Olukorede S. Yishau’s latest body of work, ‘Vaults of Secrets’ (2020), is a work that undoubtably proves his literary prowess. It is a collection of ten short stories that explore issues faced or experienced by not only Nigerians, but by other humans in general. Ranging from personal to collective concerns, human existence embodies a wide range that cannot be assessed completely, in one book. But in this collection, regardless, the author thematically explores as many issues as possible that are present in Nigeria. Issues such as domestic violence, teenage prostitution, rape, infidelity, incest, cultism, among others.
Amongst the themes in this book is domestic violence, which is experienced by many married women in Nigeria. This problem is deep-rooted because it narrows down to the abuser’s upbringing. A man brought up to never raise his hands on a woman, would rather walk away when he is provoked. Such a man knows better than to batter a woman. It takes a collective effort of not only families but also the society to instill this sense of discipline in young boys, in order to prevent them from becoming abusive husbands in future.
There is also the recurring cycle of women enduring domestic violence, and staying in toxic marriages in order to ensure that their children grow up in ‘unified’ rather than ‘broken’ homes. Kemi, a character in ‘Till we meet to part no more’, reveals.
“He became an alcoholic and turned violent; he beat and humiliated me countless times. I wanted to quit, but I did not. I stayed. I stayed because of our children. I stayed and prayed that he would change.” (pg. 2)
Some would say prostitution and female objectification is caused by the females rendering the ‘services’, and as such, they should not only be blamed for it, but should also be able to put up with whatever treatment is meted out to them. This is a shallow and ill-informed perspective because most teenagers that are forced into the aforementioned ‘hustle’ have little or no say, and are often cajoled into it. However, this is not to say that there aren’t ladies that voluntarily choose this line of work and it is worrisome that these people are patronised by male customers.
Such men are complicit too and should not be excluded from the problem. It takes two to tangle. Kemi’s case is the reality of young girls that are promised a better life abroad, only to be used as sex slaves. Via her epistle, Elizabeth (Kemi’s friend) re-narrates:
“…she brought a man to my room and asked me to strip. I objected…when I resisted, she kicked me and did all sorts of things to break me… Sex with strangers became my reality until I was 22. I had learnt that it became easier if I did not resist; I learnt how to use a lube. Different men would have unprotected sex with me and Madam Koikoi was being paid for the service I was providing.” (pg. 7)
In this same vein, when female objectification is not frowned upon, it may elicit sexual harassment. For instance, when a young man gropes a lady in public, and onlookers laugh it off or even regard it as ‘normal’, such a man may become rapist behind closed doors when no one is watching? And when he becomes a father, he may not resist the urge to molest his own daughter since it is ‘normal’? We cannot shy away from, or ignore the fact that there are fathers who commit the aforementioned act. The author vividly exposes such abominable act of incest in ‘My Mother’s Father is my Father’, . In the story, the victim of the incest, Evelyn Ababio, recollects:
“Baba, you brought me to this world and it was you who destroyed me… I did not suspect you. Baba, I did not. But when you began to pull my skirt, I asked what you wanted to do; you asked me to shut up. You said you were trying to save me and I was being head-strong. I was 19 and a virgin. You violated me and my life has never been the same.” (pg. 29)
In the story ‘Letters from the basement’, Blessing, a sixteen year old girl, is impregnated by a thirty three year old man. Which now begs the question; is her naivety an excuse for his paedophilic act?
With the advent of modernity in the 21st century, one would assume that unreasonable and archaic perceptions that have grown roots in our minds would have faded or become a thing of the past. Disappointingly, this is not the case. The Nigerian mentality that male children are more valuable than female children is ever-present. In ‘This Special Gift’, Emmanuel’s brother says to him: “You can’t expect me to abandon the woman who has three boys for me. Jane has only girls.” (pg. 14). This mentality is what reinforces the foundation of a ruthless patriarchal society. A society that does not believe that women should occupy positions of power even though they possess the qualities. There is also the prejudiced notion that when a married woman is unable to conceive, society concludes that the problem is from her. Here, in ‘Open Wound’, Colonel Edward says to Dazini: “It is her problem, and she should solve it.” (pg. 110). Note that if this perception is not changed, it could be detrimental to the society. No drop of water ever admits that it contributes to a flood, just as these issues often lead to collective problems.
Another issue that affects us collectively as Nigerians is the inefficiency of the police. They lack the professionalism and expertise it requires to investigate criminal charges such as murder. This sometimes could lead to condemning innocent people to rot in jail for crimes they did not commit. For instance, the case of Jacinta in ‘This Thing Called Love’, if the police had carried out a thorough investigation, the cause of the man’s death would have been brought to light by an autopsy report. Instead, they relied on surface evidence and presumption, and labelled her a ‘ritualist’. One then wonders whether the police are not capable of carrying out proper investigations or they just let negligence get the better of them?
As Nigerians, we need to understand that in order to build a better country; it takes the joint effort of the citizens and the government officials. How then do we ensure that those at the helm of affairs have our best interests at heart? There is the need for citizens to be politically conscious and invest in the country’s electoral process, and governance. Even though, “they rig elections in Nigeria. Elections are tampered with all over the world. But if more people go out to vote, and stand by to defend their votes, elections will be harder to rig.” – ‘When Truth Dies’ (pg. 82)
In addition, he who thinks politics is a dirty game, has not felt the wrath of a cult group. With the latter, unlike the former, when one becomes a member, it becomes difficult; if not impossible, to get out. ‘Better than the Devil’ sheds light on the inhumane and despicable acts or ‘assignments’ that cult members carry out. Cultism is not restricted to university campuses alone, as it is seen in this story.
Is there any circumstance that justifies cheating or infidelity in a marriage? In reality, is it possible to live with HIV, and still remain positive towards life? Should birth be the only valid yardstick to measure the legitimacy of one’s ‘child’? These questions and many more, begin to linger on the reader’s mind, after reading ‘Vaults of Secrets’.
‘Vaults of Secrets’ is undoubtedly an interesting read but one cannot but notice that the flashbacks and the story-in-story method in some stories like ‘Special Gift’ and ‘This Thing Called Love’ become unnecessary at some point, and makes one disconnect from the initial plots. Nonetheless, the way the author employs different narrative techniques, ranging from the first person to second-person, down to the eye-of-God technique, enhance the form of the collection.