Living Dreams by Obu Udeozo; Fab Educational Books, Jos, Nigeria; 2020; 326pp
Obu Udeozo has earned high accolades as a prolific poet in Nigeria, remarkably winning the Pat Utomi Book Prize Award for Poetry in 2006. For a writer who revealed that he wrote his first novel while in primary school, it is interesting that he is publishing his debut novel, Living Dreams, in 2020, after having published about seven poetry collections.
Living Dreams is a very engrossing read, the type of which I have not experienced in Nigerian novels of my experience. It explodes with larger-than-life-and-death characters, intervolving overwhelming depravities, spirituality and the abstract as dreams turn to nightmares. The overbearing radiance of superlative royalty displayed by High Chief Greg Offodile and Her Royal Majesty Lady Nkiruka as eminences of the Federal Republic of Bozrah, South of the Sahara, sets up a profile that grips with gusto. The reign is opulence writ large, the kind of the squandering of riches that Nigeria, read Bozrah, is yet to wean herself from.
The capital city of Mabera has decadence written all over it. According to Obu Udeozo, “The worth of paper qualification at Bozrah was next to nothing. After years of penury, bewilderment and despair, the legion of applicants and unemployed youths will gladly undergo any manner of scrutiny at the hands of any prospective buyer or customer for their near useless certificates. Like the cash value of Germany’s currency after the 2nd World War, which you needed a carton of to buy a stick of cigarette, postgraduate programs and their market value had completely vanished in Bozrah.”
The depravity in Bozrah lasts all of five decades intervolving imperial reigns, military putsches, power adventurism, bloody takeovers and fratricidal conflicts amid a pervasive state of anomie.
The epitome of the global claims of Bozrah is the construction of an Eden-like Presidential Villa, a quintessential UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site reminiscent of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”. The glories of physical infrastructure paradoxically go hand-in-hand with societal bankruptcy and debt trap peonage.
The “founder, dreamer, architect and pioneer of the amazing drama”, the enigmatic military man Colonel Alexander Anene Maduabuchukwu dies quite suddenly one April morning of acute malaria.
The advent of Sheikh Abdullahi Tetengi as President and Commander-in-Chief leads to a cataclysmic Washington landing laden with all the pyrotechnics of American power-play.
Obu Udeozo serves up a reminder using historical verisimilitude as a peg: “One remembers the Carter years and the dogfights of Cyrus Vance and Zbignews (sic) Brzezinski; in the Ronald Reagan era, the season of Alexander Haig and George Schultz.”
It takes the intervention of the “armada of global coalition” led by the United States to bring light to bear at the end of a very long and dark tunnel. Incidentally the National Security Adviser to President Vance Whitfield of the United States bears the name Leonard Chike Chukwudebelu: “An Igbo from the African continent, his extreme intelligence and global stature earned him the first ever appointment as the National Security Adviser to the United States of America.”
In the wake of what Obu Udeozo terms “The 4 Elite Governments of the Globe (EEG)”, the Navy Seals strike-force keep their plans close to heart until the A319Airbus ferrying the golden LIONS of Bozrah lands and effectively provides a solution “like what happened to former Liberian President, what happened to General Manuel Noriega of Panama Island nation, the golden LIONS of Bozrah were evacuated from that Kingdom, South of the Sahara Desert in a fresh global intervention without bloodshed.” The evil powers of Bozrah end up quarantined in “GUANTANAMO BAY, off the Coast of Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, where all the planet’s terrorists are kept in continual incarceration for continual interrogations.”
Obu Udeozo holds aloft his Christian beliefs without apologies as he quotes D.L. Moody: “The world has yet to see what God can do with one person who is totally surrendered to him…” He ends Living Dreams thusly: “The righteousness from the fresh leopards inspired by America, and trained and reoriented youths of Bozrah, in time, took over the instruments of governance in Bozrah. A few years thereafter, the fear of God and holiness, springing from the nEW (sic) Bozrah, spread like the waters that cover the earth. Amen.”
This is preachy and needs to be cut out as it tends to detract from the novel’s power. It needs to be noted though that the novel is dedicated to “God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit – whose flute I hear and heed!”
Some of the superlatives and pejoratives in the novel should be more measured in restraint to ensure roundedness of characters, events and sundry issues. Some semi-colons and commas in places need to be edited out in future editions. After all, Chinua Achebe had to make changes in Arrow of God in a second edition!
Living Dreams is an oneiric wonder of vast knowledge and application. The universe of Obu Udeozo is almost all-encompassing in its reach, with history, geography, military fare, literature and general world affairs lending to the craft. Every quality word is grist to his mill, as he notably quotes Uche Nduka’s poem “Allen Avenue” in the novel. For a novel teeming with dreams, it is stimulating that Obu Udeozo quotes the French master of realism Gustave Flaubert as a kind of raison d’etre. Poetic passages ordain the prose such as when the Nobel Laureate Professor Femi Awojobi “launched his oak like frame at a tangent to the grass lawns and started planting his toes into the evening’s soul.”
Obu Udeozo is a voice. Living Dreams is a pointer that Obu Udeozo is poised to conquer the terrain of the novel as he had done to poetry. He deserves immense commendation for bestriding the highly demanding genres.