By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Dawn At Twilight by Ijegalu Simon Felix; Zizach Books, Kaduna (ISBN: 978-978-990-279-8); 2021; 181pp
Most first novels are almost always autobiographical. The debut novel of Ijegalu Simon Felix, Dawn at Twilight, is a rites-of-passage offering that climaxes on a visionary ideal. It is set in the fictional country named Zamzi that ranks to all intents and purposes as Nigeria. All the problems of Nigeria can be found in Zamzi, starting with the words at the beginning of the book printed in capitals:
CENTRAL GOVERNMENT DECLARES FREE EDUCATION FOR THE NORTHERN CITIZENS.
CENTRAL GOVERNMENT HAS AGREED TO GIVE THE SOUTHERN AREA HALF OF THE ANNUAL NATIONAL REVENUE.
Further down the first chapter, the protagonist of Dawn at Twilight, Ebuka wonders when the headlines of newspapers would read “Central Government Has Declared to Create Five Thousand Jobs for the North” and not just for the northern citizens. The dichotomy between “northern inhabitants” and “northern citizens” tugs at his young heart.
An intelligent student and talented soccer player, he suffers the plight of most Nigerians thusly: “Since the inception of Sabon-Gari Unity School, he was the first to make six A’s in his WASSC examinations yet most of his mates in school were now university graduates.”
Ebuka learns from history the hard way: “According to his father, the easterners who called themselves Naurans, felt dehumanized by the military government of Zamzi, and other Zamzians. A rebellion against the Zamzian government had happened that had led to the deaths of all the top politicians in Zamzi. As no politician of eastern decent (sic) had been touched and the propagators were mostly Easterners, the insurrection was seen as a plan by Naurans to take over government and it resulted in brutality towards all Naurans. Daily, easterners were found murdered, strangled, drowned, or poisoned. Nauran soldiers were also not left out of the insurgence as their fellow Zamzian soldiers also killed them in the barracks. When the Easterners noticed they had been totally rejected, they decided to secede from Zamzi and become a sovereign state called Naura, but they were denied this privilege. Consequently, a war broke out but it turned out to be rather fatal for the Naurans that they had to surrender with no other choice but to remain Zamzians.”
Ebuka endures a life of struggle with his friend Anayo. The East and the North are at each other’s throat. In due course, Ebuka begins “to stockpile a lot of wealth in the South” against the background that “many Igos living outside the East were attacked and killed in thousands after the broadcast by other aggrieved tribes.”
A disembodied voice speaks up for the aggrieved Igos thus: “For those of you who do not know me, I am the son of one of the girls that were raped during the civil war. I am speaking on behalf of all easterners that the central government made widows, orphans, widowers, cripple, blind, and poor. We have lived bitterly with these brutality, humiliation, dehumanization and scorch, but no one said anything. For those of you who are still wondering why we launched the missiles and why the guerrilla attacks, take this for the records. It is for those women, old and young who as a result of the blast during the war could not bear children again. It is for those crippled beggars on the street which the central government’s missiles took their legs. It is for our brothers and sisters their soldiers sent to Hades because they wanted to be a people of their own. It is for all eastern tears,”
The issues in Dawn at Twilight are resolved in the end this way: “Southern Zamzi fused with Eastern Zamzi and together they formed a confederal region of Zamzi called the peoples’ republic of Noura. The North was divided into three regions and the West became a sovereign country of its own. Ebuka was given an unopposed vote to become the president of the Peoples’ Republic of Noura.”
The MD/CEO of National Light Group of Newspapers in his foreword to Dawn at Twilight writes: “Ijegalu captures hope in his free-flowing novel which I proudly recommend for projecting a thrust that I find germane and salient for young ones of the contemporary who seem to easily find developments that would make them dejected instead of mood-lifters and stories that would prod them to rise and keep kicking when they fall.”
A second edition of Dawn at Twilight will need more editing as per commas and periods within quotation marks, appropriate upper and lower cases, and grammatical/printing errors such as “… as he continued to soliloquized.” (p16)
Ijegalu Simon Felix has shown considerable promise in Dawn at Twilight. He deserves the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the poem “The Ladder of St Augustine”, to wit: “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”