Mapping youthful exuberance gone awry in Patrick Maidoh’s The Protagonist
Buchi Atuonwu, or simply Buchi, as he is known in gospel music circles, first made campus cultism a focus of his novel, Ceasefire in 2009 (BookBaby). Then Eghosa Imasuen took the theme further with his narrative, Fine Boys, in 2013 (Farafina). These stories are on a peculiar kind of juvenile delinquency gone especially awry. A new addition to that genre of campus cultism fiction is Patrick U. Maidoh’s The Protagonist: A Taste if Two Halves, (Austin Macauley, London; 2015); it charts the path of a child, who, feeling not loved enough by his parents as his other siblings, take to the rebellious path both to defy and court the attention of his parents.
Easily, Raymond Ukadike is the proverbial black sheep of the Ukadike family, whose father, a professor of law, a disciplinarian, expects so much from his children. Only Raymond appears to be letting the family down and Ukadike Sr. descends with a heavy hand on his young son. His other siblings are soaring high in their academic pursuits, models of upbringing where Raymond is a source of worry. But Raymond has other interests that are non-academic – dexterity in the game of football, for instance. This riles his father bitterly. Raymond’s position in class is 40 out of 45! And it doesn’t get better as he goes higher. Not even constantly being flogged would cure Raymond of his delinquent behaviour. His poor grades scuttle his chances of securing a place in any of the prestigious government colleges like his other siblings and to the utter amazement of his father. They settle for one of the less sterling secondary schools around, Dominion College.
This is where Raymond’s notoriety and wayward path to perdition begins. The friends he makes in school, together with a natural propensity to go against established order, steers him farther away from the right path. Kanayo is one such bad friend, together with Olisa, who introduces Raymond and Kanayo to pornography and prostitutes in the red light districts of the town. Later, Raymond would get acquainted with Okey, whom he nicknamed Bongo on account of his bell-bottom trousers. Bongo’s narrative of his brother, nicknamed Don Locco, a secret cult kingpin, would fuel Dominion College Mafia (DCM), with Raymond as leader.
Thus is born the ultimate cultist, who will rule with lethal ferocity. DCM begins to unleash terror in Dominion College; not even the principal is spared. They have his car smashed and commit all sorts of abominable acts for their young age. Somehow, they manage to evade being caught. Raymond leaves secondary school and makes a pitch for university, but his poor scores deny him a federal university placement. He settles for a state-owned university and waltzes into the bosom of cultism. Although Maidoh makes great efforts to mask the name of Raymond’s university, it is apparent, from the seeming triangular movements of Raymond, that Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, Edo State (formerly Bendel and later Edo State University), is it. Indeed, for those who were in universities in the 1990s, Ekpoma was a known cult den. Only far-flung University of Calabar ranked ahead of it in that vice. Its neighbouring University of Benin, Benin City, in which Imasuen’s Fine Boys is set, had it on a mild scale on account of the no-nonsense stance of its female vice chancellor, Prof. Grace Alele-Williams, Nigeria’s first female to chair a university.
RAYMOND’S entry into university opened another vista for his propensity towards cultism. He willed it; he was on the lookout for it, and it presented itself to him almost on a platter. A combination of events leads to his inevitable initiation into one of the most dreaded cult groups on campus right from his first year. Although he tries to mask his identity and keep away from the gang members, he is neck-deep in it until he is made the ultimate kingpin, the Alfa of Black Night Marauders (BNM).
Although an average student in terms of academics, Raymond is smart enough to realise that he is on campus to get education in spite of the demands of his cult commitments unlike most other cult members for whom cultism comes first. He is the first Alfa to graduate in record time without having to spend another year in university. Maidoh portrays Raymond as a level-headed cultist, almost an unwilling kingpin, as his appointment to that high office gives him the shocks; he never lobbied for it. Even his leadership, apart from a few moments of brashness, stands him out as a moderate evil incarnate. But his chosen path is not exactly the path for the level-headed. He soon finds this out, when a coup, carried out by some of his henchmen, led by Victor, to upstage him from power so he doesn’t pass on the Alfa baton to another of his moderate kind, somehow flops. A near bloodbath ensues that throws the university into chaos. The infighting is so intense that the police wade in, and Raymond becomes a wanted man. It nearly costs him his degree.
Raymond is raised in a middle class family; he has the privilege of going on holidays in London as a secondary school student in class three. So, indeed, he has no business being in a cult. But that is the sad irony. On campus, he is the ladies’ man and many a girl would not have associated him with the dreaded cult sect, or a notorious ‘fine boy.’
When the heat finally gets to him, Raymond, just like others before him, begin to see the futility of his delinquent behaviour. Regrets and recriminations become his lot; but he has only himself to blame as he descends deeper and deeper into black magic and all related evils of cultism. Through help, he begins the arduous task of retracing his steps after finding God. He graduates and leaves for the U.K., the other half of the story and his eventual brush with British police and his miraculous escape and how he finally dedicates his life to God.
MAIDOH presents Raymond’s life as a testimony and warning to youngsters all over Nigeria, especially those who are drawn to choose the wrong path. Cultism is still a festering ill in Nigerian universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, and even secondary schools. This is a book for these adolescents to see the journey of one young man who went ‘down the valley’ and just barely managed to come out alive; many went down and remained there forever.
Maidoh’s coming-of-age story makes for a hugely interesting reading. Parents will shiver at what possibly happens on campuses, what their children and wards get up to at university. Youngsters will think twice before taking that dangerous step into cultism. The Protagonist is a modern-day moral just too strong and urgent to miss or ignore.However, a tighter editing would have done the book a whole lot of good; a reprint would afford the author the opportunity to do so.