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Book review : Corruption in the paramilitary

Title: Officers and Men

Author: Jerry Alagbaso

Publisher: Kraft Books, Ibadan

Year: 2016

Reviewer:  Henry Akubuiro

Satire chagrins anybody with something to hide. For others, it is something to laugh bout. But there is always something to take home amid the peals of laughter both for the satirised and the detached observer: it makes us review certain foibles and retrace our steps from follies that reduce our estimation in the eyes of others.

Like a burlesque, the pages of Jerry Alagboso’s novella, Officers and Men, gets you rollicking with laughter. There is a giddy senorita in the house out to cut corners to get whatever she wants, and there is a randy officer who lusts for whatever is inside the lingerie. The plot of Officers and Men revolves around them as the author relives the antics of one of Nigeria’s paramilitary services.

Officers and Men is the author’s way of pillorying the intrigues that go on behind the scene in government agencies and civil service. The book draws our attention to the fact that, not everybody who wants to work for the government go with rendering service in mind. Dog-eat-dog philosophy runs through.

The major themes that run through this fiction are corruption and deception.  Though it isn’t stated by the work, a discerning reader can easily deduce that the paramilitary service called National Caring Service in which this fiction is set is the same as the Nigeria Customs, not only because of its organogram but the highlighted schedules.

The appointment of the no-nonsense officer, Alhaji Stapha, who does not condone half measures, as the new Commander-General of the National Caring Service means the Augean stable is about to be cleaned, but how possible is it in a paramilitary service rotten for ages? He turns out to be an exemplary leader, but the smart alecs in the midst aren’t eager to call it quits yet.

CG Mustapha is determined to make the NCS to stand on its feet: “… we must do our best to have our names written in gold by making our service a reputable and enviable one,” he charges at his men during his first briefing (p.14), promising to embark on the employment of new hands.

Unfortunately, it is this drive for new hands that serves as the catalyst for the plot of this narrative. At the interview sessions organised for the new men, it dawns on the panellists that most of the applicants have ulterior motives. Asked why he is applying, Tomi says (p.21): “Today, my friends … has many wives, a number of girlfriends, a fleet of cars and many houses. So, I wish to emulate him.”

Mrs Sedu, an Assistant Commander-General with the National Caring Service, is disturbed by what transpired at the screening exercise. Hence, she tells her colleagues: “We are in trouble. With such absurd responses at the just concluded interview, the service is almost finished.”

Dr. Timmy Jimmy, a training officer with the National Caring Service, has already taken a fancy for one of the candidates, the heavily endowed Miriam. In fact, he is instrumental to her undeserved success, as he intimates her after the screening exercise, thereby establishing that favouritism is still a problem in the service.

Humour is a technique that runs through this book. This is Alagboso’s way of making light of a worrisome situation to sustain the interest of the reader. For instance, he writes of Dr. Jimmy: “As Miriam walked back to the lecture room, the training officer turned his head to the young lady’s direction. Looking steadily and lustly at the back, he was at the same time walking. He stumbled over a covered thrash can made of aluminium, and in a bid to regain his balance, he hit his right foot on a huge steel pillar, and finally fell flat on his belly…” (p.34).

Soon, it becomes an open secret that Miriam is dating the training office, and judgement day comes so soon as his wife visits the husband in the office only to find him with Miriam, who claims to be exorcising demons from him, yet his unzipped dress and Jimmy’s bulging flap tell a different story.

The posting of the trainees also shows partiality at play. Miriam even has the power to influence who goes where, in connivance with Dr. Jimmy. Both Jimmy and Mariam continue their liaison at the Apapa Seaport, with the former serving as a PA to the later, the Area Commander. Try as she can to stop the arrangement, Mrs Jimmy fails to have her way.

As the plot comes to an end, the swashbuckling Miriam is enmeshed in a corruption scandal –collecting gratification on behalf to her boss to clear a vehicle from the port. A committee is subsequently set to look into the matter, and she is surprisingly, exonerated. The liaison eventually leads to marriage, but it doesn’t last long before things fall apart.

The pellucidity of Alagboso’s Officers and Men isn’t lost on the reader, and its sarcastic undertone makes it a useful resource for coaching. Aside the general reader who will find it a pleasurable read, this book will be useful to students, especially at secondary and tertiary levels.


Book review : Familial inadequacies

Title:  Secrets are Mirrors

Author: Tolushe Alemika

Publisher: Malthouse Press Limited

Year: 2016

Pages: 149

Reviewer: Olamide Babatunde

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself,” says George Orwell. The best way to do this, I figure, is to forget it. That’s easier said than done when you know other people’s secrets.

Everyone is scared of having their secrets out. Scarier is it to estimate the extent of the damage it could cause in relationships that are blood-bound. The impending havoc may last a lifetime if not handled cautiously. If it is to be told where, when and how it is revealed matters just as much as the decision to keep it forever. Some prefer to die with all the many good and bad things they are privy to based on reasons best known to them. The questions to ponder over then is to spill or not to spill? Why would anyone choose to hold onto certain information from their beloved? Is it worth it? How long is good enough?

In the case of the Coker’s, all hell broke loose when a nosy parker Tamara stumbled on private information she chanced upon while using her father’s laptop. The power of Secrets going by a family therapist and Psychologist who by now has earned the title of professional secret keeper is one that breaks trust, leads to pain and guilt, stunts growth and self-identity for an individual and ironically can be a uniting force.

An affair with holding secrets is one that begins with an event premeditated by a need, self-absorbing or selfless for a good or inimical cause. Secrets have been kept from time immemorial. God himself did not give Adam and Eve the privilege to know they were butt naked, he kept that from them until they erred, and the rest is history.

Tolushe Alemika’s tale in Secrets are mirrors is not about civil war, differences in culture, domestic violence, the Vagina story or any other theme readers are regularly flooded with. It is that of family, a strong pointer to familial inadequacies, a picture perfect lot who share a deep bond of friendship and love. Sadly though, there may be more than meets the eye to a lovely household which brings to mind the Ghollywood  drama Family Photograph where on the wedding night things came undone when the groom and bride’s mother were caught  having
affairs with different guests at the party and this leads to a series of trouble in one night.

This readable piece, one for the road is not totally bad for thriller lovers. All done in 149 pages with a glossary translating the many pidgin English she infused into the script. She uses the innocence of sibling love to preach tolerance, support and the essence of communal bonding which can be of great use to the larger society seeing how Tamara the protagonist takes not a few kicks and slaps for her brother despite warnings.

With the turn of events, it seems Tamara is always at the receiving end of trouble, contrary to her happy-go-lucky self. While she was recovering in the hospital, Jonah, the closest sibling to her dies in an auto crash on his way to see her. It is when she actually discovers how he really died that she confronts her Dad. This did not go down well with Paternal authority, and she is passed off to a mad house as erratic.

With flighty sibling rivalry the narrative, actually caresses the mind like a smooth talker his lover to give thought to the issues of parent -child relationship in the Nigerian context. Cases bordering on hidden parent or child identity are not taken lightly because the society strips you of whatever thread of boldness you possess to raise a child that is not yours. Some genuine situations may warrant this but for how long the child should be kept from the truth? The stigma stinks to high heaven if word ever gets out.

Secondly, it raises the issue of how parents should relate to an irresponsible child. Treat him too soft and he goes completely hay wire. Being too hard will also not help so it creates a tricky situation. The kind of secrets people hold bears a semblance to their personality. The darker the secret the more conceited the person. Once the decision is made to keep certain things from people there is a disconnection somewhere that begs understanding `from a moral stand point.

Like the title suggests, Secrets are mirrors and they tell how we look to ourselves and to others. Once there is a dark place hidden within an individual demons from there will continue to haunt the present or future. In the long run, it is best to rid the mind of any darkness lest you find your reflection a creepy figure staring you straight in the face in all its ugliness. In this book, Tolushe ruffles in many ways. When readers get the drift the peace is far more worth the trouble and all is well that ends well.


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