by Victor Ehikhamenor
Publisher: Parresia Books
Release Date: November 2012
Genre: Non-Fiction; Essays
Find It: Jumia
Excuse Me is a compilation of Victor Ehikhamenor’s thoughts, experiences and keen observations while he was the pioneer creative director of Next newspaper. Most of this beautifully strung together collection of creative nonfiction were first birthed on the pages of the Lagos based newspaper, Next Daily, Next On Sunday and 234NEXT.com between 2009 – 2011. Majority of the content were informed by actual socio-political events that took place within that period of time, plus more.
As a regularly widely read columnist and a member of a dynamic group of forward thinking and high achieving individuals, NEXT newspapers provided a new platform for the writer and artist to examine Nigerians and Nigeria at a close range.
A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to pick one book from the Parresia Book stables as a gift and I chose this book. Why? I had no idea who the author was, I only recently started researching authors before reading a new book as prescribed by Zaynab Quadri (@zaynabtyty), there was no real hint of the subject in the blurb and if it had to be nonfiction, there was a number to choose from. I chose this book because every reference to it lauded it as the most hilarious experience ever and I needed some hilarity in my life.
Now, this book is many things but “funny” it is not. The real haha moments make up less than 30% of the collection, and the euphoria lasts only a few seconds. I could not bring myself to laugh as I read this book. Seriously, if you find yourself cackling at these essays then you’re either a) Not Nigerian, b) A shameless Nigerian.
Most of the essays in this book were published during the Yar’adua administration up to the 2011 elections. So, for someone like me whose nose was buried in the sand during this period (I was in boarding school but that’s no excuse for my ignorance), this book is an education in Nigerian political history. Although reading this book was a “Back to School” moment for me, it isn’t laid out like a tome. On the contrary, Victor Ehikhamenor uses personal stories, satire, poetry and art to serve scathing criticism on the government of the day. It’s disheartening when you realise nothing has changed and this “new” administration is just a clone of the last and we still haven’t figured out a way to shake off the leeches within our system.
Grouped into 5 parts, the essays cover everything from Victor Ehikhamenor’s experiences as a village boy, reminisces on the art of writing love letters ( which make me wonder just how old the author is), to his ordeal at the hands of Lagos robbers and a really sweet homage to the loss of his “love”, a laptop named Elizabeth.
While I couldn’t bring myself to laugh at most of the essays in this book, “My Mother The Information Management Czar” is the height of hilarity in this collection. In this essay, the author shares his mum’s behaviour and information management” training technique. A regimen that includes learning to read body language in public, and getting served “Guantanamo Bay” slaps when you forgot your training. I believe anyone who grew up in Nigeria is familiar with some variation of this regimen. This story is used to discuss the exposure of Uncle Jona’s running mouth by WikiLeaks. Now, this is one of the subjects I had to google since I had no idea Nigeria had even made it to Wikileaks.
This book also features reproductions of Ehikhamenor’s art. I won’t even pretend I know how to interpret art, the few that made sense to me basically came with subtitles.
Most of the material is dated, but the intelligence and charm of Victor Ehikhamenor’s writing can’t be denied.
This is the second essay collection by a 234NEXT alum ( see Longthroat Memoirs) I have read this year and I keep asking myself how I never heard about this publication and how it could have gone out of business considering the calibre of talent associated with it. I am really curious about this. Anyone with a clue?
Fun Fact: Adaobi Tricia Nwanbani, I do not come to you by chance, was an intern at NEXT when Mr Ehikhamenor was indulging his artistic side during editorial meetings.