Ayodele Olofintuade’s novel Lakiriboto Chronicles has a subtitle, A brief history of badly behaved women.
Set mainly in Ibadan, it is, in the main, the story of four women and one man. There are some minor characters here and there who all contribute to make the story tick.
The story kicks off with the death of Alhaja, Moremi’s grandmother. This death provides for Olori Ebi, a man of questionable past, the opportunity to steal all of Alhaja’s properties. Morieba and Moremi are stumbling blocks he must deal with. He thus orchestrates Moremi’s relocation to Lagos, where she becomes a maid to Tola. Though Tola is a relative, her badly-behaved doctor-husband, Wale, makes Moremi and Kudirat, also his wife’s relative, feel like modern-day slaves. To make matters worse, his itchy fingers are always touching inappropriate areas; even his children who he names Jesutomi, Jesuwalaye and Jesulayomi are not free from his satanic touches.
Tola, who suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), confronts Wale about his abuse of their daughters. He pretends not to know what she is talking about. Fed up, Tola eventually, with Morieba’s help, she, her children with Kudirat and Moremi, relocate to Ibadan.
Olori Ebi’s plot to steal Alhaja’s properties ascends a new pedestal when he gets a girl to become amorous with Morieba and gets it captured on photo and video. With the pictures he tries to blackmail her into letting him have all of Alhaja’s belongings. It is at this stage that Morieba confesses her gay status to Moremi as a way of breaking Olori Ebi’s back.
At a point, the person who helps Olori Ebi to get the photographs and video becomes greedy and wants to extort Morieba; thus paving the way for a high-wired counter-plot, which sees Morieba setting up Olori Ebi and cunningly getting all the vital documents in his possession. It also emerges that Amope, Moremi’s mother, has been a victim of Olori Ebi’s plot to own all. For years she battles drug addiction, which she gets enmeshed in because her stepbrother (Olori Ebi) sees her as a stumbling block that must be removed at all costs.
Significantly, Tola’s abuse as a child by her father, and her mother’s handling of it, tell a lot about parenting. Some mothers are not worth the label at all. Instead of cross checking her daughter’s words, she simply writes it off and beats the hell out of her. Her attitude throughout portrays her as a good example of a bad mother. She allows the long-held tradition of silence in the Alagbado clan make nonsense of her professed love of God.
A major twist in this book is Tola agreeing to return to Lagos with Wale after he traces her to Ibadan. No one suspects her ulterior motive with the sudden change of mind. She becomes submissive in Lagos. And it is at this point that Wale’s Christian life is further exposed as phony. We find out he likes violent sexual acts. To catch him and punish him, Rita (Tola’s other personality) takes over and pretends to become a convert to his weird sexual ways and through this she kills him so neatly that even the police hold her for manslaughter and not for murder.
MPD, also known as Dissociative Identity Disorder, is a mental condition where two or more distinct personalities are believed to control the behaviour of a single individual. In Tola, the second personality is known as Rita and she is the daring one.
The novel shows that we live in a world ruled by fears. It shows that we pretend a lot, that we see many of our afflictions as taboos: things that must not be talked about in the open. So, we suffer in silence. We fear to talk about a child being raped by her father or an uncle. We treat sexual assault, sexuality and mental health conditions with levity.
We fear to talk about the fact that we still own slaves in this twitter age and name them househelps or housemaids, but the treatment we give them shows that they are nothing but slaves – they cannot sit on the couch; they cannot eat on the dining table; they cannot watch television in our presence; and they can easily be identified when we go out with them. Their dressing, their hair, their shoes and all tell them apart.
Olofintuade’s language is seductive. Her narrative skill is good. She tells her story with vigour, with zeal and a presence of mind that leaves out no vital details.
This book also has elements of the Yoruba cosmic. From time to time, we see Esu (Not Satan, mind you) playing a role.
Olofintuade gives Lakiriboto, a Yoruba word that is used to describe a woman whose vagina walls are closed for penetration, a metaphoric meaning. It is adapted here because the book is about women who refuse to be controlled by societal norms. These women take charge of their sexuality, their finances and fates.
–Olukorede S. Yishau is the author of In The Name of Our Father and Vaults of Secrets.