Buchi Emecheta’s novel Naira Power
makes a brilliant insight into the African society.
The strangling traffic of Lagos, the kaleidoscopic nature of the African market place, the barbaric popular justice system of public torching of the accused, the filth and corruption amidst the rising affluence, and the love story of a reclusive housewife has endowed the novel with a unique sense of African reality. The narrative has been set in the form of an unrequited love story between a young man, who lost himself in the quick sands of “naira power”, the Nigerian term for the power of money; and a woman, but the very act of narrating emerges as an act of narrativizing the history of the African Islamic society from the point of view of the marginal entity of the woman.
Emecheta’s feminist alignment has made the novel a very rigorous representation of the condition of women in the African society. Nevertheless, her transnational status has endowed the narrative viewpoint of the first person narrator Aunty Bintu, who resembles Emecheta herself to a great extent, with a detached incisiveness of vision, which brings a double perspective into the novel. This double perspective, the transnational perspective of Aunty Bintu and the sub-altern perspective of Amina has made the novel the site of contest for several political voices of Africa.
Though gender remains the main area of emphasis in the novel, yet the novel delves into the complex labyrinth of post-colonial African politics as a whole. The novel is set in the post-independence Nigeria, which was booming with the new capitalist upsurge after petroleum was discovered in its river basins. The narrative which is mainly a rendition of Amina’s love story with Ramonu, the son of an orthodox muslim Lemonu, who got trapped in the miasma of third world capitalism that shares close quarters with the underworld, is occasioned by the public torching of Ramonu, revealing yet another horrific phenomenon of the new African society. The whole episode portrays how the capitalist upsurge in Africa is beleaguered by several medieval values.
Third world capitalism is unique for its alliances with patriarchal, feudal and other pre-capitalist formations of society.
The commodity fetishism of the nouve riche of the post-oil boom Nigeria has been vividly described by the novel. The existence of primeval forms of social relationship amidst the increasing affluence represented by the traffic logged streets of Lagos depicts this nature of third world capitalism with great emphasis. The moribund nature of the human relationships is represented by Amina’s subversive attitude towards the authority of her husband Nurudeen.
The novel emerges with the possibility of a socio-historical document that not only traces the problems in the society but also unravels the root cause of these problems. It traces with acute sensitivity the trajectory of the transformation in the institution of male hegemony, the shift that has occurred in Nurudeen from his predecessor Alhaji Lemonu. Although, the novel does not foreground any radical social transformative agenda, yet it has projected certain subversive tactics that endows the women with certain forms of agency. Amina’s clandestine love affair and her tricksterly manner of deluding her husband about the lack of her virginity, reveals the potential of the subversive tactics fore grounded by the novel. Emecheta has forcefully established the fact that the problems of the women, as well as that of the society is directly related to the putrefied male chauvinism, which depends on the vestiges of the older customs and religious fundamentalism. On the other hand, Emecheta has also revealed the problems of transforming this society through the figure of Aunty Bintu, the emancipated western educated woman, who finds herself completely estranged from the conditions of the African society. Though the novel presents an overtly feminist point of view regarding the society, yet it depicts the multi faceted reality of the African society with a considerable rigour.