Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I Do Not Come To You By Chance Review

I finally read my copy of ‘I do not come to you by chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. Wonder why it took me so long!!

I was so caught up in the plot that I didn’t want to get to the end, yet I was very curious to know the fate of the protagonists.
Adaobi sure told a damn good yarn.
I laughed, I cringed, I sighed. The background was an environment I knew intimately having grown up in Aba. The Mbamalu family were my neighbours, my cousins. Cash Daddy? We knew a few.

I loved the intimate views Ms Nwaubani gave us of the inner workings and flamboyant lives of 419 kingpins in the 90s. I don’t think they live like that anymore thanks to EFCC and international crime collaborations.
Who thinks like me that 419 kingpins have been replaced by politicians? And I doubt that for some, if not most, their intimate lives differ much.

Gotta say that the image of Cash Daddy sat atop the loo doing the doo, while his assistants and lackeys stand outside the open toilet door, taking notes, inhaling that air, listening to those boborygmic noises without cracking a grimace is one that will stick with me for a very looong time. Smh!!

It may have seemed like Adaobi Nwaubani painted an overly sympathetic view of a fraudster. I mean the way it happened with Kingsley, the poverty and urgency of events made it all plausible. However isn’t that how things happen sometimes? Especially with health when you are thinking life or death. School fees, Child birth, a Death, Hunger. (think prostitution. Think theft)

‘There go I but for his grace” John Bradford.

Kingsley could have easily been my brother if circumstances were different. In the 90s, his best friends (2 cousins) lived with an Uncle in Aba who was involved in 419. My brother used to come back with tales of Ghana-must-go bags filled with forex idling on passageways.
I was so worried for my brother that my prayers intensified over him. Confession – to think my 16yr old self used to fancy one of the cousins (the taller darker one lol) yet I knew I didn’t want my brother involved with them.
I used to scrutinize my brother’s behavior/wardrobe/activities – was he spending more money than usual, buying more clothes, has he stopped borrowing money from me lol – to gauge his involvement with them. Nay, he remained the same brokeass brother I had always known.
My parents weren’t as worried (they didn’t know). We knew their scathing opinion of people who were involved in such fraudulent activities, waxing lyrical about ‘how a good name was better than gold’.
But I remember when the son of a close family friend gburu ozu (hit it, struck gold, don’t ask me joo) and within 3 months bought new cars for his parents, renovated their home in the village, bought a townhouse for the family and generally turned the family’s fortunes around. My parents are human. I am human. I looked at my dad’s red 504 Peugeot car which he had bought 3 years before I was born and wondered if it would have been so bad if my brother had ‘worked’ with his friends for at least 6 months then smartly retired with his loot.

“There go I but for His Grace”.

There are four other personal commentaries I’d like to make on Tricia Nwaubani’s book:

1. The imagery Tricia painted of the Nigerian society albeit a microcosm (Umuahia/Aba), was it much different from Tim Newman’s? Or was it cause it was a novel so we decided to treat it as fiction or maybe cause it was written by a daughter of the soil we had less objection.
It also made me think of the strong role poverty has to play in the morality of a society.
How can you expect the family, community who have genuinely obtained help in their time of need from these ‘familial fraudsters’ ever have the heart to turn against them? Despite Kingsley’s mother’s rejection of 419, do you think she could ever condemn Cash Daddy publicly after he came to her late husband’s aid? I doubt it. So to Tim Newman, sometimes there lies your answer when you ask why the fraudulent Officer/politician/peer isn’t roundly condemned. You can’t point one finger without the rest 4 pointing back at you.

2. I remember the furore over Ms Nwaubani’s article about helps in Nigeria. Having read her book which was published at least 2 years before that article, I wonder now why there was surprise. Did we not observe that the helps in “I do not come to you by chance” were regarded as subs? There was even a reference to “one’s feral smell” which had irked most readers in her article – yet they were there in her book. Take a look at Cash Daddy who by right was actually a stepbrother to Augustina. Yet he was treated as badly. He was there at their benevolence. An opportunity he was expected to be grateful.  
I have seen similar attitude often in real life.

3. This book has made me further ambivalent about 419 victims with the EXCEPTION of victims of confidence tricksters - those who believed in a ‘reasonably genuine offer’ and were defrauded with the tiny print (oyibo type 419) and Single/lonely/old/young men and women whose hearts were preyed on.
But for the rest, those who fall for ‘barely legal deals’ cause they can see the chance of making 300% profit for doing nothing at all, I wonder if I should feel sympathy for them? “A fool and his money are soon parted innit?”. Shrug.
***This does not mean that I don’t believe 419ers deserve punishment. They definitely do. For their predatory behavior, the chicanery and forgery they promote and just for their sheer nuisance value. If I got a pound for every scam mail that comes to my mailbox I will be Croesus.

4. I am ashamed to confess that I marvelled at Merit’s rejection of Kingsley when she found out he was a fraudster. I found myself batting for his side and thinking she was too tough. I hoped she will forgive and reconsider cause he really had a ‘good heart’ - inspite of his cruel 419 activities.
I lay the blame at Tricia’s door for that temporary lapse in judgment. She manipulated my brain joo.

The twist at the end was definitely unexpected! Left me chuckling and thinking that indeed ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same’.
Aluta Continua!
I applaud Tricia Nwaubani’s talent as a writer especially her ability to create characters who were truly multidimensional. They were very human (kind/wicked/selfish/loving) in their struggles. I admired, loved and hated Kingsley, Cash Daddy, Augustina, Ola, Merit in equal parts at frequent intervals.
Contrast this with Nollywood’s one dimensional characters and you’ll understand what I mean. 

I look forward to reading more from you Ms Nwaubani. Pls, don’t be a one hit wonder!!

While reading some reviews about the book, I noticed many Oyibos critic its grammar or should I say patois. Abegi, Nigerian English has come to stay. Get over yourselves.

Next on my reading list – Sue Townsend’s Queen and I or Chimmy’s Americanah?

minnie minnie mannie more…



  1. Her book was one of my 'must reads' early this year....I loved it! I think she's a really good writer. You should read Baba Segi's wives next.

    1. Stelzz, its been a while!!
      Ms Nwaubani told a great story.
      I have read Baba Segi's wives and reviewed it here. Certainly another of my favourite books.

  2. Apart from them Chinua Achebe and Soyinka, "I do not come to you by chance' was one of the reasons I began taking Nigerian writers seriously again. The book was mehnnnnnn!!!! She is a fabulous writer...I like

    You may want to read El-Nukoya's "Nine Lives"...very profound work he did there.

    Then Chimamanda's 'Americanah'

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  4. I love the book. It was a very very enjoyable read and enlightening too.

    She is an amazing writer. And yes, Nigerian English has come to stay...I was quite surprised at its bold usage in the book though.

    This is a nice review.

  5. Should read this. Good reviews Gings.

  6. Americanah recommended. I love it. Real life experiences. Chimamanda on point as usual.

  7. Great review you have here, reminded me of why I really loved this book. Decided not to buy Americanah, still on the waiting list at my local library.

  8. I so love the book. I read it sometime last year and reviewed for Sentinel Nigeria Magazine here:

    Nwaubani is a fine writer. :)

  9. Biko where do you get these books from? I'm so stale on reading, just picked up Americanah last week, had mixed feelings about it. I just ordered this one, sounds interesting. Naija writers are on fire sha. Excellent blog!

  10. I really had a great time with your post! I am looking forward to read more blog buy essay post regarding this! Well written!



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