Title: The Campus Genius
Author: Jonathan E. Ifeanyi
Publisher: Kraft Books Limited
Reviewer: Chinweikpe M. Iwuchukwu, Esq.
Nigerian writers who trudge through the tedious road of writing books—whether textbooks, fiction, non-fiction, short stories, etc—may not find this venture very lucrative these days for many reasons, such as the evil called piracy, declining reading culture, state of the economy, negative attitude of the government towards education, bad orientation, and so on.
Nonetheless, writers will be fulfilling their noble tasks by forging ahead—despite the challenges—to educate and entertain the present and future generations, a responsibility which our self-centred crop of leaders have neglected for so long.
In this admixture of fiction and non-fiction, entitled The Campus Genius, a book which is itself a testament to genius, the author, Jonathan Ifeanyi, in whom the word ‘Dr’ would make a better and beautiful prefix, has certainly left behind authentic ‘footprints on the sand of time.’ He has thrown a ball in the field of life, nay, the decadent fictitious society of Libenia—which enjoys the same onomatopoeic quality with Nigeria. The ball is a piece of didacticism—a call for moral rectitude as many ills of the contemporary society such as corruption, vandalism, greed, brigandage, cultism, kidnapping, murder, moral cataclysm, violence, shooting, mass election rigging, are exposed in the story.
The setting of the novel is a fictitious West African country named Libenia. Two major cities in Libenia that are prominent in the novel are Jork and Bomby. Libenian currency is Liber. Libenia is a very corrupt country bereft of ideas that can ensure good governance, which can be likened to our country Nigeria. Formerly colonized by the British, Libenia represents a typical example of a contemporary West African country whose culture has been swept away by the powerful influence of Western civilization. Thus we are told in the novel that, “a foreign visitor to the city can only recognize the area as an African soil only by its physical features”. Here there is bad government, there is crime and there is corruption. Libenia is also a secular country where religion is relegated to the margins of influence and God is being treated in practice as if He does not really exist. Thus we are told that, in Libenia “all religions are to the people equally true, to the government equally useful and to the philosophers equally false”. Although there are many religions in Libenia, they are simply as good as dead. The religious leaders of the day are presented as hypocrites who commercialize religion and use it to make merchandise of the people. They are mere business men. And that is why we are told that, although Libenia has the largest number of churches in Africa, it is one of the most corrupt in the world. Thus youths brought up in Libenia often lack morality and do resort to all kinds of violent crimes. In fact, more than 80 percent of Libenian youths are gangsters. Many of them are rubbers, others belong to secret societies that have links with powerful politicians who simply use them to get things done.
The paradoxes worthy of note in the first chapter of the story is that a report has it that Libenians are the most corrupt people in the world and yet the happiest people in the world.
Again, the country has the largest number of churches in Africa, yet it is considered third on the list of the most corrupt countries in the world.
The conclusion, any reasonable person would reach, is that Author-Jonathan is indirectly calling Nigeria Libenia, because an exact imagery of the former is placed for the latter. And I venture to say that ‘he who sees nine mad men completes the figure ten.’ It is in this ugly set-up that the narrator (or the author) was ‘brought up.’
The Plot of the Novel
The story revolves around the central character Michael Tommy. Tommy is born into a prosperous and distinguished family of Barrister Thomas Michael, in the city of Jork, in Western Libenia, on the 15th of December, 1969. He has only a sister named Clare, born seven years before him in the United States where their parents once lived. Tommy’s father is a lawyer who is said to be one of the corrupt lawyers in the city of Jork. As a child Tommy is kidnapped by some unknown gang and his parents are demanded to pay the sum of 50, 000 Liber (Libenian currency) as a ransom before he is released. Thus Libenia may rightly be described as a very dangerous zone. Two prominent gangsters in the city of Jork are Donald Onora (popularly known as Don the killer) and Ronny Alonsu. After kidnapping Ronny’s father and demanding some money as a ransom, Don the killer is later killed by Ronny in retaliation. Later, this event leads to enmity between the brothers of the two gangsters, Kenneth Onora (Ken) and Timileyo Alonsu (Timi). Ken is the brother of Don the Killer while Timi, a friend of the Protagonist Michael Tommy, is the brother of Ronny Alonsu. Ken and Timi attends the same secondary school and also the same University of Jork. Ken has been looking for a way of retaliating the killing of his elder brother Donald Onora by Ronny, Timi’s brother, and he eventually retaliates by murdering Timi in the University of Jork, being a cultist. Michael Tommy reads this in a newspaper while he is returning from London to Libenia, and his heart is simply broken for losing his best friend.
Characters in the Novel
1. Michael Tommy: The novel centres on Michael Tommy, the protagonist and narrator of the story. Here Tommy tells us the story of his life, how he was brought up and the kind of country in which he was born. He is born into a prosperous and distinguished family of Barrister Thomas Michael, in the city of Jork in Western Libenia. As a child, Tommy is kidnapped by some unknown gang and his parents are demanded to pay the sum of 50,000 Liber as a ransom before he is released.
Although Jork, the commercial nerve centre of Libenia, is a very corrupt city with a large number of corrupt youths, Michael Tommy grows up here to become a very responsible young man. Tommy is a very intelligent young man who is very committed to intellectual development. His intelligence begins to manifest right from his days in secondary school. After the completion of his secondary education, Tommy is admitted a year later to the famous St Gregory Grammar School, the most exclusive boys’ school in Libenia. While in this school, Tommy discovers his talents in the arts and humanities and decides to pursue them so vigorously. He later wins the Boarder Prize, for which he was given a book entitled The Life of James Sullivan, written by Richard Davies. After reading the book, Tommy is thrilled by the marvelous story of Sullivan’s successful life and decides to imitate him. Sullivan being a writer who graduated in Classics from the University of Oxford, Tommy makes up his mind that after completing his secondary education, he would not attend any other university but proceed to Oxford, where he would read Classics—the course which Sullivan studied.
However, Tommy’s father stands as a very big obstacle towards his realization of this very dream. His father Thomas Michael represents a typical example of a Nigerian parent who would want his children to study courses such as Medicine, Law, Engineering, and so on, but despises courses in the arts and humanities which are often termed ‘Not Lucrative.’ Thomas Michael is a lawyer who wants his son to study Law just like himself, but Tommy does not want this.
Thus, after completing his secondary education, Tommy and Timi his best friend and secondary school classmate, attempt to leave their country, Libenia for Europe aboard a ship. Timi is Tommy’s closest friend, who lives with his parents in the city of Bomby. The aim of the two boys is to get to Europe and attend a university there. Tommy wants to study Classics against his parents’ wish for him to study Law, while Timi wants to study Physics against his parents’ wish for him to study Accountancy. Unfortunately, they cannot get to Europe as they experience a shipwreck –a very painful experience to the two boys.
Chapters four and five of the novel present events which show that Tommy has been destined to attend the University of Jork. Tommy enters the University of Jork at the age of 25, and graduates with a B.A after four years of study. In this university, Tommy’s intelligence simply manifests. Here also Tommy and his classmate Jimmy, together with a few students from other faculties, found a literary society named The Fraternity of Scholars, which is later converted into a cult by bad students who join the organization after their graduation. This can be likened to the societies which Soyinka and others founded at the University of Ibadan in the 50s “with a good intention” but which later were converted into cults.
Tommy’s dream of travelling abroad to read Classics comes to fruition when he wins an award from the British Society of Literary Studies with the publication of his first novel The Trials of Chumo. The award provides the funds for Tommy’s travel to London for his Masters and PhD programmes. Chapters six, seven and eight of the novel explains in detail Tommy’s experiences in London and Oxford under the tutelage of Prof. John Kenny Halton.
However, after completing his programmes abroad, Tommy’s joy of fulfillment is mixed with deep sorrow by the tragic death of his best friend, Timi, who has been admitted to the University of Jork in the very year in which Tommy graduates from there. Timi, his best friend, is killed by cultists—masterminded by his old enemy Kenneth Onora (Ken). Tommy reads this in an old Libenian newspaper just as he is returning from London to Libenia, his heart completely broken!
2. Timileyo Alonsu (Timi): Timileyo Alonsu, the best friend of Michael Tommy, is the second important character in the story. We are told in the novel that he shares many things in common with his friend Michael Tommy. They were born in the same year and, like Tommy, Timi wants to study Physics in a foreign university against his parents’ wish for him to study Accountancy in a university in their country. But unlike Tommy, who eventually prevails over his parents, Timi eventually has no option than to study Accountancy in a university in their country, which his parents choose for him. At the University of Jork, Timi is unfortunate as he falls victim to the cultists, who brutally murders him. His death causes immense sorrow to his best friend Michael Tommy.
Other Minor Characters
1. Barrister Thomas Michael: Barrister Thomas Michael is the father of the protagonist Michael Tommy. He is a lawyer who is regarded in Libenia as corrupt. He represents a typical example of a Nigerian parent who would want his child to study courses such as Medicine, Law, Engineering, and so on, which are believed to be “lucrative”, but despises courses in the arts and humanities which are believed to be “unmarketable”. However, his son disagrees with him and eventually studies Classics in the university, a course through which he develops his talent as a writer.
2. Lucia Michael: Lucia Michael is the mother of Michael Tommy. She is one of the very virtuous women in the city of Jork. She is certainly responsible for Tommy’s moral up-bringing, despite the high rate of moral decadence in Libenia.
A number of themes could be deciphered from the entire story. First, is the clarion call by the narrator via his message for the young people to exfoliate; to develop their innate talents by reading and reading as a way to develop their intellects.
The second is a loud call for social change and transmutation. Howsoever bad the system is, and howsoever rotten it appears, by constant efforts to change, the change itself will come one day.
Somewhat more important than any other subject explored in the novel is the very cankerworm and nemesis of our time called cultism. It is there in the wider society, as well as on the campuses. The youths are challenged to fight it by engaging in some scholarly ventures and societies as exemplified by the one founded by the narrator and his friends, known as The Fraternity of Scholars.
Generally, the story calls for caution on the excesses of the youths and inspires anyone who cares, that howsoever bad a situation appears, with resilience and trust in God, a winner shall emerge.