HAPPINESS AS A SOCIAL CURRENCY IN ONYEKA NWELUE’S ISLAND OF HAPPINESS
In his new work ‘Island Of Happiness’ Onyeka has zoomed in on a crucial dark spot in the social reality of the millennial’s Nigeria. A millennial himself, who else could have had the critical effrontery engendered by social media to place a harsh mirror before the harsh eyes of a generation that heard American President Donald Trump refer to whole countries, their own included, as a ‘shithole’?The Island of Happiness is not just the Oguta of the story. It is every suburban centre within Africa’s wasted vision where prospects have effectively lapsed to non-productivity and political leadership has become a haunt of dead gods and heartless gold diggers, opportunists and yes men. Yes, the happiness is available in abundance but only if you are no longer a normal human being.The only place real happiness exists on the island is in the story title of course. For the characters in the story themselves the meaning of the word is a shape-shifting halo, an evanescent ideal. Education used to be the key. Not now, not here: not anymore. The characters are mostly educated with what the Federal Ministry of Education signs off as graduate certificates, some of it even acquired abroad where everything is supposed to come pristine and void of drama. But education has become the key that locks young products of the school factory down to their recycled and rehearsed destiny, year after year. Education has become a spider’s nest, filled with illusions of promise for the wandering fly but only hiding one certain reality. Instead of unlocking the proverbial windows of opportunity that elevated the old guards like Achebe and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka to podiums where they exchanged glory with gods education now merely mocks your prospects and laughs at your efforts. The certificate is no longer enough to cater for the sweat that produced it.
In the Island of Happiness not a lot of people had eyes wide open enough to see what is happening and what has happened. Why? Why bother to open your eyes and see unpleasant things when you can close them and escape to sensory pleasures? That is why.
The flip flop of destiny on the Island of Happiness has also created a brazen boldness, the kind of brazen boldness with which a drunk steps out into the swirling dark, loudly assuring voices of concern not to worry, home would be reached without trouble. A young man of dreams, fresh from Oxford and their valued brand of apex certification, would look his parents in the eyes and brazenly tell them he is a homosexual. Just a generation earlier such a thing would have been inconceivable. But this is a brazen generation that looks at the dark night of the future with its forlorn darkness and yet steps out, loudly assuring voices of concern that ambition and life achievements are just words. There is nothing to fear about them, absolutely nothing.
However, it is not as if fear of the future is cancelled on the island. It is there, driving the idleness and escapism mechanisms. But like the drunk’s fear it has just been dulled by something that exists outside its bothering concern, just beyond its sphere of influence. The fear can only return in rare moments of clarity, like the offer of a politically engineered largesse, usually in the form of a common token. The Island then reverberates with life, temporary and ebullient. Cowed aspirations vibrate with sudden energy. Minds throb with old and crooked enthusiasm.
In capturing the lost vision of a continent on his self-created island Professor Onyeka Nwelue is reminding us that the vision is still there. And whatever is lost can be retrieved, may be found again. Time does not eat dead dreams. It merely preserves them for reanimation. As the characters clash and bang through the story, building their tension and weaving their conflicts, it is this singular realization that makes their experience jump at you with vigour. The story is exciting. The message is timeless. Of everything it is possible for a generation to loose what is more important to find again than happiness?