Social realism in Olukorede Yishau’s ‘Vaults of Secrets’-Chinaka Okoro
Olukorede S. Yishau’s ‘Vaults of Secrets’, a collection of short stories, is so realistic that in contemplating it, one is tempted to forget that, essentially, it is a work of fiction.
Even so, the level of realism in this work has transmuted Yishau to an author whose vehicle is faction— a trend in writing that combines fact with fiction.
An objective appraisal of contemporary happenings in the society heightens one’s appreciation of thethemes of social realism inherent in the work because of the way it mirrors our society.
The author, as a creative writer, is preoccupied with using fiction (faction) to make life pleasurable for the readers, as “enjoyment…is the first aim and justification of reading any fictional work”.
However, as Laurence Perrine states in Literature, Structure, Sound, and Sense “unless fiction gives something more than pleasure…unless it expands or refines our minds or quickens our sense of life, its value is not appreciably greater than that of miniature golf, bridge or pin-pong… it must yield not only enjoyment but understanding…”
Enjoyment and understanding are two essential words that describe a work of art either as escape or interpretative literature.
A work of art becomes interpretative if it illuminates some aspects of human life or behaviour. It also presents us with an insight into the nature or conditions of our existence and gives us keener awareness of what it is to be human in a society that is sometimes friendly and sometimes hostile, even as it broadens our knowledge and understanding of our neighbours and ourselves.
‘Vaults of Secrets’ is a quality work written with a more serious artistic intent to enable the reader draw some didactic lessons.
Embedded in each stories are socio-cultural, economic or political experiences of our time. Just as the late Chinua Achebe said in “the novelist as a teacher” in ‘Morning Yet on Creation Day’, every author takes up a responsibility to teach some morals by highlighting some of the social contradictions which the society is grappling with.
This is exactly what Olukorede S. Yishau has achieved by letting his readers into some of the secrets he keeps in his vaults.
Corruption and other social ills have become endemic and have adversely affected almost all facets of our national life. Pointing out these contradictions and possible ways of rectifying them is the concern of ‘Vaults of Secrets’, a book of 118 pages, excluding the 10 pages of the prelims compartmentalised into 10 stories.
The Vaults of Secrets open with “Till We Meet to Part No More.” Here, two prison inmates are discussing issues that relate to why they were in jail. The character, Oluwakemi confides in her jail mate, Elizabeth what led to her incarceration while they await the hangman’s noose. Her narrative is a revelation and sad commentary on human trafficking which is a global social challenge.
In doing this, Yishau employs the epistolary format in bringing his message to the reader just as Mariama Ba did in ‘So long a Letter’. This technique runs through some other stories.
This literary device gives the author the opportunity to present characters’ reaction and feeling without having to intrude. It also gives the author a feeling of immediacy since the participating characters are in the thick of the action and provides the author with the opportunity presenting several points of view on a particular event. Deploying this device makes the author appear as if he doing the work of an “editor.”
In the opening story of the collection, there are three murder cases. Elizabeth, Oluwakemi and Adriana killed men at different points in the narrative and are brought together in the same correctional facility.
Could this be mere coincidence or is Yishau trying to draw our attention to some societal issues that have subjugated the womenfolk for too long? Are the women’s actions which led to the death of the three men respectively – Adriana killed a man who wanted to rape her, even as Oluwakemi was a victim of organised rape -a reflection of the contemporary movement and awareness to end women’s docility in the face of constant threats from the patriarchal society?
The movement which has been described as feminism was enunciated by early feminist writers and crusaders such as Mary Wollstonecraft who gave impetus to the movement in her Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792.
Is Yishau tacitly supporting the women liberation movement? Is he in agreement that man, religion and culture have reduced the womenfolk to second-class citizens as Buchi Emecheta implied in her book of the same title?
Whatever the implication, Yishau is drawing readers’ attention to the debilitating issue of women subjugation with asad commentary on African culture and mentality that the woman is the cause of any misfortune that befallsa man and should therefore suffer all manner of oppression and suppression.
Other questions begging for answers in this story are: Should rapists receive capital punishment? Should a victim of rape defend herself or himself even violently?
In the same opening story, there are flashes of incidents recorded in Yishau’s ‘In the Name of Our Father’ that are prominent. They include male warders raping female inmates and bartering sex for food which riffs on the level of corruption in every facet of our society. This is the author’s deliberate attempt at lampooning societal vices.
In “This Special Gift”, which could pass as the title story, the narrator, who possesses a great gift of clairvoyance, focuses on marital infidelity and the depths of depravity to which people who should otherwise be looked upon as role models have sunk into. This, no doubt, is one of the social problems bedevilling our society which the author has chose to highlight.
The narrator stumbled on Essien whose erotic instability causes him to feed on Idato, his housemaid’s “red meat.”
Nonso, archetypical Nigerian with enormous powers to influence the society negatively, displays his crummy lifestyle. As a result of his wealth and power, he has women of all shapes and sizes at his beck and call, including married women such as Dunni, Ozolua’s wife who lies to her husband that she is going for a conference only to end up in Nonso’s arms. The author uses these examples to show how putrid the society has become, even from the home.
One of Olukorede Yishau’s disquiets is the ever-increasing incest in our society. This is the thematic preoccupation in “My Mother’s Father is My Father” where he exposes the mind-boggling circumstance of fathers raping their biological daughters and fathering children by them.
“…You just could not control that snake between your legs. It dragged you into your daughter’s thighs, and the product is Williams…” (page 28).
This, apparently, is a continuation of the record in Yishau’s ‘In the Name of Our Father’ where Rebecca’s father attemped to have sex with her. She left her village for the town where she eventually became a sex worker until she met and married Prophet T.C. Jeremiah.
The problem of insecurity in our country is a great source of socio-economic and political dislocation. Thousands of innocent citizens have lost their lives and the nation’s economy is at its lowest ebb.
There have been several insinuations that the hydra-headed monster was is a consequence of politicians’ sponsorships of thugs who help them to rig and win elections, after which the boys retain the arms and ammunition with which they wreak havoc on their ogas’ political opponents.
“Letters from the Basement” focuses on this incongruity. In it, a former governor of a state, Nelson, is found guilty by a tribunal and sentenced to death for sponsoring a terror gang. He is jailed and is awaiting execution.
The issue of incest which was a prominent feature in “My Mother’s Father is My Father” continues in story five “This Thing Called Love,” where Precious and her father are love birds.
“That night, they kissed and did everything typical lovers would do. They obviously thought you were sound asleep. You were up until the sound of their making out woke you… (Page 51)
Cultism and its attendant evils are fully explored in the sixth story “Better than the Devil”. Yishau places our education system under a microscope to discover its putrefaction.
The narrator is in the payroll of the kingpin, who lavishes money on him for carrying out his dirty jobs. Interestingly, the Cappo is the son of a prominent government official who perpetuates the looting of the country’s treasury.
The narrator, sadly, reveals that most prominent men and women, including lawyers, political leaders are members of one cult group or the other. They engage in organised crimes such as politically-motivated assassinations which is rife in our society today.
The family that was in disarray in “Letters from the Basement” is still experienced in “Otapiapia” which is story seven. The difference between story four and that of seven is that in the former, the husband of Okwy committed a treasonable offence and ends up in jail waiting to be executed while the husband of Rebecca is a transporter whose itinerary takes him to various parts of the country.
This is a melancholic commentary on the level of debasement of our waning value system. So preoccupied is he with the horrid security situation in our country, that Yishau seems intent on drumming it our ears until a lasting solution is found. Any wonder he returned to the issue in the eight story in the collection.
Through the character Omoniyi, the author lets the reader into the kinds of contradictions that pervade our country. A despondent Omoniyi complains about the disorderliness in Nigeria when he says : “Everything there is messed up…Where else but your Nigeria! Everything goes in that country. People lie to get into power and start giving excuses for their failure… The types of things that happen in Nigeria’s airports are scandalous. The other day, bandits invaded the runway and attacked a private jet. They stole from the passengers and the crew…If bandits can invade airports, then we can forgive those operating on the streets…” (Page 80)
Does this allude to any issue currently bedevilling Nigeria and Nigerians? Achebe’s stand in his polemical treatise that ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’ is leadership is echoed by Omoniyi and his co-discussant when he says“…I don’t blame them, I blame those ignoramuses who call themselves our leaders…I think the blame is more with our leaders and even our people, a people get the leader they deserve…” (Pages 81/82)
To indicate how piqued he is with the social problem of trafficking in persons, the author brings in a strand on the treatment of the issue he began in the first story only to return and finish it in the eight story.
This time, he involves traditional leaders such as the Benin monarch and his chiefs to join the fight against human trafficking by laying curses on promoters of the horrid trade.
In “Open Wound”, the author creats an abstract character to monitor and influence the actions and inactions of Dazini-the protagonist in the story. The abstract character the author calls conscience can be regarded as truth, sense of right and wrong or the small still voice with great power of persuasion or dissuasion.
“Open Wound” reveals the author’s ability to send his readers into the fantasy world of emotions. His knack for the deployment of words and expressions to describe the propensity to love or sexual enjoyment is somewhat outlandish.
‘Vaults of Secrets’, which will be available in bookstores on October 1, is a book that should be read by all. Its social relevance is a major strength. It can also serve as a gift item. Therefore, buy two and give one to a friend.