By Anote Ajeluorou
When a young man finds himself in a foreign land, as most Nigerians in the 1950s, 60 and 70s did when they’d had to study in England, a little indiscretion on the side could change the direction of his life either for good or bad. As was most often the case, some of these young men came with foreign, white (oyinbo) wives while some simply had children sired by these women. This is the story of Prof. Bode Lucas’ The Split Image (Stirling-Horden Publishers Ltd, Ibadan; 2014).
The life of Sunday Dojo Ajiteni, a citizen of Songa, wasn’t any different. A brilliant young lad from Oke-Odo, who joins the civil service after secondary school at Doma, as printer, goes for further training in England and gets into a love tangle with Angela also from Songa. Dojo is already married to Jade; they have three girls. Brief though it was, his liaison with Angela results in a son, but Dojo is ignorant of it, having returned soon after. Angela’s marriage collapses when she is unable to get pregnant for her husband who soon realises that his wife, Angela, has played a fast on him. He resorts to physically assaulting her; she eventually sues for divorce.
After completing her secretarial studies, Angela returns to Songa to get a new start. But some 12 years have elapsed. She traces Dojo to Doma and tells him about the fruit of their illicit act, Joe. On the evening when Angela arrives the bar where Dojo and his friends are drinking, Dojo’s mind is in a tumult when he notes the resemblance between him and the young boy with Angela. He gets home that night and goes to his box to search out a photograph of himself taken when in primary school.
The following day at his office Angela arrives to tell him about their son, Joe, thus sealing Dojo’s suspicion about the boy being his son. But things get complicated for him; he cannot tell his wife who is yet to have a son for him; yet he cannot deny his son, as a typical African man. He doesn’t want to betray her love yet he has to start acting responsibly towards Joe as father. However, the bubble bursts when Dojo’s wife Jade incidentally finds out about payment receipts for Joe’s school fees. She is heartbroken by Dojo’s deceit and betrayal and forces a temporary separation, as she moves back to her parents’ place.
Dojo is a frustrated man, but he manages to keep his head. In time this travail blows away and his wife returns. Angela moves to the capital city after securing a job with a multinational company. Joe, like his father, also turns out a brilliant chap; he caps his academic brilliance by securing a scholarship to study at Oxford, where he meets Clara, falls in love and plans to marry her. But a complication arises; Clara and Joe are first cousins and it becomes tabooed love that should lead nowhere.
Joe’s father, Dojo and Clara’s father, Ojokoto are brothers. This impending abomination is brought to light when Ojokoto visits Dojo to find out how to send his present to his daughter about to marry. Efforts to abort the marriage fail, as the two lovebirds, particularly Joe is adamant. But the marriage records initial failure, as Clara has one miscarriage after another until Ojokoto performs necessary sacrifices to appease the offended gods and ancestors.
A twist of fortune follows. Joe, as United Nation’s staff, is appointed a minister by the new military junta. This lifts Dojo’s profile in Doma and Oke-Odo. It also spells doom a few years later when Joe is implicated in a coup against the military ruler. Joe is away and so his father Dojo is made to suffer for his son’s sins. Dojo is imprisoned for three months in place of his son…
Lucas’ The Split Image is a straight-forward, simple narrative of Dojo’s personal journey in a country also in transition. Metaphorically, Songa, as a country has a split image, as its innate capabilities lie buried by its leaders while its ugly side is exposed. Lucas’ Songa country is Nigeria, with its checkered history. The Split Image is an easy read and is written in colloquial tang. Although a commendable first novella, it should have been more tightly edited.