As “I Do Not Come to You by Chance” becomes a movie – Jasper Ugbaa

Following news that Genevieve Nnaji’s movie adaptation of Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s novel will premiere at TIFF 2023, we re-present a piece that provides some insights into the book, its outlandish characters, and gripping storyline.

Originally published in 2009 by Phoenix Publishers and going on to win the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Africa among several other awards, I Do Not Come to You by Chance is receiving renewed buzz after being republished by the newly launched Masobe Books in 2019 along with the author’s new book, ‘Beneath the Baobab Tree’ which was longlisted for the 2019 NLNG Prize.

Some of the buzz might be because the book heralds the return of the author after a decade-long hiatus. Another reason might be because the book offers a reintroduction to the world of corporate scammers, especially in the wake of the several FBI arrests of internet fraudsters last year, almost coinciding with the republication date. I was delighted to learn the book was being republished, especially in Nigeria, because I am of the opinion that it wasn’t well-read the first time.

In this book Nwaubani makes a case for the average Nigerian scammer, or at least explores his origin with empathy and sensitivity. The passages are lucid and the subplots come to the fore, making the reader worry about minor characters like Azuka. Undeniably present in the book though is the power of money and how its acquisition shapes us irrespective of how we get it. It is a comment on class while serving as a metaphor for the country as a whole, illustrating the people’s loss of faith in systems and how hunger can generate apathy in the best of us.

It is pleasantly startling, the rigour with which Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani assumes the role of the male protagonist Kingsley Ibe, who is forced to choose between two evils; allow his family succumb to disaster from poverty or abandon the very roots of his upbringing to take the easy way out.

This is why this novel is important; it complicates the outsider’s view of financial fraud being the ‘easy way out’, plunging us into the nefarious worlds of scammers, beyond the glitz and glamour of the fast life, to the meticulous mechanisms that earned Nigeria her poor reputation globally. The lead character becomes genius at it, and at many points, at the hurdles that he faces, one fails to distinguish the jaw-dropping maneuvers of the lead protagonist from the sharp craft of the writer. These are the points were readers feel a rush, the fictional lives of Cash Daddy and his staff become suspense filled, making us want more.

The writing is very lucid and humorous, even when discussing the most ghastly situations, and this humor is only the result of the medley of characters interacting with the society they have found themselves in. Through the lead character’s narration, the author portrays these scammers as complicated people, made more so by their garish benevolence which would explain why they are still adored in the society today, and their near-pathological penchant for coming up with new and evil devices to trick people from other parts of the world. Because of our lead character’s morals he is reluctant at first, but in a show of skill Ms. Nwaubani is able to steer him to the dark side while our focus is still on him and on his inner most thoughts.

Section one has him resisting the lure of ill-gotten money, firm in his belief that he believes one day he would get a job with an oil company but after some distressing events, a few chapters into section two, the character narrates:
‘So no matter what the media proclaimed, we were not villains, and the good people of Eastern Nigeria knew it.’

The epilogue is tricky to understand though, as one wonders about the ending, but perhaps this wondering is a good thing.
It would have been nice to know learn more about the siblings, but we only catch brief glimpses revealing how they adjusted to their brother’s wealth; especially a funny episode that quickly becomes emotional, where his youngest sibling Charity realizes she doesn’t need to marry young just because she wants a better life, because her big brother was already rich.

Reading, one can tell a lot of research went into the writing of this novel and one can only wonder how much of her personal safety and security she had to compromise to produce the book at the time she did, but it is the rich tapestry that she weaves, the marvelous characterization of Cash Daddy, Aunty Dimma and other characters that make the world she has created in I Do Not Come to You by Chance truly hers.

(Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, I Do Not Come to You by Chance, published by Masobe Books)

***This piece was first published on March 20, 2020

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