Title: Arrows of Anguish
Author: Igba Ogbole
Publisher: Old Press, Abuja
Reviewer: Nder Matthias
Literary works are quite often open to variegated cargo of meanings and interpretations. Some of these may be beyond those originally intended or conceived by the writer. Whether or not the interpretations are correct depends on the perspective of the analyst, the critical procedure and theory logically applied for the interpretation of the work.
Igba Ogbole’s Arrows of Anguish is not an exception to the issues raised given its thickness and resonance. The novel which belongs to the body of indigenous literature is set in the fictional worlds of Oladam Kingdom, a rural community in the Idoma nation of Benue State, North Central Nigeria. This is evident from the mass of folkloric materials, domestic props, the use of the Idoma words and expressions and the cosmology of the characters.
The novel could be read not just as a story of anguish and neglect, but as a protest against the structural injustice meted on the kingdom by inept, corrupt and insensitive political leadership in the democratic era.
An end to the farmer-herder crisis, the spate of underdevelopment in the land, the ravaging poverty among his people are at the centre of the writer’s commitment in the novel. He is equally committed to the social reconstruction, especially the institutionalisation of a sane society. This is evident from his abhorrence and condemnation of social vices such as drug addiction, cultism, armed robbery, corruption, extra-judicial killings and acts of immorality.
The inept, corrupt and insensitivity of the political leadership in the Oladam Kingdom is explored and abhorred by the novelist. This is captured in the insensitivity of the elected representatives, under the democratic system, to the challenges and woes faced by their constituents.
The Local Government chairman, who represents the political leadership, is not perturbed, even as the kingdom lacks basic amenities such as potable water and motorable roads. The only health care centre at Oladam grossly lacks drugs, medical personnel and equipment to attend to the health care needs of the people.
On account of lack of medical facilities, Adache’s wife, Echeune, meets her untimely death. According to the third person narrator, “if the Health Centre had been properly equipped, she [Echeune] might have been saved.” (19). A similar fate is suffered by King Unugbo who could not get the desired medical attention following the motor accident he had on one of the bad roads in the Kingdom.
The writer is positive about the critical role of the youthful population as potent agents of progressive change who are piously determined to ensure the survival of Oladam Kingdom. This theme is explored in the character and activities of the Ikpo youth who are recreated as patriots and the only hope of the Kingdom. The instructional objective of the novelist to the youthful demographics of any society is clearly articulated through his positive portrayal of Oladam youngmen.
The writer decries the notorious complicity of the State security structures in the oppression and brutalisation of citizens of Oladam Kingdom. Rather than provide security for the citizens in line with their constitutional mandate and ethics of their profession, the police continue to take side with the killer herdsmen in the unprecedented brutalisation and oppression of the citizens of Oladam.
For instance, the herdsmen attack on Acheche, Oleche and Ogodogodo abysmally fails to excite the attention of the police in spite of several distress calls. Rather than do the needful, the police as the narrator observes, “sang their usual song of being on top of the situation” (62).
Violence both physical and psychological runs through the novel. The physical violence which is unleashed on the fictive population by the killer herdsmen is accompanied by the emotional and psychological trauma of their victims. As Chief Odoh rightly observes of the situation, “their [killer herdsmen] aim is to take over our land so that cows can feed well… their real intention has been exactly that: shoot or butcher the natives, rape their women, chase them away, and occupy!” (184)
The role of the traditional institution in Oladam Kingdom as custodians of culture and critical agents of peace is interrogated by the writer. Although not doubting the role of the traditional institution in the areas of social engineering and stabilisation, the writer condemns the aberrational attitude of some traditional rulers, who, out of avarice and self-centredness, would mortgage the future of their Kingdom through acts of complacency and acquiescence. Such is the case in the attitude of Chief Ije who betrays the cause of the Kingdom by serving as an informant of the killer herdsmen for monetary rewards.
The writer’s use of symbolism starts from the cover page and runs through the novel. From the picture on the cover page one can get a gist as to the thematic engagement and narrative intention in the novel. The mud thatch houses on a burning fire is a symbolic representation of the havoc and devastation the vicious marauding killer herdsmen have continued to wreak on Oladam Kingdom.
The writer ought to be commended for his sense of realism and identification with the hopes and aspirations of his people, especially in their quest for development and struggle against the occupation of their land. The political and polemical nature of the issues explored have not dimmed the artistic quality of the novel.