Brendon Nicholls and his reading of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s “Sozaboy”

Dr. Brendon Nicholls, lecturer in African and Postcolonial literatures at the University of Leeds
Brendon Nicholls, lecturer in African and Postcolonial literatures at the University of Leeds

Finding Africa considers itself fortunate to have had its first seminar inaugurated by Brendon Nicholls and his insightful new reading of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Sozaboy. In bringing together a consideration of environment, psyche and objects, Nicholls was able to argue for the existence, in the text, of an embedded environmental consciousness. The significance of his reading is twofold in its relation to Ken Saro-Wiwa as an activist and figure of resistance, and in respect to Kleinian Object Relations and their applicability to postcolonial African texts.

On the 10 of November 1995 Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged by his government along with eight other members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). Sara-Wiwa’s activism had at its heart a concern for his Ogoni people, which in turn led him to lead a protest against the environmental damage to Ogoni lands carried out by the Shell oil company. In what has been considered a landmark victory against global exploitation, Saro-Wiwa’s campaign successfully managed to kick Shell out of the Ogoni region in 1993. The circumstances of Saro-Wiwa’s execution two years later have left little doubt regarding the government’s complicity with corporate exploitation and the price one pays for taking a stand against it.

Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English, was published in 1985 five years prior to Saro-Wiwa’s intensified activism. Set during the Biafran civil war the novel limits itself to the consciousness and rotten english of its protagonist, Mene, as he experiences the trauma and horrors of life as soldier. Typically read as an indictment against war what has remained conspicuous in its absence from the text is its relation to the politics of oil production. Nicholls’s reading was able to reveal how the text points outside of its limited narration to the insidious influence of oil production in many of the events described and mentioned throughout the course of the novel. Indeed, Nicholls proceeds to illustrate how the psychopathy of the protagonist, symptomatic of the lawlessness and lack of structure in the state, mirrors that of the oil company’s amoral profiteering from the circumstance of war. By “contouring the dimension of the unsaid” in Sozaboy, Nicholls is able to unveil the stakes of oil procurement that lie behind Mene’s tortured existence.

The role of psychoanalysis in the form of Freudian libido theory that Nicholls brings to this reading is itself a part of his larger project yet to be published as: Africas of the Mind: Environmental Psychoanalysis and Black Spirit Vernaculars. Judging from the reading of Sozaboy that Nicholls presented to us, we at Finding Africa are eagerly awaiting the final publication.

Review by Gregory Carter 

Photographs by Imke van Heerden   



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