BOOK REVIEW: Now that you’ve been excused….Victor Ehikhamenor’s Excuse Me!

Anyone who knows anything about third generation Nigerian writers would know that Victor Ehikhamenor is a big fish. You only need to have followed his column in the now defunct Next newspaper to agree. Excuse Me! is a timely collection of his writings.

I recall now the first time I came across Victor’s column online, I marvelled at the poetic flow of his sentences and how he managed to inform without depressing—even when the topic was Nigeria’s numerous sob stories. I also recall that I wondered – will I ever be able to write like this? I never could, his style was fluid, personal, a trademark that belonged only to him.

Like most young writers looking for a break, It was a feeling of self fulfilment that suffused my heart when, I think it was twice or thrice, my article appeared alongside Victor’s on Next’s famous front page. It was akin to an aspiring footballer getting to share the field with Pele or Messi or a rookie musician having a jam session with Michael Jackson or Fela. Victor Ehikhamenor was easily the most followed of Next’s retinue of writing talents.

The pieces that made Victor’s writing stand out have now been collected into a book whose name is  borrowed from the title of his old column—Excuse Me! The book is a collection of 62 mostly witty, but also hard hitting articles about the Nigerian experience. Divided into five parts, Excuse Me moves from matters of the heart and the sweet memories of growing up in an Esan village in Edo state Nigeria, to witty but then rather serious takes on the political climate of the Yaradua and early Jonathan years, to Viva Nigeriana’s patriotism-laden tellings, to stories about life in the diaspora captured in House Away from Home—Here and There and Here Again, and finally berthing at the potpourri of experiences captured so succinctly in As I was Saying Before I Was Rudely Awakened...

Even a brief reading of these stories would reveal, Ehikhamenor doesn’t just tell tales, he lays backgrounds, vividly rendered backgrounds, before he drops his yarn.

Ehikhamenor’s style is very much like the folk tales of old. They show he does not just write for writing sake, but is driven to tell a story from which society can garner something positive. A small-town boy from Edo state, Nigeria, Ehikhamenor brings clarity of reasoning that must surely come from having watched closely and learned from the wisdom of the elders.

Several pieces stand out and it’s very difficult to point to any. However, Black Friday Bargain Hunting, What’s in a Nickname, Our First Lady Macbeth, Igodomigodo Must Not Comatose, Once upon and Innocence, Testing Microphone, and My Mother’s Letter to Goodluck should hold even the most restless of attentions.

One of my favourites, Testing Microphone, starts this way:

When we were younger, a musician, named Marvel, from Uromi town used to torment us. Marvel enjoyed the monopoly of being the only highlife musician nearby. Sometimes, he was invited by a local “show promoter” named Koboko Shanta who would charge gate fees. News of Marvel’s upcoming performances would spread like fire in dry grass to all the eight villages of Uwessan-Irrua.

In the story Marvel goes on to abuse the fact that he had a monopoly by endlessly testing the microphone while the paying audience waited. Finally a man named Agoslow told him “the microphone is working…abeg play me music make I dance…”.

The ending of the tale reads like this:

“I was reminded of that night while waiting for Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to declare his intention to run in the 2011 presidential election. As he dillydallied and ‘consulted’ and tested people’s patience, the immortal words of Agoslow came to mind.”

A unique and interesting aspect of the book is the series of pages made up of agendas from various Next editorial meetings. Alongside the agenda points are fascinating abstract art doodles by Ehikamenor, who, apart from being a writer, is also a successful artist and photographer whose work has been exhibited in Nigeria and internationally. His art, according to his website and as exemplified by the doodles, is highly influenced by African traditional motifs and religious cosmology. The doodles in the book were done during the course of several Next editorial meetings. Why did Ehikamenor choose to include these images in his novel? I don’t know, but one can speculate that perhaps it is to showcase his talent, or maybe to avail the reader of the inner workings of Next and add more intrigue to what has become the biggest question in modern Nigerian media history—why did Next fail?

I found little to complain about the book, but one sore point is the fact that the stories were not dated. Adding dates would have provided the historical contexts within which the pieces are set. Also Ehikhamenor, as evidenced from his writing, appears at one time to have been a Goodluck Jonathan supporter and I was left wondering whether his expectant voice has evolved after four years with Jonathan at the helm. Given the kind of social commentary that the book offers it seems curiously incomplete without it.

Excuse Me! is published by Parresia and available through Amazon amongst other places.

By Chiagozie Fred ‘Mazi’ Nwonwu

First published by Efrika.tv

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