Recently, the Nigerian National Assembly began agitating for a raise in their allowances, the money allocated to them - quite apart from their salaries – for cars, housing, and other expenses. The raise they want will amount to nearly 100 percent of their current allotment.
On Monday, Business Day newspaper ran as its front page story an analysis of the lawmakers’ current salaries – comparing what they earn to their counterparts in the United States and the United Kingdom. It turns out that Nigerian senators and representatives are some of the best paid lawmakers in the world, even though they do the least amount of work. In three years, the Nigerian National Assembly has only managed to pass 16 bills.
These men and women feel perfectly entitled to make such outrageous demands in a country where most of the population (70 percent) lives on less than $1 a day. Where malnutrition and preventable diseases still kill off the weak and most vulnerable. It boggles the mind.
I live in a country where a greedy, corrupt and incompetent ruling class with access to futuristic technologies lives like gods amid a deprived populace crammed into squalid cities or isolated in villages no better off than they were in the middle ages. Magic is everywhere. Here, healers have the power to cure, old women can turn into animals, young girls can trap a man’s soul by feeding him succulent dishes and a child’s curse can kill. It sounds like something out of a dystopian science-fiction plotline.
Yet, it is the reality of much of the African experience. So the question is: How do you craft fantasy, science fiction and horror stories when the truth can be so much richer than the most fantastic tale?
Perhaps this is why conventional science fiction does not appeal to many Africans. In a world where running water and constant electricity is a luxury, it is hard to frighten people with tales of out-of-control robots. Nnedi Okarafor’s essay about African science fiction talks about this. I agree with her conclusion that there is a need to redefine speculative fiction as a genre in order to make room for our unique worldview.
It isn’t enough to have a brown-skinned Conan the Barbarian, or a spaceship captained by Nwachukwu instead of Picard; or falling back on positive reimaginings of a country where streetlights work and government functions. I think there is a richer, deeper world out there for our speculative fiction.
I’m re-reading Ben Okri’s 1991 novel, “The Famished Road.” In it, he takes on a child’s wondering voice, describing the activities of spirit beings with the same matter-of-fact calm as he does the poverty of the main characters.
Though Okri’s work is considered literary fiction, I think such magical realism is a step towards the innovative, genre work I would like to see. I am eager to find and read more such examples.