By Prisca Duru
The book, “Mr. Benjamin’s Pen”, published in 2019 by Krafts Books Limited, Ibadan, is Tony Nwaka’s expose on some of the evils one must engage in if one must walk the dangerous terrain of politics in this part of our world.
Though a work of fiction, “Mr. Benjamin’s Pen” offers a peep into the future, as the story is set in 2025. But then, asides Mr. Benjamin’s car being an electric car and the story being set in 2025, it does not imply that the novel ranks among few of those beautiful literary exercises promoting African writers’ sterling ability to mesmerize readers with tales of fantastical tomorrow. It is simply an adventure into a period where dreams are as sure as reality.
It is painful, however, as noted by the author, that in spite of Nigeria’s wealth in human and natural resources, the country is still being driven to the brinks by a crop of selfish and unpatriotic political leaders. “Mr. Benjamin’s Pen” is, therefore, the author’s modest contributions towards a sincere purging of Nigeria’s political arena. The protagonist, Mr. Benjamin, is a fulltime politician and a part-time Master’s Degree student in his fantasy world, and Mr. Mordi, a simple Civil Servant in his real world. He has just been awarded ‘The Best Imaginative Literature of 2025’ for his book titled, “When He was There”.
Nigerian politicians will not find it funny that Nwaka begins his adventure with an honest distinction between the political class and well-cultured literati, which happened to be the two groups in which he finds himself in his fantasy world and reality. “While the wordsmiths lauded the fascinating remarks of various speakers,” he says, “my political supporters hailed my name with such thunderous accord…especially when such ovations came at moments that barely required applause.”
Well, Mr. Benjamin is enthused especially since writing which he does as a pastime has given him such huge recognition. His ability to combine politics with literature actually marks the high point of the award. He receives a plaque of honor and a gold pen. As though acting on premonition, he attends a political rally with a plastic biro for people to write down their names instead of the gold pen. He loses the pen in the process but months later, Ijele Agaza, who was present during the rally, returns the missing pen. A few days after his experience with Ijele, an unusual chain of events begin to occur.
Ordinarily he would not have attached much significance to these challenges, but they came in such quick succession that it becomes clear that some unseen forces may have been unleashed against him from the pit of hell. Mr. Benjamin’s lecturer, Professor Idehen, advises him to liberate himself from the superstitious entrapment which he describes as the contraption of his mind. Meanwhile, his friends, Odum and Clifford’s plea to seek help outside his faith, fails. As with every evildoer, Ijele Agaza’s end can best be imagined.
The 133-page book is arranged in five chapters. Each chapter bears same title with the name of the storyteller. The inclusion of a postscript at the end of the chapters helps readers comprehend the state of the narrator as well as identify with his perceived helplessness. The cover design is apt. Having three individuals, supposedly friends or acquaintance of Mr. Benjamin gaping at an ordinary pen connotes mystery. This, the author achieves, as the entire story revolves around the mysterious pen.
Although Delta state, named Coast State in the book, is mentioned as major geographical setting of the story, from the narrative, one could comfortably guess that the state under scrutiny could be in the west, owing to some of the political turbulence it experienced in preparation for the 2019 general elections.
Series of confrontations and altercation between the Governor Wadudu and Chairman of his political party clearly depict what played out within one of the major political parties in most states during the campaigns for the 2019 elections in Nigeria. In all literary sense, Mr. Benjamin’s Pen is a smart and intelligent exercise that challenges readers’ intelligence as they journey with the author into a rather bleak future of a country that may be heading to the rocks.
And speaking of recession in 2025 is truly frightening. Going by the high level of poverty ravaging the masses at the moment, one can only hope the author is not a clairvoyant.
In his attempt to wriggle out of the identity crisis that has befallen him, the Delta State author of Mountain of Yesterday and Lords of the Creeks, succeeds effortlessly in infecting his readers with enough dosage of suspense till the entertaining tale climaxed.
Although Mr. Benjamin, and of course his mysterious pen, are the centre of attractions, the character of Ijele is interesting. A shrewd money lender, Ijele is typical of the Biblical wolf in sheep’s skin. He is an angel in his place of worship but belongs to the occult world. Ijele’s character and role mirror the lifestyles of many in our society today. With the techniques of linear plot, simple language, and postscripts, Nwaka makes his book an easy read as he exposes the reader to the dual personality of the protagonist.
Readers will find the suspense and sequence of the story quite appealing. It is recommended to all.