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Camouflage: Best of Contemporary Writing in Nigeria

By Toyin Falola

 

 

Many critics have categorized the different periods of the Nigerian literary scene in different nodes from means, methods, and concerns. No matter the generation, worldviews are shaped by the problems facing them at that period. The literary and national consciousness of the first and second generation of Nigerian writers was predominantly dominated by the notion of instant Nigerian dream and gradual process of the views and moral standing of ethnic conscious Nigeria. These two generations sought to carry out their intentions with different methods in a bid to reconstruct, adjust, refute and even restructure Nigeria’s history and European standards. As a result, most of their works were laced with complex language, obscure linguistic, and sophisticated writings, creating the notion that the average Nigerian writing across genres should have specific tenets or features.

Post-independence Nigerian writings are particularly rich in language, content, phases, trends, and even structure across all genres. The emergence and inclusion of migrant writers, considered contemporary cosmopolitan writers and domiciled outside their natal matrix but are still very involved in Nigerian affairs, is the game-changer in Nigerian literature. Adesanmi and Dunton (2005), in a narrow but relevant scope, opine, “Third generation writers prominent among whom are Chimamanda Adichie, Sefi Atta, Helon Habila, Chris Abani, Chika Unigwe, Helen Oyeyemi, Teju Cole, Unoma Azuah, Biyi Bandele, Maik Nwosu, Okey Ndibe, Chuma Nwokolo, Segun Afolabi, Uwen Akpan and Uzodinma Iweala, were born after or around 1960 and were, therefore, temporally severed from the colonial event.” Though limited to Nigerian authors, their assertion reveals that migrant literature and writers constitute a significant generation in the periodization of African literature.

Furthermore, Adesanmi and Dunton highlight the defining characteristics of third-generation writers thus, “Third generation writers’ works are decentralized and not subject to conventionally erect structures or ideologies. They maintain that fluid plot, faster-paced narrative and language shorn of the domestication impulse of the first and second generation of writers with setting almost always urban and Euromodernist”. Still ascribing defining characteristics to third-generation writers, Olaniyan (2012) describes their literary productions as “an overall healthy development of cultural creativity, the type that continually breaches accepted boundaries and invents new forms and suggests new meanings.”

This anthology under review, Camouflage, edited by Nduka Otiono and Odoh Diego Okenyodo, assembles a new generation of writers in Nigeria and the diaspora ranging from the age of 24, which is the youngest, and the oldest about 46. Most of these authors are well known in various capacities, from writers’ forums to winning international awards. The features and ideologies of this new generation of writers in the Nigerian literary scene are in line with the notion of Nduka Otiono’s Introduction in this collection. Otiono established in “Of Chameleons and Gods: A Generation in Search of New Idioms” that there is a total disconnect “between learned critics and academics in the ivory tower and the creative activities of new Nigerian writers,” which has affected the outlook of the writers in the Nigerian literary scene.

 

 

Also, based on the criticism of the new generation of writings in Nigeria, Otiono shows how Niyi Osundare, Olu Obafemi, and Charles Nnnolim identify that pale work, ideological sterility, and lack of proper idioms are the significant problems associated with the works of these new writers. However, it is pertinent to state that this critical collection aims to delegitimize and reconstruct the notion that a generation is better than another generation ideologically, stylistically, or aesthetically. Following T. S. Eliot’s goal of his famous essay, “Tradition and Individual Talent,” which hinges on the idea of innovation and expressionism, the contemporary, evolving, and complex ways of living have inspired much of the new writing socially and politically. Even from the title, which shows borrowing and intertextuality, a modern technique by these new writers, from a giant from the African literary scene, Jack Mapanje, Otiono concludes “Camouflage, to the various guises and voices which our contemporaries deploy to speak to the Nigerian condition and to overcome censorship—be it under military adventurers in politics or under pretentious “democrats” in the new dispensation.”

Through the critical reading of the poems and short stories in the collection, the authors adopt the concept of realism as there is a sign of a tremendous pursuant and continuance in the idea of realism by early writers in Nigeria. Currently, most of these new authors take on the transitional role of realism, in which they use descriptive images and inventive idioms to represent the disillusionment and dystopia of the Nigerian space as it is. They are also observant writers, documenting everyday life in straightforward prose and accessible poems, with the skilful description of characters from all levels of the society, accurately detailing their manners and speeches.

In the interaction of the literary with the notable developments in Nigerian literature in different climates such as philosophical, social, or cultural, the various works of the individual authors in the collection shows the movement to a self-conscious trend which is unique and overtly contributes to the idea of generic instability which, even though is problematized, produced an array of resistance for older generations and also to the function of the contemporary Nigerian literary scene.

Following Nduka Otiono’s categorization of the authors in the collection and their specificity, ranging from “David Nwamadi’s “Boom-Time for Grave Diggers;” Angela Nwosu’s “The Final Tea;” Chiedu Ezeanah’s engagement of national tragedies; the unorthodox pidgin poetry of Victor Eboigbe, “Gari don pass Naira;” to the bold, feminist erotic offerings of some of the female poets featured, especially Victoria Sylvia Kankara, Lola Shoneyin, Nonye Bethel and Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo,” it is significant to point out that these instabilities and troubled canon convention by these new authors can be considered as a form of symbolic and metaphorical action that has further shaped our understanding of the Nigerian world and reinvented the Nigerian literary scene. These generic trends and conventional discourses confirm or answer what Okey Ndibe suggests on the idea that we need a new way of telling our stories.

As a result, these new writers have reinvented, reconstructed, and reimagined new languages and devices that justly adapt to the new Nigerian complexity. More importantly, to answer the older critics and how they harshly berate these new writings, I claim that these stories and new writings may seem to be “poisoning” the Nigerian literature, but it is also an antidote for the disillusioned and new Nigerian complexities. These authors’ reshaping and evident rewriting in the collection shows a performative aesthetics that offers and creates new ways of perceiving the new Nigerian reality.

Overall, the analyses of Camouflage’s poems and short stories address and open up many questions and interrogations, particularly in the Nigerian literary scene and space. One of such is the threshold of boom, prosperity and utopia, and postcolonial conditions that the typical Nigerian writer is opened to and its sustainability and continuance by the new crop of writers. In addition, the concerns and subject matter that permeate most of the literary works in the collection seek to continue in the vigorous pursuit of holding leaders accountable for the unpleasable, nervous, and traumatic conditions the average Nigerian citizen faces daily.

It is pertinent to state that these established writers in the diaspora tend to explore cultural diversity in their works. Each of the literary works in the collection is an authentic and apt representation of the numerous phases and chains of events that reeks of disillusionment, which has overridden Nigerians from the period of independence until contemporary times. They seem unchanged, and, obviously, these conversations and topics are what early writers dwelled on and what the new writers are seeking to pursue in different patterns. However, these literary works’ conversations include nodes of community sharing, a different or strange identity, and headstrong resistant literature that are significant stylistic deviations from the old generation of writers. More importantly, they are still relevant in the discussions about the dysfunctionality in the sociocultural and sociopolitical spaces of the country. Excitingly, this collection opens up new dialogues concerning genre, language, and idioms and draws attention to the disillusionment of Nigerian society. It is coming urgently when readers home and abroad are introduced or fed wrong notions about the Nigerian state. These works are a sort of re-representation of the Nigerian consciousness, contributing significantly to the postcolonial conditions of scholarship in Nigerian literature.

This book is about the Nigerian post-independence conditions and new Nigerian realities, and it is also effective in problematizing and dramatizing the relationship between ideology and aesthetics that tends to reshape the Nigerian experience. Interestingly, the anthology litters the individual works of the contributors alphabetically rather than thematically, which gives the reader a memorable and fascinating surreal experience of encountering the unknown and navigating different styles and ideologies while digesting the collection.

Finally, the collection will contribute to the existent, vibrant scholarly discussions and materials on the Literature of Nigeria and the Diaspora literature. It will contribute to new trends and generic structure in this aspect of literature and will be helpful to sociologists, psychologists, policymakers, and other categories of people. This is because it will give exposés on the intricacies of the Nigerian daily experiences and image, which as Nduka Otiono rightly put, “Nigerian writers and intellectuals more positively project the country’s image internationally than the billions of naira spent on foreign missions and image laundering.” Thus, the array of writers portrayed in the anthology, Camouflage, confirms that literature and liberal arts in Nigeria are significant exports that should be seriously considered.

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