Author: Eghosa Imasuen
Year of publication: 2011
Number of pages: 350
Fine Boys, published by Farafina, is the second book from Nigerian writer Eghosa Imasuen. His first book was called To Saint Patrick. His new offering tells the tale of Ewaen a medical student at the University of Benin. He grew up in a well to do family in Warri with his father, mother and younger twin siblings a girl and a guy.
It follows his wait to go to college and then through three years at the educational institution. He joins college and there he has to navigate many things that students had to go through in the 1990s. The system is broken and has too many people and he and his roommates have to somehow become doctors often without power, expensive food as they “ate” book.
They also had to navigate through something unique in the Nigerian university system; campus gangs or “confras.” Being a boy in school meant that the gangs with colourful names like Fine Boys, would try to recruit you to their cause. The gang would give you protection from other gangs and for this safety you would pay with loyalty and have to do the bidding of those above you in the organization.
Ewaen went to college with his childhood pal Wilheim and they vow never to join the “confras” when they go to college. Only Ewaen keeps his word. Eventually all hell breaks loose and people die. And the way it looks, it’s not the author just killing folks for the fun of it; this was a clear and present danger for those who went to this part of the world to be a university student.
This is a very good book. The things that the Nigerian students were going through were the same things that the Kenyans were going through in the 1990s. University would closed when the administration was unhappy with anything that happened.
The one thing that this book succeeds in making stop hating pidgin with every fibre of my being. I encounter it a bit when you see the odd Nollywood movie with a colourful name like Poor Man Marries Kings Daughter, Akpo Goes to Apple Bees or Minister’s Second Wife’s Concubine. The thing with it is that the pidgin does my head in and I am always grateful for the subtitles when they are available. So you can imagine me reading the pidgin as it is spoken in that great country without subtitles. I was forced to get with the program as there was enough of it with the students chatting. Now I hate pidgin nominally less and I have to thank the author for this.
Then there was a portrayal of student life in a public university that could only be properly be described by someone who has gone through it. You can’t really make it up. The lecturers strikes, the student leaders being bribed by politicians, classes with huge numbers, having to bribe lecturers by buying their academic work, the rising cost of food and other needed commodities like booze. This is an experience that anyone who either went to public university in the last decade of the 20th century or someone who had to deal with them regularly was privy to. Ewaen was from a well off family but he had to wade through this stressful time poor dear.
The turbulent 1990s are also well depicted by our author; the politics of the land how the students come into it.
It’s not just the pain that is so well portrayed so well. It’s the lifelong friendships that are forged in this important time in the lives of the students.