The following is the verbatim review of American 419 and other stories that appeared in the Nigerian newspaper, THE HOPE, on May 29, 2014:
Reviewer: Sunmola Olowookere
THE HOPE Thursday May 29, 2014
Portraying our society as it is
American 419 and other stories by a Nigerian author and journalist is simply a revelation of the degradation that our society is going through. It opens with a tragedy titled “The anniversary” which is a terrible tale that aptly depicts the horrors that religious sects are unleashing still on innocent citizens of this country.
It is a horrific experience that one prays that little children should not witness; little children witnessing their mother’s death. It goes without saying that children in worn torn areas will never go back to being children ever again. It shows that we live in a cruel society that does not spare anyone and goes as far as preying on the vulnerable and the helpless. Man is the predator, man is the prey. The title “the anniversary” has a nice ring to it. However, it is a horrific tale not fit for a bedtime read at all.
We cannot run away from it however saddening it is. It glares at us in our news report. We read of needless deaths and gruesome killings. The women and children that hitherto were spared during wars are now targets. In the midst of this is the grueling economic downward trend that started it all. After all, the idle mind is the devil’s workshop.
Firewood girl is an experience that portrays more explicitly the gripping poverty and hunger that people especially those in the lower class of the society experience. To some children in these families, three balanced square meals is a luxury that they simply dream about. They might have experienced it before maybe when their poor parents had a lucky break which could be as rare as a virgin in the maternity ward. More often, it is a far fetched desire that they might never experience unless they begin to steal.
These children become indoctrinated with the belief that they live in a harsh society where one can only make it through corrupt means. It breeds uneasiness about the sense of integrity of the coming generation. After all, they live in a society that celebrates mediocrity. Anyone clever enough to steal and get away with it is applauded as smart while the ones caught are seen as fools or just unfortunate. In such a permissive society, what chance do we have of raising an upright generation?
The tale “The firewood girl” further shows the degradation and loss of values that have become the order of the day through poverty. Despite Jemila’s (the major female character in the story) good intentions, the extenuating circumstances around her constantly wage war against her better self. It is galling to see her sucked into the baseness of her environment as the story unfolds. This took hold of her despite her valiant struggles to be a better person. She had withstood ostracism from her friends but she could not withstand the blinding hunger of two days as her parents could not put food on the table. What is the value of self respect in the face of a starvation that pricks like hundred needles at the stomach?
Poverty has made many people to their sense of self. We see characters in “American 419” and “Jerusalem sand” who are dubious and fraudulent, separating people from their hard-earned wealth. In almost all respects of our lives as Adetokunbo Abiola aptly depicted in his work, you discover dubious people that play fast ones on clueless others. It brought more forcibly home how low the society had sunk. 419, fraud, corruption has almost become an acceptable business.
All human beings are equal but some are more equal than others. While some people live in splendor and some in some measure of comfort, others live in dire circumstances. Living “in the creeks” is indeed harsh. Dwellers are confronted with both internal and external attacks. The rich oil firms have destroyed their habitat. The land and water are polluted. Fishes are dying; crops get spoiled through constant oil spills. The land is no longer fertile leading to poor yield.
Life is indeed bleak. And to compound the problems they are experiencing is an inter-tribal war. The people’s way of life is threatened. Nothing seems right. They are pelted with stones each angle they turn. Animals are dying by the dozens as they take the contaminated water thereby depleting the few livestock the people had.
People are also losing loved ones to gas flaring, contaminated food and uprising. In the story “in the creeks”, Abiola has aptly portrayed lie in the riverside area. One can easily see the despondency, loss, desolation, fear and helplessness as the people struggle against a might they could not get a hold on. And there seems to be no end in sight to the calamities bedeviling them.
It makes us to begin to understand the genesis of the Niger Delta militancy. It is not just militancy turned criminality, but it all began as the disruption of the people’s way of life, rage against perceived government’s insensitivity and neglect, fear as their situation worsened and the determination to right the wrong done to the people which was later hijacked by unscrupulous elements.
The book has well-written stories that are down to earth and touch upon the life of the people in the society we live in. It is relevant to the situation of things in Nigeria presently; the insecurity arising from militancy and religious intolerance, corruption and other vices. The author has delved much on the ills bedeviling the nation in a factual manner. Adetokunbo Abiola is a prolific writer who has several published works to his credit.