Fact as Fiction in Debo Kotun's Abiku
Coker, Oluwole, Journal of Pan African Studies
This paper discusses fact as fiction in Debo Kotun's novel, Abiku wherein the interesting locus of history and fiction is expounded as an expose on Nigeria's recent political history to establish the book as a worthy example of a novelistic hybrid of history and fiction. Thus this work shows that in its bid to articulate social and historical reality, it also harnesses the intricate resources of fiction and history as a socio-historical aesthetic imperative.
Apart from the generally accepted notions of underdevelopment, African creative imagination is confronted by a number of challenges, and a more daunting task is how to unleash this creative energy in an atmosphere that is most certainly not conducive for such activity, as underscored when its mentioned that '... in Africa today, all literary activities take place in the midst of poverty, exploitation, wild urbanizing processes and cultural alienation, but also amidst an undercurrent resistance to those dehumanizing syndromes (Yai 1986: 41)'. And while one admits that given the above scenario, the creative impulse could still radiate a bubbling energy, yet we can ask how creativity is made to give a desired impact, against a backdrop of seeming apathy in the market of literary ideas.
The aesthetic and stylistic direction of Debo Kotun's Abiku can be situated within the inherent root-seeking quest of the African self. Thus, the novelist engages history and societal realities set in Nigeria under military dictatorship to provide a discourse in social history as he refreshes one's knowledge of recent Nigerian history by introducing literary embellishments which contribute to his enduring brilliance as a creative writer.
As I intend to show, the literary worth of Abiku is inseparable from its historical reverberations, thus one way of appreciating this is to compare Kotun's account of actual events to the events in actual historical perspectives as he attempt to weave fiction into the accounts to allow the actualities of the accounts to be easily deciphered.
The Intersection of Fact as Fiction
Kotun's theme centered post-independent Nigerian history with artistic finesse, and even though the events are not entirely alien to reckoning, the reader is nonetheless held in awesome suspense as the events unfold, a method scholars have identified in Africa novelistic trends as a reconstruction of history (Okpewho 1980). Yet, as far as Ogundele is concerned, this claim to an historical exposition is mere pretence, myth, rather than history have engaged contemporary literary and creative impulse, he thus states that '... although there is much ado about myth, history and literature in African literary discourse, the overwhelming bulk of that labor is expended on myth and literature, with fairly little to spare on history and literature (Ogundele 2002: 126)'.
Intractably, Kotun's engagement with historical reconstruction seems to be a subtle response to Ogundele's challenge. Interestingly, Kotun also lends a mythical dimension to his narrative, but as we have explained elsewhere (Coker, 2003), naturally gets immersed in his satiric agenda, and the intermittent "remembrance" of mythic undercurrents in the book betrays the work as basically committed to social and political reformation, and a conscious engagement in social reality, for example 'when Dr. Ademola entered, the mood in the operating room changed. He took one look at the face of the little boy who lay unconscious on the bed. But the ones that caught his attention were the two old scars on each cheek of the boy's face.... (p.46)?
These foregoing instantiates of Kotun's attempt to assert mythic relevance unconsciously makes his plot discordant, but certainly does not encumber his literary agenda, and in fact, his satire is well orchestrated and satisfies the African literary heritage of commitment to the letter.
Kotun's experiment in fusing history into fiction and vice-versa is remarkable, and thus brings Africa's messiahs of pain to the centre stage while scarcely veiling their identity thus he describes a set of African rulers:
Sakara looked up and saw a seven-headed phantom seated where Akin had been only seconds before. …