By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
The power game is on in Nigeria, and the heavy weight of religion has been pulled in for good measure.
There is the deafening controversy of a Muslim-Muslim ticket that is being countered with the point that a Christian-Christian ticket ought to be equally acceptable.
All the faiths are on a fervid drive to get all their followers to obtain the Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVC).
I think a miracle can save the day for Nigeria by following offering of legendary Nigerian novelist, T.M. Aluko, in his last novel Our Born Again President published in 2009.
Aluko died on May 1, 2020, but it is incumbent on me to showcase his last gift to Nigeria before his departure.
For a man then in his nineties, Aluko still had a very alert mind to come up with a parting novel that bore benedictory testimony to his venerated craft.
A 218-page novel of intrigues in the affairs of state, Our Born Again President tells the compelling story of President David Tanbata who becomes transformed in a Pentecostal manner not unlike the Biblical Saul-turned-Paul on the road to Damascus.
Would to Paradise our modern-day politicians in Nigeria are thus transformed!
It is crucial to stress here that Aluko suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right side and he perforce learnt to write with the left hand in grand old age!
Back in 1959, Aluko who had his early training as an engineer published his first novel One Man, One Wife, but his first title to be published in the African Writers Series (AWS) was One Man, One Matchet.
It is curious for me that there used to be “Matchet” back then in the dictionary but one can only find “Machete” now!
Aluko’s first novel, One Man, One Wife, was later reissued as his second title in the AWS.
His third novel, Kinsman and Foreman, was followed by Chief the Honourable Minister, and then His Worshipful Majesty.
A prolific old master, Aluko also published other titles such as Wrong Ones in the Dock, Conduct Unbecoming, First Year at State College and his autobiography The Story of My Life.
Born in 1918 at Ilesa, Aluko was educated at the famous Government College, Ibadan and served as the Director of Public Works for Western Nigeria after studying Civil Engineering and Town Planning in Lagos and London.
He furthered his studies by earning M.Sc. in Public Health Engineering from the University of Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1969 and capped it all in 1976 with a Ph.D. from the University of Lagos where he would eventually retire in 1979 as Associate Professor.
Like Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah, Aluko’s Our Born Again President limns the lives in power of three friends who had been schoolmates at Rivierian Boys High School, Cocotown, some 15 years before.
The narrator, Stephen, who serves as secretary brings to bear on the lives of David Tanbata and Michael Atobatele, who had been his prefects in the school, an insider’s insight.
After graduating from high school, Tanbata and Atobatele worked briefly in the civil service before surfacing in the “United States of America where they were working as taxi-drivers during the day and were studying during the night.”
Atobatele returns to Nigeria first, teaching Biology in his hometown school while Tanbata returns three years after him, a wealthy man whose wealth “apparently was based on drug trafficking.”
Tanbata attacks the indoctrination of British education and this endears him to the idealistic students and young lecturers of the University of Riviera.
His foray into nationalistic politics brings him into antagonism with the white Scotsman Governor Sir Angus McFarlane.
Tanbata is accused of enriching his supposed wife, Josephine, only for us to later learn in the novel that he has his real wife as Debbie who had actually given birth to his heir David Tanbata Jnr.
The wily Tanbata outfoxes Governor McFarlane and wins power, using the likes of his Man Friday Littleman John whom he promotes to Director of Intelligence.
Tanbata would eventually meet his match in the fiery preacher Peter Bolade of the Mount Carmel Pentecostal Church.
It is in this church that Tanbata witnesses a life-changing experience and thus becomes a born-again Christian.
Aluko writes: “Before his controversial meeting with the Lord at Mount Carmel First Baptist Church, he seldom spoke of God except in a combination of swear words.”
His new lease of life culminates in his reunion in holy matrimony with his estranged wife Debbie on March 12, 1974 at the Mount Carmel Church.
According to Aluko, “Also that day, David Tanbata and his son David Tanbata Jr. knew each other for the first time. There were tears of joy all round.”
Aluko’s cautionary tale is tailor-made for these days of signs and wonders in a Nigeria that needs to be reborn.
The immortal T.M. Aluko has given the world and posterity a revelatory testament inscribing that a great man passed through these shores.
- Uzor Maxim Uzoatu is a renowned poet, journalist and author