In the web of poverty (review)

In the web of poverty (review)

Cobweb in the Sky by Patrick Tagbo Ogbuejiofor is an exciting novel set in Obunagu village, a typical Igbo community in the Eastern part of Nigeria. The story is centred on Anayo, a promising young man who found himself entangled in the web of poverty. It is a pathetic story of lowly birth, squalour, rejection and eventual triumph through determination and luck.
Though the narration begins from the point where Anayo was agonizing over his being rejected by the parent of the girl of his dream on account of his perpetual poverty, the actual story began from his birth. He is a product of an unwanted pregnancy. His mother, Ekeama, got pregnant to a nonentity, and to avert the shame of having a bastard child her parents married her posthumously to Akudinafor who could not marry during his life time due to his waywardness. This kind of marriage, according to the tradition, is aimed at preventing the spirit of the death from haunting the living. By this arrangement Akudinafor automatically becomes Anayo?s father, and since he is a dead father the fatherly role falls on his brother, Ibe.
Very strange indeed. But so are other circumstances surrounding Anayo?s life as he encountered series of failures despite his determined efforts to succeed. First he couldn?t go to the university because his brilliant result disappeared from the records. Then his several attempts at learning trade business were also foiled by selfish individuals, including his so-called relation, Chief Akueluo-Uno, who only used him to their own advantage. Along the way, Anayo also fell into numerous temptations. He got involved with ?money doublers? and later with a fake prophet who promised him heaven on earth.
While he went through these travails, he equally suffered rejection and humiliation from those who should be his close friends. Even Uncle Ibe, who was supposed to be his father, humiliated him to the point of evicting him from the room he was occupying in his (Ibe?s) house. However, just as the deadline for the quit notice approached, fortune smiled on Anayo.
Anayo?s success, like his failures, came in a very strange manner. It came through a letter mistakenly sent to him by the Federal Directorate for Rural Electrification Scheme that he had won a contract worth ten million Naira. The contract, of course, belonged to someone else, and it was even later revoked. But between the time Anayo received the letter, which was well publicized in the newspaper, The Voice, and the time it became clear it was a phantom contract, he had exploited the situation. This was made possible not just by his concealing of the truth about the mistaken contract but the materialistic nature of those around him. For, as soon as the news of the contract was out the entire community became friendly to him, falling over each other to put themselves at his service.
Hence, before and shortly after he verified the truth of the contract, the community had awarded him another contract to rehabilitate the only motorable road leading into Obunagu village, he had taken a loan of one hundred and fifty thousand Naira from Providence Bank, exploited the widespread fuel scarcity by indulging in black-marketing and profiting from it to the tune of two million Naira, built a six-bedroom bungalow and, above all, married Constance.
This exciting grass-to-grace story rides on a number of themes, such as love, poverty, materialism, morality and fate. Love appears to be the dominant theme, but on a closer look one would realize that poverty is the main focus; the crippling effects of poverty and the struggle to overcome it. Anayo was rejected by Constance?s father for no other reason but his abject condition: "The unspoken truth was that Mazi Okafor (Constance?s father) wanted a man of substance to marry his daughter." (page 17).
The advice of Anayo?s mother is also indicative of the fact that poverty has no regard for love, especially where materialism seems to be the social norm. In her words: "You are wrong to have hoped to marry that girl. The man wants a rich son-in-law even though he is as poor as myself". (page 25).
Mr. Okafor is indeed a metaphor for a materialistic society where wealth is valued over and above other considerations: "Obunagu, like any other Igbo community, was a materialistic society. Most men look for in-laws who could guarantee the sponsorship of their numerous children through schools as well as provide them with financial support to establish business." (page 17). This is quite ironic as the Igbo community places high premium on morality.
The Igbo society as depicted here is equally symbolic of a global phenomenon, as materialism is a universal trend. And this trend seems to have occasioned a steady rise in poverty level worldwide and the struggle to get out of it is increasingly becoming a Herculean task for the unfortunate majority who found themselves in its claws. This could be seen in the inhuman treatment of Anayo by even his so-called uncle. He would have succeeded in evicting Anayo from his house but for the miraculous intervention of fate in form of the mistaken contract award.
From the moment the news of the contract broke, the tune of the music suddenly changed. Those who despised Anayo became his intimate friends. In fact, the entire community became friendly towards him: "?the villagers began to troop to Uncle Ibe?s house (who had by now abandoned his order to Anayo to quit his house)? As the villagers trooped in, there was nothing in their minds except to celebrate Anayo?s good fortune." (page 87).
Mr. Okafor?s sudden U-turn on the issue of Constance?s marriage to Anayo was also a symptom of a society that is not only materialistic but shameless about it. A few days after ?winning? the contract, "Anayo received a message from Mazi Okafor? to come with his people for the payment of the pride price?" (page 89).
Another glaring message in the novel is the power of survival instinct over moral considerations. In a fight for survival, morality usually takes the back seat. Even the most honest of men could be found wanting. Such is the case with Anayo. In his struggle to survive his abject condition, he couldn?t help indulging in malpractices like exploiting the oil scarcity through dubious oil deals. Indeed, in the face of widespread corruption even the incorruptible become involved, especially where poverty is endemic.
In conveying his messages, the author explored all the relevant narrative styles including flashback and suspense. His use of suspense, in particular, is so perfect that the reader could hardly guess the actual outcome of the crisis till the very last page!
With this first novel, Ogbuejiofor has certainly set out on a path to literary glory. However, as he embarks on this long journey, he should be mindful of the editing aspect of the art of writing. He should always subject his works to thorough editing by experts before publication so as to get rid of typographical and grammatical errors. These errors could be found in a number of pages of this novel. For instance, the author used ?practices? instead of ?practises? in the sentence, "?Father Ikenna is a man who practices what he preaches?" (page 20). In British usage, the verb form of ?practice? is ?practise?. It is only in the American usage that the word could be used both as a noun and as a verb. And since the author has adopted the British spelling it should be consistent throughout the book.
Some of the sentences also need to be restructured. A typical example is the sentence on page 60: "The meeting was yet to start luckily but he was fined for coming late." ?Luckily? has no place here, especially as he (Anayo) was still fined for coming late.
The author really needs to re-view the novel so that these and many other errors could be corrected in the subsequent edition.
On the whole, the novel is a brilliant work of art, a must read for particularly the young aspiring individuals in search of courage and conviction to make a headway in the turbulent world. It is suitable for secondary school students and therefore worthy of being considered by the relevant authorities for inclusion in the school syllabus.
(c) Sumaila Umaisha

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