Life’s Dizzying Spectacles: A Review of Kwara ANA’s Harmonious Chronicles

 

Book: Harmonious Chronicles

Author: Kwara State Chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors

Reviewer: Mahfouz A. Adedimeji, PhD

Publisher: Rashmed Publications Limited

Place of Publication: Ibadan

Year of Publication: 2019

Pages: 231

 

Prolegomena

A term rooted in the Latin “littera”, meaning letters, or referring to some familiarity with the written word, has always sought to define life in its physical and metaphysical hues. Since its very beginning in the work of hymns in praise of the Sumerian goddess, Inanna, by Enhenduanna (2285-2250BC), the high priestess of Ur, who is the first author of literature known by name, literature has remained a potent instrument of giving meaning to life and living. In essence, as a form of writing in prose or verse, fiction or fact, a common thread that runs through all literature is life, including man, evident in its Aristotelean conception as the imitation of life, which Oscar Wilde twisted to aver that life imitates literature.

When Bayo Ogunjinmi (1994 p.24) conceived as the “portrait of man and his environment held on for him to see by the artist, so that he can have profound reflections about his world view and general existence,” what he was actually saying is that literature serves as the mirror through which a person is able to think about life and one’s position or status in it. It is in this regard that writers generally, and literary artists especially, have often constituted the conscience of the society. Like language, the vehicle of its conveyance, literature forms, informs, reforms, transforms and it may possibly also deform man and his society (Adedimeji, 2005). Even when one wants to be insulated from the contractions of life, literature offers a refuge, a situation that made Fernando Pessoa say that “literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.” So, in every piece of literature, whether poetry, prose or drama, life in its various contours comes alive through man as well as the flora and fauna that surround him in the context of his cosmology.

Introduction

It is in furtherance of reflecting on those various contours or dimensions of life, especially in Nigeria as a microcosm of our world, that the Kwara State Chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) has produced a rare anthology, in thematic concerns and size, in honour of a man who lived a life of abundance, the late Hon. Justice Mustapha Akanbi, a personality who dominated the Nigerian public scene like a colossus with his honesty, justice, versatility, philanthropy, discipline, integrity and humanity. That Hon. Justice Akanbi himself could be transmuted to a literary work for a deep engagement appeared to be a leit motif of ANA Kwara so that Nigerians in particular and human beings at large can view themselves from his mirror and encounter bright colours of different hues to ornament their lives. In other words, this book, coming alive a year after the demise of the late sage, appears to be a commemorative intervention to project and promote the values that defined his life as a role model extraordinaire that leaders and followers alike should emulate to find our seemingly lost moral compass as a nation.

While it is conventional to have collections of poems, short stories and playlets, in Harmonius Chronicles, what is immediately dazzling and dizzying is its mixed grill, a gbogbonse (cure-all) literary antidote. For, in one single book, there are poems, short stories, two novellas, a book review, non-fictional works and a playlet. For the starters, the book is just a mumbo-jumbo of fragmented thoughts, both deep and shallow, strewn together to make a 231-page harvest. However, a perceptive appraisal would connect the dots of the diverse literary-academic outputs as a bumper harvest of spectacles of life, documented for reflection, inspiration, orientation, education, entertainment and enlightenment.

The Structure

Harmonious Chronicles is structurally made of four unequal parts, even if the reader will find only three parts in the book, the foregrounded part being the front matter. The front matter is crucial in my view because it contains a tribute to the personage whose image further dignifies the book, the late Hon. Justice Mustapha Akanbi. Written by Prof. A. S. Abubakar, the tribute tells the story of the late jurist’s life right from the cradle as well as his inspiring and inspirational career, with some food for thought as the icing on the cake that can motivate everyone to greatness.

This window into the life and times of Justice Akanbi was complemented by the preface, written by Mal. A. R. A. Aderinoye, the of KWARA ANA, whose 21 successive nominal group appellations would rightly position Baba as an extraordinary man of extraordinary proportions. The last major component of the front matter is the foreword by Denja Abdullahi, President of the Association of Nigerian Authors, who acknowledges the creative efflorescence of and the support of great minds like Baba himself and Mallam Yusuf Ali to the Association.

The stated parts of the book are Poetry, Prose and Drama or Parts One, Two and Three respectively. The first part is the largest, constituting nearly half of the whole book, featuring as many as 87 poems written by 37 poets. The second part contains one book review, one academic paper or essay, two novellas, one book review, eight short stories and a three-paragraph piece that cannot be easily described, which I think must have been added in error, while the final part contains a playlet.

A Holistic Overview

The 37 poets whose works are featured in this collection are preoccupied with diverse themes that border on life and living in a society that is in transition. The first part begins with the poems of Abdulhafeez Oyewole. It is apt and significant that the book begins on a note of “Gratitude” (p.2) followed by “Hope” (p.2), two crucial motifs in coping with life. The two poems are striking because the attitude of gratitude ultimately propels one to the desired altitude while hope, which E. B. White describes as “the only thing left to us in a bad time”, should be kept alive at all times (see Adedimeji, 2014). As the poet enjoins us, “Hope for laughter/ From a happy heart/ Undoubtful of what/ Tomorrow holds”(p.3). The same message of hope, which is relevant to this season of anomie, frustration and perceived hopelessness, exemplified by Toyin Shittu’s “The next planting season” (p.88),  is offered by Olamide Christianah Adeboye (i.e. “Hope” p.70).

In “Justice in Akanbi” (p.4), the poet also portrays the late Justice Mustapha Akanbi in his true light as a man worthy of celebration, a theme that recurs in Abubakar Ola Abdulhameed’s “The departure of an icon” (p.8), Cecelia A. Etchie’s “Justice Mustapha Adebayo Akanbi” (p.42) and Oladele Babajamu’s “Ode to our learned man” (p.67). While examining the social menace of rape in “The night they came” (p.5), a subject also explored by Gbolagade Taiwo Ayodeji in “My lasting scar” (p.55), it is a sound philosophy of life that constitutes Oyewole’s poetic focus in “This life, not ever ours” (p.6).

In her poem, “Eclipse” (p.7), Abdulkareem Rofiat Omotayo is fascinated by nature while Abdur-Rahman Adebayo Aderinoye in his three short poems “Forever!” “Golden” and “The validators” is excited by the Supreme Force behind nature in glorification and adulation of the Almighty. In a world obsessed with power-mongering and corruption, Adinoyi Abdulbasit passes a cautionary message in “They and we” (p.13) while the subject of love and romance is explored by Ajibola Akinola Abubakar in “Ina ife!!!” and “My cravings” (p.16), just like Jalaludeen Shuaib Assayouti in his “Rainy day” (p.20), Babayemi Opeyemi Olorunjuwon in his “If you will be my Niger” (p.27) and “My esteemed inestimable” (p.28). The same theme of love finds further expressions in the poems of Baliqees Muhammed Bisola (i.e. “The mystery of love” p.33), Balogun Comfort Favour (“If I had cared” p.35; “I miss you”, p.36; and “River flow” p.36), Hamzah Abdurraheem (“I see you – For O. K.” p.56), Oladele Babajamu (“Shall I wait forever” p.66), Sulaiman Adenike Faoziyat (“A cold heart”, p.80; “Ending”, p.80 and “If I dumped you right now” p.81) and Veronica Samuel (i.e. “Suspended” p.94). Truly, as the poets suggest, love is the solution to the problems of the world.

Meanwhile, in her “Chain-ry” (p.18) Aminat Sakeenah Jatto clamours for freedom, which Babatunde Aminat also passionately seeks to a large extent in her thrilling poems, “The sojourner” (p.22), “The African child” (p.25) and “Too blind to see” (p.25).  Whereas, Babayemi Opeyemi Olorunjuwon appears reflective and philosophical in his “There’s God” (p.28), “Ungratefools” (p.30), a beautiful coinage, and “We are them not us” (p.31) while Betty Ige laments the menace of social inequality in “Imagine them” (p.38), issues that draw on the raw nerves of the unjust world we live in.

Braimah Abdulrazaq is also philosophical in “How do I convince a lot?” (p.39) and “Mad man’s pride” (p.39), just like Celilia A. Etchie in her reflections on “Dancers and praise singers” (p.42), “Ilorin” (p.42), “My comforter” (p.44), “The rugged pathway to victory” (p.45), a thrilling tribute to President Muhammadu Buhari, “Trip to hell” (p.46) and “Wailing mothers”(p.46), the last of which ruminates on the agonies of the mothers of kidnapped Chibok girls. In the same vein, deep thinking underpins and cosmological philosophy in Folorunsho Obalugemo’s poetry as evident in “Fair play with thy lady” (p.48), “Left to instinct” (p.48), “Planetary concerto” (p.50) and “The couple above” (p.52).

As the title suggests, Folowosele Oluwafemi Ebenezer is an adviser “To the adult” (p.53) of today while Is-haq E. Salahudeen is concerned with “A message for tomorrow” (p.57) and “The world at arms race” (p.58), where he is distressed by the mess the world has become, a theme that is more or less explored in Iyanda Suleiman Ayinde’s “Sinful trade” (p.59) and Mubarak Oladosu’s “Poetic justice” (p.61), which deplores corruption in the judiciary, against the values and virtues of “Baba”, a tribute to a sage, Prof. Yasir Anjola Quadri, as revealed on page 60.

Interestingly, Muhammad Aisha’s solo poem, “Heartsong” (p.63) is delightfully evocative and graphologically striking while Okorite John Harry’s grim picture of life and death in his “In a moment” (p.64) is profound. In “Repentance run revenge” (p.72), a poem that could have been better captioned, grammatically and otherwise, by Olateju Juwon Tolulope, there is a good message that finds further expression in Razaq Rokibat Mosunmola’s “A pained heart” (p.73) that one “should show some love/Let your heart be as pure as dove”, as demonstrated by the subject of Rowland Olonishuwa’s “Requiem for an inspiration”, Fadhilat Shaikh Sofiyullahi Kamaldeen Al’adabiyah, and Sunday Ogbonna’s “He lives” (p.87), a tribute to Chinua Achebe.

While Sheriff Olanrewaju demonstrates socio-political consciousness in condemning hypocrisy in “Corruption: the poisonous breath”(p.78) and “Shago-n’bugo (The fate of gullible followers)” (p.79), Stephen Adedoyin decries social vices like smoking, armed robbery, alcoholism, drug abuse and other contradictions that constitute “The pathway to death” (p.85) in Nigeria. On his part, Umar Saidu Isa advocates resilience against the “Agents of obscenity” (p.89) while canvassing skills acquisition and self-development in “Beyond academic excellence” (p.90). Meanwhile, apart from lauding ANA in “For ANA Kwara” (p.92), Usman Oladipo Akanbi demonstrates social consciousness in lamenting the state of the nation in his “Whither goes my faith” (p.92).

In the second part containing prose, diverse themes that border on the contemporary socio-political experience in Nigeria are explored. Abdulazeez O. Hassan’s “Diary of an inmate”(pp.98-120) explores the travails of an innocent prisoner in a typical Nigerian society and AbdulHafeez Oyewole leaves the question of “Who lit the fire?” (pp.121-123) unanswered since there was no fire in the first instance, a parody of the Nigerian situation where we make much ado about nothing since our problems are artificial and self-inflicted. For the purpose of interlude, perhaps, a lengthy review of the book, Arisekola in our Minds: A Compendium of Tributes, edited by Prof. Rashid Aderionye, is undertaken by Abdur-Rahman Adebayo Aderinoye (pp.124-139). Thereafter, Akeem Aribidesi’s “Death as a Proof” (pp.140-144) and “Strange Belief” (pp.145-148) fascinate the reader in their readability before Muib Shefiu’s “Justice or ‘Just-Tease’” (pp.149-153), which self-evidently reveals the injustice in the Nigerian justice delivery system, a theme equally relevant and similar to  Ogunshola Yetunde Lois’ novella, “Obstinate” (pp.154-196), the story of  Simbiat Iwalewa, brilliantly told from its gripping first sentence, “Moments before my execution, I asked myself how I ended up like this.”

In his academic paper, “Creative Writing: A Tool for Enhancing Security Awareness in Kwara State” (pp.197-204), Olademu Babajamu puts the contentious security issue in focus and identifies the roles of creative writers in promoting it while canvassing the establishment of a Creative Arts Agency, an Book Centre and a formal recognition of the activities of the Association of Nigerian Authors in the state in order to promote literacy and enlightenment that catalyse development. The same author in his succeeding short story, “The black parcel” (pp.205-210) explores how a black parcel causes a security scare in Abule Grammar School before three boys diffuse the tension, a statement on the emerging culture of parcel bombs and insecurity in Nigeria.

In “Another victim” (pp.211-216), Rowland Olonishuwa tells a police story, a grim situation of the crime committed by the youth of today out of disillusionment and lack of opportunities. The theme of social inequality is advanced further in his “…but it never happened” (pp.217-220), where the narrator resists the temptation of being lured into drug trafficking and gets punished for his refusal while expecting a miracle that never came.  The part ends with Usman Oladipo Akanbi’s “Turbulence” (pp.222-225), a smooth narration of a collapsed marriage, with the undertone that marriage is not always a bed of roses and people should look before they leap as it is not all that glitters that is gold, a timeless message.

Finally, in the single playlet of the last part, “The class is yours” (pp.228-231), the theme of indecent dressing on campus is examined by the prolific Abdulhafeez T. Oyewole, the only contributor with poetry, prose and drama entries. Grace, the indecent dresser, is disgraced and dumbfounded when she is asked to address the class. She thereby learns her lesson, apart from being sent out of the class to wear a decent dress, a message to the lecturers who are to take a cue from the story since they are like parents to their students.

Criticism

In spite of the merits of the book, which justify its publication, Harmonious Chronicles is weak on a number of counts out of which three are crucial. First, the book does not have an editor, a major weakness. A collection should have an editor whose imprimatur defines the book. Perhaps, this explains why the book is dotted with grammatical infelicities from the opening pages (what does “a propensity advocate…” or “a distinguish pillar of support” mean?) to the last pages (“should we give her second chance…”(sic), “dressing half-naked” (sic); “looks away to an open directions” (sic)) among many others.

It would have also served the purpose of the authors better for the book to be published by ANA, a professional body, even if it will be in partnership with Rashmed Publications as earlier done by ANA its 2003 publication (Aliagan, 2003). As earlier observed, an arrangement on thematic similarities would have been better, especially as we are dealing with many new writers. For instance, if tributes constitute a section, love another section, social issues, philosophy, etc., the poems would make have made a better reading and the audience would connect with the message. Nevertheless, organising the contents through the alphabetical arrangement of the authors’ names can be construed as a way of promoting each author so that the reader might appreciate his or her artistic contributions in creating and recreating life and its human-related phenomena.

General Appraisal

In a new era in which many people only Facebook rather than “face” their “books” to gain enlightenment, the publication of Harmonious Chronicles is a good intervention to stimulate the dying reading culture among the Nigerian youth. With many of the writers being youth themselves, the various themes explored, social, political, philosophical, moral, developmental and general, have direct implications for harmonious co-existence and peaceful development of the country.  The language used is also largely accessible to the youth and the average reader, who will find many entries relevant to serve the purpose of encouraging creative writing. The various authors adequately fulfill their responsibilities of reflecting, interpreting, inspiring, guiding and challenging their audience and society, as expected (Adedimeji, 2019). I would generally describe the work as being highly commendable.

Ultimately, Harmonious Chronicles is a work that provides insights into the challenges of life and the need to adjust and adapt without losing one’s mind. It is strident in projecting this life’s dizzying spectacles wish a message of hope, gratitude, contentment and focus with the assurance that the good will ultimate overcome the evil while love will trump hate. The book is in its entirety as every genre is represented, leaving the reader to savour the impact of the engagements with lessons and values that engender “literae humaniores” (cultured literature), the type of which civilises the mind and humanises the society.

It is in the light of the foregoing that I have no hesitation in recommending the book, especially when the issues identified are addressed, to various categories of readers for edification, pleasure and development. The work is a treasure trove in which the wisdom of about forty informed writers is packaged for the benefit of every single reader that holds the book.

Postscript

The initial version of this review was presented at the Book Presentation programme of Kwara State Chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) held at Mustapha Akanbi Library and Resource Centre, Water View, G. R. A., Ilorin, on the Occasion of the International Poetry Day on March 21, 2019.

 

References 

Adedimeji, M. A. (2019). Adesanmi: The final flight home.  Retrieved from             https://opinion.premiumtimesng.com/2019/03/18adesanmi-flinal-flight-home-by-       mahfouz-adedimeji/ on March 20, 2019.

Adedimeji, M. A. (2014). Hang on to your hope. New Telegraph. Lagos. June 25. p.30.             Accessible at   https://mahfouzadedimeji.com/2014/06/26/hang-on-to-your-hope/

Adedimeji, M. A. (2005). Language functions and conflict management in Nigeria: A             functional linguistic approach. In Ndimele, Ozo-mekuri (ed.) Trends in the study    of          and linguistics in Nigeria: A festschrift for Philip Akujuoobi             Nwachukwu.   pp. 187-198. Port Harcourt: Grand Orbit Communications and Emhai Press for          Linguistic Association of Nigeria.

Aliagan, Isiaka (ed.) (2003). Echoes and voices from the Midland. Ilorin: ANA/NNI Publishers.

Ogunjinmi, Bayo. (1994). What is literature? In Obafemi, Olu (ed.) New introduction to         literature. pp. 5 – 25. Ibadan: Y- Books.

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