Title: Monopoly of Wisdom
Publisher: Fourth Floor Press, 2012, Ottawa, Canada
Author: Afam Nkemdiche
Reviewer: Bayo Ogunmupe
THE book, Monopoly of Wisdom is a novel written by Afam Nkemdiche, a Nigerian educated in Britain and the United States. The book is set in the early 1950s during Nigeria’s struggle for independence. It tells the story of a king Obong Ufot, a tale reminiscent of the Calabari Kingdom in Cross River State, Nigeria. This Obong is a well educated young man. This man of the world breeming with new ideas finds himself desperately seeking solutions to the problems of his domain.
Also, the name of his kingdom – Okoko, looks like a place in Lagos State called Okokomaiko, but the placing is different. This Okoko community faces a decade long drought which has impoverished the kingdom forcing residents to flee to neighbouring countries. As the drought noose tightens with the land drying up, this formerly prosperous territory finds its inhabitants migrating abroad in hope of finding new ways of livelihood.
Caught within the ancient beliefs of his people and the West European tradition this traditional ruler finds himself torn between two opposing doctrines, two different sets of wisdom. Out of dispair he adopts the traditional, weather-worn beliefs of his people through the advice of his chiefs.
Unfortunately, the ancient wisdom isn’t a match to the modern problems of his day, culminating in disastrous consequences. Monopoly of Wisdom is a new voice in the discordant tunes that rues the Nigerian federation. This book is both challenging and moving, it continues to be an entertaining parable of the struggle to redeem the heritage of Africa.
This book is rather large, it has 358 pages, 33 chapters and the author’s biodata. The first eight chapters delineates the physical environment of Okoko Kingdom. It is a land of farmers, because the land is rich and develops food crops of all types: yam, cassava, sugar cane, coca and coco-yam. Okoko is also endowed with rich materials and animals such as fish, lamb and other meat producing animals.
Apart from farming, teaching is the second most important occupation of the people. Their many primary and secondary schools encouraged many to go for teaching positions in order to keep up with modernity and educate Okoko indigenes. The landscape consists of extensive lava plains dotted with many extinct volcanoes.
The animal life includes chimpanzees, gorillas, wild dogs, leopards and giraffes. The tree-studded savanna housed them. The riverine areas become the reserve of snakes, lions, crocodiles and many other species of animals.
Much of Okoko region is available as pasture while a sizeable portion is arable land. One day, on their way to the farm, very early in the morning, Umana the protagonist of this story, three of his sons, and eight farmhands among a handful of other farmers, joined four returning visitors at a school junction on the east main road to Okoko. Not unlike their ceremonial chalk marks, all the kingdoms in the region had distinct methods of salutation. Which was why Ekanem knew that the strangers were from Ikot Abasi, his maternal grandmother’s birth place.
Scenes like this dotted the novel, making it pleasurable reading. From chapter nine to 12, we notice a description of family life where an argument as to the genealogy of Ekanem is the centre of the dispute. Had Mama Ekanem had not known her husband, Umana, as a teetotaler, she would have thought he was drunk of palm wine. But in their 34 years of marriage she could not recall, once, when her farmer husband was ever drunk. She could not decipher the fact from jokes, for the charge that Ekanem is a bastard was too grave to be dismissed with the wave of hands. However, Ekanem’s mother defended her son’s genealogy, that he is a full blooded Umana because he took after Umana’s flat nose and broad forehead. In all, she succeeded in defending her chastity, claiming a good child is always accepted by the father but when a child behaves badly, the father disclaims him.
From chapter 16, Ekanem began to understand the problems plaguing his kingdom. Laying awake on his straw mattress in the room he shared with his younger siblings, Asuquo and Ettas, Ekanem resolved to seek a second opinion on Victor’s homily from his kinsmen. If Victor’s explanation of the travails of Okoko was correct, then the people must have done something wrong for them to earn the wrath of the gods.
Therefore, Ekanem thought the solution before him lay not in fighting their enemies but in seeking out what it was that had incurred the wrath of the gods.
The explanation of his friend Victor, eventually convinced Ekanem of the curse of the gods on Okoko. This position was all the more convincing to Ekanem when seen in the light of his father’s earlier remarks that, “some of the profound secrets of life are revealed as a common joke from the least expected lips.” It is from that phrase that “Monopoly of Wisdom” was revealed as the title of this fable. That is to say, error comes from the belief that you have a monopoly of wisdom. To think of yourself as a wise man is be wallow in error.
From chapter 17 to the end constitutes the quest by Ekanem and his advisers to gain solutions to the plight of Okoko. This book is available at amazon.com; Laterna, Lifestyle, Glendora and Debonair Books. It is also on sale at the Book Company. Canada.
At this time of trouble from Haramists in Nigeria, this book gives a deep breath of mountain air, an antidote to weariness and confusion.
Monopoly of Wisdom is a wonderful reading in getting to know the Nigerian reality. In this book, Afam Nkemdiche has devised a formula to help his readers to live more abundant lives, giving them courage and insight with which to lead happy lives.
The author, Afam Nkemdiche is indigenous to Ugbodu, Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State. But he was born in Enugu 50 years ago and educated in South Bank University, London, UK and at the University of Detroit, USA.
He worked with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) before establishing his own engineering consultancy company in Abuja, Nigeria. Afam lives with his family in Abuja.