Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Book Review: “I Do Not Come To You By Chance” - An Eye-Opener To The Troubles Of Everyday Nigerian

Title:                      I Do Not Come To You By Chance
Author:                  Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
Genre:                    Fiction
Publishers/Year:    Cassava Republic/2009
Pages:                     339
Chapters:                45
ISBN:                      9784851824
Reviewer:             Oluwabusayo Sotunde

With struggles of unemployment, social decadence and the zeal to make it in a society that is ridden by corrupt people, the novel “I Do Not Come To You By Chance” chronicles the realities that lead people into a life of crime.

Presented in a satirical form to open the window into the realities of the “socially-declined populace” who got themselves involved in a fast-paced life, “I Do Not Come To You By Chance” tells a familiar story from an unfamiliar angle in a twisted and funny way.

It chronicles the life of a young man, Kingsley Ibe, who assumed the role of a loving son, self-sacrificing brother, disappointed lover, and savvy 419er – a distinction from the way his England-educated, civil servant father would have wanted him to turn out.

Kingsley Ibe, the protagonist in the novel, is the first-born son (opara) of his family. A fresh graduate of engineering from a family that has highly prized education and despised those who chase money instead of knowledge, Kingsley is committed to his college sweetheart, Ola, and he is confident that his brilliant results will get him a good job in an oil firm so that he can support his and Ola’s families.

Sadly, Kingsley receives multiple rejection letters while Ola - with the pressure from her mother loses faith in his ability to ever provide for her needs; particularly in doing the right thing by her in paying the ‘shuddering’ bride price associated with the Igbo tribe of the eastern part of Nigeria. As Kingsley put it; “Marrying an Igbo girl entails much more than fairy-tale romance and good intentions.”

While he was still battling with how he was going to win back Ola and his mother, a family crisis ensued as his father’s illness took a worse turn thereby taking the Ibe’s family from the edge of poverty to its depths.

Kingsley becomes more desperate as his ailing father's health dwindles and he had to either succumb to the wills of the fast-lane life of his uncle Boniface, aka Cash Daddy (a secondary school dropout turned email scam billionaire) or hold on to the moral principle that “stripped” his parents of everything but their pride, particularly when he had learnt that one must have a “long leg” to survive in his country.

Kingsley gradually made his choice by succumbing to his maternal uncle’s fraudulent world. Cash Daddy, a conman of blubbery greed and unabashed naked exhibitionism was happy to help as long as Kingsley uses his formally educated brain to aid his immoral schemes. As Kingsley puts it, "He could probably even talk a spider into weaving silk socks for him."

Cash Daddy represents the image of a bushman rising from grass to grace. His behaviour is disgusting and at the same time daring whether he is devouring a meal with his hands, quoting the Bible or taking a business meeting while defecating.

Kingsley journey into an immoral lifestyle was gradually woven from Kingsley’s parents’ courtship in the prologue to establish that Kingsley and his immediate family were not the type who would bend to any scam.

Its short chapters and grueling descriptions of some of Nigeria’s discomforts on health care and public transport are used to exhibit the reality of everyday life in the Nigerian society. 

The novel is an eye-opener to the troubles of everyday Nigerian – from the struggles of unemployment down to the struggle of trying to make it in a society that is ridden by corrupt people; the mind- boggling lifestyle of the 419ers (Referenced by their Nigerian penal code number, the 419 scam) as well as the poor health services in which patients have to buy their own bandages and IV fluids are also some of the issues that endear one to read the novel.

Even Kingsley’s old school mate, Andrew Onyeije, whom he met at the airport crooned “I love Nigeria soooooo much, whatever happens, I’m gonna come back here and settle someday. With my family.” But he was quick to change his patriotic tune when his American passport was stolen at the airport, he screeched, “This country is seriously fucked up.” But Kingsley was quick to interject in his narrative voice that “The country is not fucked up and certainly not a place for idealising and auld lang syne” but that “Once you faced the harsh facts and learned to adapt, Nigeria became the most beautiful place in the world.”

Nwabani weaved the Kingsley’s story in such a way that you begin to see things from a con-artist point of view and even cheer him on in his escapade. It becomes more enchanting when one sees how Kingsley systematically cons a mugu who blindly falls into the trap he set for them.

It’s a fairly overwhelming scenario with Kingsley using his education to draft e-mails urging anonymous mugus.  No one will buy it, Kingsley thinks at first. “Who on this earth was stupid enough to fall prey to an e-mail from a stranger in Nigeria?” Then the replies begin to come. Someone in Auckland, another in Cardriff , then a woman in Wiscosin. “Soon we were on first-name terms. It was almost like staying up to watch a dreadful movie simply to see what happened at the end.”

As Kingsley falls reluctantly under his mentor's spell and discovers his own innate flair for the art of the confidence trick, Nwaubani takes us deeper into the intricate world of the Nigerian e-mail scam. She gave detailed exposition of the methods deployed to string along Western suckers who are gradually converted into a mugu.

Targeted mugus get emails like - "Dear Friend, I do not come to you by chance. Upon my quest for a trusted and reliable foreign business man or company, I was given your contact by the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I hope that you can be trusted to handle a transaction of this magnitude"- and surprisingly the victims get caught in the fraudster’s web. People like Winterbottom, Mirabelle and Hooverson were silkily dubbed through Kingsley gang fraudulent act.

Kingsley method of conning his victim is also humorous that one finds himself laughing out loud at the gullibility of the victims. The one who stole the show the most was Cash Daddy, who with his bush-like attitude of conducting business meetings in the toilet and eating with his mouth open inject humour and his witty sayings and proverbs endear us more to understand the world of the con-artist the more.

As a narrator, Kingsley infuses his own story with humor, warmth, and no small amount of rueful regret bemused him by the place in which he finds himself. In his own view, he sacrificed himself as the family messiah to haul them out of poverty and yet he believed he was not appreciated for his effort. In the end, he yielded to using Cash Daddy’s word that “relatives are the cause of hip diseases.”

Meanwhile, Cash Daddy, tired of just making money, dabbles into politics and gets himself killed. Upon Cash Daddy’s death, Kingsley refuses to take over the reins of leadership of the organisation as he felt in control of his destiny for the first time in years.

The theme of a good person tempted by circumstances to do bad things is not a new one in literature, but author Nwaubani makes it fresh by plunging the reader into a dizzying new world of 419ers (scammers) and the  mugus (victims). Her characters are fully fleshed out and dimensional. The novel reveals larger-than-life characters, impressive operations and the greedy westerners that make up both sides of the 419 business.

The strength of the novel becomes apparent when the good versus evil distinction begins to blur – especially for Kingsley. The narrative soars when Kingsley is detailing the 419 work of Cash Daddy’s inner circle – a much more complicated world. It is a world where a gullible mugu deserves no sympathy. When Kingsley expresses doubt to his uncle, Cash Daddy responds: “Do you know this is the man whose money is going to feed your children and your children’s children children?” He condemns Kingsley’s ‘holier than thou” attitude by telling him, “You say you don’t eat rat but you want to taste only the tail. Please don’t close my ears with all this rubbish about education. Me I don’t believe in film tricks. I believe in real life action.”

Cash Daddy further reassures him that his sympathy is misplaced. “Why are you taking Panadol for another person’s headache?” he asked. “Don’t think America and Europe is like Nigeria where people suffer anyhow. Over there, their governments know how to take good care of them. They don’t know anything about suffering.”

Thus, readers are invited to see the whole fraught relationship between Africa and the West in the microcosm of deceptively simple e-mails from Nigeria. There is a vivacious anger underneath all the tricks and the levity. When challenged regarding the immorality of ripping off unsuspecting Westerners, Nwaubani's characters explicitly cite slavery and the Western exploitation of the Niger Delta's oil wealth as justification; they're merely repatriating capital that they feel was taken from them unjustly.

The picture is further complicated by the charitable use to which a great deal of the embezzled money is put to build schools, pave roads and fund orphanages. "No matter what the media proclaimed," says Kingsley, "we were not villains, and the good people of Eastern Nigeria knew it."

While the novel has a serious undertone, there are many laugh-out-loud moments.  

However, Nwuabani simply rushed the ending of the novel as an eight-page epilogue was quickly constructed to indicate that Kingsley has set up his own organisation where his ever-admonishing mother pays him a visit, showing her acceptance of his new, seemingly legit, status. In reality, it’s a cover up as we see him take a call from a former mugu, Mr Winterbottom, and it is business as usual. This is done perhaps to show that fraudsters like Kingsley still exist in the society under false pretences.

Also, Nwuabani’s elongated the ‘back-grounding” - as she used almost half of the book- the first part of the book- (144 pages) - to explain the circumstances that led to Kingsley’s decision into the e-mail scam world could have been done in a couple of chapters.

 We knew from the start that he was going to make that decision. Probably because of this elongation, the decision to join Cash daddy scam group comes across as escapist as he could have find a way out of the family problem by other means since he had already told his mother that he would be going to live with Aunt Dimma to get a job in the banking sector.

In spite of these imperfections, I Do Not Come To You By Chance is a highly recommended read as it is a no-boner into the realities of the social issues in the Nigerian society. It is alternately funny, tender, satirical and sad and the dialogues are sharp with laugh-out-loud moments. The plot is also relatively simple and the language was easy to follow. 

Though the novel has its flaws, the positives far outweigh the negative as the flaws are compensated as the issues that Kingsley faced were both believable and real.

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