By Jim Pressman
Abuja Barrister Ozioma Izuora, Executive Director, Mediators & Advocates of Peace (LAMPAIX), is is dedicated to Peace-Building and Conflict Resolution work. Her first novel, Dreams Deferred (first published by Topaz Books and then re-issued by Kraftgriots in 2010) won the ANA/NDDC Ken Saro-Wiwa Prose Prize in 2009.
Her second novel just came off the Kraftgriots hotplates and is due for public presentation April 23. It is entitled Scavengers’ Orgy, [Ibadan: Kraftgriots 2011] and comes to to further establish the position of this elegant wife, mother and activist lawyer-writer.
Somehow, Izuora demonstrates in this book, there is no running away from your past, as it sooner than later comes haunting you, and often will catch up with you! Her characters epitomize this truism as they “bare their selfish and aggressive desperation for vain glory. However, like scavengers foraging in the dirt, their desires elude them as they return in style to their roots.” [Emphasis ours.]
Vanity and desperation for conquest of everything and everyone around them, or in their way are the leitmotif driving forces of the often false lives of many of the characters which people Ozioma’s book in ways similar to Beatrice nicknamed ‘Bee’, brought home by 45-year-old Charles, described thus early in the work (p.8):
“She continues to inspect herself. Just like she habitually does even on passing by a parked car. Or any reflective surface. From the time of her birth, she has had it etched into her head that she is beautiful. For s long as she had recollections, she has been assured that she is exceptionally well-endowed. Her breasts hang out like huge ripe pawpaw fruits. Her waist, reminiscent of the hour glass, rests atop rolling mounds of hips, like the well – rounded giant pots that grace beautiful galleries during Abuja Art Carnivals…”
Charles and Bee like others have a fixed idea and an axe to grind with society, inspired by his sad memories of a run-away father who abandoned them, she in her own case “weaned on her mother’s philosophy of life: you trade what you have for what you want.” Little are we surprised then when she soon battles the country’s psyche for which recognizes only certificates, by using cash from her ‘Whiteman’ (Peter Brocklehurst) who pays her way through Marketing degree she mistook for easy as she imagined it was no different from her regular life-style (p.18). Agnes Johnson, née Amaka Agbo (‘Aggs’ for short) the lawyer keeps nursing nagging, gripping secret fears she cannot afford to share.
Charles with his stunted education hangs on to information on the soft underbellies of his many big contacts, social and political, for the raining day (of blackmail), as he schemes to get Bee at the right time cashing in on his knowledge of her dirty undergraduate days (pp. 24, 226-27, etc…)
In summary, for all of them in their different ways, the past is lurking in the dark, a haunting bogey, as their guilty minds torment them even while they try to dominate and conquer everyone and everything on their scavenging way. Every move is with an ulterior, usually selfish and material motive, from Clement’s kindness to Nma Agbo before Amaka’s birth, through Chief Udegwu’s offer of scholarship to the brilliant and beautiful growing Amaka Agbo to Amaka’s friendship with Shirley, second marriage to Femi Johnson and her Law School friend Shirley’s opportunistic choice of rich though thrifty but ageing Englishman Harry, etc…
“For young Amaka Agbo the once acclaimed beauty of Amada, the intelligent, first ever lawyer, pride of the entire town, and the daughter of the peerless beauty Nma; her dilemma began when she got betrothed to Clement, even before she was born. In a manipulative bid to escape her life as the fourth wife of Chief Udengwu, she reinvents herself by assuming a new identity and abandons her three children.
Her metamorphosis from being the wife of a wealthy chief to Agnes Johnson, wife Femi Johnson, for whom she has a son, completes her long sought-after life, as she believes she has met and married her choice of a husband. Fear and anxiety [however] grip her when she discover a stranger from her past; a past whose lid could blow open at anytime and [at] the instance of another situational irony, a memory loss from a car accident reverses her new found identity..”
Even as the story in the novel closes, the characters are still battling in, futility, with ‘skeletons in their cupboards,’ scheming revenge and manipulating for conquest, both symptoms of vanity (pp. 212 – 213): Yet, the very secrets and darks specs from the past they all try to hide or run away from end up catching up with them all, underscoring the vanity and futility of their false lives.
Prof. Nwoko’s adventure into politics is suspect; he does it to better his material lot, and to cover up the ‘skeletons in his cupboard, with the known cases of sexual harassment of his students, one of the gender concerns of lawyer-author Izuora since Dreams Deferred.
Femi for instance walks away from the merciless beating he has ordered for Clement (by ‘justices of the jungle’). But he too fares no better (pp. 164-165): “His life is shattered because of this ghost from his wife’s past. Why could he not stay buried in the past? Why ruin the perfect structure he has created to give his life a meaning? (…) In a mad rage, he dashes out into the streets, a broken man. All his years of scratching up a life; scavenging his way into respectability, all seemed nullified. The distance he has assumed between him and his street origin has closed in on him. He is floundering; wondering what he can salvage of his life and whether he can find equilibrium ever again.”
Even while serving an indefinite jail term, Femi still nurses the hope for revenge of what Charles has caused him (p.213): “That Charles! … Even if takes my life, I will get my revenge! … Me and Charles will die together, even if that is the last thing I do!”
Young Femi need not have bothered, as the apostle of his favourite slogan of ‘no permanent interests, no permanent friends’ is already facing his Nemesis elsewhere (p.206): “Charles does not make bail. He has been fingered in numerous shady deals the clean-sweeping anti-graft agency has been investigating …They have no difficulty, therefore, in finding him guilty … the mighty political structure he has banked on for so long crumbles faster than a pack of cards…”
The full circle evolution of each of the characters is epitomized by the sum-total summary of the life and times [the rise and fall] of the former village and city belle, Agnes Amaka (‘Aggs,’ ‘Bee’) at page 206: “A scavenger way away from poverty; recreates a world to be free from her past, it all boomerangs back to a state where honest poverty and ignominy would have been a blessing.”
At the end, the reader is driven instinctively to go back and chorus aloud with the author-narrator, the graffiti on the wall in Charles’s father’s room in the village (p.7): “Life na waa!”
Interestingly, the very successful cover illustration was done by another lawyer – turned artist, Abuja-based Laolu Senbanjo, whose father is a lawyer too, but has given him all the encouragement in his choice to paint, sculpt and draw, producing what he calls Art Afro-mysteric, “the mystery of the African thought pattern.” Other commentators have referred rather aptly to his many pieces as “consciousness on canvass.”
*Jim Pressman is an Abuja – based Freelance [reporting Art/Life, Travel/Tourism and Gender Issues]