By Chukwuma Ajaka
Although Patriotism is a cherished virtue in most human societies, Ghanaian author, Alex Agyei-Agyiri reveals that patriots in Africa are rather than celebrated, vilified and sometimes forced into circumstances that either compel them to compromise their stance or bring out the beast in them.
The novel with the sublime title “Unexpected Joy at Dawn” satirizes the concept of unity as mouthed by proponents of Pan-African movements who get into public offices on the basis of their ideological leaning only to betray the trust of the people when they are required to fulfill pre-election or selection promises.
The novel Published by Sub-Saharan Publishers (2004) captures the experiences of nationals of both countries involved in xenophobic attacks instigated by the obnoxious laws each country made to hastily repatriate the citizens of the other in the 70s and the 80s. The legendary rivalry between the two countries in areas of sports and the economy also resonates in the novel. Exploring the themes of xenophobia and high level corruption, Unexpected Joy at Dawn exposes the unhealthy socio-political and economic practices in Nigeria and Ghana, capturing the infamous official declarations of both governments that set the citizens of the two West African countries against one another.
Alex Agyei-Agyiri’s Unexpected Joy at Dawn is stylistically patterned after Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born which explores the theme of corruption with vehement emphasis on the decadence in every fabric of the society. However, the characterization in Unexpected Joy at Dawn features a central character whose main problem is identity crisis while The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born has a nameless protagonist who is unloved and derided by the rest of the society, including his own wife, for holding fast to his integrity rather than succumb to the dictates of a corrupt society. Both novels are also anchored on the ideograph of a society on an omnibus.
The plot of the novel revolves around two siblings, Mama Orojo and Nii Moses Tackie who are portrayed as victims of the arbitrariness of privileged political actors. The author tells the story of Nii Moses and his sister, Mama Orojo, who were separated when Ghana enacted the Aliens Compliance Order of 1969, forcing supposed illegal migrants to leave the country. The protagonist is left to stay in the country with his grandmother while the sister, Mama Orojo relocated to Nigeria. Their parents who left with Mama Orojo unfortunately died on the way in a manner that reminds the reader of the Israeli’s journey in the wilderness.
With a good university education, Ghanaian name and a managerial position at Expense Bank, Nii appears set to make a modest living as an honest civil servant. However, fate plays a cruel joke on him as he persistently struggles to eke a living, combining his job as Assistant Bank Manager with a part-time teaching practice in a tutorial centre. Trapped in the squalor of the slums, the protagonist’s efforts to liberate himself from the shackles of abject poverty are steadily ruined by factors beyond his control. He barely earns enough money to sustain the family and could not afford Massa’s medical bills. His condition is further compounded as his Ghanaian wife, Massa, a victim of a strange ailment dies after being bedridden for over six months.
On realizing that neither his Ghanaian name nor linguistic competence could save him from the government instigated discrimination against non-indigenes, Nii steals out of Ghana for Nigeria, using his leave period. Ironically, Nii Moses Tackie faces rejection in both countries. His unmistakable Nigerian tribal marks make him a stranger in Ghana while his Ghanaian accent, name and inability to speak a Nigerian language complicate his predicament. Neither his patriotic zeal nor his sincerity of purpose could shield Nii from becoming a victim of the “Operation Ghana Must Go” saga.
Unexpected Joy at Dawn satirically showcases the idiosyncrasies of officials of government agencies such as the immigration, police and army who in the guise of executing draconic executive orders metamorphose into tyrants that threaten the lives of the citizenry. Travelling through bush paths to beat overzealous customs and immigrations personnel at the various border posts within the West African sub-region, the protagonist arrives Nigeria only to be arrested and detained in the home of one of such devious characters Tsuru Palao who subjects him and his co-travelers to dehumanizing experiences by taking them as illegal immigrants from the Seme Border to his home where he turns them into domestic slaves, claiming to provide them protection from the law.
After many years of fretful existence in Ghana, Nii Moses Tackie resolves to visit Nigeria and search for the Orojo family dynasty. Despite the nobility of his mission, he encounters a lot of troubles on the way and in his supposed home country. His travails include escaping death severally by the whiskers, being denied of earned wages, losing a lover and a friend, detention at deportation camp and living in servitude at the mercy of a corrupt immigration officer. Nii and Mama Orojo meet under very strange circumstances as Nii is mistaken for a thief and narrowly escapes being lynched by an irate mob that includes his own sister. Nii’s problems did not end in Ghana.
The characters in the novel include the protagonist, Nii Moses Tackie, his rich sister, Mama Orojo, Massa, his sickly wife and Marshak, the good at heart prostitute, Tom Monday, Mama Orojo’s male admirer, Joe, who eventually marries Mama Orojo, Ibuk, Mama Orojo’s Christian sister and member of the Amin Kristie Church who is killed in a needless religious riot, Aaron, a talented and visionary building engineer who dies while trying to escape from an irate mob that had mistaken him for an armed robber and Tsuru Palao, through whom the theme of retributive justice is realized as his family house is razed by arsonists.