by Nwachukwu Egbunike
Book Title: In the Blink of an Eye. Author: Eugenia Abu. Publisher: Spectrum Books, Ibadan. ISBN: 978-978-029-760-2. Year of Publication: 2007.
I sincerely hope that Mrs Eugenia Abu was not “completely baffled” that an innocent chit-chat she had with Joop Berkhout, the team leader of “the hottest publishing company” (pg 46) in Nigeria about a manuscript she was working on, had the propensity of catalysing a chain of reactions. Hardly had she ended the conversation, she received a letter for prospective authors from Joop’s colleague, followed by lengthy phone conversations which eventually culminated in fixing an appointment to discuss her book. Wah o! In the Blink of an Eye, two years ago (2006), but it seems like yesterday, that I left Ibadan for Abuja to “attack the psyche” this lady with my “unsolicited” (certainly not like the young man she described in pg 3) but fruitful mission to commission her title.
For most Nigerians, Mrs Eugenia Abu’s face is no stranger in their homes nor is her voice an intrusion on their privacy. This is one the effizy that goes along with broadcasting the prime news on the so-called ‘African largest Network’, the Nigerian Television Authority. However, majority remain in the dark about the wonders that Abu does with her pen. In the Blink of an Eye is a 362-pages collection of this broadcaster’s writings in the past two decades. Abu writes with a certain fluidness that is not only simple but particularly mirrors the Nigerian story. A personal drama of justice, one-on-one interviews, tears in tributes, humour, the teasing of men, women advocacy, literary reviews, intellectual essays, history and an unrepentant Nigerian pride.
Nonetheless, can I critically access this work without bias? Would it not be an exercise in subjectivity, having been deeply involved in the books gestation and delivery? This certainly puts me in a dilemma. Since “there’s no such thing as a neutral human being”, taking Jon Snow’s advice (in The Next Gulf, 2005), I’ll try to be as objective as I can, by being on “the side of justice and truth”. I therefore solemnly declare to pursue a literary dissection of this title by following the unapparent threads of thoughts of the author, using her own words to evaluate her work.
Abu’s sense of humour is the candle that illuminates the entire book. From the first page, it is obvious that although she empathises with the Nigerian situation, she sees it as no excuse to avoid a change. She also has a sharp tongue (I pity anyone who dares to draw her ire) as shown in “Was Winnie a Sacrificial Lamb?” In this essay, she gave Nelson Mandela some food for thought for placing his alliance to his party above his family life. Abu was of the opinion that although Winnie had “exhibited her fair share of bad girl behaviours” (pg 16) she did not deserve to be dumped by Nelson. As far as she is concerned, “the separation, no matter how political pundits analyse it, is a sad and saddening affair”.
Through some of her pieces in the book, she gives an avid description of the Nigerian mess that is sometimes rib-cracking, sober or out rightly depressing. As shown in the tales that make up “The Early Years”: the unending petrol queues, the decay in the health industry, a new thrust in gender sensitivity (e.g. the push to get boys back to school in Eastern Nigeria), and the trashing of her colleagues involved in junk journalism. “I am an ardent fan of Fela’s music, but the last thing I would like is for a relation to identify with his Marijuana habit. It’s good for him, so what? It is unhealthy period.” Abu, a parent and principled communicator continues: “I have seen kids destroyed from the first drag. It’s dangerous and the press perpetuating his habit daily, is to say the least disgusting” (pg 71). This is from the same person who wrote a moving tribute “Fela as an Iconoclast” in memory of the Afro beat musician
I find it rather impossible to ‘brand’ Mrs Abu. Although she leaves no one in doubt about her advocacy for the improvement of the lot of African women, I cannot possibly ‘label’ her as a feminist. The Blink of an Eye can be comfortably renamed Woman’s World because she discusses women’s fashion, deifies ladies who have made it to the pinnacle of their careers, the fifth chapter was dedicated to the mimicry of men and pages 123-170 (Beijing Fever) was an exclusive chapter on her participation in the Beijing Summit. She speaks as one who has authority on these matters: “I was one the 400 women who gathered in Bangkok in February, 1994…. At that conference, women communicators from 80 countries, cutting across all continents of the world, declared that our concern was not empowerment of women alone, but empowerment of human values in communication of media” (pg 169).
Yet Mrs Abu portrays an original approach to the gender question. It seems that while she will fight to remove all the limiting fads against women, she does not subscribe to thesis of her feminist friends who want to turn a woman into a man or vice versa. An example was in a meeting in London, where she made the following contentious submission to a largely female audience. “We need only theories of socio-economic development in Africa. We need good drinking water, good hospitals and good roads. We are not ready for high sounding Westernised theories. When we cook for our men, we don’t feel enslaved because we enjoy doing it and we do it at will… I know my grandmother’s needs are not theories, but a borehole. When Mrs Ransome Kuti mobilised women in the sixties, her theories were neither Marxism nor Feminism, they were Nigerian… (pg 177 ).
Abu is in love with Nigeria because in page 248 she states: “love goes round here in dollops and I am talking of the average Nigerian encountering you in his humble home for the first time. As his guest, he is going to try to feed you with all he has got. Ask me, I should know. I am proudly Nigerian!” At the same time, she has little patience with some Nigerian elites, who sit in comfort abroad and cry about the crumbling situation of their country. Hear her: “it takes each and everyone of us to turn things around, should we all run for the cellars in America every time something goes wrong? Then who are we going to leave this place to…Egyptians? If every Lagos driver showed a little patience, tolerance and consideration for his fellow road user, ours will be a saner traffic. It takes one Nigerian, and it could be you or me or the next man” (pg 253).
I must admit that this assessment cannot fully do justice to the whole book, a limitation that is inherent in all reviews. Nonetheless, The Blink of an Eye is very invigorating and a reader’s delight. If you are interested in understanding Nigeria through the eyes of a woman, then it’s a book to grab.
An revised version of this review was published for an international audience on Thursday, 21 August, 2008 in Mercatornet.