(NLNG 2021 Shortlist) Of Power, Faith and Humanity: A review of ‘In The Name of Our Father’ – Abasima Essien
“And he realised that all that was visible through the window was unfathomable emptiness occasioned by the fact that the light of reality and sanity had far, far gone by.”
The above excerpt from a pivotal point of the book in review is just one of many such little bits that certify Olukorede Yishau’s thoughtfulness and relevance as a contemporary fiction writer. A Mass Communication alumnus of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Yishau’s expansive career and experience in journalism comes to the fore with his conception and execution of In the Name of Our Father which he wrote at a remarkably young age.
Primarily told through two distinct viewpoints, and in three well-balanced parts within a non-linear narrative structure, this novel is built around two main characters: the fearless, conflicted journalist – Justus Omoeko, and Prophet TC Jeremiah, a “Man of God” with a hackneyed past. Everything revolves around Justus’ resolve to write and publish a novella detailing the shadowy rise and fall of a popular Christian leader – Prophet TC Jeremiah. It is through this solid plot that Yishau forms a gritty exploration of key societal dynamics within Nigeria, such as politics, religion and entrenched immorality.
The plot unfolds with Alani, an insignificant commoner who has to flee the law and a life of penury after the abortion-related death of his girlfriend, the demise of his young son and the dimness of an uncertain future. Alani goes on to seek the help of his friend, Prophet Daniel, who initiates Alani into a shady life with diabolical trappings, under the cover of faux religiosity and godliness. With the support of an underworld cabal – The Brotherhood – comprising highly-placed individuals, Alani sloughs off every trace of his past life like a lizard moulting, and assumes the fresh persona of Prophet T. C. Jeremiah.
Prophet Jeremiah subsequently goes on to establish a church: this gains him gullible followers; leads him to marry a reformed prostitute; gain clout and patronage from key figures (including a Head of State) and enjoy massive affluence, as well as popularity. In between all of this, Prophet Jeremiah gradually loses fragments of his innate morality and conscience, chapter by chapter, until there is no trace of the man that was once Alani.
“He was ever telling his conscience that he had suffered too much to now begin to bother himself about morality and stuff like that. All he wanted was money and more money. Of course, he was not afraid of fame too.” (p. 78)
But consequences are not far off; loss, suffering, pain and failure waft up from the fullness of Prophet Jeremiah’s misdeeds like odour from ejected fecal matter. From his illicit affairs with a church worker to his complicity in the assassination of a man, and his continued exploitation of mass gullibility, Prophet Jeremiah’s reckless depravity precipitates his fall from the top.
It is the prophet’s murky background that motivates the enterprising journalist, Justus, to document the sordid details of his trajectory, with a mind to shed light on the truth and uncover the masked disguise of audacious hypocrisy. Justus is constantly warned by a mysterious person to put off writing and subsequently publishing the explosive novella, lest he incurs a fatal correction. However, the fearless journalist is only bolstered by the threats, and with the belief that he has nothing to lose, ploughs on in his selfless quest.
With elevated, aware prose powered by a prevalent sense of urgency, Yishau weaves a riveting tale of sobering significance for our times, our generation. Biblically intoned, the scope of his work encompasses the facets and facades of power, religion and politics. On a grander scale, In the Name of Our Father offers a unique and intricate rendition of humanity, in all of its glory and baseness. And like an iconic artist, Yishau paints a true masterpiece of fleshed-out characters – saints and sinners- dabbling with dark and light hues: greed, poverty, grief, identity, love, loss, hate, evil, venality, tyranny, faith, deception, courage, hope and the persistent search for redemption.
Perhaps, no other character is more brilliantly imagined than that of the once-prostitute, Rebecca. As a primary female character, Rebecca’s background, peculiarities and fullness mark her out as an ingeniously conceived part of the story. She is subtly vital as one of two characters whose actions are guided by a strong sense of unrighteous long-suffering. Rebecca stands out as a victim of circumstances whose turbulent arch represents the proverbial grass-to-grace trope in literature; in the end, her search for redemptive peace leads to a pyrrhic victory, but a victory nonetheless. The fact that none of the characters possess moral absolutes shows Yishau’s shrewd grasp of the human psyche; every saint has a vice, and every sinner has a virtue.
There are allusions to certain historical events and figures that cannot be missed; after all, the book mirrors the society we inhabit. The power-mad dictatorial character of General Idoti – which may or may not be an anagram for “Idiot” – is a fictitious mimicry of the infamous Gen. Sani Abacha, whose death before the turn of the 20th century freed Nigeria from cyclical military rule; Bashorun OKM Aloba and Gen. Badmus Iyangida are references to key players of the June 12 saga, a significant date in the history of our national democracy. The fictive rendition of journalistic integrity and judicial rot, especially under the brutal repression of jackboots, acutely mirrors the crackdown on media freedom and justice that was a constant feature of Nigerian military rule.
However, as remarkable as Yishau’s work is, it is pertinent to point out its slight defects. For one, the pacing of the plot rushes important moments within the narrative, giving little time for a reader to be fully impacted by such. The book’s textual gradation loses quite a lot of points due to avoidable typographical errors; repeated sentences also occur a few times in the print.
Nonetheless, Olukorede Yishau’s In the Name of Our Father is very much a “mesmerising tale” as the award-winning poet and novelist, Toni Kan describes it. It is solidly brilliant, timely in its relevance, and fiercely didactic. Within its pages, one can feel the activist urgency and astringent social criticism that cements this book’s status as a work of literature which transcends the boundaries of mere art into something more, something iconic and essential to the soul of humanity.
And when one does reach its satisfying conclusion, they are left with a singular, clear lingering impression: that this book is the certification of a new voice that deserves heed and prominence within the vibrant Nigerian literary landscape.
In The Name of Our Father by Olukorede Yishau; Parrésia Publishers Ltd., Lagos, Nigeria; 2019; 228pp