Nwaka reflects Man’s inhumanity in Mr Benjamin’s Pen
Nigerian literature is growing by the day with tons of published (increasingly self-published) works. While it shows the continued burgeoning of literary enterprise for which many great men and women of the yore years had laboured to put on the global space, the literary merits of the many works that are churned out will continue to raise genuine concerns.
Several factors could be adduced for these, including shoddy (or in some case seemingly lack of) editorial works, but it is becoming apparent that as more sans literary works prevail, the few genuine works lose out. Perhaps, that is why more focus is usually glanced towards the West for published Nigerian (as of African) literature.
Writers and publishers based in the country and on the continent then suffer inattention immeasurably. Tony Nwaka’s Mr Benjamin’s Pen is a work deserving the attention of anyone with interest in the blossoming Nigerian literature.Not for its mode of narration (multiple narrators) nor for its futuristic temporal setting, which are not novel inventions, but for the adroitness with which the author employed his chosen techniques as means towards telling and showing his story.
To have all the narrators ultimately serve the same purpose of explicating the stories around the loss of a pen by the eponymous character, Mr Benjamin, bears testament to the skills of the author.Aside from Benjamin, his estranged friend, Maxwell Odum, Professor Ambrose Idehen and Mr Ijele are all narrators whose varying associations with Benjamin provide insight into his personal life, his lofty academic pursuits and his somewhat casual politics, which is risky in a country like Nigerian where sycophancy and excessive fawning are the most important factors that keep political appointees in employment.
One of those narrators, Ijele, will become Benjamin’s (assumed) adversary as he cannot stand his perceived nonchalance, which more or less to him is a hubris that ought to be punished. And he succeeds. He does this through some untoward ingenuity. He takes Benjamin’s position in the cabinet of the governor of the fictional Coast state by first helping him to recover his lost pen!
A return of an almost inconsequential pen becomes the albatross of the protagonist of the novel. This is quite remarkable as one could have been led to anticipate the narrative of the novel being built around a genuinely valuable pen awarded to Benjamin at the earliest part of the story for his literary excellence. Suspense, irony and varying metaphors are some of the noticeable elements appropriated by the author to achieve this. That Ijele will eventually covet Benjamin’s prized pen after getting his position reflects man’s insatiable avarice and inhumanity to his kind. Perhaps, once he succeeds he will go after his wife?
But that does not happen. Ijele eventually loses the efficacy of his sinister methods which understandably leads to resolution of the conflict of the story. How this happens shows the author’s personal belief (or wish) that evil be ultimately punished by a supreme power, which also rewards good with positive results. The haste with which the author makes this happen in the novel can somewhat be faulted, however. That the resolution of the conflicts rather is precipitated by an occurrence akin to dues ex machina more or less shows the urge to resolve the skilful knots the author had himself weaved around the story so that he could end it. There could have been more careful use of cause and effect which gives plausibility. The excellence of the narration in whole is not in doubt, it should be stated.
Meanwhile, an unskilled reader might even be lost to the indefiniteness of the protagonist’s identity. Is Mr Benjamin really a persona in the fictional world of the novel or just a dreamy impression of another character in that world? Nwaka’s skilful narration provides much answer to this riddle.