THE THRILLER TRADITION IN NIGERIAN LITERATURE: TAMINU SULE LAGI’S THE BOFAK ILLUSION AS AN EXAMPLE
Title: The Bofak Illusion
Author: Taminu Sule Lagi
Publisher: Origami Books
Pages: 208 (Paperback)
Reviewer: Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy
Those familiar with the development of Nigerian literature would agree that the Onitsha Market Literature played a pivotal role in its development, even if what were produced were no more than pamphlets with short stories and thrillers fashioned and heavily influenced by the James Hadley Chasian style of writing. Still, the Onitsha Market Literature served the interest of an emerging educated class and produced some of Nigeria’s (, if not Africa’s) greatest writers. Onitsha Market Literature produced Cyprian Ekwensi who wrote popular fictions such as When Love Whispers and People of the City, although many would remember him for rivetting stories like Jagua Nana, An African Night Entertainment, The Drummer Boy and many other school children’s stories.
Nigerian literature began very strongly and most educated youths, beginning from the late 1980’s, could not say they have not read or heard of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. But the decline in the reading culture, especially after the dawn of the new millennia (which is perhaps due to technological advances), has relegated literature to the classrooms. Even there, students have developed a phobia for literature. The relegation of literature to classrooms might perhaps also be the tour de force for the focus on hard core literature (by many African writers) rather than thrillers or pop fiction which was kick started by the likes of Ekwensi and other writers of the Onitsha markaet literature.
Hence, lovers of thrillers are left with no choice but to seek succour in American writers such as James Patterson, Sydney Sheldon, Dan Brown, Mario Puzo and many others. But the entry of Taminu Sule Lagi into the Nigerian literary arena, believably, would initiate the much needed turn towards Nigerian pop fiction.
Taminu Sule Lagi’s The Bofak Illusion is a story woven around a universal hard drug cartel with its headquarter in Columbia. The drug syndicate is known as BOFAK, known for stopping at nothing to ensure that their file and ranks are not breached and are ruthless in dealing with their enemies. They have assassins, police officers, and high government officials on their payrolls and this enables the cartel to infiltrate and operate in any country of their choice without being detected or bothered by law officials.
There has been an ethno-religious crisis in Tinland. However, what many do not know is that the governor’s cabal is behind the crises-they fashion out these crises to keep the people divided and be without a united voice. Zack Liman (FC Newsday Reporter) perceives something fishy about the crises and begins to snoop around. He finds out something. But his finding is dangerous to the ears of the people as it would prove that the state government is behind the crises. Consequently, the government agents murder him and dump his body by the wayside. His colleague and friend, Billy Dada, would not let the matter rest as he is bent on finding out those responsible for his friend’s death. His investigation would lead him to Gloria Dan, BOFAK West African region’s representative, a drug baroness who would be arrested and dies in police custody only to be resurrected and given a new identity.
The story is that of the good guys against the bad guys. In this novel, the readers will meet Kim Shykes, a Santomean ex-cop disguised as a priest in Tinland pretending to work for BOFAK but spurred only by one thing, revenge against BOFAK which blackmailed him for standing against its interest; Oyims, the police chief with zero tolerance for drug pushers, and of course there is Ayuba Giok who is always getting his foot stuck in troubled waters. Interesting characters all, so to say.
One easily discovers the obvious realism in the story. The character of Gloria Dan seems a reminder of the case late Dele Giwa was investigating (under the Babangida’s regime) before he was murdered by a letter bomb. Also, ethno-religious crises are quite common in Nigeria, especially in places such as Kaduna and Jos. The fact that politicians contribute to the mayhem for selfish reasons does not ring untrue. Hence, Tinland is obviously a state in Nigeria and the FCT is definitely Abuja.
One cannot help praising the writer for a job well done. However, it is tempting not to think the characterisation overdone. The writer went on introducing his characters far into the story. Although they are well described (at least, for the benefit of the reader), the description culminated to a point of upsetting the flow of the story. For a story of its length, the first three or four chapters of The Bofak Illusion should have been enough for characterisation so that the story can flow uninterrupted.
Secondly, the writer did not make a neat job of connecting the story’s two plots. On one side is the plot of the ethno-religious crises and the involvement of high profile government officials; on the other side is the trade in hard drugs, the link between both being Gloria Dan. There should have been more involvement in the cartel business by the government officials rather than a mere bond of friendship between the first lady and Gloria Dan. This could have added an interesting twist to the story.
Again, how can the good guys claim victory when the major object escapes their grasp? Governor Jerry Musheshe escapes punishment, Gloria Dan is abducted to safety by the assassin, Jion Belleck. The only consolatory prize is the governor’s special adviser on security issues (Milla Tangu) and his boys who are arrested for the murder of Zack Liman. With the bad guys still at large, one expects a return attack from the BOFAK syndicate on Kim Shykes or the sudden emergence of the ‘deceased’ Gloria Dan in Tinland. The question is: Is Taminu Sule Lagi preparing the reader’s mind for a sequel to The Bofak Illusion? It is tempting to think he is; the story has left a lot of issues and questions unresolved.
Lastly, who is the hero of the story? Should the reader speak of a hero? Billy Dada would have filled this void if not for his relegation at the tail end of the story. There should have been more action from him than the quiet role he played at the end in Gloria Dan’s house. Oyims and Kim Shykes obviously stole the action from him. If the writer gives the excuse of the story working towards multiple heroes, it will not be accepted.
Taminu Sule Lagi should know that what makes readers keep turning the pages of thrillers is suspense, the anxiety to know what happens next. Suspense is, in fact, a necessary ingredient in every story. With The Bofak Illusion, this ingredient seems wanting, except at the last part where the reader might begin to contemplate how Kim Shykes would rescue Billy Dada and exert his revenge on Gloria Dan. The failure of the suspense is not unconnected with the excessive characterisation and the plot revolving around the governor and his cohorts’ involvement in the ethno-religious crisis in Tinland.
As the saying goes: “Ask me for a perfect story and I shall tell you such a story has neither been told nor written,” Taminu Sule Lagi might not have told a perfect story but it is a good one nonetheless. Lagi entertains and at the same time shows his readers some of the many things wrong with the society.
And above all, Taminu Sule Lagi emphasizes the importance of the thriller genre in African literature and why it should be encouraged. He might not have beaten (in writing) the likes of James Patterson and Mario Puzo just yet. But the premise to occupy the same shelf as these writers is there as long as he keeps writing.
Meanwhile, our arms are folded as we await the next literary offering from Taminu Sule Lagi and, hopefully, it will be something more impressive than The Bofak Illusion.
ABUBAKAR ISIAKA ISHAQ
Abubakar Isiaka Ishaq holds a degree in English and Literary Studies. He is an editor, poet, short story writer and has a keen interest in critical writing. He lives in Lagos and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org .