Ogadinma Or, Everything Will Be All Right by Ukamaka Olisakwe

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Ogadinma Or, Everything Will Be All Right by Ukamaka Olisakwe

Buy Ogadinma Or, Everything Will Be All Right by Ukamaka Olisakwe at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Alex Merrick
Reviewed by Alex Merrick
Summary: Ogadinma Or, Everything Will Be All Right is a rally cry to the women of Nigeria. Ogadinma is a woman who has been exiled from her home to the Nigerian capital Lagos where she becomes married to an older man. Their relationship soon turns abusive and Ogadinma must finally find a way to free herself from the patriarchal bonds to whom society has shackled her.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: June 2020
Publisher: The Indigo Press
ISBN: 978-1911648161

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The new novel by Ukamaka Olisakwe is a look at the trauma and heartache of being a woman in 1980s Nigeria. The title is Ogadinma Or, Everything Will Be All Right. Ogadinma is the eponymous heroine of the story. We are with her in every scene and it is her narrative voice that leads the story, although Olisakwe writes in third person. This provides a sense of detachment for the reader and highlights the isolation of Ogadinma. She is exiled from her father's home and sent to Lagos where she is married to an older man named Tobe. Their marriage descends into violence and indignities and Ogadinma must utilise her resourcefulness to escape.

It is set in the 80s, however, one could see it as a reflection of Nigerian society and, to a lesser extent, the trauma of being a woman in the 21st century. With the #MeToo movement it has never been more evident that men abuse their power time and time again. It is this power with which Olisakwe is fascinated.

In Nigerian society an unmarried woman belongs to her father, a married woman belongs to her husband. She never holds power. A patriarchal society is one that perpetuates a masculine feminine dichotomy by favouring masculine dominance. In a country like Nigeria, where toxic masculinity is rife and FGM is also common, more needs be done to highlight the disparity between men and women. Olisakwe writes a beautiful story that serves as a call to arms for the women of Nigeria.

The narrative is placed around the time President Shehu Shagari was overthrown by a military coup. The army would rule throughout the 80s. This disrupted life and caused unrest and unease amongst the populace. The army ruled, and therefore the men ruled, with an iron fist. Ogadinma is whipped early in the novel by a soldier. It glanced off her as the soldier was aiming for a different person. However, this exemplifies the casual way these soldiers threw their power around. They are never explicitly stated as being men, however, within this context the implication is enough.

The patriarchal society starts at the top. It starts with the leaders and the lawmakers. There are multiple laws that favour men in the Nigerian penal code including: Section 182 of the Penal Code provides that "sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife is not rape if she has attained puberty." Also, in the case of assault of females, Section 360 of the same Criminal Code states that "Any person who unlawfully and indecently assaults a woman or girl is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for two years" whereas an assault on a man is a felony and punishable with imprisonment of three years. The disparity between the genders is stark and insidious. Olisakwe highlights this insidious attitude towards violence on women As a girl, she saw what happened to girls who spoke up about their rape, how their parents punished and blamed them and everyone isolated and treated them like things cursed by the gods."

Olisakwe works the misogyny and feeling of powerlessness into every situation for Ogadinma. Women have a specific place in Nigerian society, it is their job to care for the family and not to have a job. Tobe even states that women are called "Oriaku, the ones who enjoy the wealth." Although this sentiment has mainly shifted from Western society, in many African cultures, female subjugation is seen as being justified as it is part of their tradition. Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyěwùmí, a Nigerian gender scholar, highlights this gender disparity as less to do with the Western binary and visual views of male and female; the body is regarded as the site of irrationality, passion and moral corruption. The mind, on the other hand is the seat of reason and restraint. Men are of the mind and women are of the body. Hence why men are the "breadwinners" and women are the "homemakers". Oyěwùmí writes that in Nigerian society seniority is what dominates. It is not dependent on your gender but on how much power you hold. This is shown throughout Ogadinma. Ogadinma wonders what her role is meant to be now she is to marry Tobe, Perhaps it simply meant obeying Tobe, so he would never fly into a rage. Oyěwùmí may be correct that the dynamics between men and women are completely different within Western society. However, Nigeria is still a post colonialist society and that means some of the power structures and education the West (read: the British) emphasized preparing women for domestic rather than leadership roles. Therefore, systemically it will be men who hold the power and will therefore command respect.

Olisakwe does focus on African traditions which, although utilising forms of pre-colonialist traditions still retain kernels of the insidious impact of the West. These are in the form of a wedding and a witch doctor appointment. Ogadinma on her wedding day is merely an object, an item to be passed from one man to another. The bride price ceremony was performed away from the curious eyes of women and girls…because only the men decided the price of a bride. The witch doctor whom Ogadinma and her husband go to see is a symbol of this impact of the West and this twisted hybrid of African and Western cultural norms. The animism of African traditions is melded with the idea of original sin that is prevalent throughout certain denominations of Christianity. Tobe's poor business dealings are Ogadinma's fault. She must be kept and purged of all sin before Tobe can be cured of his bad luck. Ogadinma has no real agency throughout either of these two set pieces. This is something that Olisakwe engages with throughout the novel. She has no power in this society and so it could seem as if she is a passive participant in her life. Olisakwe is emphasising how for women it may seem a futile gesture to change the power dynamics within society. They are shackled to this life. Even when she runs away from her abusive husband, she goes straight to the man who controlled and 'owned' her before him, her father. Even when trying to force agency on herself it is merely reinforcing her powerlessness. Olisakwe writes Ogadinma's character wonderfully and the reader is always right there with her willing her to escape the chains society has shackled her with.

This novel is not just a woman's descent into subjugation. It is more than that. It is centred within the feminist discourse which is one of hope and empowerment. Olisakwe knows that this power balance in Nigerian society cannot last. This novel, as mentioned earlier, is set in the 80s. Maybe coincidentally but the inauguration of Women in Nigeria was in 1983 and helped to herald a new wave of Nigerian feminism; this reviewer would like to think Ogadinma rode on that wave.

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