Against the power of the state, I can only throw this story. I know: it is a feeble weapon. But it is the only weapon I have. A time shall come when those who today sit on the heads of others will themselves be called to account.
- Okey Ndibe, Arrows of Rain.
Arrows of Rain, by Okey Ndibe, a Nigerian writer, is a parable in which the machine of the State, driven by the personal desires of its leader(s), destroys any number of individuals. The story focuses on one such individual, Bukuru, trapped within the gears of the fictional state of Madia who knows something which potentially might damage the state—that the Army is composed of murderers and rapists who are taking the Supreme Leader’s “War on Prostitution” all too literally. Bukuru’s decision to reveal this information to the police investigating the death of a prostitute on a beach frequented by tourists leads to his arrest for the murder.
He is presented in Court as a madman; his story the ravings of a lunatic. But his careful cross-examination of the witnesses brought against him make it all too clear that he is no madman. His subsequent revelations during the sensational trial that follows mark him for death. And as it becomes clear that these revelations—that not only the soldiers, the Supreme Leader himself, Major General Isa Pellat Bello, is a murderer and a rapist—are accepted as truth by the population, then even Bukuru’s death will not satisfy the State. He, and most importantly, his credibility as a witness to history, are to be destroyed utterly.
At first our hero seems to revel in his role as a speck of grit in the gears of the State. Indeed, his notoriety offers him some protection, as the State’s plans to murder him are put on hold until he can be discredited. A compliant psychiatrist is found to declare him insane—simultaneously a bill is rushed through parliament allowing insane individuals to be held accountable for their acts.
But something is missing in the character of Bukuru, which becomes clear as the story unfolds through flashbacks. We see the Madian supreme commander as a scoundrel in his youth, and we come to learn that Bukuru is unable to wield his story, his only weapon, for the time to tell it has long passed. It is that failure to tell his story at the time when it could have done some good that dooms him.
I wish that I could report a happy ending for this tale. Unfortunately, the cowardice that limited Bukuru earlier in his life ultimately does not let him succeed in his struggle against the State. Perhaps the author is pessimistic, as African politics has been exceptionally good at crushing dissent. Or perhaps he is telling us to avoid that fate by speaking the truth when it matters. “Speech is the mouth's debt to the story”.
This is a very good book which could have been a great book. The evil that men do is ugly indeed. But there is no tyranny that has gone without some opposition.