Killing Them Softly by Martin Agbonlahor, a UK-based Nigerian lawyer and journalist, is not just a seminal book onwomen’s rights in Nigeria but also an, exploration into cultural anomiearising from injustice against women.
The 28-chapterbook is devoted to Martha Clifford’s challenges and how she breaks the glass ceiling. She is not just the conscience of her society but a voice for the oppressed women and others in Africa.
Agbonlahor takes his readers through the cultural practices and beliefs of his Benin background, giving them opportunity to have a look at the destruction of the female genitalia. He x-rays, in a polaroidic manner, happenings in the country, where poor leadership has given root to injustice, abuse of human rights, bribery and corruption, religious intolerance and all sorts of social vices and economic woes. It is also reflection on other Africa countries where such ‘mis-governance’ is elevated to art.
Agbonlahor, from the prologue, leaves no one in doubt as to what he has set out to achieve in the work: To end every system that subjugates the female specie and tramples on their rights, while pigeonholing them as second class, if not third class citizens, who are only fit for baby making.
Although not a feminist, he is, however, a female supporter or mascu-feminine suppprter, who for obvious reasons, uses his poetic license to weave a story that is objectifying. And so, at every point in the novel, whileunveiling happenings across the socio-cultural, economic, religious and political milieu, he highlights women’s travails.
Martha is the eye of the camera through which all actions are seen. She is raised in a polygamous home, where her father calls the shot and turns his wives and children to mere furniture, as none of them has any say in the running of the home or dare go against his autocratic decree. Growing up, she agonises over these unaccepted ways of life and whenever she raises questions, she is silenced by her father and mother as well as others around her, who have accepted the oppressive and degrading cultural practices, to simply do as she is told and not go against societal injunctions as the consequences are grievous.
Her fate is defined from the first day of her life. And this, she knows too well, as she lives in perpetual fear of being denied education and given out early in marriage. Perhaps, her first practical experience of the brutality of the skewed cultural practice is the mutilation of her genital at a very tender age by her parents. This single experience is like a wake-up call to the realityof a girl-child growing up in a patriarchal society.
But somehow, fate smiles on her, because at the point of being given out in marriage, her prospective husband, who happens to be a creditor to her father, and the manager of the pool betting outfit in her community, brings the good news of her father becoming an instant millionaire. However, before handling the winning cheque, he succeeds in eliciting a promise from Martha’s father to educate her.
Despite her fight, she is not able to reach the top of her desire due to the cultural beliefs and endemic corrupt practices in her country. She voices out her frustration on pages 314/315 thus:‘‘Our country, Nigeria, has deep-seated, stone-age, anti-feminine culture coupled with her two main religious, Christianity and Islam, as well as the unofficial ‘traditional religion.’ All of these place the woman in an inferior position, their adherents quoting verses and spitting venom in support of the debasement, our slavish existence.
‘‘Therefore, so long as there are still these stark inequalities, there will always be toes to be stepped on, and we shall courageously continue to step, and in fact, thump on them, until these toes develop gangrene or feminine rights are respected in Nigeria.’’
Agbonlahor will surely earn the recommendation of anyone reading the 318 pages novel for telling his story from the stand point of a feminist. He succeeds in sustaining interest in his novel, a ‘faction’ by choosing to adopt the story telling technique rather than use mere polemics and socio-jingoism employed by many of the feminists or promoters of feminism.
Reflecting on the road destiny has taken her through, she says of the transformation of her life from a local village girl to an internationally recognised feminist and human rights crusader,sheexpressesprofound joy and is hopeful of early change.
This is a book every Nigerian, especially the women and human rights activists should read to understand properly the plight of women and the oppressed and seek to banish it through concerted efforts as Martha Clifford and her team seek to, drawing many followers to their fold in the process.