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Nigeria’s literary space and ‘the case of a nursing father’


 Sylvester Akhaine

Sylvester Akhaine

Literary creativity comes in different forms, and with consequence for genre formation. The Case of a Nursing Father by Sylvester Odion Akhaine, a collection of essays many of which have been published in the newspapers spanning over three decades, lurches in this direction.

From the lead article The case of a Nursing Father to the highly touching must read Mother, both of which dwell on domestic issues and relationships to the hilarious; just for the laughs Many Wishes of Christmas and New Year and The Virgin Nightmare to others of strong socio-political tones like Che Guevara: Twenty-Eight Years after the Mortal October and The Days of the Dracula and then Requiem for Bullet Stoner and A Tribute to a Brave Couple in which the sureness of the end of man’s existence is brought up for examination, the author makes us peer into recesses back down, up to the 1980s and pens down in crisp and clear terms, common experiences in the Nigerian society and beyond.

For instance in Bloodbath at Bayero the activities of Student Unionism in its hey days in the country is brought to light and many who do not have an inkling of how the system operated then and should operate with their warped idea of it leading to its misuse are given a clear insight into its workings and ideals and the selfless and sacrificial spirit involved in the Aluta Continua of the days of yore, vestiges of which remain today in the ivory towers only in stunted measures. Cuban Notes which also tells the tale of such struggles in the outer society of the South American continent of Cuba bears testimony as to the vastness of information that can be gleaned from these short articles making them a veritable resource especially for researchers of socio-political history.

Perhaps, the most striking feature of this book for the keen of mind would be the titles, first of the book and then of most of the articles in it. Bearing in them elements of allegory, a reader’s interest is keenly aroused by them as they seem to be crafted beyond the banal just as in most of Akhaine’s other works which worthy of mention here are Patrons of Poverty and Another Woman of Substance; titles that speak volumes.

Probably perfunctorily named, The Case of a Nursing Father is a title that lures reading and with the 22 other equally captivating titles that whet the appetite for reading but that may not be directly indicative of the perspective and bent of content, guesses made of content are likely to turn out to apply only peripherally to the meat and import of the articles. This very fact makes the writings interesting and exciting and may provoke a re-read experience that is worth its weight in gold.

The title The Case of a Nursing Father of the lead story for example, would undoubtedly specially appeal to and definitely catch the fancy of for instance, single parent (separated) fathers in custody of offspring would probably nod that “someone acknowledges and speaks at last of their situation” while a widower saddled with such same responsibility would hail the seeming reference to his situation, conjuring in his mind what he anticipates the obvious story line.

The shocker, however, which underscores the point being made here of the creativity and exotic nature of these titles is that though there may be some semblance in this story in terms of the passion exhibited by fathers who have to take charge of caring for a child, status and reason for the father in this book doing the job stands aloof of the usual and even in relation to the peculiar cultural practices of the Aka Pygmy people of Central Africa and some males that have stated an idiosyncratic inclination to wet nurse and surrogate.

This trend of the unusual turn of events and of lines of thought in most of the articles is quite instructive of the plaid circumstances of common and shared experiences of humans and of the differing patterns of reasoning that inform responses: actions, inactions and reactions to them. The writer’s adroitness in bringing peculiar angles of reasoning into perspective as depicted in these articles where one is given a dose of very ordinary and at other times very complex things of life in a laugh about, shrug it away or fellow feeling manner confers on the book the profundity that makes it highly insightful, very exciting and most interesting.

On style and language, Akhaine in this as in most of his other works writes in simplicity and brevity of language making it easy to key into his thoughts and the workings of his mind. Thus, despite the metaphoric twists and turns in the articles, the down to earth and familiar expressions that make no pretence to academic or verbose appurtenances and the subdued humour and lightheartedness contained therein make the articles flock in readable and easy to appreciate.

However, the lightheartedness of it all may becloud the mind searching promptings embedded in the articles; since the narratives are laced with humour, the lessons of value for persuasion to the good may be lost on the not so acute of mind.

On the whole the publication in single volume of The Case of a Nursing Father is quite justified and salutary to readership as the impact made by these articles in their being individually and intermittently published in the relatively fleeting newspaper medium becomes more pungent in a holistic and unified entry into public readership in a more permanent medium; a book presents a one off read opportunity and elongates the lifespan of the articles for posterity.

In this article:
Sylvester Odion-Akhaine
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