TITL OF BOOK: Madagali
AUTHOR: Wole Okediran
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2021
PUBLISHERS: Evans Brothers
BOOK REVIEWER: Dr. Abubakar Othman
Dept. of English and Literary Studies
University of Maiduguri
Madagali is a fictional story of Lance Corporal Bukar Salisu, a young energetic soldier sent to Madagali, a town in North-East Nigeria, to lead a team of soldiers fighting the Boko Haram insurgents, but ends up falling in love with the daughter of one of the commanders of the Boko Haram sect. Told through a Kaleidoscope of characters, scenes, and incidents, Madagali X-rays the politics, intrigues, international conspiracies, and the rotten underbelly of the Nigerian military, in the fight against insurgency, banditry, and terrorism that is threatening the country with extinction.
The novel opens with L/C Salisu already a casualty of the war, when he and his colleagues were ambushed and suffered many losses from the firepower of the insurgents. However, the author ensures that he does not welcome the reader with the sad news of death and wounded soldiers, therefore he reports L/C Salisu condition with a pinch of satire characteristic of the military language of banters. “The bullet only missed a major blood vessel and your hipbone by inches. It also missed the sciatic nerve which would have… knocked you off your erection, as it is the nerve that supplies your prick. (P.1)”. Of course, this assuages L/C Salisu’s discomfiture as he smiled painfully noting that soldiers at the war front,
Whether they want to express extreme delight or extreme indignation, they would easily resort to soldier-talk, in a language devoid of emotion but replete with pungent phrases. Our families and teachers would be shocked if they heard the way we speak, but out here it’s simply the language that everyone uses. (P.1).
Nevertheless, L/C Salisu was to eventually suffer erectile dysfunction and loss of libido which complicates his love life and romantic relationship with Safiya, daughter of the Boko Haram Commander, and Jewel his Liberian “wife” secured for him by his mother.
From the war front in Madagali the story veered off to Kano in North West Nigeria where L/C Salisu and five of his other wounded colleagues are taking to the National Orthopedic hospital for treatment. It is at the hospital that we are to learn in detail the circumstances surrounding the Madagali ambush from the conversation between Lt. Col. Bala Hamus (Brigade Commander) and Lt. Tunde Okoka (Platoon Commander) who came to visit L/C Salisu and his colleagues at the hospital. It becomes apparent from the conversation that the military has a divided loyalty and some of the soldiers are actually moles who supply the insurgents with information and logistics.
The Boko Haram boys mean business. From dane guns and pellets our enemies have now graduated to SMGs and large caliber bullets… My hunch is that we have moles within our ranks. (p.5)
As more soldiers come to visit their colleagues in the hospital the reader is regaled with details of the operation of the military and conduct of the top army officers which smacks of complicity and deliberate sabotage in the war against the insurgents. By using different groups of soldiers to comment on the conduct of the military, especially the accusing fingers being pointed at Lt. Col. Bala Hamus as the enemy within, Okediran applies the narrative technique of dialogism to absolve himself of speculative narrative and give plausibility to the story as coming from the soldiers themselves.
To advance the plot of the story and the theme of corruption in the military, Okediran shows how it affects the patriotism and discipline of the younger soldiers and junior officers. The author does that through a well-crafted narrative of the biography of L/C Salisu to show that the young soldiers have no role models to emulate from the military high command. L/C Salisu’s military discipline is a family heritage being the son of an ex-soldier. He learned discipline and patriotism from his father. Hence, his posting to the war front in Madagali as a team leader in spite of his inexperience, he accepts with enthusiasm and determination to conquer. He considers it a patriotic duty as an indigene of the area, and a professional discipline to accept without questioning whatever duty is assigned to you as a soldier.
I became an instant hero when the news reached my course mates of all of us going to Madagali, I was going to play a very critical role in the operation (P.23).
But this spirit of patriotism and duty is to be frustrated, and his life endangered by the unwholesome conduct of the Brigade Commander who nearly sentenced him to death through a kangaroo military court. When L/C Salisu was discharged from the hospital and is proceeding to Kazaure on a two-week leave, Lt. Col. Humus saddles him with heavy luggage to deliver to his family in Achilafia. He told him that the bag contains his personal effects while actually, they contain boxes of bombs and other explosives. L/C Salisu was apprehended at a checkpoint and court marshaled for trafficking in weapons. Again, Okediran uses the court trial of L/C Salisu to criticize the incompetence of military tribunals, the chicanery of military officers in shielding each other for crimes and the harrowing experience of junior officers in the hands of their seniors. Through the help of an ex-army officer, (not through the honesty of any serving army officer on the tribunal) L/C Salisu’s innocence was established and is set free. This further establishes the novel’s view that there is hardly anyone in the military top brass that young officers can look up to as a role model.
At this point the story returns to Madagali where L/C Salisu is seen facing a formidable force of the Boko Haram insurgents who came to attack the military Super; in Kaya at the outskirt of Madagali. Here the theme and narrative style change in focus. Okediran shifts attention from the corruption in the military to the conspiracies and complicity of the so-called Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the International aid agencies feasting on the Boko Haram crisis in the North-East.
After a fatal encounter with the terrorists in Kaya, L/C Salisu and his team were able to capture some prisoners of war (POW), among them, is Aminu Mohammed, the father of Safiya and leader of the sect in Kaya. Okediran uses the interrogation of the POW as a prism to look at the intrigues, conspiracies, and greed of the international community and their local collaborators, using L/C Salisu as his mouthpiece, who tells us that:
As we rounded off our interrogation, we prepare our report for our commanders as well as the International Humanitarian Organizations. Our report cross-referenced the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that the Boko Haram insurgency has directly or indirectly impacted the 17.2 million people living in the North-East region of Nigeria. (P.69)
The report that is cross-referenced with other credible international sources is Okediran’s style of giving credibility, beyond mere accusation, of the complicity of the NGOs as sponsors of Boko Haram in the North-East crisis. Hence, part of the report states emphatically that:
Part of the fallout of our interrogation of the Boko Haram POW was the overwhelming evidence of how the humanitarian agencies were pampering the insurgents in a classical case of “feeding the enemy’. The POW even confirm that some aid workers went as far as using helicopters to drop food and medicine for the (P.72).
Through the Kaya encounter and the confessions of the POW, Okediran addresses critical national and international issues regarding war and morality. Madagali may be a fictional narrative but born out of deep research. Okediran narrates his story with the expertise of a military historian, offering professional details and tactics of war, factual statistics of death and casualties, ranging from the classical Vietnam war through the unending Sri Lankan War down to the Nigerian civil war and the current Boko Haram war in North-East Nigeria.
Leveraging the flexibility of polyphonic narrative style, Okediran employs different methods to advance the plot of the novel. In his attempt to radicalize the young soldiers to rise against the corruption in the military, he adopts the intellectual approach by using lecturers in the military academy to conscientize the young soldiers. The protest letter written to the President against the corruption in the military is a fallout from the radical thinking they learned in the military academy. Another fallout is from the emergency meeting with the Chief of Defense Staff where all grievances of the soldiers are addressed, prominent among the issues being the need for overseas training for junior officers in the military.
The young officers return to Nigeria with adequate knowledge and strategies for fighting guerilla war and all kinds of insurgencies. They also find a well-equipped and well-funded military which gives them the desired motivation. It is at this point that the novel nose-dives into an anti-climax in what one may call the sub-plot of the novel dealing with the love theme.
Madagali is not entirely about the horrors of war, it is also about love in times of war. As if to say love conquers all pains and fears, Okediran injects in L/C Salisu the love tonic to extenuate the pains of war.
I was restless throughout that day after I got confirmation from my sister that Jewel was on her way to see me in Nigeria… I was happy that my girlfriend and “future wife” would be around to visit me. (P.89)
This is Jewel, the Liberian girl his mother offers him as a “wife” when he visited the mother who is now back in her country, Liberia, after the death of L/C Salisu’s father. But this is not the main love, the real love that is to complicate matters for the Lance Corporal is that of Safiya, daughter of Aminu Mohammed, the leader of Boko Haram in Kaya. He gives an account of how they met thus: ‘After Aminu’s arrest and debriefing, the middle-aged insurgent had relayed to his daughter how I had saved his life when he was first captured. Somehow, the daughter wanted to thank me for saving her father, she tracked me through some aid workers’ (P.89) that’s the beginning of a complex and complicated ethico-moral love relationship between a patriotic and disciplined soldier fighting doggedly to end the Boko Haram war, and a beautiful, resourceful and intelligent daughter of a Boko Haram Commander. The love theme presents a significant nexus between the Nigerian military, the Boko Haram insurgents, and the international aid organizations with Safiya serving as the nexus. A cordial relationship develops gradually between the two in spite of their political affiliations.
Safiya who worked at the IDP camp as an interpreter with some foreign aid had visited me several times after our first meeting while I was still stationed at Kaya (p.59) (Italics mine).
Through the prism of love, Okediran again found another narrative technique to further interrogate without being judgmental, the rationale of the Boko Haram Insurgents. For instance, in his interaction with Safiya, L/C Salisu was to learn that most of those who joined the Insurgents, including her father, did so for economic reasons. Aminu Mohammed needed money to train Safiya at the Teachers Training College she wanted to attend which he did no have, and when the father heard that Boko Haram was offering money for new recruits, he quickly joined the sect. Safiya explains further that:
There are many people who joined the sect because they needed money and not because they believed in the sect’s ideology. Some other people even joined because they wanted protection while others did so because of family ties. (P.92)
In fact, it becomes apparent to L/C Salisu that Boko Haram is not fighting western education per se, neither is it a religious or ideological sect but a nihilist group supported by foreign forces to destabilize the country. If Boko Haram is actually fighting western education they won’t be bombing the slum areas of Maiduguri inhabited by peasants who know nothing about western education but only Quranic schools, while not even a pin was ever dropped in the Government Reservation Area (GRA) of Maiduguri where the practitioners and beneficiaries of western education live in open opulence.
Thus, through the agency of love symbolized by Safiya, Okediran develops the sub-plot of the book with unquestionable plausibility. Love becomes a dependable instrument of interrogation and investigation, ‘Due to my closeness to Safiya, I was to learn as much as possible from her about Boko Haram and the international aid groups which she worked for. Safiya thus becomes the author’s mouthpiece to divulge classified facts and information critical to the fight against the insurgency.
To ensure the free flow of the romantic relationship between L/C Salisu and Safiya, Okediran further introduces the marriage issue to L/C Salisu. Safiya reminds him that,
Some of the best weddings had taken place in wartime. That of the former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, and his wife, Victoria were good examples (104).
Accordingly, Okediran allows the reader to have a breath of romantic air, away from the foggy atmosphere of war, by letting L/C Salisu indulge for some time in love reverie.
I couldn’t even believe that I missed many of the telltale signs of an impending romance. During one of our short meetings at the portacabin, she had briefly leaned on me while biding me good night. In that brief moment… her performed boy has sent a sudden desire through me. (105)
Then immediately another thought comes to his mind as to what the military authority would say if they get to know that their young soldiers are getting married to former terrorists. This narrative technique is known as “hedging” pre-empts the ending of the story.
As L/C Salisu battles with the choice between patriotism and personal benefit, and between Safiya and Jewel, Okediran leaves us in suspense about the decision by taking us back to the war theme via a telegram message. L/C Salisu is summoned to an urgent meeting with the minister of Defence over the lingering crisis and the grievances of soldiers at the war front. The circumstances and outcome of the meeting serve as “hedging” in the narrative technique of the novel. The meeting does not only identify the problems of the military in fighting the insurgents but also confirms to L/C Salisu how right and resourceful Safiya is in her analysis of the insurgency and security problems of the country. Therefore, it is not just the dilemma of choice between Safiya and Jewel that has been resolved, but also the choice between accepting Safiya’s proposal for his health benefit and keeping faith with his professional training for the sake of his country.
It’s at this point that the novel attains its climax, somewhere in chapter six which is also the middle of the thirteen chapter book. From the meeting with Minister of Defence to the foreign training in Australia for the young soldiers, and the attendant re-jigging of the military, all problems confronting the security of the country have been laid bare and solutions identified. The novel now descends swiftly down an anti-climax and denouement with all the trappings of a happy ending.
Symbolism in the Novel
Apart from the use of multiple settings and polyphonic narrative style that includes dialogism and hedging which I have discussed in the foregoing review of the plot and theme of Madagali, there are two other significant techniques used by the author namely: symbolism and metaphor. The author uses the love theme involving Jewel and Safiya as metaphors to highlight the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) soldiers from or at the war front experience. L/C Salisu experiences a self-demeaning emotional stress consequent upon his erectile dysfunction which continues to haunt him as a man. Every feeling of libido reminds him of his sexual deformity. When Jewel, his wife to be, expresses her desire for them to have a boy and a girl as they admire a young family walking ahead of them, saying: ‘They look so lovely and beautiful. ‘That’s what I pray for us… a boy and a girl…’ (P.118). L/C Salisu instead of complimenting her feelings, intones: ‘My heart missed a beat as her words hit home’ (P.118), that it reminds him of his impotency and not being a man living enough to raise a family. The metaphoric implication is that a man with low self-esteem wrought upon him by the war, and in a country that does not care about his well-being, may begin to have negative feelings about his responsibility as a soldier.
Most soldiers returning from the war front exhibit symptoms of stress disorder, in the case of L/C Salisu it is emotional sexual trauma. While Jewel taunts him for erectile dysfunction, Safiya reminds him of his deformity as well as his vulnerability as a soldier. However, the two women are also a morale booster to his military career. In fact, with Safiya anything he dreams about will make it a reality for him. She does not only have advanced knowledge of his official assignments such as new posting but she can also fix his next posting., However, the love and care that Safiya lavishes on L/C Salisu are not without a price to pay. She asks him to shift his loyalty from the military to the Boko Haram sect. In recompense, she promises to help him get the cure for his impotence. This is the moral dilemma of the story – the choice between self-interest and national interest. It is here that lies the interpretation of the symbolism, metaphor, and allusion implicit in the love affair.
The vitality of the young soldiers at the battlefield symbolizes the fighting spirit of the Nigerian youth to succeed, while the decadence and corruption among the army officers symbolize the decadence and corruption of the elders and leaders of Nigerian. L/C Salisu’s impotence in spite of himself as a young man symbolizes the impotence of the nation to be productive, while Safiya’s love for him and her ability to cure him of his impotence symbolizes the deceptive, and dubious willingness of these foreigners to love us and help the country to grow. Indeed, by virtue of her job Safiya symbolizes the enemy within who are working for foreign powers to undermine the nation.
What L/C Salisu and his colleagues went to study in Australia are mere revisions of what Safiya has already taught him. The love, care, and affection she lavishes on him is a contrastive allusion to the lack of care for the welfare of the young soldiers by the military top brass. This is also symbolic of Nigeria’s lack of care for the welfare of its citizens especially the youth.
Of course, the story is not without its economic advantages. The Baga fish market gives comic relief to the agony of war. A common economic interest over the fish of Baga seems to ensure peace through the corporation between the citizens and the military more than the political interest of the war. Baga has come back to life with the military and the civilians living off the fish resources of Lake Chad.
Madagali may be a work of fiction but it is also an essential resource material on the problems of insecurity, insurgency, and the menace of the international aid organizations working in Nigeria. For the military especially, Madagali is an essential training manual that is a must-read in all its training depots and academies.
For someone reading Madagali with the eyes of a critic will observe some technical and structural defects with the novel. The interplay of facts and fiction (reality and imagination) is not artistic enough for a novel, yet the book is neither a military nor a history text. The use of reports, official meetings, and lectures to tell the story affect the proper development of characters. Lance Corporal Salisu as the main character of the novel is not adequately depicted, as most of his views and actions are shown through other people. The story uses real places and events such that any error in the rendering will affect plausibility. For instance, Sambisa forest is both a real and popular place just as the town Madagali is also popular with people that are familiar with the Boko Haram history in Adamawa State. Therefore, to say that Sambisa forest is in Zamfara State (p.102) violets plausibility, even for the fact that on the same page Sambisa is mentioned again as a place on Maiduguri-Damboa Road in Borno State.
There are some avoidable typo-grammatical errors in the book that can be attributed to cursory editing. The first page of chapter six (P.69), especially the opening paragraph, needs serious editing. The sentence that contains the words ‘couched’, ‘corridor’, and ‘premises’ is ungrammatical; while the phrases ‘Friday morning’ and ‘one early morning’ used to refer to the same incidence is rather awkward. Similarly, the expression ‘panicked soldiers beating and trumping the displaced civilians…’ is a grammatically weak if not wrong expression. Similarly, the expression “Madagali and Adamawa State” (p.93) should have used the preposition “in” not “and”. Similarly, the expression “that earlier killed” (p.94) should read “they” not “that”. The phrase, “in the latest use of weapons” (P. 98) should read “in the use of latest weapons”. The conversation between Safiya and L/C Salisu on P.99 is also replete with the awkward expressions: ‘You’re calling a married with two children a boy?’ I guess the word ‘man’ is missing after the word ‘married’. Similarly, the expression ‘How is about you’ is completely ungrammatical just as the question ‘How about you should have been ‘What about you?’. The circumstances of the arrest and Court Marshal of L/C Salisu lack both clarity and believability. He is caught on his way to Kazaure from Kano in North-West Nigeria but is Court Marshalled in Maimalari barracks in Maiduguri in North-East Nigeria. Two distant apart locations separated by three states.
Details of the interrogation and reports of its findings (P.67-70) are too far-fetched for an incidence involving a handful of miscreants caught in an encounter on the fringes of a small town as Prisoners of War (POW). Prisoners of War are usually a good number of active combatants subdued by their opponents and arrested and detained for bargaining power, ransom, or settlement in war. The few riff-raffs abandoned in the bush at Kaya do not qualify as a POW because they have no bargain value.
Know more about art hub
We provide guided tours for international tourists who come to experience amazing Nigerian unique environment.
Also, Nigerian drama troupes spread across the country, dance & festivals are of world standards, which we also offer to a global audience that wishes to enjoy the culture that is uniquely made in Nigerian.