When seers, saints, priests, visionaries and writers set apart a date in their calendars, the dateline is always meant to put a spell on us. Overwhelmed by the intricate web of magical dates, we drape them in clothes of dreams, myths and emotions in order to make them survive….
I started this brief remark talking about the power of dateline nurtured by a strongly desired purpose because the year 2013 is very central to Dupe Olorunjo’s The Aireginan Dream. That is the year of political fulfillment in this book, the year of a political triumph in an imaginary homeland called Airegin, which when spelt from the rear is Nigeria. The Aireginan dream, then, is the Nigerian dream. What is this dream about? It is about a country in which those who live in it will be treated with civility. It is about a country that will stop making itself a laughing stock in the comity of all decent nations. A country in which equity and justice will form the basis of the relationships among its ethnic groups. It is about a nation that will place premium on hard work. It is about a country of healthy, educated, happy people who live safely in boundless hope and prosperity. A country of God fearing individuals whose humanity is nourished by all the values that make other civilized human beings survive and endure.
And who are the dreamers dreaming this tall dream? In what form are they dreaming it? They are some of the best of our young and upwardly mobile concerned professionals in this imaginary motherland. They are people who believe that the meaning of life ought to consist of living useful lives. They are the professionals who have made significant contributions in the corporate world. Professionals who are compelled to act, not just to save their country from imminent disintegration but also, out of enlightened self-interest, set out to save their own businesses and wealth from collateral damages. Theirs is a group of principled humanists linked by a religious ideal of the Christian variety. Any wonder that their presidential candidate who eventually defeats the incumbent president is Peter not Abubakar. I don’t need to tell you that this is a deliberate choice. It is a choice that is partial to Christianity, a choice that keeps a loud silence on the existence and possibilities of other religious faiths. Those of us who are Godly but not so religious do forgive Dupe whose high sense of moral and political obligations in this novel deserve commendation. Some gender warriors, however, would question the absence of women at all the crucial meetings held by these wonderful dreamers.
Nadine Gordimer the South- African novelist, who won the Nobel Prize in 1991, writes eloquently in her essay, ‘The Essential Gesture’ about the dual commitments of a writer: a commitment to society and a commitment to literature itself. Dupe struggles to strike a balance between religious and secular ideals in this novel. In several ways, The Aireginan Dream is a meditation on private, corporate and political responsibilities. The author takes us to the slums where we witness a debasement of human beings in its raw form. She beams a searchlight on our streets where we see beggars, mendicants, hooligans and cruelties. We witness daylight robbery, robbery that we can account for. But we also see robbery that we cannot easily explain: the robbery of the dignity of the nation. Are the people not constantly stripped of their citizenship when their votes don’t count at the polls? What about the robbery of our children’s rights to education? We don’t always account for that. Do we? When the president of this nation and his vice engage in a relentless war of attrition for four solid years, are they not robbing our young ones of the wonderful opportunity to have role models– a necessary experience this young Nigerians need for their rounded development? How many young Nigerians today would say confidently that they want to be like many of our leaders?
The characters, the dreamers, in this novel have something to say to us, and we should listen to them. One of the great things that they have to say is that we should all get involved in a collective struggle that will lift our thoroughly abused nation from the quicksand in which it now lies prostrate. Dare the daring catalyst of the struggle that produce the president in this book has a remarkable magnanimous spirit, a spirit that is sadly lacking in our country today. If it is not me it is nothing. That’s the ethic of this season of rampaging locusts who call themselves our leaders. These characters are saying that we deserve a better deal…
In the end, the power of this novel lies essentially in its urgent political parable. It is a profoundly challenging parable because it is a wake-up call to a country that is a deep mess. Frantz Fanon the great humanist, psychiatrist and revolutionary, captures the spirit of this wake- up call in his The Wretched of the Earth. I quote: “Every generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it.”