MOVIE REVIEW: Femi Osofisan’s Cordelia: A Short Fiction Of Fused Literary Genres
A Conversation With Tunde Kelani On Cordelia ( Part 1)
On November 5th, 2021, at 8 pm, Tunde Kelani will premiere his latest movie. This is a rare world premiere to be integrated with a live symphony by the University of Delaware. Global personalities, such as Wole Soyinka and Olusegun Obasanjo, are expected to attend (https://events.udel.edu/event/cultrual_fusion_initiative_world_premiere_cordelia). It has been my pleasure to discuss with TK or TKO, as he is fondly called, about the various aspects of the production, including the challenges.
In this three-part essay, I start with the story on which the movie is based, Cordelia, a short story written by Femi Osofisan, a master of literary genres. Declaring Osofisan a master of literary genres is not particularly news because anyone familiar with Osofisan’s writing antecedent and who has read Cordelia is sure to exclaim, “Femi Osofisan is truly the master of literary genres!” And in so claiming, they would not be wrong. Cordelia is a short fiction of fewer than 70 pages, yet, Osofisan proves his talent and mastery through the scintillating and vivid pages of the book. He takes to a first-person narrative technique that would make readers almost conclude at the start of the book that it is the life story of someone known, or close, to the author. Also, anyone who has been to the University of Ibadan would relate to the vivid and robust imageries that Osofisan painted throughout the book, right from the first page.
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To many ardent followers and readers of Osofisan’s works, the literary icon is a dramatist. That would not be a wrong way to describe him, as he has written several successful plays, from Women of Owu to Morountodun, No More the Wasted Breed, Another Raft, Tegonni, amidst others. There is no doubt that drama is at the heart of his literary fame, awards, and critiques. For one, he has carved a niche for himself as an adapter of plays to suit the African setting and through the furtherance of plays from fellow African literary icons. Femi Osofisan, known as Okinba Launko in the poetic quarters, enjoys prominence with poetry too. Okinba Launko is a household name for captivating, Africa-themed, and strongly conceptual poems, and only those who do not know literature would make light of the name. His poetry books include Dream Seeker on Divining Chain and Minted Coins. While his forte may not be in novels and prose, Osofisan has proven his mastery and why he towers among the highest in the ranking of African literary icons.
Cordelia is a short fiction written under the Okinba Launko pseudonym. In this book, Osofisan deploys the three genres of literature to give readers a wholesome read of the renowned Osofisan. There are many aspects of discourse in Cordelia. The first noticeable one is the symbolic use of trees, which the reader comes in contact with from the first paragraph, and they do not cease to surface till the very end. From the outset, Osofisan draws a striking contrast between the trees and humans, telling of the complexity of human life and the desirability and continual search for simplicity. Osofisan deploys personification in the description of the trees, and through this, he draws a contrast between the narrator and the trees. We immediately see the observant nature of the narrator, whose name we will never find out–one more reason that may reinforce readers’ suspicion that the story is a biography. The use of poetic devices is also quickly brought to the fore in the first paragraph, as the narrator draws a comparison between the trees’ state that morning and angry and protesting students.
Readers are soon introduced to the narrator’s marital problems. This is not intentionally done to tell them of the narrator’s woes, but as a topic without conscious thoughts. It reminds us of how the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart and how difficult it is to have challenges or troubles on one’s mind and not speak about them, intentionally or not. Osofisan’s narrative technique gives readers insights into the narrator’s thoughts and thought patterns. First, we know that the hidden figure is someone keen on nature. Then, one can tell from the outset that the main character cannot talk and argue for long. Picture a man who would rather nurse negative perceptions of their spouse, brood on such perceptions, and appreciate trees rather than confront their marital problems.
The personality of the narrator is further revealed in the succeeding paragraphs. Indeed, he is not the aggressive type. He confesses that when things get tense and are on the verge of getting out of hand, he would “grab his bag finally and flee from the house without his breakfast.” Osofisan further appeals to the imagination of readers through descriptive imagery, thereby creating a clear picture of the narrator’s encounter every time he arrives at the faculty. Yet another contrast is drawn as the narrator reveals that the habitual calmness that the trees bring him every morning is missing on the day when readers have their encounter with him. One remarkable thing that we must draw attention to is how the author infuses the past into the present in Cordelia. It is almost impossible for the reader to discern one from the other until the narrator discloses it. The opening paragraphs of the book are written in such a way that one would not be able to tell that they are not fully set in the present–that while the narrator tells us about his arrival at the faculty, his opening thoughts on the trees and the calmness they bring him are no more than reminiscences.
Soon after, readers know the cause of the absence of the calmness nature brings to our narrator. And that is his marital woes with Remi, his wife. The narrator’s mind is preoccupied, suggesting that his marital woes are worse than they used to be. His inability to concentrate on teaching his class further confirms this suspicion. His mind is preoccupied, so much so that even though he is taking one of his favorite classes, he has problems concentrating. The narrator is not himself in the classroom, which leads him to abruptly end the class and return to his office for some brooding and me-time.
During his me-time, we meet the trees yet again. They are shaking off the dust this time as the narrator also attempts to shake off the dust that clouded his mind. At this point, the reader meets Stella and Cordelia, two friends who are the narrator’s students. One is a known student, and the other is a new student. Through well-structured dialogues that hint more at their personalities, we get to know about the two women. Also, Stella confirms readers’ suspicion that the narrator’s preoccupying thoughts of his marital woes must have severely impacted his ability to successfully handle his class that morning.
The students’ presence and worry-free chats with the narrator do some good for him, as he slightly loosens up, while doing his best to avoid any casual familiarity. As the students leave, we meet the trees once again. The multi-layered functions of the trees in Cordelia become apparent as one progresses in the reading of the book, or one would notice it during a second reading. They serve as pointers to what is to come, similar to the book’s silent narrator.
Osofisan is famous for the use of narrators. One that readily comes to mind is the narrator in Women of Owu, who reveals situations to readers, sometimes before they occur in the play’s setting. Although the narrator now feels lighter, he treads cautiously, as the mood and mien of the trees pass an ominous message. As if on cue, the announcement of a coup, masterminded by Cordelia’s father, comes over the radio. And so starts an unplanned and unprepared-for adventure. Soon, students start their demonstration.
There is yet another lesson for contemporary student unionists. Activism was bred and thrived on Nigerian campuses in the past. Students spearheaded protests and shows of dissatisfaction. They were fearless and bold in their actions. In contemporary Nigeria, the situation is starkly different. The focus of student unionism has shifted to being a money-making means, liaison with mainstream politicians, and a means for students to launch their political careers. As the narrator broods on the consequences of the new coup in the nation, and as students’ voices rise in the demonstration, his wife, Remi, appears and demands to use his car. As he tells her of the danger and tries to dissuade her from driving during a demonstration, Stella enters and confirms the narrator’s fears: Cordelia’s life is in danger.
In real-time, Osofisan takes us through the bravery and chivalry of the narrator: How he goes against the will of his wife to help save Cordelia’s life. He does not hesitate to lock his wife in his office just to save Cordelia. We see how he subjects himself to conditions beneath a distinguished member of the faculty in a bid to save the young girl’s life. We see how he braves confrontation, time and time again, from dissatisfied and angered students. There is also the case of the breaking into his car and how he was injured. One of the most decisive consequences of his decision to help Cordelia is the total disruption of the order in his office. His wife rips apart his precious books and tears up his research documents. This leaves the narrator in an abject mood, further compounded by the military invasion he meets at home.
His inexperience with the military leads him to make the grave mistake of handing over Cordelia to Kawale, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He realizes his mistake at the arrival of Colonel Nwanze-Peters’ troops. He is whisked away and tortured till the colonel finally frees him. The situation becomes more precise, and the narrator discovers that the coup was masterminded by Kawale, using Nwanze-Peters’ name and voice, and that the coup was foiled. The narrator embarks on the brave mission of delivering a letter to the Kawale camp. On this mission, he gets his first lesson on the need to double-check when dealing with the military. His second lesson with the military is learned when Colonel Nwanze-Peters does not fulfill his promises in his letter to Kawale.
Anyone who has read any of Osofisan’s poetry books will attest to his ability to captivate readers’ attention using poetic devices–imagery, metaphor, alliteration, and narration being chief of them, all of which he employs in Cordelia. Many things are striking about the nature, setting, and composition of the book, but the most striking of them all is how the author holds the reader’s breath from start to finish, using poetic devices to his advantage. In writing Cordelia, Osofisan donned his garment of Okinba, the poetic narrator, and I am convinced that the decision to use the pseudonym Okinba Launko as the author’s name is an intentional and message-laden move.
Cordelia is thematically rich and attention-grabbing, a sustaining short story that TK has successfully converted to a good movie. More so, Osofisan wrote it in a way that makes the book evergreen–like the trees that sit at the faculty quadrangle. And, wonderfully, Tunde Kelani and his production team have a movie on the book. Did TK follow the script? I will answer this question in the second part.
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Please join us for a conversation with the renowned Nigerian Songwriter, Music Composer, and Band Leader, Olusegun Akinlolu (Beautiful Nubia).
Sunday, March 19, 2023
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Toyin Falola Interviews Holds Conversation With Kunle Afolayan
Touching Base With Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
By Toyin Falola
Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is a well-versed law professor, international relations activist, and commentator. It was delightful to have her join us, alongside Miriam Oke, Chido Onumah, and Jibrin Hussaini, at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, where we discussed Nigeria’s 2023 elections.
If anything, the primaries being organised in the nation’s two most influential parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress, are pointers to what should be expected of the 2023 Nigerian elections. As is customary, the primaries have been rife with electoral malpractices, vote-buying, and unscrupulous voting figures, and there is a shocking video posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmad, former Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, who lost his bid to secure the ticket of the APC to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives primaries in his home state of Kano. The video shows how supposed delegates are handed pre-ticked ballot boxes and are asked to put them in the ballot box without even batting an eyelid at the malpractice.
The ball is being set in motion. Atiku Abubakar is the People’s Democratic Party flag bearer for the presidential seat. The All Progressives Congress has recently screened its presidential hopefuls and will soon appoint its flagbearer. Peter Obi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the Labour Party and has since been elected as the party’s flagbearer for the presidential seat, is a seeming third wheel in the routine two-dominant-party multi-party system practised in the country. The stage is set. Or is it?
This piece is not much of a sequel to the one on Chido Onumah’s perspectives on the 2023 elections because Dr Akiyode-Afolabi had her unique views on the questions asked. Nonetheless, it will follow a similar pattern, where we will examine points touched on by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi during the interview.
Electoral Violence and Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
Sad as it may seem, electoral violence is an immemorial issue rocking the Nigerian state. Throughout all its republics, Nigeria has witnessed killings and maiming during election periods — whether at the polling booths on election day or among political rivals setting targets on each other’s backs. Nigeria’s electoral process is peculiar, involving the recruitment of violent electoral mercenaries, often branded as party thugs. These thugs sign off their loyalty to a political party and wreak havoc on the party’s behalf — from ballot snatching to intimidating voters to bow to their party’s will.
In the Nigerian political scene, these party thugs sit with political kings. They are deemed crucial to the electoral process and candidates’ success. The recruitment and payment of these party thugs consume huge financial resources. However, political leaders and public officeholders fail to consider the expected uselessness of the party thugs within the governance period of three to four years that separate pre-election and election years. Having tasted ill-gotten wealth that far surpasses what they could have earned honestly, and without any honest and paying job, these party thugs resort to all sorts of vice to pay their bills and keep themselves in shape. Thus, it is not uncommon to find that party thugs become robbers, kidnappers, bandits, and street-terrorising thugs who incessantly cut holes through the state’s peace, security, and quiet.
In most cases, we would rather relate the incessant kidnappings and unrest to unknown gunmen or herdsmen-bandits rather than the true perpetrators of the evil — anarchical party thugs with weapons they were equipped with during the election period. Thus, the rivalry for power and politicians’ insatiable desire for control, regardless of the extent they go to get it, could be strongly linked to the violent crises that have rocked the country for a while now.
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For Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, violent political mercenaries in Nigeria and the political aspirants and parties who are their enablers act out of an abundant enjoyment of sheer impunity — the knowledge that they can do and undo, wreak whatever havoc they want to, without bearing the consequences. Although several of the perpetrators of this electoral violence are known, nothing is done to bring them to justice, further reinforcing the need to carry out their vice during the next election. Over the years, electoral violence has become a norm in Nigeria, and nothing is being done to curb the menace, especially in punishing the perpetrators. Thus, the electorate have joined the camp of political aspirants and political thugs who see electoral violence as part of the electioneering process in Nigeria. For members of the electorate who have difficulty processing electoral violence as a part of the electioneering process, the option of apathy kicks to the surface — especially among women and the youth who earnestly believe politics in Nigeria is a dirty game, and electoral violence is inevitable. Thus, it is not surprising that Nigeria has had a low voter turnout over the years.
The case of electoral violence and the state’s reaction to it is like several other policies in Nigeria. While the Electoral Act was proactively drafted to cover electoral violence and how to punish offenders and culprits, there has not been any action to make that part of the Act functional. It is akin to the numerous nation-improving policies whose existence has never gone beyond the paper. If we were to dig to the roots of why the aspect of the Nigerian Electoral Act that punishes electoral violence has not been enforced, we would be quick to find out that the average Nigerian politician is either directly or indirectly complicit. Thus, those at the helm and those willing to take over from them are all involved, making them reluctant to enforce the punishment for electoral violence, that is, if they consider punishing the crime at all.
Nigeria’s Three-faced Need and the Importance of a Long-term Agenda
The need for a long-term agenda should not be misconstrued as supporting the cabalistic unending Northern presidency agenda or any other agenda that does not mean well for Nigeria as a nation. Rather, it represents Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s thoughts on what is truly needed to get Nigeria out of its current quagmire. The international relations activist considers the 2023 elections in Nigeria a big issue for the country, particularly because there are more people interested in the presidential position than we have had in quite a while. Nonetheless, most of these aspirants are people who have either held a political position or currently hold one. They are people we know so well. Given their deeds while in office, it will be difficult to convince any right-thinking Nigerian that there is hope for the country if any of the candidates being paraded were elected as president.
The double tragedy that is Buhari’s eight years in office has seen the country go from bad to worse. The country’s debts keep piling up, with no way of repaying them year after year. The people are impoverished, and the currency continually suffers a blow of worthlessness and devaluation, inflation, and the unemployment rate keeps rising. To make matters worse are the rife killings, banditry, and the near state of anarchy that the country has been thrown into. Has any of the numerous candidates aspiring for the presidential seat shown they are the visionary yet pragmatic leaders that can help Nigeria realise a remarkable positive change?
Careful consideration of the likeliest players at the 2023 polls, vis-à-vis the criterion above, would show that Nigeria is not prepared for an election. Dr Akiyode-Afolabi proposed a three-aspect strategy to help us discover a new Nigeria. These are aspects that cannot be fully realised within a four-year term. Thus, there is the need for Nigerian politicians, regardless of their differences—although there are no marked differences in Nigerian politics—to consider government as a continuum and treat it as such. This will help ensure that even if power falls to the opposition camp, the remarkable and change-focused plans that have been kicked into action by the previous government will continue to be nurtured by the new government. This is the only way we can fully realise the three-dimensional solution proposed by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi.
Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s first proposed dimension is the need for an empowered political class. The Nigerian political field is riddled with whimsical people who are of the anything-goes breed as long as they get elected to office. That is why serial defection is nothing to them, and they can shamelessly befriend a foe today and betray a friend tomorrow. They are overly selfish lot who constantly put personal needs and gains before national needs and expected gains. The Nigerian political class needs to be empowered enough to engage the electorate in an ideological and issue-based manner. A look at the pre-campaign clamouring in the camps of the presidential aspirants will show that they think so little of Nigerians that they believe not much is needed in the way of plans and strategies to convince the people. It is also why Nyensom Wike, who lost his party’s presidential ticket, deemed it fit to incessantly chant, “give me power… power!” To him, that was enough to get him the ticket to become Nigeria’s next president.
The coming months will show us lamentable political campaigns with no depth, so shallow that every reasonable Nigerian would be too ashamed to identify with a country where such gimmicks pass as enough campaign to convince the people to vote for someone. There is a need to empower citizens and help kick structures in place to organise Nigerians and help them truly understand what they want. Nigeria has so much suffered from poor governance that asking the average electorate what they expect from the aspirants — what they look forward to hearing that could convince them to vote for an aspirant — would most likely render them stammering.
In Nigeria, constitutional reformation is of great necessity. The Nigerian Constitution has outlived its essence. What use is a constitution if it does not amply meet the state’s needs nor adequately answer its citizens’ burning questions? The systems of the constitution no longer effectively serve us as a nation, which is why there have been agitations and clamouring for secession, restructuring, regionalisation, and central policing, among other issues raised. In the end, until Nigeria intentionally kicks these three dimensions into action, and until there are successive tenures that consider the government as a continuum and reach a knowing agreement to nurture and not impede the realisation of the three-dimensional issue, a new and positive Nigeria will be anything but reality.
- *** This is the third and final report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.
For the transcript, see:
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