The immediate past president of Nigeria is about to learn a completely new lesson with the publication of his My Transition Hour. ‘The death of the author’ thesis is that lesson. It could be a risky venture to dare argue that the former president of Nigeria is not the author of the book he has just publicly presented. Yet, that is exactly what some literary theorists have said since in their notion of the ‘death of the author’. What went into the writing of any one book, poem, essay or letter, says the theorists, are too much to be credited any single person by the name of the author. A book is a compendium of views and among which an accommodation was negotiated to arrive at what a particular book is. So, ‘the death of the author’ is a polite way of saying a text is beyond a single voice. Instead of such a single, privileged voice, it is actually readers who would end up as the authors because, in the view of the theorists, reading and meaning making is a dialogic process, a conversation between a book and the readers. What comes out of that conversation could be a completely different sense of a book from what an author could have ever thought of.
The successful or powerful writer is then the one whose voice turns out to coincide with the preferred interpretation of his or her work by majority of the readers. Woe betides the writer whose voice in a text does not emerge hegemonic or consensual. In such instances, knowledge amounts to powerlessness as opposed to when knowledge means power when the authorial voice is also the consensus of the different readership. In other words, writing a book or a poem or a letter or an academic essay could thus turn out a very dangerous venture just as it could be an investment in power. The great variable here is that meaning is not static. A book whose authorial voice lost out yesterday could re-emerge with the authorial voice as the voice of the hero tomorrow. So, no book has a once and for all meaning.
Dr Jonathan must be coming to grips with this theory slowly since the public presentation of the book last Tuesday. Mohammed Bello Adoke, his Minister for Justice as well as Kashim Shettima, the intellectually endowed but embattled governor of Borno State, are the earliest readers of Jonathan’s narrative who have disagreed with it. The Borno State governor has challenged the former president for lacking in the ability to turn on himself. As such, the former president ends up blaming everyone else but himself, says Shettima. He blames Obama, the Independent Electoral Commission, (INEC), those he calls ambitious governors as well as aides. Should there be no section of the book where the former president reflected on the disenchantment with the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) at that time, the representation of the level of corruption at the time, the successful construction of the president himself as an effete or a clueless lager, then the Borno governor’s view could emerge hegemonic. This is just an example of how readers could end up writing a book rather than the author. The author – reader dialogue in My Transition Hour is just about to begin, with the electronic version now being circulated massively against Dr. Jonathan’s wish.
Whatever the outcome of the encounter, GEJ – the acronym of the former president, will not be a loser in writing his transition hours. His book represents a dimension of the rancorous conversation among Nigerians on the subject matter of Nigeria through a contextual narrative of leadership, power and governance. Fortunately and unfortunately, context is never an objective thing but the meaning of that whole experience for the writer. No matter how casual one leafs through the electronic version, there is no missing the effort to write Goodluck Jonathan as his own man, as someone with clarity about the imperative for peace, order and stability and, above all, one with capacity for reading the nation’s temperature and doing what was necessary at a most critical moment to bring down the temperature. So, this book presents a counter-narrative of GEJ, the alternative image of him as the most jolly, jolly occupant of Nigeria’s seat of power. The jury still has a job to deliver on GEJ in Nigerian politics, although GEJ has a solid foundation to his credit already in the very symbolic action of conceding defeat which, as time goes on, is overwriting much of his perceived failures in leadership.
It is against the foregoing that it remains a little puzzle that President Muhammadu Buhari absented himself from the public presentation of the book on November 19th, 2018. Imagine the president on the front row, being picked on national television stealing a snappy conversation to his right or left or being caught on camera in a molar-to-molar moment with one sworn ‘enemy’ of his or another. Imagine by how much the national temperature will climb down were the president there, with speakers having to tone down on what would have been rude to say if the incumbent president were seated. It could have been a repeat performance of when former President Shagari bestowed a national award on the late Chief Awolowo in the Second Republic. Alas, President Buhari was nowhere to be seen at an occasion that had nearly all shades of the elite. As someone who reads the world in terms of good versus bad without the in-between-ness that matters most, he probably read the book presentation as nothing other than a gathering of bad guys and decided to stay away even as he had no problems heaping praises on GEJ. But it is symbolic actions that make the world hang together, not reality because reality itself is constructed!
My Transition Hours is an inviting read, even if just the conceptual battles the author launched in the Prologue and continued throughout, suggesting that GEJ feels hurt and barely managed to do his duty to Nigeria by conceding defeat without forgetting that feeling. As readers take – over from the author, we see what sense of the book will prevail in the end!