case, Bivan’s house is both ‘‘the sky’’ and “the seared bottom of a pot.” The visual image struck gives the impression that corruption is so violent that it can “sear” whoever or whatever it comes in contact with, just as fire burns whatever it has contact with. In the next remark, the use of metaphors on corruption in Bivan’s house is taken further; the country is likened to a rotten cow vultures and hyenas “are feeding on without anyone shouting haa!” Bivan’s house as a rotten cow describes the decadent condition of a country in a state of putrefaction. Vultures and hyenas are used to refer to the corrupt human beings in the country. The stench from the toilet in the police station just before it is cleaned encapsulates the overall metaphoric stench that corruption engenders in Bivan’s house. These images of rot and putrefaction are similar to the putrefying images of pit toilets, slums, and the like, created by Ayi Kwei Armah in The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born to depict corruption in the setting of the novel.
Corruption in Bivan’s house goes beyond official corruption in government offices to corruption in private and social relationships. In their daily dealings with each other, people in Bivan house are all out to cheat one another. ‘‘A man thought to be selling roasted chickens had sold a roasted vulture to a man who thought he was buying a roasted chicken. The man who bought the roasted chicken bought it with a fake five hundred baduns note. The man who sold the vulture went home happy he had cheated the man who bought the chicken only to find the chicken was bought with a fake currency. The man who bought the vulture with the fake five hundred baduns note went home happy he had cheated the man who sold the chicken to him only to find he bought a vulture. Annoyed that they had been cheated, the two men went out looking for each other and when they found each other, a fight erupted.’’ (179)
‘‘Outside the police station an event unrelated to Talgon’s arrest and detention but would lead to his release had just taken place. It was close to Eid-el Kabir sallah festival. Three people went to a small village and told the villagers they had been sent by the common calabash of Bangora Local Government to buy thirty rams which he intended to share to people for the festival. They said the thirty rams would only be paid for when taken to the common calabash in his house. Thirty fat rams were loaded into a lorry and two unsuspecting villagers were asked to follow the three strangers to collect the money of the rams from the common calabash. However, deep into a forest on their way, the strangers stopped the lorry and ordered the villagers at gunpoint to disembark from the lorry. The villagers thoroughly scared, disembarked frantically. Firing into the air, the lorry took off with the rams bleating and the villagers running helter-skelter into the bush.’’ (163)
Scams and cheap tricks like the above in Bivan’s house makes a voice in the novel to lament that: ‘The vulture by his opportunism is feasting on the ruins of his preys without pity; the tortoise by his cunning is running faster than the antelope to collect, without remorse, prizes he has not won and the rat by his thievery is filling his barns with the harvest of the rabbit without regret.’ (166)
Bivan’s House is a compendium of the various types of corruption which bedevil the metaphoric country, Bivan’s House. Such include bribery (2, 6, 22, 73, 76), environmental pollution (3), poor public utilities (26, 35, 36, 105), religious violence (28, 109, 111, 118, 131), primitive accumulation of wealth (39, 138–139, 152–155, 163–180, 177–179, 181), man’s wickedness (66–67, 107, 122, 159–162) and academic malaise (71, 72, 132). Were it not for the wit and humour the author treats these ills, the novel would have reflected a sociological treatise of societal ills. A few examples of literary devices the author employs to keep his work in the literary include the following: Describing the manner the police demand and obtain bribes at checkpoints, the author writes, “One bus driver had even said the police were dogs and he always carried bones with him which he dropped at every checkpoint” (22). In this statement, corruption of the police in demanding bribes from motorists is portrayed. The police are metaphorically compared to dogs, and the bribes they take as bones “dropped” at every checkpoint. The metaphor is fresh since it is not commonly used and it is capable of eliciting a dry sarcastic humorous response from a reader. To show how corruption has created a paradox in Bivan’s House, the author says it is a nation used car spare parts are regarded as better than new ones. “as the case was with motor spare parts, so it was with the nation’s leaders. An old leader in Bivan’s house was always better than a new one. It was a country where new things decayed while old things flowered with youth” (139).
Ridiculous and ironical as the above situation in Bivan’s House is, it is unfortunately not far from the truth. Old motor spare parts in the country are better than new ones because the old spare parts are genuine while the new are fake. As the case is with spare parts, it is with the nation’s leaders. Old leaders are often more genuine than new ones.
The central and overriding metaphor in Bivan’s House is the rat. In likening corruption to a “rat mentality,” one of the inmates in the police cell says:
‘Now, there is a rat mentality everywhere you turn in this country. Now Bivan’s house is a house of rats. A rat mentality can lead to Black Death, the sort of death caused by black rats in Europe. As Jews and lepers were attacked in Europe on the outbreak of Black Death, so would members of Bivan’s house. Never committed to an hour of honesty, everyone is getting so devious in the game of survival.’ (154)
It is ironical that inmates in a police cell who are incarcerated for one crime or another are the ones boldly indicting Bivan’s house of corruption using the rat metaphor. This is similar to what the prisoners do in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Matigari. No one is spared as both the high, the mighty and the pauper are all enmeshed in the mire of corruption. Little wonder towards the ending of the novel when Talgon sees a rat scurrying along the small path near his house, same as when he saw one in his office environment at the beginning of the novel, he expresses despair over the losing game with corruption by he exclaiming “This is it”!… ‘This is it! We are done for’” (194). The expression is an indication of hopelessness and despair with the state of affairs in Bivan’s house.
Talgon’s father also likens corruption to a leper. The lyrics of the song he sings towards the end of the novel state that in the old “healthy” days in his village, a leper was regarded as an outcast but now the leper has become king, wearing white gloves and now holding the village purse (190). The song implies that corruption is akin to leprosy and was so regarded in years gone by. Leprosy, to which corruption is likened is a contagious disease on repeated contact with nose and mouth droplets from someone with the untreated disease. Bivan’s House is afflicted with the leprosy of corruption and it is untreated. It is therefore not surprising that the affliction became so widespread in the nation with repeated contact of the nation’s citizen with the nose and mouth droplets of the untreated patient.
Resented in earlier times, in contemporary times, contagious leprosy aka ‘corruption’ has overtaken honesty in Bivan’s house and reigns supreme in the affairs of men (187–190). The situation here again shows why old leaders in Bivan’s House are always better than new ones; why old things flower with youth while new ones decay. The nation is under atrophy.
Going by Lilymjok’s extensive use of metaphors to depict corruption in Bivan’s House, corruption can be said to be an extended metaphor or the major antagonist that runs counter to all that is right in society. Talgon, the main character in the novel, is the synoecete ant that stands in the eye of the swift flowing current of corruption. How much chance an honest, hardworking ant stands aganist an army of thieving rats is hardly a moot question.
Talgon is described by the police DCO as someone with “unalloyed sincerity, rustic innocence, and philosophical calmness…” (146). Such glowing attestation from a highly corrupt police officer lends credence to Talgon’s upright character. Again, the officer in charge of the police station, the DPO acknowledges Talgon as “an honest, harmless man” (147). The actions of Talgon also lend credence to the character he is portrayed as in the opening pages of the novel. Talgon is depicted as a teetoler who eschews giving and taking of bribe in a setting ridden with the ill. This can be seen in one of his contract deals he is unwilling to give bribe so common in Bivan’s house. He is described as having a track record of quality job delivery, “But the other bidders had a better track record of giving to the contract awarder his due. After giving process its due, the contract awarder expected his own due from the contractor and this was where Talgon was lacking, and this lacking was sufficient to deny him the contract…” (8). The statement is both witty and ironical. Witty in the sense of its repeated pun on the word “due”, which is also italicized in the novel to give emphasis to it. It is ironical in that for Talgon who wants to remain honest may be denied the contract for his unreadiness to give bribe which the word “due” represents. In normal usage, the word “due” is used to describe action that is taken to reciprocate a gesture. In this case however, due is given for no service rendered, but to oil the wheel of corruption.
Talgon comes from a family that values honesty. His mother is described as a quiet woman “resentful of corruption. Those who knew her said Talgon inherited his distaste for corruption from her…” (180). As for Talgon’s father, he had set out to be an honest man, but along the way becomes discouraged by the dishonesty and ill – use he suffered. If he did not contract the corruption flu or leprosy with repeated contact, he became cynical on issues of honesty and corruption. The song he sings at the end of the novel demonstrates that though he is cynical, he still appreciates honesty. Barnabas, Talgon’s son also demonstrates qualities that show him a true scion of his family’s good qualities. These family’s details enhance the realism of Talgon as a round character and humanize him.
Political Brigandage in Bivan’s House
A country’s affairs are usually run by a team of officials derived from successful bouts of politicking. According to legend, the origin of politics in Bivan’s house is different from its origin elsewhere. In Bivan’s house, politics originated from a society of headhunters. The leader of the society of headhunters was called the primehead and so he who was called president or prime minister in other countries came to be called primehead in Bivan’s house whereas the national assembly or parliament in other countries was called the house of archery in Bivan’s house. A governor was the big feast, ministers were ceremonial feasts, ambassadors were close banquets; commissioners were ceremonial pots, local government chairmen were common calabashes and councilors were hunting bags. Like butchers are said to have started surgery, legend holds that headhunters started politics in Bivan’s house. According to legend, from its headhunting ancestry, politics in Bivan’s house was to later evolve into a game played by people of the street whose battle cry was – Loot all the food in the house into your hole whenever there is an opportunity to do so (18).
The foregoing gives an insight into the political game in Bivan’s house. A comic, if tragic picture, of politics as a hunting game is graphically painted in Bivan’s House. The National Assembly is the house of archery. It is the common hunting ground, if you like forest, where every part of the country is represented by hunters” (7). The games hunted for are the national resources of the country in the form of money and other national assets. Power in the form of the constitutional powers of the National Assembly, is the weapon used to shoot these games. Blackmail, kickbacks, backhanding are all arsenals in the scabbard of the archers called members of the National Assembly. The governor as the big feast implies that most of the game from which a feast is made are with the governor. Big time eating is with the governor hence he is the big feast. Ministers are ceremonial feasts implying that there is less eating here than with the governor who has the whole resources of a state to dispense as largesse to cronies and political hangers on. Ambassadors as close banquets, implies a secluded feasting affair. Being outside the country, eating with ambassadors involves only a few people. Commissioners as ceremonial pots, implies a lower level of feasting. Having lesser resources (fell games) at their disposal, commissioners have less largesse to dispense to themselves, cronies and political hangers on. If a governor has an elephant as the game he has killed or has been killed for him, a commissioner has perhaps only an antelope. Local government chairmen as common calabashes, implies a low political office the occupier of which is accessible to the common people. As a common calabash, everyone can dip his hand into the calabash and take a chunk of the food in it.
The metaphor of “calabash” that the author uses puts things in clearer perspective for a reader. Calabashes in the African context are like wide bowls into which everybody can eat from in the local traditional setting. Calabash is therefore an apt metaphor as sarcastically used in this context.
Councilors as hunting bags are the lowest rung of the political ladder. They canvass for votes at the lowest level of politics and are therefore the foot soldiers doing most of the legwork if not most of the eating. The corrupt character of politics in Bivan’s house is underscored by the eating mentality captured in the hunting characterization of key office holders in the politics of the nation.
While democracy is regarded as government of the people, by the people and for the people, in Bivan’s house, politics is a hunting game started by headhunters. It is an all comer’s game in Bivan’s house practiced with the aim of looting. The battle cry is a ratty one: “Loot all the food in the house into your hole whenever there is an opportunity to do so!” (8). The scenario painted is a painfully tragic if hilarious one. Unlike the situation in most developed countries where politics is a means of improving the lot of the people, in Bivan’s house it is a means of self-enrichment and dispensing of bonanza and patronage to cronies, political clansmen and tribesmen. Politicians in Bivan’s House are portrayed as hunters out to feast on preys without the rebuke of conscience or responsibility. They present a savage and unrefined group of selfish predators whose interests revolve around looting only. They have no interest in the betterment of their society. They look like politicians of most underdeveloped countries of the world who continue to be retrogressive in issues of politicking and national development. This is a satisfactory satire of selfish and uncouth elements who call themselves politicians but have no interests in improving the lot of their societies. Of a truth, the portrayal Kyuka has done of politics in Bivan’s house is a realistic depiction of how politics is practiced in many developing countries. The hunting imageries he uses capture in metaphoric terms the character of politicians and the way they go about the business of politics. Politics is approached as group hunting and the game to be captured is power. Power holds the key to the financial and material resources of a nation. Once the politicians capture power, politics becomes a feasting fiesta from the top to the bottom of the political ladder. The fact that politics is a means of accessing power to serve the people is relegated to the background as a looting mentality possesses the popular imagination of politicians and indeed that of their victims – the common people who not only endorse but tragically clap for thieving politicians.
Religious Extremism in Bivan’s House
Events in Bivan’s House are triggered by violent religious episodes that take place at Durmi, a quarter of Bangora town. The violence starts at Hamze University between Christian and Moslem students over an argument on who between Jesus Christ and Mohammed is the true messiah of the world. The violence spreads far and wide in the environs of Bangora consuming people and property. Talgon and Badaru who are attending the wedding of a neighbour, are caught in the violence. To Barnabas, Talgon’s son, students of Bivan’s house “were fire eating bigots that were as easily roused into a religious mayhem as a tribe of baboons answering calls that a strayed member of the tribe has been killed” (131). The sarcasm in the statement points to the fact that not much intelligence is usually ascribed to a baboon; therefore the sentence implies that students of Bivan’s house demonstrated uncouth stupidity and low intelligence as baboons by resorting to violence over such a trivial argument. The devastation that the religious violence causes in Bivan’s house creates a bleak landscape in the setting of Bangora. Houses and people are set ablaze, many are killed and maimed. There are stories of rape and betrayals as demonstrated in the case of Badaru against Talgon. Some of those affected like Yagu appear like characters from horror movies. Strange incidents such as the resurrection of Yagu from death and the appearance of bizarre figures such as the victims of the religious violence in the novel lend an air of magical realism to the novel. Other African writers including Amos Tutuola, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ben Okri have employed magical realism in their works.
Expressing disgust at the senseless and gruesome display of religious extremism that lead to such violence, Barnabas wonders why people should go to such violent extremes against their fellow human beings when:
In Hamze University, students barely had light three hours of the day. The toilets were stinking because there was no water to flush them. About eight students shared a room meant for only two students. More than five hundred students were crammed into lecture theatres meant for only two hundred students. No student had ever rioted over any of these poor amenities and conditions of living. But upon an argument over who is the true messiah of the world between Jesus Christ and Mohammed – foreign prophets the students shared no common ancestry with, there was a riot that claimed many lives. Meanwhile in the countries these prophets came from, no student was rioting over them. It was so sad and embarrassing. It was so disturbing to think of. (131)
The quotation speaks for itself.
Living under appalling material conditions they should resent and protest against, Hamze University students fail to do so. Instead they riot over foreign prophets who students that share a common ancestry with are not rioting over” (131). This is quite unfortunate in the sarcastic words of Barnabas which is doubtlessly the authorial viewpoint.
In Bivan’s House, Kyuka raises some critical issues which are of great relevance in today’s world. One of such issues is religious extremism and violence which are pervasive in many parts of the world. The novel is relevant vis-à-vis contemporary violent episodes arising from religious extremism as exemplified in activities of groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and other neighbouring countries. Others are violent activities of the Al-Shabab organization in Somalia, Kenya and environs. Not to be left out is the Islamic State (ISIS) which is engaged in violent confrontations across the globe in the name of religion. It is significant that for the first time in a work of prose fiction, the author allows a rare insight into the personage of religious extremists. This can be seen in the personalities of Umaru, Talgon’s friend and neighbor; and Badaru who is also Talgon’s friend. Lilymjok’s rare peep into a warped mind is similar to what Fyodor Dostoyevsky achieves in revealing the criminal mind of the character Rodion Ras Ko Ini Kov in his Crime and Punishment. Umaru, in his illogical thinking, expresses the view that volcanic eruptions are a demonstration of God’s existence. He believes that men must defend God from:
“infidels working night and day for the devil……whether it is the earth speaking in anger or the people, it is God chastising mankind…there is need for God to pour the fire in his mouth to consume our evil deeds. Since God cannot use the earth or mountains to chastise us, he is using people to chastise us.” (114)
Umaru’s view appears warp, and seems to be expressed by a thoroughly bigoted person. No religion in the world worth its salt sanctions the sort of violence he proposes.
Kyuka also shows a Christian group who descend on Badaru with machetes and cutlasses gruesomely “reducing him to a heap of flesh and blood” (109). They were “Christian youths dressed in military uniform who had gone out to avenge the burning of their church by Muslim youths and to loot whatever they could find” (105). The scenario exposes “adherents” of the two religions – Christianity and Islam as hypocrites and dishonest even as they kill people in the name of their religions. Badaru a fervent Moslem takes advantage of a situation he should be sorrowful to loot. A little child in distress cries out to him for help, but he will not help. The only thing he is obsessed with is looting the money of the dead couple at the wedding reception arena. Ironically, it is Talgon who is neither a Moslem nor a Christian that is honest and ready to help the distressed child. The Christian youths who by their faith should be honest are only interested in killing and looting. Badaru a fellow believer like them, though of a different faith, is hacked to death by them and what he had looted from the wedding arena, looted from him by fellow believers (22, 56).
Synopsis of Sieged
From all indications, Sieged is a sequel to Lilymjok’s Bivan’s House. The two novels are written in the same year, 2011. The setting remains Bivan’s house and the political structure remains the same. In fact, the same passage describing political office holders as head hunters and common calabashes (3) is directly lifted from Bivan’s House. Also restated for emphasis is the outlook of politics in Bivan’s house. Merima, a major character in the novel says to a fellow state archer in the early chapters of Sieged that “Everything in politics and indeed outside politics in this country is about sharing and yet the sharing never seems to get round to everyone” (30). Talgon, in Bivan’s House turns out to be a political ally to Jamimi, the protagonist in Sieged. Towards the ending of Bivan’s House, the crowd when making comments about the good characters in Bivan’s house had mentioned Jamimi as a good man. A voice among the crowd says: “Among the politicians of Bivan’s house, it is only Jamimi you can point to as a man whose conscience has not fled him” (168).
The story of Sieged a satire with elements of tragi-comedy, is woven round two personae Jamimi and Merima and their respective rival political parties, People’s Liberation Movement (PLM) and United Action Congress (UAC). Bivan’s house is in a feverish electioneering period and two parties are the main rival parties competing for power. Bivan’s house is still a nation mired in corruption and all forms of negative social vices. The party that wins the election will have access to loot the nation’s resources. United Action Congress which is the ruling political party wants to hold onto power by all means, while the People’s Liberation Movement is determined to wrest power from the corrupt United Action Congress. The scenario painted here sets the stage for intrigues, confrontations and violence as members of the two political parties engage in all manner of strategies fair or foul to ensure that they emerge victorious from the political contest. The intrigues that evolve in the political rivalry create a grim and gloomy battlefield for all those involved. There is a murder mystery towards the end of the novel as Merima the UAC prime head is found murdered. Investigations lead to startling revelations regarding those responsible for the earlier PLM train crash and the murder of Merima. The evidence shown on television at the court enrages the masses leading to a second uprising by the masses through which they install Jamimi as the new prime head of Bivan’s house.
In Bivan’s House, corruption, religious extremism, violence and political brigandage are the main themes around which the storyline is woven, the major themes in Sieged, though a continuation of what is prevalent in Bivan’s House, are largely devoid of religious extremism, but focused on corruption and political brigandage.
Corruption in Sieged
Though the period between when Bivan’s House is set and when Sieged is set is not spelt out, one thing the two novels share in common is the overriding menace of corruption in the entity called Bivan’s house. Corruption in Bivan’s House continues to rage in Sieged among the high, the mighty and the masses. The trains that used to ply the rail tracks are as old as three hundred (300) years; they are not maintained and not rail worthy; the police continue to extort money from motorists and other people they can lay siege on; there is little or no electricity in Bivan’s house.
Most of the failure of the public system is laid at the doorstep of corruption. Highlighting the link between failed public systems and corruption, Jamimi captures it this way at a political rally:
‘Public thieves are chiefs now. Shame now is not for the thief, but for he who is poor because he can’t steal. Money meant for water supply and power generation is stolen by those in government. There is no water, there is no light. People can barely feed because food is so expensive, yet, people can’t link their poverty to the wealth of those stealing money meant for them…forget all this show of church and mosque attendance. It is all farce. The only thing Bivan’s house members worship now is money and whoever has it. That is why there is the mad rush for money.’ (98 – 99)
Jamimi’s statement captures not only the overturned moral values in society, but the gullibility of the masses that cannot or are unwilling to see that they are in misery because money that would have catered for them has been stolen by their so-called leaders. Religion which should have provided a moral check to corruption and the mad rush to get rich by all means is afflicted by hypocrisy and a compromised clergy.
Jamimi compares the actions of corruption to the actions of termites and locusts (28). These are omnivorous insects that destroy any plant or material they come across. Corruption in Bivan’s house as elsewhere is more rampant in politics and government politics produce. Exposing how politics and government is the means of accessing wealth in Bivan’s house, Merima’s wife tells her husband to do all he can to occupy the office of the primehead of Bivan’s house:
‘The primeheadship of this country is a mountain of wild fleece my husband,’ she continued with a lot of verve. ‘It has collected all the wealth of the nation to its top. Whoever is able to climb it has unlimited access to the wild fleece of the country. Our sights are on the mountain of wild fleece and we must climb it. Failing to do so means life at the foot of the mountain where there is barely enough hay to have animal existence.’ (80)
While leaders should work for those who elect them, the case in Bivan’s house is different. People elected or appointed into public office sit over the people they are supposed to serve, eating; occasionally looking at the people down there; occasionally throwing bones to them (100).
Before joining politics, Jamimi was particularly irked one day when a political thug told the ceremonial feast of his ministry to his face that the office the ceremonial feast was holding was like a gourd of palm wine that was jointly purchased. Usually when a gourd of palm wine was jointly purchased, it was given to one of the number that purchased it to share. The person sharing could not because the gourd was between his legs claim ownership of it more than any of the number that purchased it. Seeking to etch his point more deeply, the thug said the office the ceremonial feast was occupying was the dead body of an elephant he, the ceremonial feast, and other hunters killed. As such, he was entitled whenever he was without meat to come with his knife and cut. The ceremonial feast was merely a custodian of the elephant for all the hunters and has no more interest in it than any other hunter that killed it.
This image of government as a “come and eat public money” proves so nauseating to Jamimi and acts as a spur to him to join politics as an aspirant for the primeheadship of Bivan’s house in order to set things right. The next section examines political brigandage and how the author exposes the dirty dealings that take place in politics.
Political Brigandage in Sieged
The way and manner politics is played in the fictional entity called Bivan’s house occupies a central place in Sieged. The storyline is built around the contest for political offices. There are several political parties, but the most prominent featuring in the contest are two: the Peoples Liberation Movement (PLM), and the United Action Congress (UAC). While Jamimi is the primehead candidate of PLM, Merima is the one for UAC. In the period of setting, UAC is the party in power. At the beginning of the novel, Jamimi and Merima started out as idealists who want and think the best for their country. Jamimi an incorruptible labour leader is provoked into politics by the illiterate people he sees in the game and how they use power to take over public resources. His desire is to use political office to improve the lot of the people. He begins his journey into national politics by joining the labour union and rising to become the national President of Bivan’s house labour union. From there he joins the PLM which nominates him as its primehead candidate.
Merima, like Jamimi, is an educated elite in politics. However, unlike Jamimi, Merima enters politics in order to secure material comfort, but along the line begins nursing ideas of serving the people. He has more experience in politics than Jamimi. He started from Bivan’s house of archery as an archer. Through his experiences in politics, one gets a glimpse of different aspects of political distress and brigandage in Bivan’s house. The narrative voice describes figuratively how Merima “was frightened by the flood of demands for financial assistance that flowed to him…like an army of bees on the trail of a perfume” (29). The incidence of rigging which is an act of political brigandage takes Merima from the house of archery in his state to the house of archery of Bivan’s house (29). This is facilitated by the clout of his political godfather Kamalun. Godfatherism is an act of political brigandage because political godfathers in Bivan’s house engage violent and reckless thugs as attack dogs or mercenaries to beat, kill or harass political opponents of their political wards (called godsons in Sieged) in order to rig their way into political office. Rigged into office, the first thing the godson is likely to see hanging from the ceiling of his office on his entering the office is the price tag he must pay to the godfather for securing the office. In the case of Merima, he is forced to marry the ugly daughter of Kamalun and to pay huge sums of money monthly to the godfather. From Kamalun Merima moves into the hands of Boyama the sitting primehead who prepares him as his successor. In the process, he is taken to the shrine of Bubuluku the god of nemesis to swear to an oath of loyalty and allegiance to Boyama and his political cohorts. With the godfather’s arrangement in place, Merima is rigged into office as the primehead of Bivan’s house.
A striking point of interest here is that Bubuluku the god of nemesis who Merima is taken to is expected to visit Merima with nemesis if he betrays his godfather Boyama. This tends to suggest that even the gods in Bivan’s house have been compromised into supporting evil. Otherwise, why should the god of nemesis be invoked against a godson that refuses to honor the unholy undertaking between him and his godfather?
The election process between PLM and UAC in Bivan’s house provides opportunity for the narrative voice to expose a series of political brigandage such as, ballot box snatching, ballot stuffing, abduction and murder of political opponents, intimidation and falsification of results, corrupt judges, riots, sabotage of the PLM’s campaigns train and so on. After the elections are won and lost, jobs are given to an over bloated number of political cronies who do nothing productive but engage in gossips to their political masters. Those in political office are hedged in by political cronies who swear by laziness and pray by blackmail; political coyotes to who bonanza and patronage are deployed.
Politicians engage in reckless and flamboyant living, marrying an endless number of wives and embarrassing importation of foreign goods. Those who “win” elections take office with a sit tight mentality. So called prodemocracy organizations are charlatans affecting to monitor elections to ensure fairness but are only there for monetary benefits. Political thugs and spongers such as Chokali and Gurungutsi move from one political office holder to another soliciting for financial handouts or what is termed “syringe” (162 – 163).
It is ironical that it is the fight between Chokali and Gurungutsi that leads to a revolution where the fiery and enlightened speeches of Jamimi have failed to do so. Chokali with his shout of “‘the government of Boyama and the apology he left behind in Jonka palace have stolen all the money of Bivan’s house…no light, no water, and no food…poor members of Bivan’s house arise and reclaim your lives’ ” (169) succeeds in rousing the masses.
It is interesting to note that Sieged was written in 2008 and was published in 2011. It carries a bizarre story that led to a revolution similar to that which led to the Arab Spring. A frustrated Tunisian youth set himself ablaze. This single action led to an uprising by the oppressed across the Arab world. Predating the Arab Spring, Sieged in a sense prophesied the coming of the Arab Spring. While on the issue of prophecy, the novel also seems to predict the victory of Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 Presidential election in Nigeria. Indeed there are many parallels and similarities that can be drawn between Jamimi the protagonist in Sieged and Buhari.
The Chokali, Gurungutsi and Bebendo incidence is equivalent to the spark that ignites a tense social situation in Marxist hypothetical parlance in societies there is social imbalance and oppression. This leads the essay to examine the remedies the author throws up to redress the social ills exposed in the novel.
The authorial voice demonstrates an in-depth knowledge of global forces that counteract one another for supremacy and adoption in a contemporary post-colonial nation state like Bivan’s house. These are the forces of capitalism and socialism. To the authorial voice however, neither of these two ideologies are capable of solving the problems of Bivan’s house. The authorial voice expresses this view through a conversation between Jamimi, Talgon and Mengo, top politicians of PLM when analyzing the political situation in Bivan’s house:
‘But, Talgon and Mengo, how can you be talking of a shrinking per capita income and a burgeoning per capita misery for everyone when people in government are getting richer every day?’ asked Jamimi. ‘This is the problem with per capita income,’ said Talgon. ‘Money is fictionally shared equally to everyone by socialism, but practically shared to only a few by capitalism…’
‘Even in theory, socialism has already ceded the levers to capitalism. Why per capita and not per socia?’ said Mengo. ‘Whoever came up with per capita income is a thief himself.’ (59 – 60)
To the author, a spontaneous uprising by the masses at which they appoint a morally upright Jamimi as their leader is the solution to the running of a morally bankrupt country like Bivan’s house. Thus, an anonymous voice from the rioting crowd is heard to declare that “mobocracy will, guide democracy in Bivan’s house’ ” (218) whereafter, “Jamimi was made primehead on the street” (219). However, the novel ends on an uncertain note as PLM’s top echelon are in the process of perpetuating the rule of Jamimi as the primehead, claiming they are now “the people.”
The next section is devoted to examining the style the author uses in conveying the message of the two novels, Bivan’s House and Sieged.
Style in Bivan’s House and Sieged
The author adopts a variety of similar techniques to convey his message in both Bivan’s House and Sieged. The point of view used is the omniscient all-knowing perspective. While in Bivan’s House, the omniscient is limited mostly to Talgon’s vantage point that of Sieged is all encompassing with the narrative voice using a multiplicity of voices. The narrative voice leans to the communal perspective rather than the western style that leans to the individual perspective. This can be seen from the issues that pre-occupy the narrative which are public oriented in nature. For example, most of the concerns raised in the two novels on corruption, poverty, politics and religion are expressed to capture such vices as they affect the lives of the larger members of society rather than specific individual lives. This is what David Ker in The African Novel and Modernist Tradition refers to as the communal voice which he points out in Chinua Achebe’s Things fall Apart and Arrow of God; Ayi Kwei Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons, and Gabriel Okara’s The Voice.
The communal voice accounts for probably why the characters are not designed in a complex manner. The communal voice driven more by situation and message than character, concerns itself more with the situation and message than the character that provides the medium for exposing the situation and delivering the message. The character as it were is merely the means of attending the end of exposing the situation and delivering the message. The character as it were is a mere messenger on errand to deliver a message.
Frequently when an individual character speaks in a communal based novel, he speaks not merely for himself alone, but for his community as well. The prevalence of hubbubs in Bivan’s House, Sieged and other novels of the author further underscores the communal base of these novels. Not only do characters in the novels speak for the community, the community speaks for itself through nameless voices (p.164 Bivan’s House and 166 Sieged).
Most of the characters in communal voice novels can fit into typologies. Talgon for example displays character traits of a persona with a philosophical outlook on life and one who dislikes what he sees in his society. This dislike most of the time is expressed through Talgon’s interior monologues and his philosophical musings which he expresses sometimes in dialogue with other characters. Jamimi on his part does not deliberately set out to enter into politics. However, he is provoked by the ugly circumstances he sees around him to join the game with the objective of doing things right for the wellbeing of the society. Though Merima entered politics for personal and material comfort, he is a disinterested participant in the business. Thus, most of the characters in Bivan’s House and Sieged are somehow abstract in nature, representing certain grand qualities. Such grand representation is what distances them from the type of western characterization in which interest leans to the individualistic battle of emotional and psychological conflicts of man in society. This difference may be accounted for in the light of the differences between western and industrially developed societies and underdeveloped nations the type Bivan’s House and Sieged are set.
Whereas the novel in western societies is focused on interpreting the existence of man in a highly industrialized, impersonal society; novels like those of Kyuka Lilymjok are grasping with what it means to have come out of one colonial experience into a post-colonial experience in which the new overlords are not only foreign, but also one’s own kith and kin. Such post-colonial societies are not industrialized like the western ones, but are deluged with products of industrialization, new tastes, political tyrants and corrupt leaders. The masses who also want to survive in such a system get involved in the craze for corrupt enrichment thereby allowing themselves to be used by whoever is ready to pay their price.
It is obvious the style Kyuka adopts in Bivan’s House and Sieged is different from the regular novel form as it is generally known both in terms of thematisation, point of view and characterization. It however fits into the postcolonial theoretical concept of alternative style. The alternative voice is the deliberate choice by a writer from a post-colonial entity to infuse into a narrative the native peculiarities and colorations of a particular local setting.
The communal spirit of Africa also finds expression in the communal voice. Two Thousand seasons by Ayi Kwei Armah dwells on this point showing that the individualistic inclination of western societies has no place in communal Africa where the individual is only but a limb of the communal body. Thus while the novel of a writer in Europe will concern itself with the interest, struggles, anguish and cry of an individual, a novel by a writer in Africa while having individuals as characters, the individuals’ interests, struggles, anguish and cry of these characters are not merely theirs alone but of their community as a whole.
The language Kyuka also adopts in Bivan’s House and Sieged is full of irony, sarcasm and humour. This he achieves through the use of puns, quips, clichés and a local discernible variant of English appropriated to appeal to an audience in an underdeveloped setting. In Bivan’s House for example, there is a pun on the word “seep” where Talgon is decrying the kickback demanded of him for a contract. He says, “ ‘the contract was so much infested with corruption that it seemed some of the corruption would seep into the bed-sheets he was to supply and would eventually seep into the sick people that would lie on them, making them sicker…’” (21). The pun on the word “seep” is full of irony in the prevailing corruption associated with contracts and kickbacks in Bivan’s house. The contract awarded to Talgon is to supply bedsheets to a hospital on which patients will lie. The bedsheets are to help the process of healing of the patients that will lie on them. Unfortunately, corruption which Talgon sees as a sickness, has seeped into the bedsheets and will eventually seep into the patients that will lie on them making them sicker.
In Sieged, Nkume one of the minor characters quips “when the cow is being fattened, it thinks it is being done a lot of good. Little does it know or even suspect it is being fattened for slaughter. The devil often appears like an angel of light’” (107). The quip refers to the masses who think they are benefiting from the abolition of taxes while in actual fact, the absence of taxes has rendered them “voiceless and impotent” (107). This view is loaded with sarcasm directed at the masses.
Clichés such as “everyone wants to be rich by hook or by crook because everything has to be paid for” (Bivan’s House, 73), or “I consider all these talk a red herring” (Sieged, 133) are abundant in the two novels. Because of the use of abundant clichés, the two novels are saved from being boring reads as they are interlaced within vibrant dialogue. The profuse use of irony, sarcasm, puns, quips and clichés creates amusement, humour and serve to lighten the otherwise tense atmosphere of the two novels.
Be the above as it may, the narrative voice can hardly hide the tone of anger that pervades the two novels. This is seen by the numerous invectives used in describing the corrupt system and personae that occupy the settings of the novels. For example the narrative voice in Bivan’s House describes the people as sows in this manner “‘corruption has castrated all of us. We are all sows without balls between our legs. Our snorting is getting on the nerves of the world’” (155). In this quotation, people are metaphorically compared to pigs (sows) who are snorting – a violent action; who are castrated – a bloody violent action. To get on someone’s nerves is to annoy that person. The anger in the voice of the narrator makes him use extreme images to depict corrupt people and victims of corruption that acquiesced in their victimization. In Sieged, invectives such as the following abound:
“There is so much wealth in Bivan’s house, but people are so poor that they don’t have where to hang themselves” (21).
“To pay rent on support can be very embarrassing indeed. It is a deal with a monkey that has no conscience.”(46)
“Democracy is a whore with us. It is not yet our wife. It is not even yet our mistress.” (50)
“Apart from hiring mercenary supporters, we have to hire palm wine tappers to climb tall trees and paste posters for us since we cannot climb the trees to do so.” (75)
“This ghostly game! This game of masquerades! Yes politics is a game of ghosts. To be a politician you must die as a man and resurrect as a ghost”. (88)
“We seem to be barking and biting very well. Let’s send our dogs after the bandicoot rats stealing our groundnut instead of running our tongues over stones on which our saliva can confer no benefit.” (133)
“We are living in a country that is an obscene mass of concentrated sins.” (179)
To further demonstrate the intense anger of the narrative voice, the author uses certain meaningless language as a metaphor to depict the senselessness and ridiculous nature of politics in Bivan’s house. In Sieged, the phrase si ko mee du is a political slogan supposed to indicate support for a political candidate, but end up a slogan used by layabouts to coax people into giving them money. To complete the farce, comedy or tragedy, one of the layabouts says si ko mee du “is an association with a chairman, a secretary and all other officers of an association” (20).
To show the farcical quality of characters that mouth “si ko mee du”, these characters mistook a funeral procession for a campaign convoy and started shouting “si ko mee du”. The whole affair is quite hilarious and ridiculous, contributing not only to the humour in the novel, but also enhancing the sarcasm directed at the political situation in Bivan’s house. The detailed description of people, incidents and events enhance the realism of the two novels. The description of Beckin when Talgon first comes across her is a good example:
Talgon looked at the woman. She was standing where the light of the lantern fell directly on her face. Her eyes were twinkling like glow-worms-those little stars of the swamp in a dark night. Her eyelashes like roses in a valley gave her face power and charm that was gripping. Her nose rising from the valley of her eyes like a budding plant hung over her lips like a little cliff commanding the waters of a quietly flowing river. Her lips were supple in their rise and sensual in their poise. Cornrows on her head gave her the natural charm of a lawn in the wilderness and the holy presence of a visiting angel. Her eyes, nose and lips embraced each other in a feverish tangle of beauty that chimed like water at boiling point. Looking like a mermaid appearance, she seemed to have come out of the sea after the mayhems had come and gone. The sweep of her facial beauty was such as to sweep any man off the sway of his morals. She moved a few steps from the lantern and stopped. There was such liquid grace and ease in her movement that had Talgon gaping at her, breathlessly. (51)
The description uses similes and metaphors to capture and ingrain Beckin’s beauty in a reader’s psyche. In this manner, the author succeeds in establishing that Beckin is a beautiful woman.
Another literary device used by the author is the adjectivization of and perhaps verbalization of a noun. Siege is a noun that denotes surrounding and blockading a place by armed forces, in order to capture it. The author perhaps not wanting to use besiege which is an adjective that will communicate what he wants to communicate, chooses to adjectivize siege. What the author does here borders on thingamajig – the invention of a new word to communicate an imagination that could be wasted without such new word. By making an adjective out of siege Lilymjok has added a new word to the English language.
Siege situations abound in the novel Sieged. For example, when Jamimi could not get a job after graduation from the university, the narrator says:
For six years, he laid siege on a university job without finding any…then hunger laid siege on him. (14)
In another example, the Chairman of UAC, during one of their campaign tours says inter-alia, “we are all sieged into mercenaries by the wolves of necessities which are increasing everyday” (73). After the elections, the masses rioted and all roads are taken over by street urchins and gang boys. The situation is described by the narrative voice as “The roads were now under siege and one could only venture out of doors if he had the money to settle the demons of the streets” (178). All these quotations indicate that sieged is used in the novel not only as an adjective but as a metaphor to capture all that is wrong with the nation Bivan’s house. The metaphor is so pervasive that it is used as the title of the novel to aptly capture the state of affairs in Bivan’s house.
Critique of Bivan’s House and Sieged
There is no doubt that the author of Bivan’s House and Sieged has put in a lot of work into the form and content of the novels under examination which demonstrates his commitment both as a writer and a social crusader. However, it would amount to disservice if areas of weaknesses are not pointed out.
One of the weaknesses of the two novels is that the author has attempted to handle too many themes in each novel. Themes in the two novels range from corruption in the system, to religious hypocrisy and extremism, political brigandage, corruption in the educational sector, the judicial sector, and the public utilities sectors. Even at the personal levels, people are all out to cheat one another and so on. The featuring of so many themes in just two novels has detracted from the novelistic features of the works. A novel from a western society perspective is usually more or less a record of the existentialist experiences of individuals in particular societies. Kyuka Lilymjok concentrating his writing on the general malaise and prevalent social ills in a social set up such as Bivan’s House and Sieged detracts from this conceptualization of a novel. Concentrating his writing on the general malaise prevalent in a social set up made the themes the author dwells on repetitive in several instances and moved his two novels under review towards the realm of a sociological treatise thereby shifting attention from understanding the particular and peculiar motivations of the human psyche and essence which is the forte of novels to an epic depiction of the ills in a particular society (a method more suitable for epic dramatics). However the author’s display of wit, humour, and sarcasm and other similar literary devices has made the literary craft to overshadow the sociological leaning. Again, the shortcoming under reference is further attenuated by the communal voice approach that lays less emphasis on the individual’s condition of human emotions, strives and longings, but instead lays more emphasis on communal situations with myriad of issues and afflictions. With regard to Bivan’s House and Sieged, though the issues dealt with by the two novels at first sight may appear many, on a closer look however they are not that many as they are offshoots of one problem: corruption and perhaps ignorance and irresponsibility.
The weakness of multi-issues is still further diminished by the novelistic idea that allows all novel forms so that imagination and creativity will flourish. The notion of a novel being on one or two themes is a western novelistic idea that does not and should not be allowed to invalidate other novelistic notions such as that shown in Bivan’s House and Sieged. The architecture of the western novel is different from the architecture of the African novel as much as the architecture of a western house is different from the architecture of an African house. The architecture of the western novel speaks only for an individual; that of the African novel speaks more for the community than for an individual. The architecture of Bivan’s House and Sieged is the architecture of the African novel that speaks for a community and not only for an individual. Viewed from this perspective, the weakness of Bivan’s House and Sieged highlighted above pales out to no weakness. Here, abrogation and appropriation come in to abrogate and appropriate any western standard of the novel form.
A controversial issue in Kyuka’s Bivan’s House and Sieged is the author’s view of the female sex. Several Nigerian writers such as Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Wole Soyinka, Festus Iyayi and so on are viewed as depicting women in a powerless and predatory light. Ngozi Chuma-Udeh, for example, writes that feminism in Nigerian literature is a movement geared at confronting the status quo of women being depicted primarily as wives and mothers in male-authored texts:
In such texts, women who do not fit into this status quo are cast as he – she or prostitutes and are branded non-conformists… (or placed within) the ‘Eve motif’ or the image of women as the collaborators of the serpent…derogatorily cast as the ‘daughters of eve’ looking for the next man to feed an apple – a destructive apple that will end up hanging and choking at (sic) the man’s throat! (209)
The two novels of Kyuka Lilymjok under consideration in this chapter: Bivan’s House and Sieged can be said to fall into the anti-feminist mould captured by Ngozi Chuma-Udeh in the above quotation. In Bivan’s House, most of the female characters such as the proprietor of the Day Care near Talgon’s office, or the bride whose wedding reception Talgon attends and she gets killed in the religious attack are not cast in very positive light. Beckin who is the major female character in the novel is a hardened female persona who is not moved at the sight of her suffering acid bathed husband Yagu. She is only softened by the music of the mondo Talgon plays to her. Even then, her so called “Eve” wiles of seduction come into play as she tries to bait Talgon into a sexual relationship which he reluctantly resists.
In Sieged,which is more or less a politically motivated novel, the main female political figure in the novel is Merima’s wife. The role the novel gives her is that of organizing women to support the candidacy of her husband as the primehead of UAC. She is not even given a name. Recognizing the low grade role women play in Bivan’s house politics, she remarks to her husband that women are:
merely the echoes of our husband’s voices. Unity of spouses in most cases means the dissolution of the woman into the man. In the last meeting of the south-west women, every woman was given a task of winning at least one person into the UAC everyday and charging the newly recruited to do same. (83)
To further reaffirm the negative perception of women in Bivan’s house, politics in the house is referred to as “the whore of the sovereign”, where “the whore” stands for democracy and “sovereign” stands for the polity of Bivan’s house (50). Not surprisingly, “whore” is a feminine noun. In fact, the UAC Party Chairman categorically states in the novel that, “‘come to think of it, every woman that has been prominent in politics in Bivan’s house has had something to do with prostitution at some point of her life’” (50). The statement which views women in politics as having something to do with prostitution at one time or another in their lives carries a negative implication about women in politics and is capable of misleading undiscerning readers on the role women can actually play in political matters.
Yet, the question may be asked why a novel should be tagged anti-feminist or chauvinistic when it portrays women in bad light but will not be tagged anti-manist, when it portrays men unfavourably (Agbo 12). Realistically women cannot be all angels without demons. In Bivan’s House for example, Yagu is a bad man. If Beckin his wife is bad, her badness pales out to insignificance in the face of Yagu’s badness. Why should the extreme portrayal of Yagu as a bad man not be seen as anti-manist but the mild portrayal of badness in his wife be seen as anti-feminist.
One other weakness noticed in Sieged is related to the ending of the novel. In chapter eleven of the novel, there is a train accident conveying members of the PLM campaign party to Babika. The accident takes place in a remote forest at Okunno far away from any human habitation. As the novel comes to a close, it is revealed that all along, the UAC Chairman had arranged for a spy to film the derailment of the train. However, the filming incident appears contrived in explaining the manner the train derailment mystery gets resolved.
By the paasion and natural way he tells his stories, Kyuka Lilymjok is no doubt a born storyteller. In telling his stories using various literary techniques and devices, he serves the ends of literature. In dwelling on cultural, social, political, economic and moral issues in his stories, he serves the ends of society. By this, he shows himself not only a writer committed to literature and society, but one responsible to both literature and society.
Theessay has considered the numerous themes Kyuka Lilymjok dwells in Bivan’s House and Sieged and the style he employs to get his message across to the reader. The author uses such multifarious range of themes that sometimes convey the feeling that the two novels could serve as a generic source for more writings. Probably, the author does this to show the multi-dimensional and intertwined nature the problems he espouses in Bivan’s house have. By departing from the more familiar western canonical style of novel writing, the author engages in what in postcolonial theoretical framework is referred to as the alternative voice. This indicates the author’s consciousness of the negative perpetuation of colonial legacies in developing nations like Bivan’s house and how that is probably responsible for the continued denigration of the material rights of its populace thus, his desire to expose and combat contemporary imperialist dealings using a more indigenous voice or style.
In employing an alternative outlook, Lilymjok engages the communal voice rather than the individualistic outlook as the overall narrative voice in the two novels. This peculiar approach which follows in the Achebean tradition is effective in that the author succeeds in crying out against a decadent and corrupt system, not only for himself, but for those who are otherwise voiceless. He also succeeds in exposing the secret dealings taking place in the land – so that those who care could correct the negativities in the “house.” Any developing world reader who suffers the indignities that nations like Bivan’s house metes out to its citizens is certain to achieve a purgation and catharsis of emotions that if for nothing else, someone, somewhere has deemed it fit to cry out against a stifling, corrupt oppressive system such as Bivan’s house exemplifies. Above all, the two novels are an indictment of the rich, the poor, the politicians and government. They act as a wake-up call to citizens of underdeveloped nations to take action to address the stated challenges. Novels like Bivan’s House and Sieged act to challenges the present generation of developing nations to wean themselves from corruption, backwardness and a degenerating socio-cultural morality.
The author has also succeeded in employing traditional African folkloric styles in the writing of Bivan’s House and Sieged. The narrative follows the traditional African story telling pattern which has in its repertoire, an uncountable number of tales that can be recounted night after night, employing an episodic plotline or a loosely related pattern of tales. Proverbs, pithy epithets, puns and clichés which occur now and then in a typical African storytelling session are also part of the devices the author fully infuses into the narrative of both novels. These traditional epithets are laced with irony, sarcasm and a biting humour that draws laughter, rather than the tears the callous system will most probably yield in normal settings.
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