Here is the overall summary of the Potter’s Wheel by Chukwuemeka Ike and The Successors by Jerry Agada as promised in my earlier post on the Two Books in JAMB 2012/2013 Use of English Syllabus JAMB wants you to read.
Please take note that JAMB will not necessarily ask you much about the book than the points embedded in this two books, also take note of the figure of speech / figurative expressions, synonyms and idiomatic expressions contained in this book as they may also use that to test you.
THE POTTER’S WHEEL
By Chukwuemeka Ike
The Potter’s Wheel is a novel that takes us to a village called Umuchukwu in the eastern part of Nigeria, where one of the basic elements of the local idioms is sayings or proverbs, much like a Bible-based community where people communicate through chapters and verses citations. In the story, even the young ones had riddle and proverb contests to see who knew the most. The story was set about the time of the Second World War (1939-1945). In the story, references are frequently made to the ongoing war, which Nigerians, at that time were part of, through conscription or voluntary involvement.
The story centres on Obu, an eight-year-old boy, who, as the only son with five older sisters and one younger sister, had been badly spoiled by his adoring mother. The mother’s reason for her indulgence towards him was simple; it was the boy’s eventual birth that gave her strong footing in her husband’s house, for the husband’s family had compelled him to take another wife who would give them – the family – a male child. In fact, the five female children that were born before Obu had been given names suggestive of the degree of anxiety and faith, with which Mama Obu and her husband had longed for a male child. The name “Uzoamaka”, given to their first female child, means “The road is excellent”; the second, “Nkiru” means “That which is yet to come is greater”; the third, “Njideka” means “Hold what you have”; the fourth, “Nkechi”, means “Whatever God gives”; and the fifth, “Ogechukwu”, means “God’s time is the best”. Besides that, when Obu arrived, he became a cynosure to the parents, the mother particularly, so much so that apart from his first name “Obuechima”, which means “Compound must not revert to bush”, he was given all sorts of endearment names, such as “Ezenwa”, meaning “infant king”, “Nwokenagu”, meaning “A male child is desirable”, “Oyinbo”, meaning “A companion”, and “Obiano”, meaning “Solace”. No other boy came after Obu, but a girl came two years after his birth, and she was named “Amuche”, meaning “No one knows God’s mind”. All these events depict the superstitious nature of the Ibos; how they weave some stories around everything that happens to them.
Obu’s father, Mazi Lazarus Maduabuchi was a successful cloth dealer. He was a kindly man, but fearing for the boy’s future in the hands of his over doting mother, he sent him off to be a servant of a weird, fearsome couple, Teacher Zaccheus Kanu and Madam Deborah Onuekwucha Kanu, both of whom were childless and lived in Aka, a village, some sixty miles away from Umuchukwu. Mama Obu was vehemently opposed to the seemingly suicidal idea of having her treasured son sent to the house of a “wicked man and the witch he has as wife”, even when her husband proverbially reasoned with her that, “He who does not suffer hardship cannot develop any common sense”. In the end however, her resistance, merely verbal, cut no ice, for she was the one, who even later took Obu to the Teacher’s house in Aka, where the boy was to begin a new life as a servant. This event is symbolic of the prevalent mentality of African parents, fathers specifically, who so much believe, against the stifling fondness of mothers, that some degree of hardship and suffering is very essential in the upbringing of a child, if such child is to be useful to him/herself in the future. Also, the subservience and abject obedience of mothers and wives to their husbands was aptly portrayed by Mama Obu, as such slavish compliance, as far as African traditions are concerned, is crucial to the continued survival of a marriage.
Teacher Zaccheus Kanu’s house, a reformatory home of some sort, sheltered an assortment of other youngsters: Silence (who was 14yrs), Moses, Ada (who was 16, and a cousin to Teacher), Mary (who was a spoilt girl, already engaged to a man but was ‘enrolled’ by the fiancé at Madam’s home, for her to undergo some tutelage in domestic and wifely training), Monday (who was 19, and Madam’s cousin), Bright (whom his father gave out to Teacher in exchange for the money the father was owing Teacher), and Obu, the newest arrival. These children were beaten and abused, and were subjected to slavish lives. For instance, apart from the ‘baptism of fire’ slap that Obu got from Madam, Teacher’s wife, on his first day at Teacher’s house, for talking back at the woman, he also, at another time, was served another deafening smack by the ruthless Madam, because of his careless and wasteful attitude of pouring away the excessively salted pottage that she had asked him to prepare for her. The smack sent him sprawling on the ground and made him dizzy for some time. At some other time, Obu was openly embarrassed and beaten so wickedly on the assembly in his school, by the headmaster, who must have been told by Teacher that Obu stole a piece of meat from the pot at home the previous night.
Expectedly, these children, in their various childish ways, devised different acts of vengeance, to get back at their two oppressors – Teacher and Madam. First of all, they all developed strong flair for lying, as they mostly had to lie to escape from the unwarranted harsh punishment they were endlessly subjected to. Besides, Silence, the very tricky fourteen year old boy, would never answer a call by either Teacher or Madam, the first two successive times. He would neglect the call the first two times, with the hope that if he didn’t answer it, his caller would call someone else. He would answer the call only if it came the third time. Bright was another character. Teacher almost always liked to insultingly remind him that he – Bright – was serving him (Teacher), because of his (Bright’s) father’s debt to him. When once, he gave Bright such humiliating reminder, and even attempted to wipe his oil-soiled hand dry on Bright’s head, the boy, “like a drenched dog…” (pg. 133), “…shook his dripping head vigorously…”, and he let drops of the oily water splash on Teacher’s shirt. Ada was yet another character!
Exasperated by Madam’s unrepentantly cruel behavior towards her and others in the house, Ada once poured on her Madam “…a bowl of dirty water containing cocoyam peels, discarded ora leaves, and a coating of palm oil from the cooking utensils she had washed in the bowl…” (pg. 186). Even after that mischief, Ada stood unremorseful and ready for the consequences of her actions. As the furious Madam punched and hit and smacked Ada, the girl defensively fended off some of the blows and mockingly took some, unwearyingly. Even the bigger punishment from Teacher, which came much later – scrubbing the school latrine every day for one whole week – meant nothing to the girl. She was happy that she had succeeded in cutting her Madam down to size!
The brutalities that abound in the Aka home provoked nostalgic feelings in Obu about his birth place. He had nostalgia about home, through dreams and reminiscences. He was so home-sick that he thought of what seemed to be a foolproof strategy, which was to write a letter in the guise of his mother, to Teacher. In the short letter which he eventually wrote, in Igbo, his impersonated mother said she wanted Obu to come home, to Umuchukwu, to look after his younger sister. What Obu had thought would work against Teacher was so easily faulted by the crafty Teacher. Teacher was nonetheless stunned by the creativity of the boy (for him to have thought of something as ingenious as impersonating his mother!)
After a year of the hellish life Obu had lived in Aka, his father requested that he be allowed to return home for Christmas, and by the time he returned to Umuchukwu, Obu had become so much transformed into a dutiful, hardworking boy. His return sent everywhere agog! He had shed his old habits – he was no more the loafing, bed-wetting, spoilt Obu! However, happy about his eventual rescue from the tortuous Aka life, Obu never wished to return to Teacher’s house. He asked his mother to help him tell his father about his decision, but the mother, understanding how predictably fruitless such effort of hers would be, urged Obu to speak to his father himself. After some long contemplation as to how to tell his father about his decision not to return to Teacher’s house, he finally broached the topic. His father’s compromising response trivialized Obu’s protracted worry, and he (Obu) wished he had said his mind long before he later did. And after Obu’s father’s seeming compromising response, he later called Obu to sit. With some wise cajolery, the silver-tongued father of Obu succeeded in making the boy see the need for him to return to Teacher’s house.
“Nobody who does not suffer can succeed in life. Edmund is what he is because his father forgot yams, forgot cocoyams, forgot meat and sent him to suffer in Teacher’s hands. It was Teacher who made him. Teacher tells me your brain is even hotter than Edmund’s. So, there is no reason why you should not drink tea with the white man and study in the white man’s land. But if you want to be like Caleb, you should come and live with your mother, eating goat meat and drinking palm wine and dancing with masquerades. But when the time comes, don’t say that I did not warn you. You can go.”
After this persuasive talk with his father, Obu himself voluntarily returned to Teacher’s house in January (after the Christmas holiday).
The story ultimately centres (thematically) on the challenges of parenthood. With the constant interplay between the vernacular Igbo and the English language, the author enlightens us on many things: The plight of a ‘maleless’ (without a male child) wife or couple in traditional Igbo or Nigerian society; the concept of Ogbanje (or Abiku) children and the societal attitudes to such children; the richness of traditional values as seen in the prevalently mentioned local food (especially the uncommon ones as fried termites, which were here considered as a treat; and the very common one, kola nuts, which are usually served, as etiquette demands, by hosts to visitors.); local names guarded or prompted by some superstition; local proverbs put to various communicative uses; local beliefs and traditions, etc.
THE SUCCESORS by Jerry Agada
The Successors is an x-tray of two family generations: The Atsens and the Amehs. Starting in January 1967 with the two friends and colleagues, Okoh Ameh and Terkura Atsen, both of whom were employees of the Provincial Hotel, Makurdi, they both were young friends, and their friendship too was young – less than six months they met. The enviable industrialist that Terkura later grew to be had been foreshadowed from the outset, with his idealistically ambitious nature. The youthful Terkura always dreamed of a future when he would become a huge force to reckon with in all ramifications, particularly in business. Ameh on the other hand didn’t feel equally ambitious. He hadn’t been as equally keen about such wondrous future as Terkura was foreseeing it. In fact, he had seen Terkura’s longing as impractical. Ameh was simply optimistic that he would soon get a promotion at work, and with that promotion, he believed he would only need to apply to do some courses in that hospitality career, after which he would be able to attain greater heights, still in the hotel business. Terkura saw his present job of a porter at the Provincial hotel as a stepping stone to greater heights. Though without advanced education (university), Terkura saw that not as a barrier to reaching his set goals, although he had been scrimping and saving with the strong determination to return to school the coming year. Of great inspiration was Mr Eze to Terkura’s dream. Mr Eze was one of the regular guests at the Provincial Hotel where Terkura was working, but the professional outlook and business-like composure of the man endeared him to the young Terkura. He became so attached to the man that in less than six month, he had learnt a lot from him. Terkura was so shocked when, in July 1967, the news broke that Mr Eze had been killed in a riot in Kano. The event of the man’s death was predicated upon the pre-civil war (1967) crisis in Nigeria. In fact, Terkura’s high opinion of his late mentor, Mr Eze, influenced his judgement of all Ibos, since Mr Eze, being an Ibo man was well travelled and very educated,
While Terkura had become tired of the restrictive influence the hotel job was having on him and his dreams, and he was thinking of quitting, Ameh seemed to be enjoying the work the more, still being propelled by his strong conviction that he was going to make a career out of the hotel and service industry. Besides, while marriage was part of Ameh’s immediate plans, Terkura never had such even in his later plans. Even when his mother suggested that they should start the marriage preparation between him (Terkura) and one Torkwase, Terkura politely turned down the offer, saying marriage would be a huge distraction to him and his dreams at that moment. When Terkura told his catechist father, Mathew Atsen, that he would be quitting his job at the end of the year, to enable him return to school, the father was very proud of him, for being very ambitious, though the man would have loved the boy to be a priest, because he said he had high sense for right and wrong.
Ameh later travelled to his hometown, Ukporo to get married to Maria, a girl his parents had got for him. After the marriage rituals and ceremonies, Ameh returned to Makurdi with his new bride, where both of them had to share his one-room apartment. Aside from the inconvenience of the compact single room, the compound was full of children and always noisy, and the environment, very marshy, was a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Shortly after their marriage, their first child, a male arrived, and he was named Ifenne. After the baby’s arrival, Ameh and his family relocated away from the flood-prone and mosquit0-infested areas to a better accommodation. While Ameh was moving on with his married life, Terkura was industriously in pursuit of knowledge, from Provincial College, Yandev for Higher School Certificate to The Ahmadu Bello University, in Zaria. Just that same time, Terkura’s younger brother, Terngu, got married. The first part of the book ended here.
In the second part of the book, starting in 1979, Terkura Atsen had become a grown up and shrewd entrepreneur, who had built from scratch. Yet, he wasn’t a full-fledged business man, for he was still struggling to get his footing in the badly run economy of the country, filled with cruel, greedy, exploitative people, like Chief Ofega who had bluntly refused to pay Terkura the balance of the contract he had executed on his – Chief Ofega’s – behalf. But for some rare courage which empowered Terkura to issue some threat to the adamant chief – obviously the rich are allergic to threat! – Terkura might not have got the unnecessarily withheld four hundred and eighteen thousand Naira balance, which later salvaged his dwindling business.
In the third part of the book, set in 1985, actions shifted back to Okoh Ameh, who had now become the father of seven children: Ifenne, Agbo, Veronica, Innocent, Emmanuel, Ada, and Ene. However, his family had become messed up, and he had been largely responsible for the family’s misfortune. His life also had been in shambles! He had just caught his sixteen year old son, Ifenne smoking hemp. He had abandoned his wife and their seven children, in the weak hands of the wife, and the family had helplessly fallen apart, while he frittered away his slim income on alcoholic addiction and womanizing. What had driven him into such life? Despite his obvious inadequacies and irresponsible, he yet would unfairly accuse the wife, heaping the blame on her for the dismal condition of the family. In his conspicuous absence, the wife had stretched herself to stand in for him, so as to avoid the total collapse of the family. Ameh would prefer to spend his time, money, and affection outside the home with mistresses and on drinking wildly.
The complacency that had ruled his life from his youthful days had been partly responsible for his present predicament. After his secondary education, he had joined the Provincial Hotel, where he once worked with Terkura. After many years in service, he was promoted from an assistant supervisor to senior supervisor. After that single promotion, he had stagnated at that rank. As his family expanded without a commensurate expansion or increase in his income, be became worried and disillusioned, especially when he saw how far his colleagues, such as Terkura had gone in life. He felt defeated and considering himself a failure, he took to drinking, as a gullible means of consoling himself. Expectedly, drinking led him into womanizing. Cumulatively, his consistent alcohol consumption, his countless flings with many different mistresses, and the emotional torture of seeing his family destroyed, all fatally depressed him and had a heavy toll on his health. His health deteriorated fast, and he later died.
The death of Ameh, Ifenne’s father seemed to have made Ifenne sober. He prematurely took up the challenge of being the head of his family, as he began ferreting for jobs to do, to ensure he supplemented the little his mother had always brought home from his seamstress job. After his secondary school, Ifenne took up a bus conductor job, and he was fortunate to have a very disciplined and kind-hearted boss like Oga Olu. Oga Olu later had a great impact in the life of Ifenne, with his valuable, wise advice, and total tutelage. From the wayward cannabis-smoking boy, Ifenne gradually grew into a more go-getting young man. David Atsen was Ifenne’s age mate, and was the son of Terkura’s brother, Terngu. So, he was Terkura Atsen’s nephew. David was an undergraduate student of Accounting at the University of Jos. However, despite his age, twenty, he was having an illicit affair with a married woman!
The fourth part of the book was set in the year 1993. Ifenne, now twenty four, with three buses to his name on the road and other petty business, he still yearned to acquire a university education. So, seven years after his secondary education, he eventually gained admission to study Political Science. It was at the university that Ifenne met Mwuese. Mwuese was the daughter of Torkwase, the woman who Terkura was supposed to be married to in his youth. The two hit it off, and soon their union grew into a relationship, which after some years hit the rock (failed). Ifenne and Mwuese later met each other three years after graduation, and after some disagreement and agreement, they rekindled their love.
In the fifth part of the back, Terkura Atsen died at fifty one, approximately eight years after Okoh Ameh’s death. Before his death however, Terkura had become more than the giant he assertively aspired to be. He built an enduring business empire, and he was very wealthy, in fact wealthier than his state. But he was never married before his death. Terkura Atsen made David Atsen, his nephew (brother’s son), the chief beneficiary of his bequest, though there were yet many other of the late Terkura’s property that had been willed to be given to other members of his family, all his long time employees, all the institutions he (Terkura) attended, all the four universities in Benue State, etc.
No sooner had David Atsen acquired the bequest than he began living an extravagant lifestyle. He expended money frivolously on needless travels and embarked on unrestrained spending spree with women. Ifenne and David had met each other. While Ifenne was still struggling to make his agro-allied and his transport businesses grow stronger, David was wildly spending away his large acquired wealth, which his uncle had painstakingly struggled to build. While Ifenne had already successfully settled in marriage with Mwuese, David was yet to, as he still was enjoying the flings with his numerous girls. Because of his lascivious lifestyle, David almost lost Ene Okoh, the only girl he genuinely loved. Ene couldn’t condone David’s promiscuity. His resolve to try overcome his lecherous addiction, so as to regain Ene’s trust and love eventually had a carry-over effect on his total person. His sincere love for Ene changed him to the real man his late uncle and benefactor had wanted him to be. As part of his desire to change, he later joined one of the Elite clubs that his late uncle had belonged to. David encouraged Ifenne to run for the position of the governor in the next election, though Ifenne wouldn’t hear of it at first, he eventually yielded. In the end, with the powerful influence of David and other members of the Elite Club, Ifenne Okoh Ameh became the 2nd Executive Governor of Benue State
While x-traying the lives and times of the two family generations of the Atsens and the Amehs, the story simultaneously looks at the challenges of succession in the society, business and politics.