TITLE: The Whirlwind
AUTHOR: Jerry Agada
REVIEWER: Elvis Ogenyi
In a solemn or somberly situation, the tendency to pass a humour for frivolity is high. But when a humour becomes the conveyor of information, it gains approval. We therefore, cherish Professor Agada’s humour. But much more, we esteem the humourist in The Whirlwind.
The Whirlwind is a simple narrative of the drama that characterizes politics in Nigeria. It is a satire, a blend of metaphor, allegory and other literary instrument. In The Whirlwind the reader enters the world of the author and embraces the contradiction of the Nigerian electoral process. The frustration, intrigues, deceit, selfishness and greed conniving against the noble ambition of the politician is the story Agada has summarized in fourteen, short chapters and told in a lucid voice.
Professor Agada in The Whirlwind reminds us of our drawback as a nation, our pitfalls in democracy and our collective responsibility to build the society of our dream. His submission dovetails into the philosophical rendering of Chief David Attah. According to the late political icon, the society of our dream must be conceived and engineered by us. The Whirlwind, however, reveals our aloofness and despoilment of the society the onus is on us to build through salutary deeds and conduct.
The book which takes its title from one of its chapters throws up issues we should quickly examine. The issues include corruption, electoral malpractices, decamping syndrome, misdeeds of the judiciary, money politics, thuggery, ballot box snatching, the god-father factor, the ‘rice for hand, votes for ground’ factor in politics, the self not society motive, the ironic ostentation of politicians among a poverty stricken populace, the monumental thievery amidst deprivation, the herculean task of the government to sanitize the system and lots more. While recent development in our electoral system, especially, the deployment of technology may have addressed some of the aforementioned challenges, many of them still stare us in the face.
For instance, with the gradual approach of the 2019 elections, we have witnessed decamping ceremonies across the political spectrum. Every week colourful ceremonies are held across the country as somebody leads a large contingent from one party to another just to brighten the chance of some ambitious politicians at the poll. Sooner than later, the same contingent or another one is on the move seeking a greener pasture. They behave like Willy who “defected to the Better Peoples Party” and after one week “he defected again.” p25
The trend makes a mockery of our democracy and forestalls the growth and the nurturing of an ideology driven political expression we badly need as a nation. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for instance, is a product of defection. While its emergence is good for our democracy, the problem this has created is perhaps a major frustration of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. This is evident in different submissions of Mr. President. A few days ago, Mr. President lamented that the 2018 budget submitted to Senate since December, 2017 is just ready to be signed into law. This is so because the head of the executive arm of government and that of the legislature appear to differ ideologically even though they both belong to the same party.
Curiously too, the army of thugs belonging to politicians is in training in various hidden camps across the country, ready to unleash terror on the innocent as campaign intensifies unless there is a quick intervention while money stacked in secret vaults are gradually returning to the arena. In states where people are impoverished, especially with months of unpaid salaries, a bag of rice, salt and pepper will mean a lot to the electorate and will decide the direction the vote swings. The role of money in politics is universal but its ability to mortgage the people’s conscience is perhaps local and peculiar to our society.
This is the crux of Agada’s literary endeavour in his latest book. He chooses a title that connotes a consuming event and one that is sweeping violently forward so as to impress on us that our aloofness to the choking and smouldering situation could be the tacit approval of our steady walk to the precipice. The hubris of our political engagement undermines the blessings of providence on our dear nation and is reason for Professor Pat Utomi’s assertion that Nigeria is a country that is reluctant to grow. The Sun newspaper’s Okey Ndibe puts it pointblank: “Nigeria is a country in reverse gear pretending to move forward.” But Agada raises our dashed hope as he recalls a President who is ready to go the whole hog and restore sanity. Hear him: “For the President’s stand on the issue of corruption, life has never been the same again as most culprits have disappeared for fear of arrests.” (P103).
Nigerian literary personality, Toni Kan notes that the first page of a book is like the cloth you wear to a job interview: it sets the tone for the rest encounter. The Preface to Agada’s Whirlwind serves this purpose. Here, the author announces his purpose to share his personal experience in politics. While his elocution is arresting, it begs the pity of the reader who encounters a man who after a successful career in the civil service, veered into the murky waters of politics.
The author establishes the fact that he is the main character in this drama. He also announces his inspiration from elections he was probably a spectator, not the player that he was in a later governorship election. His experience is regrettable as he encounters strange characters on the scene. They include: political thugs, miscreants, election riggers, ballot box snatchers, treasury looters, traditional rulers and many others who are united in a plot against our collective destiny.
His utter dismay with the political system however, left him a burning desire to effect a desirable change to it. Then he chooses to become governor. His vision translates into a mission to help his state attain an enviable economic height but mischief and intrigues connived against his noble ambition. The entire story told in the 116-page book is here summarized.
Indeed, the Preface raises thought provoking questions. One of the most obvious is on the Nigerian political culture which accommodates obscene characters giving politics a bad image. Aside the usual horse trading, politics is branded a dirty game on account of harrowing experiences one goes through in politics. The deliberate parade of an army of thugs, the brazen malpractices, cheating, dishonesty, affluence and lots more contradict the tenets of democracy in the civilized world.
Why is it so difficult to seek an elective office in Nigeria if you lack a deep pocket? Why must the membership of the opposition become a death sentence in politics? Why has ‘the Food is Ready Politicians’ grown in leaps and bounds? Why will the minority, despite his vision and competence be marginalized on the basis of background or nativity? Where has our cherished value for excellence gone to? These are germane issues that raise questions in the mind of the reader of The Whirlwind.
The political godfathers endorse the malleable at the expense of the visionary he calls the politically un-amenable. The graphic illustration of the political desperation in our nation is noteworthy. Agada tells the story of how a popular governor was taken before the tribunal by a desperate opponent but won. (P85).
In Chapter One, the author recasts his political experience in allegorical terms. He uses a goat to narrate his encounter. The symbolic use of a goat is not taken for granted since the sermon is delivered with vivid images of our situation. There is a need to reflect on the issues raised by the author. For instance we encounter a goat meant for Christmas celebration escaping the butcher’s knife not through magical powers or deeds of bravery and courage as such but through wisdom (knowledge) the goat escaped the soup pot. The experience of the goat tells us that we can recreate our world, especially, our warped electoral system through the choice that we make.
Our current situation is a reflection of our misplaced priority which the author of The Whirlwind has creatively presented in Chapters Two and Three of the book. Chapter Four sees the author in his best humour. He takes the reader on a hilarious flight as he moves from the critical to the sublime. Despite your provocations you are forced to share a banter, smile and laugh with his jocularity especially as a man was sued by his wife in the court of public opinion where rumour and gossip thrive seeking an injunction to her husband’s decision to increase his daily Palmwine intake by one keg.
However, with hilarity, Agada undresses the Nigerian judiciary. Hear him: “I don’t mean the type of injunctions granted by the law courts…capable of truncating the nation’s nascent democracy” p34. But much more, he lays emphasis on the need to protect and preserve our culture as he chooses to drink palmwine.
Chapter Seven of the book dwells on the fortunes of the school where the author once served as College Principal. The array of personalities the school has trained or hosted is briefly examined. They include former and serving Presidents and State Governors who were either students of the school ( Government College, Makurdi) at some points or were visitors . The gift of cows to staff and students of the College by such eminent visitors were humourously treated (p53). The author’s motive here goes beyond mere humour. He places on notice that the College is destined to raise future leaders. But perhaps, not only that College, but indeed, every other one. As such, students of our secondary schools should show exemplary character.
But even much more, he assesses the power of creativity. The Principal of the College (the author?) was elevated to a Special Grade using a piece of poem and a portrait painting of the visitor. “The Head Boy rendered a beautiful poem that swept the President off his feet,” he notes. Who says creativity is a frivolous enterprise? It can be our ladder to the top and should be accorded priority in the society.
Yet, the Whirlwind is an x-ray of the cancer afflicting our nation. Read the author’s treatises: Politicians “who could not travel out with their loots had gone to hide same in bushes, forests, septic tanks and inside ceilings under their roofs waiting to do money laundering” (p105).
“In most cases salaries and pensions were not paid and that people were living in abject poverty when the then ruling party leaders displayed wealth and affluence with reckless abandon” p104.
“The electorate adored the politician for his penchant for promises not to create but to spread wealth,” p21.
“Whatever notable electoral deficit this candidate suffered was adequately compensated by his aggressive poster/billboard campaign strategy” p20.
The Author’s prophetic narration in Chapter Nine leaves a solemn feeling. Like the preacher he reminds us of the ephemeral nature of life as he dwells on the Last Day which for Steve was a sudden death (Page 70). If Steve was a treasury looter, he left his loot behind for possibly undeserving survivors to waste and to lavish on riotous living. His loot could have been used by government to provide social amenity in his community. As usual, Agada presented the matter jocularly.
As the reader enjoys the hilarious episodes of the author, the fact of the matter jumps out of the pages and the reader realizes that this is not a comedy despite the humour. Rather, it is the voice of a crusader begging to be heard. The author, Professor Jerry Agada has yet proven his strong literary temperament with The Whirlwind.
The book which comes in a beautiful cover, is written in a flowing, understandable tone for all readers with minimal errors. Our political leaders must take note of Agada’s contestation expressed in an advocacy for a saner political culture. The greatness of Nigeria is in equity and fairness in her political expression. An Igbo man should rise to the presidency of Nigeria; an Idoma to the governorship of Benue state and Igede to the Benue South senatorial seat. Democracy is the game of number. The number is in shared ideology, not in ethnicity and religion which entrench mediocrity in the system.
Indeed, The Whirlwind is a compass to the politician sailing in the nation’s political waters, it is a good companion of the student, administrator and the general public. It is a book that speaks to our situation and is recommended for all.
-Ogenyi is a former Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Benue State Council.