• Title: Images of the Disconsolate
  • Author: Yinka Elujoba
  • Publisher: Invisible Borders Trans-African Project
  • Number of pages: 35
  • Year of publication: 2017
  • Category: Travel/Nonfiction

Images of the Disconsolate by Yinka Elujoba explores the metaphor of the road as a vortex of memories that can nonetheless be grasped through personal tales. This chapbook of travel narrative must first be understood within the context of the 2017 Invisible Borders TransAfrican project which focused on ‘Borders Within II’, a road trip around Nigeria which the travel writer, Yinka Elujoba, was part of.

The rationale behind the project was to trace and explore the nuances of silences birthed by colonialism amongst communities forcefully collapsed into a national contraption called ‘Nigeria’. It would be incomplete to assert that there are no positives within the trauma of this forceful amalgamation of nations and peoples, as even the members of the 2017 Invisible Borders team represent different colourations stemming from this collage of dynamic experiences from a dysfunctional nation-state.

Elujoba does not write a linear story, because the places he visits reflect connections and displacement. When the writer recounts his travel to Ibadan, it comes as a tribute to his ‘coming-of-age’ as a writer in the city. This brush of a historic city is a representation of the paradox of Ibadan as the age-long launchpad for great writers, scholars and creatives with the inability to retain that which it grooms. Ibadan is a middle passage of self-awareness on the road to becoming, for both the author and the many writers the city has fostered. 

The travel writer sustains the metaphor of the road beyond his allusion to Wole Soyinka’s existential conceit: ‘The road is a metaphor for seeing’. Elujoba instead deified ‘the road’ capable of a machina of stories. In many ways, he subtly alludes to Soyinka. But unlike Soyinka, Elujoba does not worship the road. He alludes to Soyinka and then departs from him by engaging real people rather than gods. This informs his encounters with different people he meets during the course of his journey.

Within the metaphor of the road is the motif of ‘leaving’ or ‘staying’ which froths with contentment, discontentment or disillusionment with the present and past. This leads to the travel writer’s commentary on Ilorin. One of the over flogged tropes of Ilorin is the rebellion of Afonja, the Aare Ona Kankanfo of the old Oyo Empire, and his alliance with Mallam Alimi around the 14th century who later betrayed him. This eventually made Ilorin, which used to be a Yoruba city, morph into a city with a culture oriented to northern Nigeria, and its people fall under emirate rulership. This trauma – also recounted in Tunde Leye’s historical novel, Afonja: The Rise, and Toyin Abiodun’s play, Trials of Afonja – remains a ghost that fosters what Elujoba characterises as the current ‘tightfistedness’ of the city, a distrust that the travel writer feels in Ilorin. Today, the negotiation continues between a wily conqueror whose hegemony rests in the proliferation of Islam and the subjugation and displacement of the children of Afonja. However, it’s to be checked the travel writer’s observation when he said Ilorin might be ruled by the Fulani forever. Ilorin is a hybrid city and possibly will remain so in the future despite the attempt of propagating conservatism. Many descendants of Afonja have intermarried with the children of their Fulani masters for decades. Perhaps, this is a story Elujoba failed to capture while in the city.

Elujoba aspires to tell stories beyond mere interaction. He is aware of the thin line between journalism borne out of prepared questions and the openness that a creative writer must have to engage societies. He takes a superstructural perspective of the physical eyes to the camera, which enables a psychological revaluation of the characters he encounters through the interpretation of bodies, gestures and mood. The travel writer fulfills the thrust of a journeyman whose camera births deeper meanings. He is also conscious of the performatives; the way people perform their lives within the ambits of culture, without the consciousness of stagecraft, from the personal to the communal, without divesting the autobiographical. In this work, there is a constant search to survive the onslaught of the national malaise – these coping strategies stem from religious beliefs to self-invented piety, from boastful convoluted stories to silences. This is why Elujoba goes beyond the words to rely on the ‘face’ and ‘body’ because for him, the pictorial reveals shutters of the unspoken and asserts its existence amidst rituals of conformity.

The traveller’s body registers discomfort in Bauchi. The inclement heat gets to him so much that he deprives the reader of the sights and sounds of this significant city in northern Nigeria. But that says so much about bodies in transit, visiting different cities and landscapes. Nevertheless, Bauchi is known for the influence of Tafawa Balewa, the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, another great Fulani man whose signature on post-colonial northern life can only be compared to the great conqueror and philosopher, Uthman Dan Fodio. Balewa’s tomb rests here. Bauchi also keeps evidence of the displacement caused by Jihad through its monuments, which reflect lived experiences of the natives before the Jihad. Perhaps, Elujoba is more involved with philosophical reflections on places instead of the aspects that approach the historical.

However, the travel writer sustains the reader when he reaches Sokoto with a transnational story of a marriage between a Nigerian man and a Russian woman in the 1960’s. This disruptive narrative shows that love permeates borders, and humanity trumps the elite demarcations that passports balkanise. Elujoba juxtaposes this unique harmony of coexistence with the stymied relations of people in Sokoto.

The writer is at his most conscious in Sokoto, the Seat of the Caliphate, because he engages the historical evolution of this ‘gated’ cosmopolitan city, whose history reminds him of the conquests of other lush landscapes like Ilorin. The new Sokoto retains the nostalgia of its victories as a Caliphate by sustaining its aristocracy and its ideals. It meanders through this new phase (the post-colonial phase) by creating enclaves for infidels and silences borne by non-natives. Peace is negotiated because ‘Everyone knows his place. So long as you do not upset the system it will not upset you’.

Elujoba takes us back to the mountain peaks of Oke Sobi in Ilorin and the discourse on how mountains have always served as a form of spiritual enclave and escape for many ostracised people. The writer teases out encounters and engagement that show that mountains are a contested landscape between faith and fate; they throb with double identities, disappearance, shocks and self-created victories.

When we encounter Minna, Elujoba tells of a kingdom whose ruler has suffered self-exile due to infrastructural violence in her domicile. This infrastructural violence meted on Kunbwada kingdom is an extension of generations of physical oppression and hegemony by Fulani herdsmen. It is within this framework that the Queen of Kunbwada struggles to bear the burden of personal and collective well-being, while positioning impressions of regal glory for strangers. This is her own way of mourning a wide range of losses that has received no recompense from the Nigerian nation-state.

We are then led to Afikpo where Elujoba meets an unavailable repertoire of history and culture and in its place, engages an anthropological disaster. The personality of Inya, a native who lives on the outskirts of the town, represents outcasts who remind one of the warrant chiefs of colonial times. They embody narratives that put them in the centre as guides and are quick to avail writers and scholars of a false reclamation of the people’s norms. Inya embodies the ostracised cushioned by political, social and cultural synecdoches, which are in many ways a method of survival and a way of mourning. Fortunately, the travel writer is entertained by the clown without losing clarity.

At Afikpo, Elujoba is in search of the Nembe culture; he encounters taboos, food culture, ritual performances and linguistic rebellion against colonial rules. He realises that the Nembe people do not mourn for too long; instead they are adaptive in their survival of internationalist intrusion, and post-colonial neglect. They are in a constant state of resistance through an internal collective mechanism that asserts Nembe before Nigeria.

In conclusion, the writer maps moods of the people living in lands filled with historical resonances. The writer engages the current realities and the coping mechanism of folks whose lands and hopes have been hijacked by post-colonial realities. It is within this frame that the writer inveigles happiness from existential sadness that engulfs the people. Elujoba has a sharp mind. His introspective power refines the history, human gestures and climates of his encounters which enables a poetic reflection and deep understanding.

The invisible Borders Project is important now because travels around Nigeria is restrained due to acts of terrorism and other waves of sociopolitical and infrastructural violence in the country. The gulfs amongst the peoples of Nigeria and its landscapes are tightened in the travels of Elujoba. This makes the chapbook a rare opportunity to engage a landscape from the eyes of a visitor and outsider. Travel writing humanises both the writer and the reader as they discover intertextual and familiar troupes.

^In 2017, Invisible Borders embarked on their second phase of Borders Within project. They published a set of chapbooks written by participants from the project. This is the third review focusing on the chapbooks. Our work on the last chapbook from the series is an interview with the author and shall be published soon before we engage their 2018 chapbook set. You may also read previous reviews from the 2016 chapbooks on this website.

Femi Morgan is a writer, culture curator and media entrepreneur. He holds a Master of Arts degree in African Studies with a speciality in Diaspora and Transnational Studies from the University of Ibadan. His MA thesis was Exile and Nostalgia in Segun Adeniyi’s A LIfe Elsewhere. Femi is also the author of Renegade (2019), Whispers (2019), and three other books of poetry. He is a curator of Artmosphere Nigeria, a project that has hosted writers, poets and philosophers. He runs an avant-garde publishing and Public Relations firm in Lagos, Nigeria.

Cover photo credit: IFPRI -IMAGES