The Individual and Society: A Review of ‘Season of Crimson Blossoms’

 

By

Badaru Basiru

 

 

The struggle between the individual and society is unending. And society, with its overpowering influence, always wins against the individual. Yet, the individual, especially if endowed with some kind of resilience and consciousness, braces to struggle again. There is no giving up on his part.

 

The opening paragraph of ‘Season of Crimson Blossoms, published by Parresia Publishers (2015) and Cassava Republic Press (2016), sums up the narrative in just one swift revelation. It catches and draws the attention of the reader to the events which are to unfold. Hajiya Binta’s life is a testament to the structural and social forces binding the individual to society, limiting his mind to certain prescribed thoughts and choices. There is a conflicting fusion of a normative orientation and a freely chosen one manifest in the interaction between Hajiya Binta, 55, and her niece, Faiza, 15, who dresses and behaves typically in the fashion of her time. The old adhere to the cultural norms and values because they have been moulded to do so by society. This adherence puts off the young. It arouses in them the desire to dismiss those values, however sacred, as being archaic, and resist further imposition. Ummi is a precocious little girl and Binta’s granddaughter. Her spying on Faiza, unusual with children of her age, opens secrets Faiza wishes to keep to herself.

 

‘Season of Crimson Blossoms’ is set in motion when a 26-year old thug, Hassan Reza, attacks Binta in her house and packs away portable valuables. The encounter brings back to Binta memories of her late son, Yaro, who she could not call by name. Tradition has it that a woman should not call her first child by its name, baseless, even unintelligible, as outsiders to Binta’s society may perceive such stipulation. The role of collective society in the institutionalisation and sustenance of beliefs, ideas, and practices, based more on traditionalism than on rationalism, has been a subject of research and analysis by sociologists and theorists. Society moulds the individual to conform to what it has, over time, established and held as ‘the correct mode of thinking and behaviour’, hence enforcing conformity. Quite frankly, values, beliefs, and systems, which are regarded as ‘sensible’, ‘true’, ‘absolute’, merely reflect the subjective interpretation of meanings by communities within which they operate, and outside which they tend to lose relevance and veracity.

 

The young Binta would bet anything just to hear her mother call out her name, feel the warmth that children get from their parents. Reza leaves Binta not in the pain of the attack and the injury he has inflicted on her, but in the pain of rekindled memories. She becomes reserved, obsessive thereafter. Shortly, an ‘illicit’ relationship starts, as she too has evoked feelings in him. A deeper, seemingly truer bond is formed when Reza returns to Binta all he has robbed her of – DVD player, satellite decoder, mobile phone, jewellery – and apologises for the experience he has put her through. To seek her forgiveness, he compensates her with a different phone, having already sold the actual one. Bound by social constructs, Binta has to keep her relationship with Reza secret. Society has made it a rule that a woman must not fall in love with a man much younger than herself. And if she musters courage and pursues her desire, she becomes an object of shaming of family and friends. This repression of sexual preference reminds me of a Hindi film ‘Lipstick Under My Burqha‘. Hajiya Binta is very much like the aging character in this film, who must not express her sexual needs for fear of social and familial opprobrium.

 

The theme of deprivation of child education is, evidently, worthy of sociological and literary commentary. The narrator, omniscient, tells the reader how Binta is removed from school. Her teacher, Mallam Na’abba, has had a prediction for her. He thinks she could benefit the whole village, Kibiya, if allowed to finish school and become a health inspector. Mallam Sani Mai Garma, Binta’s father, heeds Mallam Na’abba’s advice on his daughter’s education, though reluctantly. But when his friend, Mallam Dauda, sees ‘the little jiggles on Binta’s chest’, he persuades him, and Binta is married off to his son, Zubairu.

 

British philosopher and social theorist, John Stuart Mill, in his book ‘The Subjection of Women‘, advocates for total equality and liberation of women. Mill outlines, among others, marriage as a tool with which women are socially oppressed. As an institution, marriage is, no doubt, good, an accomplishment in fact. But it turns into a tool of oppression when it poses a threat to the realisation of full potential of the females, even more so when it causes sadness, dissatisfaction.

 

Categorisation of women as baby-manufacturing and pleasure machines is one of the issues that the North, particularly Hausa society, needs to address. There is more a woman can offer than just sexual pleasure and children. (The degree of sensibility and sophistication of any society is measured not by the number of its literate members, but by the way it treats its women and children.) The alleged notion of intellectual inferiority of women is upheld impliedly for the purpose of mental and social control, and is unsupported by reliable scientific proof. Indeed, there may be physiological differences between men and women, but not so many psychological. A woman could be as much a thinker and maker of history as any man, but only if given as much confidence and chance.

 

What is often forgotten, or rather ignored, is that besides a clitoris and a vulva a woman also has a brain, a capable one. But society questions, right from childhood, the capability of the female human brain and imbues it with socially constructed weakness, mental and physical, and willingness to submission. Inarguably, though there is unreliable sociological and psychological evidence, Binta’s society has its reasons for removal from school and marriage of girls at an early age: chastity, social order and control. In this particular society, marriage is a moral and social obligation all members are expected to fulfil early in life. It could be a shield from acts of sexual indecency, but it is no absolute guarantee. Married people do engage in ‘illegitimate’ sexual activities. A life would be worthier lived in pursuit of knowledge than in a marriage that might end in divorce and birth of street-strolling, dirty little children.

 

Another narrative ordeal in ‘Season of Crimson Blossoms‘, which exemplifies a society ensnared in dogma (cultural, political, and religious), can be found in Faiza’s life. Clearly, Faiza suffers from emotional trauma caused by her experience of the religious crises that have, since 2001, characterised the northern Nigerian city of Jos. She recalls, scarily in her dreams, how her father, Mu’azu, has been hacked to death. But what she seems to find equally disturbing as the demise is the fact that her father’s killers, among who is her maths teacher, Jacob, are people she has lived, joked, laughed with in times of peace. Faiza is haunted in her sleep by this gory memory.

 

In times of danger, mutual understanding and sympathy go on suspension. All bonds that hold humanity together are severed. Friends turn into foes. Reason (the one thing, or more correctly natural gift, that distinguishes humans from other creatures) is blocked.

 

Violence orchestrated by immoderate adherence occurs here, though sadly, between members of the same religion and ethnic group, and not only between different religions and ethnic groups. The world has never in its history been a place inhabited by people with invariabilities. There must be differences. In fact, there have always been differences of ideology, culture, language, demography, and so on. And what creates harmony, in spite of all these, is accommodation and respect for one another. Surely, intolerance is the cause of ethnic and religious violence, which is the bane of the country.

 

Senator Buba Maikudi, Reza’s boss, embodies the mindset of contemporary Nigerian political actors, who are more of usurpers than leaders. This breed of politicians send their children to such ivy-league universities as Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Campbrige, Oxford while they mar the future of the children of the peasants with alluring recruitments to criminality and political thuggery. The San Siro boys rely on Senator Buba’s sponsorship of the poster-sticking activity during electioneering campaigns. They get high on marijuana and set out for political rallies. There is too much temptation, resistance to which they have not.

 

If it really takes a great deal of ‘acumen’ to succeed in weed peddling and sycophancy, would Hamza, Senator Buba’s London university graduate son, not have been a better and more deserving actor than Reza, a mere village secondary school drop-out?

 

If ‘fighting injustice’ is honestly the sole motive for Senator Buba’s engagement in politics, why does his son go globetrotting when the Rezas, the Sani Scholars, and the Gattusos are busy shouting slogans out through car windows, scratching the surface of the road with cleavers and daggers and shears?

 

The sort of opportunism politicians employ in our fledgling democracy mirrors the postulations of the Italian political thinker, Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527), author of the notable book ‘The Prince‘. Achievement of power by dubious or cruel means is justifiable if the power will be achieved in the end: the result makes legitimate whatever procedure is followed.

 

Since 1960, when the dream of independence from British rule came to fruition, Nigeria has gone through some of most turbulent phases in history. There was the 1966 coup, which toppled and saw the massacre of the first republic politicians, who were largely from the northern and southern regions. Not long into the year, a counter-coup was plotted by military officers of northern extraction, who felt, as it was clear at least to them, that all that had happened was a calculated, dishonest act perpetrated on groundless, paranoid accusations of hatred and marginalisation. Then followed a war between Nigeria and the secessionist state of Biafra, which caused many avoidable casualties and scarred the young nation. There was another coup and a new regime in 1975, five years after the Biafran state had fallen and surrendered to the Nigerian federal troops. Four years later, elections were conducted, and a return to civilian rule was due in 1979. But unfortunately, the soldiers took over again in 1983, truncating the new presidential system of government.

 

A succession of military regimes, broken once by the 1993 interim government, lasted until 1999, when preparations for the return to the present democratic dispensation were complete. Whether this unbroken practice of democracy has done more good to Nigeria than bad calls for objective analysis of state of affairs. But one fact cannot be refuted: Nigeria has made progress in the manner of a water well digger who digs and sinks deep down, shouting, ‘I’m making progress, man!’ The poor man can hardly claim to have reaped the dividend of democracy, as its proponents say. There is misery in the midst of wealth, vagrancy in the midst of palaces, and ignorance in the midst of knowledge. All as a result of the corruption of both the leaders and the led!

 

The ascetic, partially socialist leaning of the first republic politicians is absent in today’s politics. Those were leaders who were immaterialist in nature, who immersed themselves in the building of their respective regions and the country at large. However, among the present crop of politicians, there are those that model their political philosophy on the aims, objectives, and dreams of the founding fathers. But they are very few, and their fewness loses to the machinations of the majority, whose sole purpose of going into politics is to undermine the little efforts of the patriots.

 

Hajiya Binta supports Muhammadu Buhari and fears possible rigging, but Hassan Reza works on the side of Goodluck Jonathan.

 

The 2015 general elections marked a new era in the political history of Nigeria. For the first time, PDP, the party that had ruled for 16 consecutive years, lost to APC, the opposition party. The then President, Goodluck Jonathan, accepted defeat and congratulated the incoming President, Muhammadu Buhari. What an honourable, gentlemanly act!

 

President Buhari came into power with a load of promises he had made during electioneering campaigns. So, it was not unreasonable if Nigerians waited in expectation, though obviously (considering the plunder of the past) fulfilment of all those promises would be most unlikely. But it is fair to say that the President has delivered, or at least tried, on two promises, namely the fight against corruption and fight against extremism and insurgency. Saying these are not enough is just an understatement. The challenges are enormous, so are the expectations. Throughout the tenure, many Nigerians, who before the 2015 electoral success had had so much faith in Buhari, complained about what they perceived to be ‘slowness of action’, ‘selective justice’, ‘outright refusal to deliver’.

 

The recently conducted 2019 general elections witnessed apathy among voters. There were hypotheses of failure of the President. Of the six geo-political zones, the Northwest zone was, and still is, Buhari’s political stronghold, where he had never doubted loyalty to him. Even here, there were fears that Buhari might secure less votes than he secured in 2015. The pressing economic hardship had dampened, not to a small extent, the enthusiasm and hope of living in an instant, much better country Nigerians had had prior to the presidential installation. Fated as it was, President Buhari scaled through and clinched, to the bafflement of cynics, what could be called a landslide victory. Nigerians knew better and preferred his leadership style to that of the unrepentant emissary of corruption and capitalist ideology.

 

Has Buhari really failed? Is his government really a disaster? Is Nigeria under his leadership really on the path to destruction?

 

Answers to such questions are personal, therefore individually sought.

 

It is a fact (and no one can deny this fact) that Nigeria is not in the ranking of countries it should have been, that its 59 years of self-rule are disappointing: that its founding fathers, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, must have been in their graves writhing with the pain of its situation.

 

The rise of Nigeria is not its rise alone, but the rise of Africa and the black race generally. Independence is worse than colonialism if, in the so-called independent country, there are no equipped schools and hospitals, no accessible roads, no job opportunities, no proper management and direction of resources. To be free and independent is to build viable educational, economic, and political institutions. For where there is a lack or absence of such, there is frankly no freedom and independence.

 

As a reader, and again an insider, I relate to the characters and setting of ‘Season of Crimson Blossoms’. I relate to the feelings of shame and guilt Hajiya Binta tries to dispel with wisps of incensed sticks. I could see vividly in my mind images of women in hijabs returning from the Madrasa.

 

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim has made for himself a mark in the Nigerian literary industry. His debut novel indicates that there is still an abundance of literary ingenuity, which is showcased mainly in our native language, and which has been here since before the arrival of the European colonialists.

 

Season of Crimson Blossoms‘ is laced with wise sayings, symbols of the ancient verbal dexterity and wisdom of our people. It is a novel to read.

 

 

 

 

Badaru Basiru

Badaru Basiru is a writer and essayist. He has interest in literature, law, philosophy, music, and film.

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