The thriller tradition in Nigerian literature - Taminu Sule Lagi's The Bofak Illusion as an example

The thriller tradition in Nigerian literature: Taminu Sule Lagi’s The Bofak Illusion as an example

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Taminu Sule Lagi’s The Bofak Illusion highlighted the importance of the thriller genre in African literature and why it should be encouraged, Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy writes

Those who are familiar with the development of Nigerian literature would agree that the Onitsha Market Literature played a pivotal role in its development even though what were produced were no more than pamphlets with short stories and thrillers fashioned and heavily influenced by the James Hardey Chasian style of writing. Still the Onitsha Market Literature served the interest of an emerging educated class and produced one of Nigeria’s great writers, if not Africa. Onitsha Market Literature produced Cyprian Ekwensi who wrote pop fictions such as When Love Whispers and People of the City, although many would remember him for stories like Jagua Nana, An African Night Entertainment, The Drummer Boy, and many other school boys’ stories.

Nigerian literature began very strongly and every educated youth down to the late 1980s could not say they have not read or heard of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, but the decline in the reading culture especially after the millennia (which is perhaps due to technological advances), has relegated literature to the classrooms. Even in the classrooms, students have developed a phobia for literature. The relegation of literature to classrooms might perhaps also be the tour de force for many writers to focus only on hard core literature rather than thrillers and pop fiction which were kickstarted by the likes of Ekwensi and other writers of the Onitsha market literature.

Hence, thriller lovers are left with the choice of seeking 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, I believe, would initiate the much needed turn towards Nigerian pop fiction.

Taminu Sule Lagi’s The Bofak Illusion is a story woven around a world hard drug cartel with its headquarters in Columbia. The drug syndicate is known as BOFAK, they are known for stopping at nothing to ensure 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.

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There has been an ethno-religious crisis in Tinland, what many do not know is that the governor’s cabal is behind the crisis, they fashion out these crisis to keep the people divided and be without a united voice. Zack Liman (FC Newsday reporter) perceives something fishy about the crisis and decides to snoop around. He finds out something alright but what he finds out is dangerous for the ears of others so the government agents murders him and dumps his body at a roadside. His colleague, Billy Dada, would not let the matter rest as he is bent on finding out those responsible for the death of his colleague and friend. His investigation would leads him to Gloria Dan, Bofak West African region’s representative, a drug baroness who would be arrested, dies in police custody, and only to be resurrected and given a new identity.

The story is that of the good guys against the bad guys. You 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 had blackmailed him for standing against its interest. You will also meet 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, I must say.

I love the obvious realism in the story for the character of Gloria Dan reminds us of the case late Dele Giwa was investigating (under the Babangida’s regime) before he was murdered by a letter bomb. Also, ethno-religious crisis 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 definitely is Abuja.

While I cannot help praising the writer for a job well done, I must say that the characterisation was overdone. The writer went on introducing his characters far into the story. I appreciate the fact that the characters are well described, at least it helps us to know them well enough but it got to a point that it began to disturb the flow of the story. For a story of its length, the first three or four chapters should have been enough for characterisation so that the story can flow uninterrupted.

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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 crisis and the involvement of high profile government officials and on the other is the trade in hard drugs, the link between both being Gloria Dan. I expected more involvement in the drug business by the government officials rather than a mere bond of friendship between the first lady and Gloria Dan; it would have added an interesting twist to the story.

Now again, how can the good guys claim victory when the major objects escape their grasps? Governor​ Jerry Musheshe escapes punishment, Gloria Dan is also abducted to safety by the assassin, Jion Belleck, with the only consolatory prize being the governor’s special adviser on security issues (Milla Tangu) and his boys who were arrested for the murder of Zack Liman. With the bad guys still at large, we can expect a return attack from the Bofak syndicate on Kim Shykes or the sudden emergence of ‘dead’ Gloria Dan in Tinland. So, is Taminu Sule Lagi preparing for us a sequel to The Bofak Illusion? Well, he better does so for the story has left a lot of issues and questions unresolved.

Lastly, who is the hero of the story? Maybe we should not speak of hero, let us substitute the word with ‘protagonist’. Billy Dada would have fit this bill if not because he was relegated at the tail end of the story. I expected more action from him than the quiet role he played at the end, in Gloria Dan’s house, while Oyims and Kim Shykes stole the action from him. If there is an excuse of the story working towards multiple heroes, I shall not accept it.

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Taminu Sule Lagi should know that what makes readers keep turning the pages of novels which are thrillers is suspense, the anxiety to know what happens next. Suspense is in fact a necessary ingredient in every story be it thrillers or hard core literature. With The Bofak Illusion, I found out this ingredient was not added in the right quantity. With the exception of the last part where I began contemplating how Kim Shykes would rescue Billy Dada and exert his revenge on Gloria Dan, suspense was not well developed in the other aspects of the story. 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.

Well as they say, 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 us while showing to us the many things that are wrong with our society.

Taminu Sule Lagi has pointed back at the importance of the thriller genre in African literature and shown to us why it should be encouraged. He might not have beaten (in writing) the likes of James Patterson and Mario Puzo just yet but if he keeps writing, I do believe he would soon occupy the same space on the shelf as these writers. Having said this, we fold our arms awaiting the next literary cuisine chef Taminu Sule Lagi will dish out and hoping it will be something much more impressive than The Bofak Illusion.

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