Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
The Wretched Billionaire by Aoiri Obaigbo; Kraft Books, Ibadan; 2016; pp317
There is considerable creative writing going on in Nigeria, but there are hardly enough critical reviews of the literature. Aoiri Obaigbo’s first novel The Wretched Billionaire should not be allowed to just disappear like the many titles that are only showcased in literary award periods. Obaigbo has an original poetic sensibility which I had noticed while reading the typescript of his radio play, Reincarnation, which got shortlisted for the esteemed BBC London World Service playwriting prize. It can be seen in the vast pages of his novel The Wretched Billionaire that Obaigbo is indeed a committed artist as ever willing to go the distance.
The Wretched Billionaire starts off on a haunting note with an arresting set-piece of a prologue in which the billionaire of the title, Seriki Kura Dialo, aka SKD, orders the Greek pilot, Aristotle, of his airplane thusly: “Put off the lights… Fly at 100 feet over Liberty University. This was our grazing ground when I was commandant of the brigade in this city. We were young rampant officers in those days.” The idiosyncrasy of the idle rich retired army general SKD serves as the perfect counterpoise to the grief of Faith, the poor medical student full of grief down below on the campus of Liberty University (read University of Benin) where the novel is largely based.
Faith whose police sergeant father got shot just before Christmas gets an uplift from the wealthy girl-about-town Eve who knows her onions in the subject of controlling men through the libidinous. The love interest of Faith is the studious Ibadan, though she had a lesbian affair earlier with Joe Macho. The destiny of Faith changes completely when she is ensnared by SKD. Lover-boy could not bear his apparent rejection by Faith and takes to abusing marijuana and embracing low-lifers. Even so, it is the selfsame Ibadan who rescues Faith from the kidnapping clutches of the deadly campus cult called the Reformed Suckling Order. Ibadan eventually impregnates Faith and she gives birth to a son.
The dark secret of SKD becomes exposed when Faith somewhat opens the bathroom door only to discover that the old general has no genitals: the genitals were blown off in the war! SKD promptly makes Faith his fifth wife so that the secret will never ever be revealed. The sad dimension is that SKD forces Faith to wear a chastity belt to ensure that a passionate life is denied her for eternity.
A spiritual anchor to the book is Aurora who is eventually killed by the sadistic Reformed Suckling Order. The sad fate of Aurora foreshadows the absences in the novel. Eve disappears for good just as Ibadan equally disappears. Aoiri Obaigbo is not heavy-handed in dealing with these tragedies. The Wretched Billionaire deals with loss in a manner that is in tune with the normal run of life, a bend toward observable verisimilitude.
Obaigbo’s publishers ought to have been more circumspect with the editing to eliminate much of the printer’s devils. The authorial intrusions ought also to have been addressed with gusto. The preaching as in the following passage is somewhat over-the-top: “Charles Darwin had no evidence for his evolution theory. Darwinists claimed that life as we know it is the product of a long series of accidents owed to natural selection. The idea of descent through modification was not scientifically proven but scientists were so anxious to take over power from the Creator that they were willing to descend to forgery and earn their doctorates from a hoax. The Piltdown Man was the icon in British Museum for forty years before it was no longer compatible with new ideas and it was shot down as a hoax.”
When Obaigbo settles to telling his story he is indeed very engaging. The aspects of preaching erudition can only flatter to deceive. But there is no denying that Obaigbo is a very original voice that deserves to be heard more in the years ahead. I saw somewhere where he mentioned in jest that he was the oldest participant in the Nigerian Breweries-sponsored writing workshop facilitated by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Farafina Publishers, Lagos. The truth of course is that age does not count in writing. Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, would not have been known to the world if he had died before the age of 60. He had been writing, unsung and almost unknown, for many years until he had his breakthrough very late in life.
Aoiri Obaigbo has manifestly shown in his debut novel The Wretched Billionaire that he has enough afflatus in him to carry the literary flag with aplomb. He can paint very appealing pictures with words. His characterization is beyond reproach, and he has a delightful touch with dialogue. I look forward to reading many more books by the author of The Wretched Millionaire.