Eghosa Imasuen’s ‘Fine Boys’ is A Fine Work of Art – Olukorede S. Yishau
All things being equal, the U.S. edition of ‘Fine Boys’, a novel by Eghosa Imasuen, will be released this month by the Ohio University Press.
The fine boys in Imasuen’s second novel love blood and violence and they feel insecure without the badge of the confraternity. Confra, as they like to abbreviate their affiliation, is life. The truth is: these are not fine boys, but bad boys.
Killings. Violence. Fighting over girls. Gang battles. These are not the kinds of stuff you identify with being fine. Being fine connotes beauty, glowing and generally radiating and being the cynosure of all eyes for positive reasons. So, it is ironic that fine boys will be caught shedding blood, fighting over girls and doing gang battles.
The novel is about the children of the Nigeria of that benighted era when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) dictated our economy’s pace to our detriment. It was an era when the middle class thinned out because of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), it was the era when notorious gangs took over universities all over Nigeria in the 1990s, it was the era our universities collapsed, and students studied under very harsh conditions.
Built around real political, social and academic events, the novel is a coming-of-age tale narrated by Ewaen, a Nigerian teenager, growing up in Warri, Delta State. He has younger twin siblings, a girl (Eniye) and a boy (Osaze).
Ewaen’s parents are no longer happy together and the disharmony at home makes him look forward to getting away.
Ewaen says of her parents’ marriage: “Daddy and Mommy had their major quarrels every two years. It was like clockwork. Every even year I could remember, ’82, ’84, ’86, ’88, ’90, all had a month or two when we packed up and left with Mom to our granny’s, Nene. Most times this displacement was preceded by a night of terror from which Mom emerged with a black eye here or a bruise there. But she always came back.”
Their incessant quarrelling is a major reason for his excitement at being admitted into the University of Benin. But life in the university proves to be another kettle of fish. He makes new friends and together they relish their newfound freedom. Soon the violence at home pales in comparison to the cult wars on campus.
The early days are good and they enjoy hanging out in parking lots and sharing jokes in English language and Pidgin English. The Austerity Measures of the government of the day see lecturers embarking on strikes and the strikes usher in mayhem from violent confraternities. Student leaders are bribed by politicians, lecturers force students to buy hand-outs and hell is a step away. The fear of the confras becomes the beginning of wisdom and Ewaen and his new friends have no choice but to adapt so as not to fall prey to the marauding cultists.
The fight between Back Axe and Cosa Nostra result in the mauling of Wilhelm, Ewaen’s childhood pal with whom he had vowed never to join the “confras”. The death of “one-half of my crew of best friends” chases Ewaen and his brother Osaze away from the University of Benin and beyond.
One thing you’ll find while reading this book is a deep knowledge of how things worked on the university campus at the time the author was studying medicine there. He exposes the eccentricities of his generation, a generation which the military made a mess of their lives, a generation whose academic calendars were regularly interrupted because the government failed to cater to the lecturers’ welfare, and a generation robbed of great minds by members of feuding confras.
Using the journeys of the characters, Imasuen relives the pro-democracy riots of the military era, the June 12 crisis and the evil of the General Sani Abacha years, and he does it so well that even those who did not witness these events can get a grasp of them. He also captures the frequent riots organised by student leaders over “attacks on our democracy, to the annulment of June 12, the stepping down of the gap-toothed general we called Maradona, the inauguration of the interim national government and its overthrow by General Abacha.”
The use of real events gives the narration blood to survive on. For instance, we see MKO Abiola in jail: “While MKO was in jail, while the Italians were shaming Nigeria out of the World Cup, while the universities burned, while students sat idle at home, a paradigm was shifting in the delta… Just over a year ago, the arrest of Ken Saro Wiwa on allegations of incitement to murder had made him a cause célèbre for the aspirations of the people of the delta.”
In another instance, we see Saro-Wiwa being killed: “November was a very memorable month. It was also the month Saro Wiwa was executed, hanged and finally pronounced dead after five attempts. He and his men were then bathed in sulphuric acid to make identifying them remain impossible for their families. If that was not enough, the men were buried in secret unmarked graves to prevent the site from becoming a shrine. The international community was in an uproar.”
Funny, tragic, colloquial, and heart-rending, Eghosa has excelled in giving us a fine work of art, whose importance will continue decades after the end of this millennium for its artistry and for being a record of a momentous period of our nation’s life.
And one more thing: On the pages of this novel, prose switches with ease and make reading a pleasure and a cruise.
Olukorede S. Yishau is the author of ‘In the Name of Our Father’ and ‘Vaults of Secrets’.