"Season of Crimson Blossoms"

by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim Reviewed by: Olatoun Williams

Less conscious crafting of fine sentences; a rawer energy rather than the distancing of restrained prose, would have produced a novel of far greater power, but there is no doubt that Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, winner of the 2016 NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature, is a writer of promise. The protagonists, Hajiya Binta Zubairu and Hassan "Reza" Babale, are well-drawn characters and as the action unfolds with its curious stillness, I enjoyed some of the imagery Ibrahim evokes with his command of the English language.

The story is set in Jos, Plateau State, in the North- Central zone of Nigeria. As a social worker partnering with the City Ministries of ECWA/SIM on an educational project, I've visited Jos a few times but my focus was exclusively on my project and I came back from each of those overnight trips not knowing more than most south-west Nigerians about the city, the State or the zone.

Before 2001, Jos was recognized by domestic travellers as an oasis of cool evenings; an Eden of delicious fruit; a sanctuary of hills and great rocks which flank its roads and as the cradle of the life-sized terracotta produced by the Nok culture. And, though it is located right in the middle of the predominantly Hausa Muslim north and Christian animist south, as far as I can remember, the city of Jos was known for peace.

If I'm right that it was, the riots that erupted on 7th September 2001, and which were sustained in fits and starts through 2010, wiped the welcome smile off our image of the city's face. In the first decade of the new millennium, over 10,000 people are reported to have died in riots in Jos and tens

of thousands have been displaced from their homes. So now when we think of Jos, we think of news reports about religious strife and land rights of settler Hausas versus those of the indigenous Beroms; about allocation of resources and vote rigging in electoral competition. What is - unsurprisingly - not broadcast are the politicians widely believed to be the minds behind the pandemonium and the bloodshed which beset local elections, exploiting ethnicity and religious differences; ruthlessly exploiting poverty and the hordes of youth alienated by it, to advance political ambitions rooted in economic greed.

As I read Ibrahim's book, what did I see? A five or six part television drama exploring, through the lens of one family, the legacies of culture and "ethno-religious war". The Zubairus are nice people, genteel, lower-middle-class Muslims; fairly devout. But sectarian violence has cut short a marriage in which Hajiya Binta, family matriarch, was denied romantic and maternal fulfilment: conditions culturally proscribed and which seed hunger in her body and in her soul. "Season of Crimson Blossoms" is the story of her awakening, the oedipal complex at its heart, and its tragic fruition. Intersecting her narrative is the account of her niece, Fa'iza Amin, orphan of the same war erupting at a later stage. Fa'iza finds more than a refuge in her aunt's home, she finds love, and the perfect environment for her teenager's playbook. But memories of the 2010 riots - the madness and all that hate - trouble her mind and her eyes with images. At night, she knows no peace.

But the murderous hordes that break through her sleep could have come out of any of Africa's conflicts. The unremitting noise of breaking glass; the fear, the shouting, the anger, the protesting, the screams. The terrified silence of victims. The cacophony of senseless destruction, the silence of the dead. This could be South Sudan today with Dinkas and Nuers fighting to a reported loss of over 10,000 lives. This could be Sudan, the mother country, which witnessed the Janjaweed of the Arabised North and the Christians of the South lock in a 22-year civil war over natural resources. The result: a mind-numbing 2 million dead; one of the world's highest death tolls since the 2nd World War. We could be in the killing fields of Rwanda in 1994 where the planned genocide by the Bantu Hutus, of the Cushitic Tutsi, almost destroyed that country, costing it a staggering 900,000 lives. Across the chasm of time and geography, machetes, guns, explosives wielded by men, women and children in doppelganger crimes against the humanity of the "other" - seas of "other" men, women and children. And always there are the government politicians issuing via radio broadcasts orders to "kill the cockroaches", or else they are lurking in the shadows, pulling the strings of armies of youths who don't know what they are fighting for and who are too poor and too directionless to care. In "Season of Crimson Blossoms", a work of fiction representing this second group of politicians who wage guerrilla wars against their own people, is Senator Buba Maikudi. He speaks softly, in a coded language defined by sinister jokes, innuendo and ellipsis, telepathically understood by the police chiefs and the legion thugs of the underworld who do his bidding.

In the wake of the 2001 riots, sexual hunger and the tyranny of unmet needs foment rebellion in the body of Season's war widow, Hajiya Binta Zubairu. Hassan "Reza" Babale is the author's compelling representation of the alienated youth of Jos and its environs, in whose bellies the legacy of war generates an appetite for more.

And so the real killings go on. In 2014, 118 people were massacred by two bombs which exploded in the city. The atrocity was attributed to an unwieldy group of Islamist extremists with headquarters in Maiduguri, Borno State, 593-kilometres from Jos in the North-Central zone. This terror group, known as Boko Haram, is reputed to have risen out of the ashes of Jos 2001.

Season of Crimson Blossoms