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New voice in Nigeria’s feminist discourse- By Bayo Adegbite

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Nigerian writer and journalist ,Oyelola Adeola Ogunrinde was recently signed on by Fairlight Books UK.

Her published short story ‘My Mother’s Voice’ which was published by in November 2023, made Ogunrinde the first Nigerian to be signed into the publishing house having being an established culture journalist and writer in Nigeria for more than a decade.

To gain insights into Ogunrinde’s stories, one needs to understand the Nigerian feminist tradition in which the author is firmly situated. It was Kester Nnaemeka who argued that as much as Nigerian Feminism wants to dethrone the patriarchy in the similar manner that western feminist does, it hopes to replace the patriarchy with an egalitarian form of feminism where women have equal rights to men rather one where a matriarchy replaces a patriarchy. In other words, the ideal society of Nigerian feminism is not one in which women lord it over men, but one in which both genders perform their required roles and both get equal rights. As Emeka Nwabueze illustrates in The Dragon’s Funeral (2015), the Nigerian Feminist’s fight is not just against men, but against forces that deny women equal rights, which includes but are not limited to, men.

There are five pieces by the author – three short stories and two poems – that can be used to assess her writings. The short stories are: “Arranged Marriage,” (published in the Western Post, 2023) a story based on a young woman who is forced into an arranged marriage and who becomes a victim of domestic violence, told from the perspective of her younger sister; “Cornelius” (published in Scarlet Leaf 2019) is about a promising young man’s descent into prostitution; and “My Mother’s Voice” (published in Fairlight Books 2021) is about the dangers facing women who give up all their agency for marriage. The two poems, “My Talking Drum” (published in Teambooktu) and “Wanderer” ( WWR.ng, 2023 ), are both attempts by the writer to express her fears and hopes and to make sense of the world she lives in.

What immediately comes to mind for the reader from the stories is that they are strongly and unequivocally feminist. The stories clearly come from a place of dissatisfaction with the lot of women in Nigeria and advocate for a mindset change both from women, both old and young, themselves and from men whom the author believes are the beneficiaries of the oppression of women.

This feminist outlook is obvious in the characterization of the stories. Like in Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, it is the female characters that are at the center of the action, both good and bad. They are the characters who undergo character development. In Ogunrinde’s stories, for example, Maami in “My Mother’s Voice” finally realizes that all her sacrifices for her husband have been in vain and decides to leave him to go and live with her sister in America. Aunty Bunmi (Maami’s America-based sister) is the voice of reason who helps Maami get her agency back and free her from Bami’s slavery. Similarly, the unnamed persona in “My Talking Drum” gains her confidence and defies their society’s conventions to fulfill her dreams. Even in “Cornelius”, Cornelius’s mother is the good woman who stays to raise the children after her husband selfishly goes away to Germany, and it is implied that perhaps Cornelius wouldn’t have become the degenerate he becomes had she been around to care for him.
However, the author, even as she portrays women as victims of patriarchy, goes against the typical tenet of radical western feminist belief that the world would be a better place if a matriarchy were to replace the patriarchy. In “Arranged Marriage” for example, Jadesola’s mother is somebody who abuses her matriarchal power, who pushes her daughter into an arranged marriage, and who later regrets her actions after her daughter dies from domestic violence. Folashade, also in “Arranged Marriage”, is Muyiwa’s side chick and openly cheats with him even knowing fully well that her actions make Jadesola, Muyiwa’s wife, and a woman like her, unhappy. Bami’s second wife in “My mother’s Voice” uses her privilege as a younger and more beautiful woman to oppress Maami. In essence the author uses female characters to prove that women, themselves, are not above using patriarchal methods and agents to uphold the oppression of other women.
On the other hand, the male characters are mostly caricatured wicked and objectively vile such as Bami, in “My mother’s Voice”, who destroys his first wife’s agency and then ignores all her sacrifices by bringing another woman home, Muyiwa, in “Arranged Marriage”, who openly cheats with Folashade, and then physically abuses her until he kills her. The men can also be seen as weak and neglectful such as “Cornelius’” unnamed father who leaves his family and goes off to Germany, and afterwards when his wife dies, neglects his children until Cornelius becomes a gigolo; Jadesola’s father in “Arranged Marriage” who allows his wife to push him at the detriment of his daughter’s happiness and life; or lazy and opportunistic, such as Cornelius himself who used his economic deprivation as an excuse to lose his values and become a leech who prostitutes himself to rich women in exchange for sex.
It is important for the reader to know that in Nigerian feminist tradition in which the works are situated, this portrayal of men is not condemnation of the masculine gender, but a way of pointing out that an ideal society to live in is one where men are not weak or dominated, but are alive to their responsibilities, as opposed to one where women are in control. For example in “Arranged Marriage”, Jadesola’s father could have saved his daughter by exerting his power as head of the family over his wife. Similarly in “Cornelius”, the lack of a father figure plays as much of a role in the titular’s character’s turn into immorality as much as the lack of a mother figure, which is the author’s way of saying that both genders are as important in the proper training of children.
While feminism is the major theme in Ogunrinde’s writings, there are also minor themes she treats. One such theme is economic deprivation. Cornelius, for example, is a social commentary on Nigeria’s economy. It can be said unemployment is also one of the things that pushes Cornelius into becoming a gigolo. Similarly, it is implied that Maami’s dependence on Bami is because of her lack of economic resources to sustain herself without him, and she leaves him when she finds someone willing to support her financially.
Of course, because of the themes in the work, the writer’s style is didactic; all the stories are delivered in the tone of someone warning other people about the dangers of a course of action, whether it is warning women like Jadesola “Arranged Marriage” or Maami “My Mother’s Voice” to not give up their agency because of what society will say, or people like Jadesola’s mother not to oppress other women to preserve their own power, or warning about how Nigeria’s worsening economic conditions will lead young people into crime and morally wrong acts. This is yet again another sign that the author is firmly ensconced in the Nigerian feminist belief that the fight is against societal issues such as corruption, economic hardship and political oppression and not against men.
In conclusion Oyelola Adeola Ogunrinde’s works are very representative of the style of New Nigerian feminist writers, especially if one applies Nigerian feminist theory. The author is no doubt a fresh new voice in the Nigerian feminist discourse.

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