Special Report

June 15, 2024

Uju Jupiter: Egbujo’s riveting expose of pernicious effect of girl-child marriage

By Prisca Sam-Duru

The words of late American author and motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar; “I believe success is achieved by ordinary people with extraordinary determination”, reverberate in Dr Ugoji Egbujo’s latest work of fiction.

Published in 2024 by TSOD Arts, the novel titled “Uju Jupiter”, explores the extent to which a determined individual could go, to achieve that which seems impossible.  The compelling narrative is therefore a story of resilience, exposing the continued suppression of women in a chauvinistic society.

Comprising 250 pages spread across 25 enthralling chapters with subtitles, the plot of the novel revolves around Obianuju Nnanyelugo, a teenager who strives to realise her dream of becoming a lawyer but needs to jump sad hurdles precipitated by early marriage.

Uju Jupiter: Egbujo’s riveting expose of pernicious effect of girl child marriage

With multiple settings, Uju Jupiter relates events in a remote area in Anambra state, Accra, the beautiful island of Zanzibar and of course, several locations that symbolically reflect the chaotic cosmopolitan Lagos.

The novel, divided into three parts; ‘The Patchwork’; ‘Stretch, Strain and Tear’; and ‘The Rupture’, explores varied themes of forced marriage, determination, unfounded jealousy, domestic abuse, lust, suppression, abandonment, selfishness, resilience, envy, infidelity, etc.

Exploring the theme of resilience, the book mirrors the indomitable female spirit, thereby thrashing the long held ‘woman is the weaker sex’ notion.

The author weaves the poignant story of the teenage orphan in a captivating manner, depicting a society that honours affluence to the detriment of a victim’s wellbeing. The intense tale of trauma, alienation and eventual victory, sees the protagonist refusing to believe her desire to become a lawyer has been punctuated by early marriage. Her father, Ogbuefi Nnanyelugo regarded early marriage as a taboo and she is very determined to live up to his ideals. She has always dreamed of marrying a man of her dreams which excludes a guyman whom she loathes with passion.

And so, at eighteen, Uju blossoms with an alluring female anatomy. With lustful eyes fixed on her beautiful curves, Alaba millionaire, Okenwa Okonkwo, nicknamed De Phenomenon, the only son of his father, and his overbearing mother believe the untouched Uju is most suitable to serve as a baby factory. The name –Okonkwo, must not disappear from the face of the earth. They promise to allow her to go to university after two children- preferable sons, only for Uju to discover that indeed, all that glitters is not gold. Her husband, a former drug peddler, makes life a living hell for her.

Uju seeks refuge in the Church but things only get worse, no thanks to the Vicar’s wife and her minions; their actions smell of envy. Also, Okenwa’s entanglement with a street girl known as Maya, threatens her marriage. After four children, instead of the promise of letting her attend university being fulfilled, she finds herself struggling to stay sane and alive. Upon losing one of her children and the alienation that follows, she attempts to end it all through a ‘brandy misadventure’. After she survives suicide, she resists every temptation to exchange her dignity for money to survive. She proves ‘desperate but not available’.
Through Obianuju’s siblings’ character, the author explores the theme of selfishness. Uju’s eldest brother Olisa, a very flippant character occupying the position of her father is most disappointing. For selfish interest, he and his siblings after allocating their last born to a wealthy brute, turn a blind eye as she gets roasted. Olisa’s type is the reason most victims of domestic violence end up dead.

Uju’s prayer in page 224 captures the entire scenario. She is at her lowest ebb and her words will melt the stoniest of hearts. “Mama Olisa didn’t wait; she dropped me and dropped off. I came in a time of plenty, but that plenty included not having a mother’s breast to suckle. Ogbuefi Nnanyelugo saw all that and chose to die after training others so that Obianuju, who came in a time of plenty, could barely finish secondary school.” With free-flowing tears, she accuses God in page 225 of having a hand in her litany of misfortunes. “If you God didn’t have a hand in this, You could have stopped Olisa, son of blitheness, from arranging a cruel friend to marry his eighteen-year-old sister. You watched him give a chick to a smiling wolf whose mind had gone feral…”

Are her prayers answered? Well, with the help of Olisa’s wife, Ginika who has been more than a sister to Uju, and Scholastica, Adaeze, Mummy Joeboy, she finds strength to fight on.

Each time, the story of Eunice, a character in her primary school book, reminds her of the need to keep her eyes on the ball. This subtly exposes the impact of literature and of course, reading on individuals, especially children.

Certainly, if only Uju’s father Ichie Nnayelugo were alive or she has a strong supporter, she wouldn’t have gone ahead with marrying the egoistic bully known as Okenwa. The red flags have been there; even before she accepts his proposal he shows he is a womaniser. Also, a few days before the wedding, Okenwa shows he is a wife beater and one with less regard for women. As the theme of domestic violence is explored further, Okenwa is portrayed as the kind that believes women are commodities and must be complete housewives; they must be dictated to regarding what to wear and when to go out. Also, communication with the opposite sex for them is a taboo. This speaks eloquently of his high level of insecurity. Also, inconsistencies in De Phenomenon’s character tell of a drug addict and not only former courier with a terribly low self-esteem.

That Okenwa’s marriage with his side chick Maya produces three girls, is evidence of good storytelling, and an indication that the man determines the sex of a child. Last, last, Okenwa remembers he has a son in Obeleagu. But does the young boy give a damn about having a father?

Language usage is class. Commendable is the author’s ability to switch over to the language appropriate to each character’s level. But then, many readers will argue about Okenwa’s. Except he never attended school up to secondary, then one can accept his poor English Language usage. He does not represent an average Alaba trader, majority of whom are graduates and speak better English than portrayed in the book. Many are into ‘import and export’ for lack of opportunities and the will to survive/make it in a poorly governed country with a prevalent debilitating poor economy.

His character also seems over bloated. Queer as it may be, especially when the inferiority complex comes into play, it must be noted that most of these Alaba, Omata, Idumota, etc, ‘boys’, like to  show off their wives. Most go for the prettiest so that they are hailed as those who have arrived. Some even have their wives and children, studying abroad. And will not fail to boast about how their money can buy anything and any woman.

The author’s power of description is quite impressive. Vivid descriptions of events and places can make the reader to as much as smell the level of poverty in most homes in the mega city. With penchant for vividly chronicling narratives about the chaotic city of Lagos, like he did in “The Spirit of Danfo”, Egbujo in the book under review, exposes the commotions that make the mega city where he resides, notoriously fascinating.

What the book falls short of in title, it makes up for in cover photo design. The photo offers readers a peek into the world of the young girl who is traumatised, fagged out and depressed. Indeed, picture speaks a thousand words. ‘Jupiter’ for its vast meanings may be hastily mistaken for science exploration. But then, the novel is quite a hectic exploration into Uju’s sad adventurous world. Basically, the title, though apt for the fictitious exercise can only arrest the attention of that reader that understands that metaphorically, ‘jupiter’ could stand for extremes, doggedness and strength.

‘Uju Jupiter’, a fresh literary offering from Ugoji  Egbujo, a doctor, lawyer, craft master and columnist, is un-put-down-able. To get readers hooked in the zone, serious relatable experiences and situations are sometimes laced with an element of humour. Bongos, a funny character who also has eyes on Uju’s beauty, with his grandiloquence, spices and douses tensions when necessary. Suspense as a technique is also employed to arrest attention. 

The book is embedded with life lessons for families who goad their daughters into early marriage, while emphasising the importance of educating the girl child especially.

It’s difficult for the Igbo to speak without accompanying words with wise sayings; so salute to the author for ensuring that the book is laced with assorted and apt proverbs with which the Igbo are known for.
 ‘Uju Jupiter’ makes an interesting read for everyone.

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