Author: Zaharaddeen Ibrahim Kallah
Publishers: Jemie Books
Reviewer: Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu
The most important components to attract and hold readers are the style of the writer and his ability to express himself and his story in such a way that differs from other stories heard over time. Many books have been published in the literary world, but very few have been recognised and appreciated. Stories are common and everywhere but only few attract esteem readers and listeners.
Just like in Sefi Atta’s “Everything Good Will Come”, “The Right Choice” is a very interesting book that attempts to tell a story in the refreshing style not tackled so far in Nigerian fiction. The author has told a story of a young woman who played a significant role in returning her country into democracy and at the same time, actively involved in partisan politics, giving her the opportunity to become the first female president in the country.
“The Right Choice” is additional voice towards gender balance. Following, many writers in Nigeria, more especially the female writers who were seen as promoters of feminism have protested in their writings on social sexism and patriarchy. Female writers such as Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, Ifeoma Okeye, Zaynab Alkali and Chimamanda Adichie have dedicated their writings towards gender balance and female upliftment. Even in northern Nigeria, indigenous female writers who write in Hausa such as Balaraba Ramat in her novel ‘Wa Zai Auri Jahila’, Rahama Abdulmajid’s ‘Mace Mutum’ and Halima A. Matuzu’s ‘Kugen ‘Yanci’ among others have tried to balance socio-gender ascriptions towards intellectual equality across sexes.
Like Toni Morrison, Ayan Hirsi Ali and Nuruddin Farah, the author was able to create his strong female character who was fearless in what she does. The central character, Sameera Junaid Hassan who was a writer and journalist had inspired a political revolution in her country, which gave her opportunity to be lobbied by one of the strong political parties to contest for the office of the president. The author of the ‘Right Choice’ delivered his theme and the projection of a female protagonist, with the forcefulness of Ousame Sembene’s discourse about women right and Wilkie Collins portrayal of substantial women such as Miriam Halcombe.
“The Right Choice” was written in 17 chapters in a lucid style, and the narration is gripping through to the fears, dangers, adventures and joy experienced by the most conspicuous personality in the book.
Quite characteristics of most fictional works, the book was set in a utopian land in Africa, daubed the Unity States of Africa. The name of the city tells about the author’s creativity and political awareness-leading a voice in support of black USA.
An important plot in the book which connected with other plots is the way Sameera’s father, Junaid Hassan, an ex-military officer was disappointed with her birth for not being the son he passionately wished to have. As a result of that the ex-military officer treated the whole family badly. Sameera was lucky to be taken away and brought up in a foster family, where her talents were encouraged and that gave her opportunity to obtain her first degree in History. I saw this scene as one of the major themes in the book because; traditionally people see women as liabilities in the society and get disappointed by their births. But, the kind of achievements made by Sameera as female proved these people wrong that woman can do it; women can equally match their male counterparts. The author skilfully created disappointment after the birth of Sameera, but balanced it by creating heroine out of her.
Prior to their marriage, Sameera and Aliyu were depicted by the author as intellectual friends who shared academic common ground. The author displayed his artistry by engaging his characters in scholarly debates, as where they attended an international conference in Ghana: the African Dialogue., where various intellectuals and political thinkers with different ideologies came together, to share their experiences, beliefs and perceived prospects for Africa (p. 15). The author seems to lean towards Marxist political thought, as his character’s intelligent and emphatically aspire for a socialist humanist environment.
He also showed how various scholars from African countries discussed about their problems. Aliyu and Sameera in their joint paper shared their views with regards to African problems. Their paper argued that:
There must be three questions to ask: what has been happening to poverty? What has been happening to employment? What has been happening to inequality? So if all these three have declined from high levels to low, that country has been in the period of development. (p. 17-18).
The characters compared Dudley’s theory with what has been happening in their country, which is also a true replica of what is happening in African countries. Aliyu and Sameera’s paper was so radical in their recommendations. This can be seen in their conclusion:
Since the so far little development benefits were restricted to the dominant classes and their allies, radical solution could be better displace the corrupt and unjust administrators. He cited an example with France, about how the revolution of 1789 brought sanity, equality and justice. July 14th 1789 has since been celebrated as the French national day. He added. (p. 19)
In a nutshell, the book invites intellectuals and scholars to debate on African problems and way out. The author related his debates on the issue of poor leadership and severe corruptions in Africa which is taking the continent off the track of development. Therefore, the writer is of the opinion that fighting corruption, the corrupt and unjust leaders as the only vehicle of African development.
The other plot is the one that featured Sameera performing her duty as a journalist and writer. This put her in trouble with the military regime in the states. As an editor of the Unity Newspaper, her constant write-ups attempt to explore the messy corruption of the military regime, under General Danjuma. The Unity States of Africa that was shown to be an oil rich country with fertile agricultural lands had ended up with high rate of illiteracy, unemployment, insecurity, debt and poverty.
The above plot is a clear image of what had been happening during most military regimes in a country like Nigeria. Therefore, even though the book is set in an imaginary country, it shares common problems with Nigeria. The author indicated how the military claimed that politicians were corrupt and that gave the excuse to overthrow them, but they were later found to be more corrupt than the politicians.
Another important plot is when Sameera released her novel entitled, ‘The law of the Jungle’, which was critical of dictator General Danjuma. Few days later, she goes missing, taken to an unknown place. (p. 79-80).
Her colleagues, the journalists kept writing about her loss, linking it with several attempts by the military to kidnap her. They argued about many assassinations of journalists and illegal arrests. Sameera’s arrest had raised a number of protests in the country, which created too much pressure for the military regime. Even foreign media houses joined the campaign to pressurise the dictator, where their correspondents from BBC, VOA, CNN and Al Jazeera were with demonstrators to give live coverage. (p. 91).
Many military regimes, not only in Nigeria, but in Africa had violated human rights and freedom of speech. The continent witnessed a number of assassinations of journalists by the military officers, while many were illegally arrested. Following Sameera’s personality, it was not surprising when Zaharaddeen put his character in conflict with the military regime, in an attempt to perform her duty. But it perfectly fitted in the dictatorial leadership exists in the continent.
Therefore, the arrest of Sameera Junaid by the military is what led to a coup where sympathetic Brigadier Saleem topples General Danjuma. This is what paved way for Sameera to join politics after the Brigadier dealt with the powerful mafias in the country and brought sanity in the country’s leadership. The Brigadier had tried to design a transition plan to bring the power to its rightful owners, the politicians.
As Sameera emerged as President of her country, the author side-stepped his readers from the suspicion that his book was largely modelled after Nigeria. His powerful Sameera attempts to revive her country’s diplomatic relationship with countries such as Nigeria in order to consolidate her relevance in the politics of African Union. By this, the author is trying to justify his stand that the country he created in Africa is only creativity and his story has nothing to do with Nigeria.
In the book, we saw how Sameera through her ambassador in Nigeria Nasiru Imam who also happened to be a writer and journalist, invested a lot in Agriculture and tourism in Nigeria. In an interview with her, Sameera believed that Nigeria is a sleeping lioness in Africa that needs to be woken up in order to work towards the betterment of the continent. (p. 155)
The author had shown that his female president is capable of delivering her national assignment, equally as men would. In that regards, Sameera herself saw many women as capable, but were only limited by the men folk. (p. 155)
During an interview with Sameera on the secret behind her success as first female president, Sameera, believed that she was born to lead, and responded that:
“I will answer your question. What make me successful are hard work, commitment and love for my country. Our youth nowadays do not want to work hard; they only want luck to come their ways. Life doesn’t operate like that; you have to struggle for a living. Similarly, I love my country, I know you too have love for your country and you might die for it. If there is this type of spirit in me and you, we are going to come together for a common goal, and we can make it, because two good heads are better than one,” (p. 156)
The above quotation by Sameera is enough to stimulate not only female youths, but males as well, irrespective of their ages.
However, just like many books published in Nigeria the author failed to call a spade a spade by avoiding centring his book in Nigeria. From pre-colonialism to post-colonialism one cannot fall to discern that the Unity States of Africa is non-other than Nigeria. Multiple ethnic groups were amalgamated by the colonial masters up to the period of independence when colonial masters handed over to politicians. But, not long after, the military overthrew them and established dictatorial government. These images are taking us back to the history of Nigeria from its pre-colonial period to 1914 of its amalgamation and so on.
The author also relied greatly on writers, journalists and academics as engine of good governance, forgetting politicians in the crusade. The first appointment made by president Sameera after her inauguration was appointing her old friend who is also a writer and academics as her special adviser on Foreign Affairs. Her husband Aliyu Usman, who is also a writer and journalist, has served the administration of General Saleem Sa’ad as Chairman of Development Trust Fund. Similarly, Nasiru Imam who was a strong pillar in Sameera’s administration is equally in the same shoe.
Despite the fact that Sameera Junaid was the first female president, it was assumed that she would promote equality by appointing a good number of women in her government. But the only woman who was part of her government was Asma’u Abba. This is raising the question about opportunities to women, under a female president.
In the Right Choice, there are many lessons to learn more especially as the author tried to refer back to history and also link the story with the current global age. His book will take its reader from periods of dictatorial governments up to final return of democracy in Nigeria and many African countries.
The author portrayed the media in a beautiful way to strengthen democracy and good governance and shaping the spirit of selflessness and love for one’s country. So also, the book highlighted the place of traditional rulers who are closest to their people, than other appointed or elected leaders. During transition programme of General Saleem, he invited traditional rulers to his government to play their roles. Besides all that, the book has given a woman a very important and difficult task and that has to do with penetrating into the politics of African Union in trying to bring them together for a common goal. And that is to have a united economically and politically vibrant African continent as the United States of Africa. In fact this is what makes the “The Right Choice” an international breakthrough.
I really found “The Right Choice” a very interesting novel that one reads with enthusiasm and relentless desire to see the next page. Therefore, the book is a justification that Zaharaddeen Kallah is proving that the new introduced Nigerian Writers Series (NWS) is attention-grabbing and capable to compete globally.
Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu is the Vice Chancellor of National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). He holds double professorships in Science Education (1997) and Media and Cultural Communication (2012) from Bayero University Kano, Nigeria.