The Boys at the Border is an inside look at what goes on behind the walls of the Nigerian Customs and Excise Department. The book answers the question of what it looks like to be a member of a select group who believe that illegality and corruption makes up the totality of a being. It also replaces justice with revenge. It is divided into fifteen chapters.
The author, Wale Okediran, born in 1955, wrote the book at a time when cocoa smuggling and greed and injustice was thriving in the country. He is a writer, medical doctor, politician and a former president of the Association of Nigerian Authors.
The book begins with the hideous death of Samuel Adigwe, a Customs’ officer and brother-in-law to the Director of the Nigerian Customs and Excise Department, Emeka Emodi. He is shot severally by a smuggler on the dreaded Western border, who works for a very powerful and notorious smuggler, Lati Baba.
In the first chapter, the author talks about how the director is summoned by the Head of State. He gives the director an ultimatum of three months to make the Western border of Nigeria pure and free of smugglers. This is to enable legal exportation of cocoa and other agricultural products that can generate income for the country’s economy.
Emeka meets his colleagues in the next chapter, and discusses the purpose of his meeting with the Head of State. The chapter tells us that a Senior Superintendent of Customs, Peter Ikoku, who is in charge of the zone where Samuel is killed, pays an unpleasant visit to Lati Baba and interrogates him over the murder of Samuel, which he denies being responsible for.
In chapter three, the murderer, Atere, unwillingly confesses his sin before Lati and his colleagues after a witch-doctor, Agadagidi, who is also present during the confession, warns that if the murderer does not own up to his crime, he will go mad within two days. Atere’s confession leaves the crowd amazed and mumbling, for he allowed greed to have a taste of him – beside the ten trucks of cocoa that the customs’ officers cleared the night of the murder, Atere follows behind with three other trucks unknown to Lati Baba, to be smuggled on the Western border. Also, he tells everyone the main reason why he shot Samuel – which I will rather leave for the reader to find out.
Emeka is summoned again by the Head of State in chapter four, to give an update of the activities going on at the border. On account of his report, which is less progressive, the Head of State speaks rudely to him, which causes Emeka to flare up. He accuses the army of participating in the smuggling activity and claims that the Nigerian Customs and Excise Department lacks sufficient man power to tackle the smuggling activities on the border. He goes to the extent of referring his colleagues – Alhaji Jibo, Mallam Hanayo, Alhaji Shamir and Mr. Adepeju – as witnesses to the allegations, but unfortunately for him, his witnesses failed him.
Ever since the hearing from the third meeting, where the other directors are summoned to testify, Emeka has been so pessimistic about the outcome of the meeting, especially after he is told by the Head of State to watch the news that night – “Mr Emodi, you will kindly go home and rest. An announcement would be made later tonight during the network news about all these”. And just as Emeka has been anticipating, in relation to the situation, Emeka is sacked, here in chapter five. This bad news leaves him with a stroke.
Also in chapter five, Peter Ikoku is almost killed. A dangerous object is placed beneath his pillow to kill him. This object is described as bloody and juju.
In Jabata, where the Nigerian and Benin border lies, more trucks arrive in a convoy accompanied by the smuggling kingpin, Lati Baba. Each carrying about two hundred bags of smuggled cocoa, which are going to be sold off to the Beninese.
On their way home, now back to Nigeria, the Customs’ officers, under the leadership of Peter, signaled the truck drivers to stop. Lati becomes surprised the moment he sets his eyes on Peter whom he thought will be dead by now. Peter confronts him about trying to kill him, but of course, Lati denies it. Peter orders his colleagues to arrest him, despite a bribe offer and then, threats by Lati not to arrest them. Peter is, however, shocked after Lati informs him that he will be out of jail soonest because Emeka is no longer the boss and a new director has taken over.
However, chapter six comes to an end after a surgery is performed on Emeka, who has been unconscious for days, to revive him.
After the arrest of Lati and his team, as well as the seizure of his trucks in chapter six, here in chapter seven, Lati haggles with the Controller of Customs, Oyo State, C.K Arobo, in Ibadan for a better auction of his seized trucks. However, this idea is initiated by Alhaji Jibo, the new Director of Customs, through Controller Arobo to have his own share of the loot. And eventually, Lati is released after the agreement.
Also in chapter seven, Emodi gets a cardiac arrest almost immediately after his surgery, but is saved by Professor Baki, the surgeon who performed the surgery on him. However, an unexpected and rather harsh letter is sent to Gladys from the office of the Director of Customs, to leave the official residence of the Director of Customs.
In the next chapter, Gladys courageously confronts Alhaji Jibo about the letter, while she assures him that she will not leave the house. She also makes plans with Peter to make Alhaji Jibo and Lati pay for their crimes.
Peter also receives a letter here in this chapter, congratulating him for ensuring the arrest of Lati and his team of smugglers. Instead of a pecuniary reward or a promotion, Peter gets a transfer. But he decides to resign rather than keep working in such a greedy and corrupt place. His resignation does not occur as a result of not been rewarded properly, but because the smuggling kingpin, Lati, is given back his freedom.
Chapter nine tells us about Gladys’ connivance with Alhaji Jibo’s secretary, Maria Fernandez. Maria agrees to help Gladys expose Alhaji Jibo’s misbehaviour by helping her to plant a mini tape recorder in his office. The action takes place following a vital information from Peter that Lati is going to meet the Director in his office that day.
Gladys successfully retrieves the tape after the meeting and makes Alhaji Jibo to listen to it. Then, she threatens to hand it over to the media if he fails to give her a certain amount of money. But she also duplicates the tape to two other copies. Alhaji Jibo has no choice but to agree. He, however, brings counterfeit money to her in exchange for the tape, and unknown to him, she has two duplicates of the tape. Similarly, she has no idea the money he brings is fake. She immediately sends one of the duplicates to Peter, who is now a reporter at Daily Press, a newspaper publishing firm.
Alhaji Jibo’s scandal is published on the front page of virtually all the newspapers in the country in chapter ten. But as dishonest as he is, he denies it despite the proof and accuses his colleagues of setting him up. Gladys, on the other hand, gets caught after she uses some of the fake money at a bar to pay for her drink and Peter’s in celebration of Jibo’s exposure. What happens after she gets caught, I will rather not spoil it for the reader.
Alhaji Jibo is found guilty in chapter eleven after an investigative body is set up by the Head of State to examine the situation. Alhaji Jibo eventually resigns.
In chapter twelve, the author reveals that Emeka’s health is progressing as he could now hear and talk. His wife makes him happy by breaking the news of Jibo’s scandal and resignation to him.
Then, she buys a whole hotel at Okeho to make Lati pay for his own crime.
In the next chapter, Gladys throws an opening party for her hotel. Before then, Latin has heard about the new place, so he brings his team to the party. After the wining and dining, he takes a girl, Ajo, which Gladys has planned with, to one of the rooms to make him fall asleep for a long time by dropping a sleeping pill in his drink.
Unfortunately, he gets protection from a ring Agadagidi gives him. He, then, reports the incident to Agadagidi, who tells him that someone is after his life and assures him that the person will fall sick and die within a week.
Emeka gets discharged in chapter fourteen, but in a wheel chair and with a pipe. The new director, Mallam Hanayo, who is way different form the former director, extends their stay in the official residence to six months. Gladys is not through with Lati yet. She gets someone to look after her husband while she returns to Okeho to complete her “unfinished business”.
This time, she hires an assassin to kill Lati. Latin comes back to the hotel and tells Gladys he wants to spend another night with Ajo, with the intention of finding out the person that wants his life. Ajo denies not knowing anything about the previous incident. And while they were making love, the hired assassin tries to stab Lati, but he missed him, and ends up getting killed by Lati after some tough struggle. The sight of the assassin’s bloody corpse leaves Ajo unconscious, which results to her admission in a hospital.
The Police gets involved but no one is allowed to see Ajo until she recovers her consciousness. However, Lati finds a way to meet Ajo through a nurse.
Lati compels Ajo to reveal who is trying to get him killed. She tells him, adding that, it is all because he is responsible for the death of her brother that Gladys is after his life. This revelation shocks Lati as he wonders which of the Customs’ officer killed in the past few months is Gladys’ brother. He goes back to the hotel and confronts Gladys. Initially, she tries to deny it, but seeing that he has got her, she opens up. Then, she gets scared. He confesses to her that he never killed her brother and tells her that the person who killed her brother is dead already. On realizing this, she begs for his forgiveness and judging from the kind of man Lati is, one will never believe that he will forgive her, but he forgives her. So easily.
Gladys is able to talk him out of his so-called profession into doing something worthwhile, which he agrees. And after so many suggestions, he tells her to sell her hotel to him since she wants to return to Lagos, which she also agrees after much thoughts.
The book comes to an end after the successful trade of the hotel between Gladys and Lati. And thereafter, Gladys returns home to her husband, Emeka.
Wale Okediran’s book is compelling. It addresses graft among Nigeria’s highest powers, all needing urgent attention and correction. It also seeks to ensure that justice triumphs. In chapter eleven, paragraph fourteen, the author discusses one of the cases of injustice in the book when Alhaji Jibo is persuaded to resign instead of being sacked or dismissed – the so-called Head of State himself says, “I say shut up, Jibo or I’ll dismiss you from the service. I’m not going to entertain anymore talk from you. I shall only wait for the next forty-eight hours for your letter and if it doesn’t come, then you shall be fired. Thank you”. The fact that the author is trying to reveal the kind of injustice going on in the country, especially at the federal level, is good. But it is not good enough because he didn’t specify solutions or penalties for such acts.
The author makes use of revenge as a way of seeking justice. I do not support this style because in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy. The author should have found a more acceptable way of fighting for justice for Emeka and Samuel. This will help in teaching the reader that revenge is not a right way of seeking justice, because in most cases, when someone is seeking vengeance, he/she ends up committing a crime. Gladys almost killed Lati. If she had succeeded, she would be no different from the real murderer of her brother. Nevertheless, someone still got killed – the hired assassin. But irrespective of all of these, it is difficult not to like the author with his unpretentious forgiving style. Lati surprisingly forgives Gladys for trying to kill him twice – “I forgive you”, he says (Chapter fifteen, para. 54).
“President” is the most serious misused word in the book. The author describes all the events in a military setting and in a military regime. A military ruler is acknowledged as Head of State and not President, which is used in a democratic setting.
To be definite, there are some printing errors in virtually all the chapters of the book, as well as punctuation errors. A typo, which is so recurrent in the book is ‘Now’, used in place of ‘No’ in chapter thirteen (Page 119, line 6), chapter eleven (page 99, line 16) and ‘Now now” in chapter twelve (page 103, line 13). Also in chapter thirteen (page 116, line 26 and 30), ‘taxi cab’ and ‘tax cab’ are erroneously used. It is either taxi or cab and not both used together. And in many situations where a comma is supposed to be used, it is not used at all. This can be found in page 34 – line 3, page 52 -line 29, page 55 – line 15. And in chapter ten (para.2, line 10) a word starts with a capital letter after a comma. Also in chapter 10 (para. 41, line 101), ‘hen’ is a word that implies a different meaning from its actual meaning in the context where it is used, but it is not quoted to represent what it means. Rather, it is left to look like the author is referring to the domestic fowl, hen.
I would like to say that the editing, including the cover, is very poor. The colour on the cover is too bright. Aside this, the cover photo is unappealing. The overview on the back cover is so unorganized and vague. And there is nothing about the author on the back cover. Though he has written other books, a little story about him would have been appreciated. In each of the chapters, the subsequent paragraphs after the first one, do not align with the first paragraph.
The printing quality is unexceptional; it has over-floating ink in some of the pages. For example, pages 54, 55, 57, 61, etc. While in other pages, the ink is dim, i.e. ink imbalance. These short-comings should be alleviated in the later editions.
I will, however, not recommend this book for academic purpose. Nevertheless, the book provides a valuable and absorbing window into the need for justice as it is what makes a government strong, and the need for a just livelihood.
BY WALE OKEDIRAN
Published By: Spectrum Books Limited, Nigeria.
Year of Publication: 1991
Length: 141 Pages
Reviewed By: Joy Mackson