The Spirit of Danfo – a review, By Felix Akpan

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Ugoji Egbujo is one of the leading social media satirists and influencers in Nigeria who uses his gift to interrogate the political space and provoke lively debate amongst his followers. He is also a columnist for the Vanguard Newspaper, one of the country’s leading tabloids. His style and opinion on topical national issues are usually controversial but widely acknowledged. His debut novel titled, The Spirit of Danfo is an enthusiastic and engaging work of fiction in all ramifications.

The 360-page book, divided into 35 chapters, reminds one of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s posthumous novel titled, Lemona’s Tale. While Saro-Wiwa’s novel addresses the injustice and exploitation of micro minorities like the Ogonis in the Nigerian social formation, Egbujo’s book deals with the plight of the Igbos after the Biafran war. The narrator’s family experience is a classic example of the ordeal the Igbos currently encounter in the country as a consequence of the civil war even when they are not to be blamed for the war in the first.

In my opinion, The Spirit of Danfo is a metaphor for the indomitable and survival instinct of the Igbos. It is the story of how the Igbos overcome the setbacks of the war through translucent determination and hard work. Egbujo uses all the major characters and plot to depict this resilient spirit of the Igbos: from the late Alfred Mbadike, the father of Ebulu who lost his high paying UAC job due to the war and had to start all over again from the scratch to build a business before his untimely demise in a fatal car accident to the Registrar of the University who was once a palm wine tapper before becoming an administrator despite the institutional discrimination against the Igbos. Not to forget the barber (aka, Entity), who despite his lack of education and other vagaries of life, was able to raise and support a family against all odds by sheer doggedness.

The conversation between Ebulu, a brilliant Graduate Assistant who was unjustly sacked by the University authority for refusing to trade grades for sex, and the Registrar on page 349 is instructive. In sympathizing with Ebulu and acknowledging his inability to help his kinsman whose appointment was wrongfully terminated, the Registrar admonished Ebulu never to give up because of the temporary setback in his career and reminded him of the predicament of the Igbos during and after the war. According to him, “The Igbo man has seen things in this country. Your generation must gird its loins. Don’t see this as the end of life. They left us with only twenty pounds after the war…Hunger killed many who escaped the indiscriminate genocidal bombing… our suffering was inhuman, but we didn’t curse God, and we didn’t let our circumstances dominate us. We fought back through perseverance and faith in God. I beg you, fight back through hard work and bravery”… That’s the Igbo spirit. This is exactly what they have done since the war ended. And I do not doubt in my mind that the Igbos are light years ahead of many ethnic groups in the country who didn’t witness the war on all indices of human development.

Egboju’s altruistic treatment of the unwholesome role of fake pastors in society is awesome. The way and manner Ebulu’s mother Nkoli and her bestie Binta were brainwashed and exploited by Pastor Olaniyi would give the reader an insight into how women are easily manipulated by these so-called men of God. And the havoc they do to society is devoid of ethnicity. These fake pastors do not care where one comes from or whether one is a Christian or Muslim; not at all. They are only interested in digging a hole in one’s pocket.

There are themes in the book susceptible readers may find apprehensive though the author treats them as normal components of a patriarchal society. These include violence against women and cultural rites a widow undergoes in Igboland to appease her inlaws. What Nkoli went through in the hands of her husband’s people when he passed on is not only unconscionable but unacceptable. And the beatings Binta regularly gets from her husband deserve condemnation and women should rise against such indecencies in society.

For me, the best part of Egbujo’s cocktail is the cordiality, affection, and empathy ordinary Nigerians have for themselves, irrespective of ethnicity, religion, and gender. The friendship between Binta, a Yoruba woman who is a Muslim, and Nkoli an Igbo woman who is a Christian stands indelibly out for me. The extra mile the barber, Musa the Vice Chancellor’s lodge gateman, Mallam Isa, the local tea shop’s proprietor, the surveyor, whose mother was a native of Okija, and DJ Morocco could go for Ebulu whenever he needed a shoulder to lean on, and vice versa sums up the true meaning of unity in diversity and adversity. This goes to show it’s our political leaders who exacerbate and exploit our primordial cleavage to their advantage.

In the light of the above, those who are deeply interested in reading to improve their English vocabulary and for fostering unity in adversity cum diversity would find Egbujo’s book priceless in this regard and more.

-Felix Akpan Ph.D, is a University Professor

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