A look at Okinba Launko’s entertaining and evocative ‘The Best of Times’ – Olukorede S. Yishau

Okinba Launko’s ‘The Best of Times’ is a collection of three novellas: Kolera Kolej, Ma’ami and Cordelia.

Kolera Kolej is satirical. It is set in a country where a cholera break out at the university leads to deaths. The leader of this country, which has the same mannerisms with Nigerian leaders, abdicates his responsibility by granting guided autonomy to the university. Intrigues ensue in picking the pioneer leader for the new republic and all kinds of factors, except merit, come into play. Blackmail is not in short supply in the new republic. In the end, not much is achieved because favouritism, egotism, and many anti-development sentiments dictate the pace.

This novella is funny. The ridiculousness of the decisions taken by the leaders of the college and the country displays the lack of foresight and patriotism that many a Nigerian leader is famous for.

The second novella, Ma’ami, which inspired a film of the same title by veteran filmmaker Tunde Kelani, is about the extent a mother can go to get her child his needs. It is also about poverty and how some see occultism as a way out. Reading the novella makes me feel like seeing Kelani’s cinematic representation all over again. The points of divergence also easily hit me, in the sense that I can easily identify the additions to the filmic version.

This novella, narrated in the first person by the son, is not just about mother’s love, it vividly paints the extent people can go to make money. Imagine a father sacrificing his son for a money-making ritual! It also tells the corruption of government officials who allow extraneous factors in deciding who has a space in the market and who does not. This novella also shows the importance of a father-figure in a child’s life. Despite all Ma’ami does for her ‘Termogene’ of a son, all it takes to test his loyalty is the sight of his father and the evidence of his filthy lucre.

It is filled with drama and the author resolves the conflicts brilliantly. Telling the tale in present tense gives it immediacy and I just love it. The end of this story will have you asking yourself questions. You may even re-read to get a second opinion.

In the third, Cordelia, romance meets politics, politics of the men in military fatigue with all its attendant dangers. This novella starts with a lecturer in a disturbed state about his marriage. His once-sweet wife has become the devil’s envoy. In the opening pages of the story, we see clear evidence of the lecturer’s state of mind, including his inability to teach his students. One of them later confronts him in his office about his shoddy lecture. Like a typical man, he sees no reason to discuss such a matter, especially with his student. The student in question is accompanied to the lecturer’s office by another student named Cordelia. Unknown to the lecturer, Cordelia is about to be at the centre of a major riot in the institution following a radio announcement.

 With fellow students about to lynch her, Cordelia’s friend begs the lecturer to save her by hiding her in his office. While Cordelia’s friend is still trying to convince the lecturer to help save her from the mob; his wife comes into the office and accuses him of having an affair with his student. With no explanation acceptable to her, he eventually locks her up in the office to go and save the girl in danger. He returns to find out that his aggrieved wife has turned his office upside down. She even tore his research papers which sets him back many years.

‘Ma’ami’ and ‘Cordelia’ are suspense-filled with each chapter ending with a cliff hanger and thus luring the reader to the next page and, in the process, getting him or her hooked like a hard drug user. This is certainly not easy to pull off but the author achieves this with magisterial competence which made the novellas must reads back in the 80s when they were serialised in The Guardian on Sunday.

‘Kolera Kolej’, which was written over four decades ago, is surprisingly filled with afflictions which still trouble Nigeria. This makes one wonder if we will ever get things right by gaining independence from nepotism, favouritism, corruption, political elites’ impunity, and more.

Okinba Launko (Professor Femi Osofisan’s pen name) delivers a set of entertaining and educative novellas, which are bound to stay with a reader long after closing the last page.

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