Falling In Love In War Time in Wale Okediran’s “Madagali” – Idowu Layo

MADAGALI is typical of many of Okediran’s fictional works, with its copious research, cliff hanger suspense, realistic settings and topicality.  What is different here is the author’s liberal use of female characters who sometimes seem strong enough to take over the story from the main protagonist, Lance Corporal Buka Salisu. From his Liberian mother Sonia Salisu, (nee Johnson) to his sisters Fatima (Emine), Zainab (Shelia) and Rabia (Ella) on to his girlfriends, Jewel and Safiya, Bukar (Jabbie) the professional soldier seemed to be more affected by the actions and inactions of the women in his life rather than the instructions of his commanders as the Nigerian forces engaged the Boko Haram insurgents in a seemingly unending war.

Actually, what the author has done is not new because literary fiction is replete with the different roles women play in a time of war. When they are not actually doing the fighting themselves as soldiers, they could be in the background as pensive mothers and wives, workaholic spies, nurses, doctors, factory, sex and welfare workers or adoring daughters and girlfriends.

All these roles have hitherto been captured by writers in various fictional accounts of the Second World War, the Vietnam War and the Nigerian Civil War among other wars. However, this would be the first time that the role of women in a fictional account of the Boko Haram war will be explored.

Apart from a fictional account of military operations, MADAGALI was also able to examine the various ways women respond to war, in this case as supporters to a son, brother and lover. We also see how some natives of the war- torn area are eager to give out their young girls into marriage either to Boko Haram fighters or Nigerian soldiers in return for protection. Sadly, some of the women willingly or under compulsion, become sex workers especially, refugees in the IDP camps.

The story begins with the young Salisu, a vibrant and committed Nigerian soldier being shot by the Boko Haram insurgents at the Madagali front ‘one foggy evening’. The injury which was initially thought to be inconsequential was later discovered to have damaged a major nerve and made the young man impotent. To add to his woes, Salisu was lured by his Company Commander, Lt Col Bala Humus to serve as a courier in Humus’ nefarious business of supplying ammunition to the Boko Haram insurgents.  When he is caught, Salisu goes through a grueling court martial which finds him guilty of the charge of ‘’supplying dangerous weapons to the enemy’’. Fortunately, he narrowly escapes facing the firing squad through the support of his close friends, his mother and three loving sisters.

Apart from a Liberian girl, Jewel whom the mother and sister arranged for him to meet in Liberia during his leave, Bukar also falls in love with Safiya, the seductive daughter of a repentant Boko Haram fighter. These relationships formally confirm what he had all along known, that he was impotent.

Thus, while he continues coping with the ordeal of fighting a war with all its inadequacies and dangers, Bukar is in addition under pressure from his mother, sisters, Jewel and Safiya to find a solution to his sexual inadequacy.  A surgical operation is quickly arranged for him in Liberia. It is while he was waiting for the surgery to take effect that Safiya offers him what she explains was a faster and cheaper solution; a very potent herbal remedy in return for a favor.

It was not clear if what works for Bukar is Safiya’s herbal remedy or the Liberian surgical operation. What is clear is that for the first time after his war injury, Bukar regained his libido. Unfortunately, Safiya’s request leads to tragedy. The novel ends in medias res, without further triumph or tragedy, only with further possibilities, as Bukar Salisu locks himself in his room leaving the reader to ponder and wonder.

 (Madagali by Wale Okediran, Evans Brothers, Nigeria PLC, March 2020, 244 pages)

  • Idowu Layo is the pen name of a teacher and Literary enthusiast
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