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African Writing Archives

Current A.W.



Silent Waters

Silent Waters

Author: Okey Nwamadi
Publishers: Goldridge Publishing
Pages: 255
Price: Not Stated
ISBN: 978-070-581-3

Reviewer: Ando Yeva


  A Sedate Revolution

In his introduction to his novel, Silent Waters, Okey Nwamadi explains that he wrote the book to ‘inspire good men and women with a sense of nationalism’. It is a purpose that immediately sets him up to fail in the fiction emporium, where readers pick up books primarily to have a good read. Yet, some candour at the outset is not a bad thing, because Silent Waters is inspirational philosophy as well as faction in which the author strides through his own text in chapter one.

Like Ali Mazrui’s The Trial of Christopher Okigbo, this is fiction with a bone to pick. Early Negritude writers saw their primary goals in the realm of liberation literature. The art was always a vehicle for a higher purpose, which purpose did not always preclude the emergence of pretty good art. In the aftermath of the 2nd World War, William Faulkner (in his 1949 Nobel acceptance speech) thought that

It is [the poet and the writer's,] privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Okey returns to this liberation reflex to interrogate the rut in which his country – like tracts of Africa – has been stuck since independence. But, where early Negritude writers identify a manifest destiny in the Black race, Okey’s lodestone is his Christian faith. Like Gabriel Okara’s totemic items of nature, this author employs the recurrent tropes of silence, rock and water to elaborate his philosophy throughout the book which premises the regeneration of nation upon a regeneration of family.

In Silent Waters, Soetan returns home after a difficult day at work. He is restored by family and bath, following which he and wife, Tokunboh, listen to a newscast of a girl that plotted her own abduction to raise a ransom from her rich father. This evidence of the collapse of family values is the backdrop of the following day’s meeting of ‘the parliament’.

The ‘parliament’ at the core of the book is not the representative political assembly in the traditional sense of the word. It is more of a support and self-help fellowship that started with five married couples and grew, at the start of the book, to fifty married couples who met under a large tent. Most of the novel transpires under this tent. In the course of the evening, the trend of the debate turns spontaneously political. A series of speeches lay out a strategy for Leadership Renew, a new socio-political movement. They resolve to pursue their dreams and – in the last couple of chapters – their stirring programme of social action sweeps the country. The first few outings are wildly successful, but as the book closes, the crusaders have to contend with some of hurdles that secular opposition figures had faced before them.

Despite a substantial 254 pages, the book is firmly within the pamphleteering tradition. Although most of the action of the novel takes place in a meeting tent, the author’s anecdotal style lends some pace to it. — The Christians at the meeting are not ‘saints’ after all and they swap with confessional zeal, stories of transatlantic infidelity and salacious marital woes. These anecdotes leaven the set-piece debates somewhat.

Although, there is a yawning need for civic empowerment movements that cover Africa, say nothing of Nigeria, the Christian approach to social action adopted by the author opens itself to obvious criticism. The broad fragmentation of Nigeria into Christian, Moslem, atheists and believers in traditional religions are not likely to change dramatically, despite the massive evangelism growing mainly in Nigeria’s southern states. A mass inspiration philosophy dressed in Christian clothes might only appeal to the converted and the convertible, while alienating large geographic and demographic regions. While there is room for Christian politics, Christian national politics in Nigeria may yet be an oxymoron.

Yet, it is by no means a closed question. The author, Nigerian writer, minister and NGO director, foresees and addresses this issue in an argument between the crusaders and the press, [p. 242] where a character asserts the difference between ‘Christian principle’ (which can have secular application and appeal) and ‘Christian doctrine’ (which is religion proper). He models the fictional movement, Leadership Renew, after Charles Finney’s evangelical social action in America and the British Clapham set (which comprised William Wilberforce, Glanville Sharp and others), which transformed the moral fabric of 19th* century Britain by spearheading a socio-political movement that attacked slavery and abysmal factory conditions with Wesleyan fervour.

Whichever way this argument pans out, the importance of this book is the platform it opens in the religious centre of the Nigerian middle class, a largely self-aggrandizing sphere of influence obsessed with a prosperity gospel and generally closed to self-critical conversation. It attacks the class dimension, the self-serving religion of Nigerian evangelism, reaching for a more South American model of Christian activism; in the words of a character, Pastor Charles,

People join certain fellowships for material or social networking. In some churches, this class hype is encouraged and structures put in place to perpetuate them. Is it any surprise that a lot of Christians today lack the virtue of compassion which is a prerequisite for social action? (p.201)

If Silent Waters inspires this precinct of the Nigerian burg, the book would have been well worth the writing.

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