Book title: Strange Encounters

Author: Wale Okediran

Publisher: Heineman Educational Books (Nigeria)

Year published: 2004

Pages: 312

Reviewer: Adjekpagbon Blessed Mudiaga

The musings of Strange Encounters, a novel written by Wale Okediran almost twenty years ago, are still as fresh as dew, based on what is still going on in our society today. The novel's settings are Gom town and the city of Jos, in northern Nigeria.

The settings are the microcosms of the larger society. It is a satirical work that borders on romance, sodomy, corruption in the police, judiciary system, medical sector and religious circles in the country.

Beginning with its first paragraph that talks about a derelict Volkswagen car, the 312–page highly suspenseful novel, has a young medical doctor as its central character. His name is Dr. Abe James. He is posted from the city of Lagos to work in Gom town. He has to assist a senior medical colleague identified as Dr. Saheed, at a convent.

Being a pious man with a humanitarian heart, Abe finds himself in a quagmire of organized corruption by some officers of the Nigerian police aiding and abetting criminals to commit medical malpractices on one hand, and supporting armed robbery on the other.

The author paints a potpourri of the activities of some quacks posing as medical doctors in Gom, and how they receive police protection whenever they get arrested for killing innocent folks through the wrong medication and injections administered to the victims. Multiple characters with distinct roles and traits build the storyline. While Superintendent Kuru, Inspector Chike, Sergeant Doma and Constable John represent some bad eggs in the Nigeria police, Superintendent Odebiyi is an example of the good ones. Alhaji Adamu and Census are quacks parading as medical doctors. They are the cause of irreparable damage to folks’ health, and the death of many ignorant indigenous residents of Gom.

From the foregoing, Abe finds many things going on in the town insane. Based on his personal principles and family upbringing, he refuses to agree with the advances of the aforementioned characters that mastermind the woes happening in the community. They want him to compromise his conscience. He is approached by the culprits to cooperate with them to accept bribes, to write fake medical reports concerning various atrocities committed by the quacks. He refuses and stands his ground. This brings him into serious problems with the police who set him up, for not cooperating with their devilish requests for false medical reports, to cover up the true cause of some victims’ deaths, due to the notorious activities of the medical quacks.

As if that is not enough trouble already, the young doctor finds himself in a web of romantic attraction, as he is wooed by a nun at the convent. She is known as Sister Martha. She is a secretary to the matron of the convent’s medical centre. The matron’s name is Sister Castelo. Both ladies are white. The events that unfold in the plot at this juncture, are quite amorous. It tends to enlighten men about the character of women and how men can properly make decisions when relating to them.

However, as Abe sees the convent as a holy place where things are supposed to be well done according to the doctrines of the religious organization that runs the health centre, he is further surprised when he discovers that the chaplain of the convent, Father Raleigh, is the culprit that sexually molests male students of a school built by the missionary organization that owns the health centre he works in.

Therefore, he is perturbed by all the unexpected strange experiences he encounters in the town of Gom. He suffers for being adamant about dancing to the tune of the police. They rope him up by planting a small quantity of Indian hemp in his sitting room, which is discovered through a search warrant the police present to him. He is arrested and tortured. Thereafter, he is intimidated to write and sign a false medical report under duress.

Nonetheless, one characteristic feature of the novel is that it is not segmented into chapters. The story runs from the beginning of the first page where the plot starts, onward to the end, with occasional line dots, separating one segment of an event from the other, till the conclusion.

Furthermore, what makes the novel very interesting and engaging includes - the rib-cracking humour, high-voltage suspenseful intrigues and narrative stylistics, the author employs, in describing many events in the entire plot. This makes the reader laugh loudly at some points, from time to time. Specifically, the beauty of the story lies in the fact that the bad characters involved in nefarious activities get their retribution at last, as the fire of truth which cannot be quenched forever, exposes them.

Superintendent Kuru and Inspector Chike are sent to jail for aiding and abetting armed robbery. Father Raleigh is found dead in a bush close to the convent, as his killers might probably be among the school boys he has been sexually molesting. They have been writing him letters containing death threats, if he fails to stop molesting them. Hence, his adamant attitude to repent leads to his eventual death, when his body is found without his manhood.

Though multiple events in the storyline are well woven from the beginning to almost the end with easy flow and electric connectivity, the reader is jolted as the story unexpectedly ends with an “Open – plot.” The concluding part says Sister Martha is pregnant and visits a declared wanted quack medical doctor, in the person of Alhaji Adamu, for abortion. This puts the reader into a state of magical surprise that elicits questions, such as: who got her pregnant? Why did she go to a quack to conduct an abortion when she knows the person is a criminal wanted for causing the deaths of many innocent folks in Gom?

Given the above questions, the reviewer thinks that, as Census meets with misfortune at last, and returns to his village, Alhaji Adamu who caused the untimely death of Alhaji Gidado’s beautiful daughter, ought to also pay for his karmic debts. Otherwise, it gives the reader an impression that quack doctors and medical impostors like him (Alhaji Adamu), won't receive repercussions for their evil acts. On this note, it would be nice if the ‘open plot’ could be updated with additional narration about the raised questions, and how Adamu meets his punishment from God, as Alhaji Gidado envisages, in a revised edition of the novel.

The author’s diction is very simple to understand. This makes reading the novel very stress – free. One does not need to have a dictionary nearby to check the meanings of words, except for readers that are not familiar with the names and functions of some medical equipment mentioned in the book However, a few punctuation marks are omitted in some pages, and the misspelling of a word - “yards” as ‘years,’ at page 280, caught the reader’s attention in the text. These should be corrected before reprinting.

The author, Okediran is a professional medical doctor. At present, he is the Secretary of Pan African Writers Association (PAWA), with headquarters in Ghana. He is also the author of a very popular socio-political award-winning satirical novel, titled “Tenants of the House.”

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