Interfacing facts and fallacies in Mammah’s Nanna’s Diary








Reconstruction of historical events is not incongruent with prose fiction. Yet, we have not seen much of this genre that is rooted in history.  This paper examines the relationship between history and literature, particularly as a template in Nanna’s Diary by Richard Mammah. No doubt, history is antithetical to fiction or fallacy. The difference between literature and an historical event lie in the writer’s creative ingenuity. In addition, and unlike history, literature is not limited by time. It suffices to say that the creative ingenuity of the writer determines the aesthetics in his work. It is in the light of this that Richard Mammah’s Nanna’s Diary, an imaginative insight into the life and times of Chief Nanna Olomu (1834-1916) is in focus! The novel rests on the tripods of history, philosophy and literature to tell a story of the Nanna /British war of 1884. From a historical point of view, the cause of the war was attributed to the desire of the British imperialists to break trade barriers imposed by Chief Nanna Olomu. The trade restrictions in the reckoning of the British, was antagonistic to the industrial revolution which had begun blowing across the central Europe of the 17th Century.


On a second leg, the novel recounts the pillage and plunder of Ebrohimi by the British, the kangaroo trial of the protagonist at Calabar and his eventual exile in faraway Gold Coast. The protagonist suffers monumental losses in possessions and in personality. Rather than bottle up his grievances, we see a philosophical rebrand. Nanna opts to ease out his pains of alienation and humiliation by documenting his execrable experiences at the hands of the British imperialists. The literary approaches adopted here are both historical and sociological. The historical approach accounts for the playwright’s adaptation of historical events in the creation process. The aesthetic is the artistic truth, which is a variation of the historical truth, while the inclination to a sociological framework is derived from certain human phenomena of deception, weakness, covetousness and betrayal which threads through the entire narrative. The book itself is a fictional memoir which other than being an historical novel leaves no one in doubt as to its true classification in spite of the profuse use of the first person narration ‘I’, all through the entire story. It will however be fatal to classify Nanna’s Diary as an autobiography on account of this. Not even with recourse to the deliberate mention of precise dates and places by the novelist.  However, the fact remains that in the autobiographical mode, the experience is almost synonymous with that of the novelist. This is however not so in Mammah’s Nanna’s Diary where we see the novelist who is also a moderator, unabashedly and intermittently appearing to determine what shape and form the narration takes.


Key words: Historical novel, adaption, artistic truth, historical truth, aesthetics.





A book is not to be judged by its cover. Incidentally, the cover page of Nanna’s Diary by Richard Mammah as the name connotes, almost gave it away as a refurbished piece of antiquity. Rather than the fiction which it is, one is tempered to perceive the entire work as a massive archive, probably stumbled upon by some curious historiographers. From elementary  history books, the likes of Chief Nanna Olomu, King Jaja of Opobo, Oba Ovonramwen of the ancient Benin Empire and Queen Amina of Zaria all belong to the domain of history. Therefore, beholding a book with any of these titles would other than nothing, point to the direction of history.


Pertinent, and more importantly, reading the work as a mere memoir of a demised Nanna Olomu might rob it of its creative value, considering the ingenuity and artistic prowess of the author in reconstructing historical events that capture the life and times of Chief Nanna Olomu (1852-1916) so much that readers are caught in between the antithesis of historical and artistic truths.


It’s historically true that Chief Nanna Olomu once ruled over the Benin River as Governor, and in the course of his reign he had problems with the British imperialists who wanted unfettered access to the hinterland to guarantee uninterrupted supply of palm oil. The disagreement snowballed into a full blown war known in history as the Nanna /British war or Ebrohimi war of 1894.  The aesthetic value of the work can be much more realized only if readers see the protagonist as a creation of the author out of the ashes of history.



No doubt, the narrative is an insight into the brave exploits of Chief Nanna Olomu during the Ebrohimi war of 1894, his kangaroo trial at Calabar, and the psychological strains which the protagonist suffers in exile in the Gold Coast, now The Republic of Ghana. In the book, the first two experiences are captured in coarse and traumatizing nostalgia. However, the latter, which incidentally is the focus of the narrative, goes on to encapsulate the psychological trauma the protagonist suffers in the Gold Coast as a result of being alienated from his home, his people and his trade.


In the history version, as well as the imaginative account of the novelist, Chief Nanna suffers prodigious economic loss on account of being taken away from his business in the Benin River. We must note also that the cause of the Ebrohimi war was the weird moves by the British imperialists to eliminate the position of a middleman from the palm oil business in the Benin River. The activities of middlemen were considered too dangerous for the industrial revolution blowing across central Europe at that time.


It’s not absolute though as the novelist has however doused  the  suspicion  over whether  the work is imaginatively competent to fall under the genre of a prose fiction even with all its’ historicity, accuracy of places, precision of events, dates  and matter of fact narrative. Mammah insists that his work ‘is a fictional peep into the workings’ of Nanna’s mind while the Ebrohimi war lasted.


If we must take the author by his confession, the question remains, how imaginative is Nanna’s Diary? Would one have done justice to aesthetics, and in the same token remain fair to Mammah by classifying his narrative as a mere historical account? One thing is however clear, Nanna’s Diary is a bold  attempt at engaging historical events to explain certain anomalies in our immediate milieu, while presenting a template to get society back on its feet. In all of these, history is crucial!


Instructively, there is a thin line between history and literature. Historical novels have been defined as novels with their setting buried in a far flung past. The intent is to convey the spirit, manner and social condition of a past age. In this regard, historical incidence can be recreated or reconstructed through the imaginative prowess of a writer. The bottom line, therefore, lies in the imagination of the artist in interrogating the factual account of an historian


The intercourse between history and fiction can be dated back to the 18th Century when it was perceived that history on itself, was too dreary, too boring and unnecessarily too lengthy.  Carlos Mata Indurian (2009) posits thus:

The historical novel, situated between history and literature, can narrate   and explain events with greater vivacity and emotion, without the seriousness    of the purely historical account, it can revive the past, instil this material        with new life, or penetrate the main characters of a period or a society, in short, reach the very heart of their being. There is no incompatibility between history and literature: history supposes rigour, faithfulness, exactitude, whereas the novel provides fantasy and imagination, in a nutshell, literary fiction. Not only does the presence of historical elements in a literary work not destroy it as such, but rather can make a powerful contribution to embellishing and enriching it.


It is not less when M.H. Abrams affirms that” historical novel not only takes its setting and some characters and events from history, but makes the historical events and issues crucial for the central characters and the course of the narrative” ,(1981). From the above therefore, one may state that what makes a novel historical are content, subject matter, and of course, the plot of the work.


HsuMing Teo (2011) is of the view that history and fiction have become increasingly entangled and the problematic relationship between both is made public by novelists, literary critics, historians, historiographers and philosophers of history. The critic further explains that “history novel explains how the boundary between fact and fiction are illuminated.”


Julius Adeoye (2013:78) has opined that we have more of historical adaption in drama than we have in prose fiction. And there is no disputing the above claim particularly, among African writers. The reason for this may be because history is both noble and pristine, and one of the genres of literature which has the capacity to portray such attributes without necessarily devaluing them is the imaginative imitation of actions.


Basically, adapting history as a tapestry for creating a work of art, to a large extent serves as a prism through which the present can be fruitfully apprehended.  Also, it’s instructive to note that the ingenuity of a creative writer or author enables society to keep touch with historical past while in the present. Emmy Idegu (2009:60) believes that Africans can promote and sustain African history by recreating past events.


By the same stretch, Femi Shaka advances some reasons why creative writers “have, at one time or the other, resorted to history in their creative endeavour”. Foremost among these reasons is that history avails creative writers the opportunity to interrogate contemporary issues. The critic also states that the whole idea of taking a voyage into history portrays and affirms certain aspect of our culture and history which have been misconstrued in the past.  Several efforts abound, even though we have more historical dramas than we have in fiction. The Trial of Ovonramwen by Ahmed Yerima, Moremi by Femi Osofisan, Inipki by Emmy Idegu, The King Must Dance Naked by Fred Agbeyegbe, Crucible by Arthur Miller and The Trial of Dedan Kimathi by Ngugi Wa Thiongo and Micere Mugo.


No doubt, Mammah has joined the league of African writers who believe that history can be engaged as a belt in conveying the dim past to the present. It is in the light of this that Abiola Irele (1981) posits that: “it is not, I think, too large a claim to say that the outstanding attribute of the modern African writer, a product of the colonial encounter between Africa and the West- is his immediate engagement with history”. Also chorusing the relevance of our rich historical past is Sunny Awhefeada (2006:370), who is of the view that modern African writers often have “to recourse to the past” in their creative enterprises for the obvious reason of readdressing past erroneous perception of Africa by the western world.


Apparently, a historical fiction or novel is not much different from an historical drama or play. First, is that both are works of imagination. While one is a deliberate imitation of actions on stage before a defined audience or spectators, the other is a loose narrative of actions and persons. In all, both have their sources in historical past, and are products of pre colonial and colonial experiences. One may quickly add here that the history of colonial and pre colonial Nigeria was all about dominance and resistance.


It’s expedient to add here then that the Ebrohimi war of 1894 is the point where the entire narrative takes its source from.  All that happened at Calabar and Fort Christiansborg in the Gold Coast are all fall outs of the Ebrohimi war of 1894.  For almost the first time, we see Nanna’s story extending beyond borders and the creeks of the Niger Delta. Hence, one would not be wrong to say that the book, on a broader perception exposes the inanity of colonialism which itself is cross-border.


In all of this, the author has been able to move some steps ahead of historians and dramatists in this regard. His ability to moderate events between Ebrohimi, Calabar and faraway Gold Coast in a single breath is worthy of mention. It’s imperative to state that previous efforts on Chief Nanna Olomu were limited to the life time of Chief Nanna, little before the Ebrohimi war and a little after the war. Mammah has been able to expand the narrative to accommodate life during Nanna’s trial as well as when he is in exile in the Gold Coast, now modern day Ghana. These are two aspects of the life and times of Chief Nanna Olomu that history and literature have not done considerable justice to. In this regard, one must acknowledge Mammah’s sheer dexterity and uncommon commitment in capturing the life and times of Chief Nanna Olomu while in exile, and upon returning home to Koko after regaining freedom from his British abductors.


Obaro Ikime’s account of Chief Nanna remains the most detailed and authoritative in all that have been written about Chief Nanna Olomu. What Ikime did in Merchant Prince of The Niger Delta with the facts he scooped here and there was outstanding. Little wonder that his effort remains timeless and one of the remarkable and dependable accounts of the impeccable exploits of Chief Nanna Olomu, who was the greatest of all Niger Delta middlemen chiefs and last Governor of the Benin River.


Mammah’s Nanna’s Diary tells a story of an unsophisticated local chief who refuses to be broken. Rather than being broken in the eyes of the injustice which he suffers at the hands of the imperialist whites, he chooses to put his thoughts down in paper and ink. His motive of documenting his experiences both at home and in faraway Ghana where he is condemned to solitude and humiliation is to show the world how much injustice he has suffered in the hands of the British who had attacked and plundered Ebrohimi. It’s pertinent to note that we may not have the luxury of time and opportunity to defend ourselves by reacting to all the accusations levelled against us by our adversaries. Therefore, an imaginative memoir such as Nanna’s Diary serves as response to all the accusations and allegations levelled against a man who was limited by time and distance.


Historically, the full scale of the destruction, as well as what was carted away by the British could not be fully estimated. Ikime recounts in his work; The Merchant of the Niger Delta the siege and other vicious ancillary attacks by the British naval force just to get at Nanna. The British Naval vessel under the command of Sir Ralph Moor and Sir Claude MacDonald laid siege against Chief Nanna at the mouth of the Ebrohimi creek for 30days. Chief Nanna Olomu had refused to honour an invitation by the British officials to a meeting to discuss trade terms particularly the latter’s refusal to allow the British palm oil traders unfettered access to the hinterland in order to trade directly with the producers of palm oil, and by extension eliminate the middleman’s position of the Itsekiris under Chief Nanna with the obnoxious option to pay tax to the British government for every drum of palm oil shipped in from the hinterland.


There were ominous signs that England was pressuring Sir Claude MacDonald and Sir Ralph Moor to clear the only obstacle to trade in the Benin river, which in the eyes of those British administrators was Nanna (Ikime 1968:102). On the flip side, Nanna could not stomach the reality of being taken captive by the British. Neither was he able to vanish into thin air! The intimacy of Chief Dogho and Chief Dudu, both rivals of Chief Nanna, with the British gave credence to the suspicion that the said meeting was a loop to entrap Nanna.  The only option then was to stay back at Ehrohimi, fight the British, and die if need be. Nanna consequently erected a barrier at the mouth of Ebrohimi creek (Ikime 1968:107). This was even as he posted at the mouth of the creek alerting the British that the barrier was for self protection and not a declaration of war against Her Majesty, Queen Victoria of England. The British were however not cowed. And the Ebrohimi war of 1894 begun. By the time the dust of the war has settled, Nanna has escaped to Lagos, leaving behind a sacked Ebrohimi and monumental casualties on his side.


There is evidence that early African pre-colonial rulers did not readily accept colonialism and cultural imposition by the western world. Their struggles against repression and oppression are evident in the chain of resistance and struggles that they put up against the British imperialists. The prodigious oil palm business and Governorship of Chief Nanna Olomu over the Benin River was not the only business empire and kingdom that was overrun by the British naval formation. The Benin kingdom under Oba Ovonramwen, Opobo kingdom under Jaja and the Sokoto Caliphate under Muhammad Attahiru 1 were a few others among the horde of empires in pre-time Nigeria that were infiltrated and subdued by the British imperialists.


It has been observed that history is often distorted by the artist in the course of his recreation.   In most cases, the artist is found to have added, adjusted and redirected historical truth to accommodate his creative prowess. It is in the light of this that Shaka (2001), posits that:

Foremost among these (reasons), is the desire to use history to comment on contemporary issues of their times. Apart from their overriding factor, there have long been instances already when playwrights have had to approach historical sources for their creative material, because they felt the need to affirm aspects of their culture and history which have long been the subject of derogation and misrepresentation.  At other times, the overriding factor has been the desire to popularize aspects of their history which were not sufficiently known to their people, in order to push such aspects into the people’s consciousness, (p. 181).


Reading Nanna’s Diary will task the mind of every literary scholar. The first question which comes to mind is, is the text an autobiography or a biography? The fact that Chief Nanna Olomu is the narrator, and tells his story in the 1st person narrative is enough reason to conclude that the text is far from being a biography. Notwithstanding that the protagonist tells the story himself with Kwame and Davidson writing down his experiences for the obvious reason that he wants his narrative to achieve a standard similar to that of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African, (p.10), we see the novelist sneaking into the story in the form of a guide. For instance, in the beginning of each chapter, we see the novelist directing what angle or dimension the story is to take: “In which Nanna laments his low western education base, In which Nanna recalls his dealings with the British and the 1884 treaty, In which Nanna rejoices over news that he is going back home” etc, runs through the narrative.


The narrative opens with a prologue where the protagonist introduces himself as Ereomala, and goes further to tell the story of how he is being called ‘Nanna’ According to the protagonist, his birth name is Ereomala  which means the trouble or pain of bringing up a child. But, Eremoala has been corrupted by the Europeans and non Itsekiris as Nanna, and the name has then stuck to him like a leech. Also, he does not make the mistake of failing to introduce himself as an Itsekiri chief who is both respected and dreaded by all. He goes further to list out his titles which depict nobility, bravery and being a war lord: Dedekumo, Ejele-Gboma, Opubeni, Konobra, etc. It is important to note that these titles depict the bravery and defiance of sea creatures, such as the crocodile, the white shark and the blue whale.


Essentially, the historical narrative portrays Nanna, and indeed Africans as victims of colonial oppression. Problem started when Chief Nanna, acting in the capacity as the Governor of the Benin River insists on ensuring that the interest of the Itsekiris and other palm oil merchants is protected. The British imperialists do not want any artificial manipulations of the supply and pricing of palm oil hence they want direct access to the hinterland so as to deal directly with the producers. But, there are laid down practices of doing business in the Niger Delta. Again, the safety of the British imperialists is of concern to Chief Nanna. To them, Nanna constitutes a stumbling block to free trade by imposing trade regulations (Nanna Diary p.19).


Particularly, Nanna is peeved that the British could not be trusted. The 1884 Treaty between Queen Victoria and the locals had more to do with commerce than it was a protocol of political dominance of the people. Going by the treaty, already established trade practices, and the peoples’ tradition were to be respected. It therefore becomes an act of effrontery when Sir Macdonald took certain steps to undermine these laid down agreements. In the novel, Nanna spews out his disappointment and outright rejection of such excesses:

And really, what does Macdonald take me for? Does he think I am a child? I, Nanna, Governor of the Benin River? Is it me he wants to play childish games with? I don’t blame him. Imagine! After I had signed a treaty with his superiors to the effect that they would not interfere with our traditions and business practices, he then came and wanted to change everything overnight! Is that the action of a person who is straight?

(Nanna’s Diary, p.19)


Nanna is even more disturbed by the activities of ‘home enemies’. The British imperialists were very smart during the period of imperialism. They knew that the only way they could subdue the entire African continent was through the antics of divide and rule. Many of those kingdoms were ruined by this divisive agenda. Like Chief Nanna Olomu, Oba Ovonramwen had his own share of home enemies. A very close palace chief was said to have betrayed the Oba.


The protagonist laments the treacherous disposition of the British. In the same vein, he is also disappointed with the betrayal of Dogho Numa, Dudu and Harrison (the latter’s son). Again, we may also have to admit that Nanna ruled by fire and sulphur and this has created for him more enemies than he could have ever imagined. Though they pretend to be loyal to him, they are not all for him in totality. Dogho Numa sees an opening in the conflict between Nanna and Macdonald to display his dislike for Nanna. Nanna says of this betrayal:

What do they mean? I, Dedekumo Ejele Gboma! I deserve the sky! I understudied my father. I learnt the fine values of hard work and other time-tested lessons of life from him. Ojogbomale was a fountain of wisdom and I drank from it. They are envious because I have come this far. All of them: Dogho Numa, Dudu of Obonteghareda and that ungrateful son of his, Harrison! They cannot confront me where it matters and are only hiding under the cover of Macdonald to challenge the sea lion of the Benin River. I am the Great Whale of the Atlantic Ocean! (Nanna’s Diary, p.21).


Going by the historical account, it is imperative to state here that Chief Nanna’s appointment as Governor was met with great opposition. First, was that he was not of the Royal family. Again, some of the Chiefs felt that Nanna was too young and bellicose to be appointed Governor. Against this backdrop, Ikime has this to say:

…descent was a major factor in determining the role a man played in the political and social life of the Itsekiri community. In the new situation created by the interregnum, wealth derived from trade increasingly became the surest qualification for the acquisition of power and influence. This situation made it possible for men with the necessary drive and organizing ability to rise to positions of power and authority within the Itsekiri community. This was situation which produced the class of nouveaux riches to which Nanna belonged and which dominated Itsekiri history throughout the second half of the nineteenth Century. (1968:9).


Historical account has it that Olomu defied the practice, and anointed Nanna as his successor. For this reason, Nanna hit the ground running the moment he received the staff of office as Governor. Opposition to Nanna’s appointment was prodigious. Nanna was about the strongest and most dreaded warlord in the whole of the Niger Delta. It was based on this strength and the respect he commanded that the British merchants supported his appointment. One of Nanna’s achievements as reported by Ikime was leading the Itsekiris, nay the entire Niger Delta to sign the British protection treaty of 1884.


Nanna’s Achilles heel was his stubbornness. Nanna was truculent and daring. His refusal to accept Articles VI and VII of the treaty was the beginning of his downfall. To Nanna, Article VI was tantamount to usurping the traditional and social justice system of the Itsekiris. The article started that all dispute which could not be amicably settled, whether among the Itsekiris themselves, with the white traders, or between them and the neighbouring people were to be referred to the British consul or similar officer. It is not surprising that Nanna was later charged with breaking both articles during his kangaroo trial in Calabar.


It was the first time a Governor who ought, and was designed to be a stooge was confronting the British imperialists. Ikime insinuates that Nanna was not comfortable with the British definition of justice. What was justice to the British then was injustice to the Itsekiris that Nanna represented. Natives freely gave themselves to slavery if their parents were heavily indebted. Virgin bride was a means of settling indebtedness. Humans were a prize for valour, and reward for might. The British would not hear any of these, and Nanna and most of the nobles among the natives still believed in those practices.


We see the same confrontational Nanna in Mammah’s narrative. He feels that standing the 1884 Treaty on its head amounts to changing the goal post in the middle of the game. His sojourn at the Gold Coast avails more revelation particularly on why Sir Macdonald and Sir Moor had both insisted on circumventing the 1884 Treaty which had allowed for the economic and traditional practices of natives. Nanna reveals thus:

I have since been well educated by that great man, Casely-Hayford, that real truth of the matter is that after all of the Oyibo leaders from their different countries concluded their meeting in Berlin, the terms that we had agreed upon in that 1884 Treaty were now difficult for the British to continue to accept. But, rather than return with a new draft treaty for us to consider, they decided to ignore the agreed terms of our signed treaty and have now proceeded to take over our lands by sheer force. In fact, it is not only Casely-Hayford that helped open my eyes as to what was going on, as my brother-chief, Orok Edem Eyamba 1X was also trying to explain something like that to me during the time of my so-called trial in Calabar. But, what do Dogho Numa and Dudu know? All they want is to fight Nanna! Fight Nanna for whom? And who will benefit?

(Nanna’s Diary, p.25)



It won’t be entirely true to say that Nanna’s post Governor’s era was spent in regret. Neither Ikime’s nor Mammah’s accounts are explicit on this summation. However, going by Mammah’s account, it will be convenient to say that Nanna’s post-Governor experiences, which include his trial at Calabar, isolation in the Gold Coast and eventual return to Koko exposes the frailty and inconsistencies of man. Man is not reliable because he is unabashedly selfish. The British who claim to be all but fraudulent fail to honour a simple agreement.  Secondly, some natives could not see the calamity ahead. Rather, they choose to indulge in eye service to the imperialists and in the process, they found themselves betraying the noble cause of keeping the British under check. As seen with Dogho Numa, Dudu and Harrison, these natives allowed themselves to become tools in the hands of the British.


A close reading of Nanna Diary reveals that in-fighting, disunity, greed, betrayal and rivalry are central to the concern of the narrative. Maybe the British might not have succeeded in overrunning the various kingdoms, maybe it would have taken a longer period and with minimal damage if fellow natives had not betrayed those in leadership.


Another critical issue raised in the memoir has to do with the many challenges of leadership. Life, itself is coated in struggle. This position of the protagonist reminds us of the French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) who asserted that “man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave then they”. Nanna must be saying that there is no absolute freedom or liberty anywhere. Only if present day political leaders have understudied Nanna and other nationalists, our nation would not have been in the brink that we are today. We are in a dire need of leaders who are ready to make sacrifices. Leadership must be by example.


The protagonist is highly philosophical. He believes that the road to the top is fraught with so many ups and downs. And as such, slothfulness, idleness, compromise are not options to success. According to him, “a big story does not just start in one day. And it also does not have only one leg. And for people like me who have seen many days, and done many things, we can spot trouble long before it comes.” (Nanna’s Diary, p.51). He goes further to proffer a solution to this paradox. The protagonist advises that all that we really need to do in a trouble filled-life is not to run away from them, but to manage the troubles that come our way. (Nanna’s Dairy, p.51)


He takes us through the many rough roads he has been made to travel through. His appointment as Governor suffers a lot of setbacks and opposition. First, he is not of the ‘Oton-Olus’ (Princes), and as such not qualified in the reckoning of some to ascend the office of Governor. Again, Chief Nanna is seen as being too young to be Governor over the recognized seventy ‘Ojoyes’, (chiefs) in the kingdom. But, the absence of a monarch at that time weakens the power of the Ojoye to reject Nanna. The interregnum (1848-1851) had made it possible to have the class of nouveaux riche to which Nanna belongs to emerge as Governor of the Benin River, Escravos River and a bit of River Forcados, (Ikime, 1968: 9).

The themes of colonialism and imperialism cannot be brushed aside. From the beginning of the narrative, the strain of colonial rule, and its attending consequences of exploitation and the use of brute force are some of the pains the natives suffered at the hands of the British masters.

            If anything, colonialism completely changed the world view of Africans. It was deliberate. From the outset, the British were obsessed in achieving the above aim. Oliver and Fage (1962), posit that “for the Europeans came to Africa with their own ideas of what was conducive to good government or the furtherance of civilization without any consideration for the natives. They proceeded to set up these ideas as a model”. According to Ikime (1968:54); “the sin of Chief Nanna Olomu and others like him was that they did not conform  readily and quickly enough to the ideas of good government and civilization  which the British sought to impose” on them while they were expected to jettison their age long  custom and tradition.


Another issue of interest raised in the narrative is the forceful union of the various ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, in spite of the obvious and diverse cultural backgrounds. God didn’t create Nigeria. But, He created the Itsekiri nation, the Urhobo nation, the Ijaw nation, the Tivs, Idomas, Kanuris, Ebiras, Nupes, etc. After self and family, the expected, loyalty of anybody in the contraption called Nigeria then, almost invariably always goes first to his ethnic nationality.

The various ethnic nations have organised systems, and have mutual respect for each other. If they were at war with themselves, most times, diplomacy is engaged to resolve such disputes. So, when the southern and the northern protectorates were amalgamated in 1914, it was obvious that the British were selfish. The protagonist frowns at the Native Courts Ordinance and Native Authority which seek to usurp the power and positions of the traditional rulers.


The protagonist is awed that the British have to make a u-turn from what they had met on ground in the Niger Delta, the Middle Belt and the extreme part of what latter become Northern Nigeria. That singular act of the British imperialists was an indication that yoking these ethnic nationalities together was not in the interest of the people, but that of the Queen of England and all her subjects.



In a nutshell, technique is the method of presentation of a narrative.  It is all encompassing. It involves character presentation, structuring of plot and the pattern of performance, if there is any. In addition, it emphasizes the narration. As we have seen in the novel, the narration is of the first person mode. Through the moderator, the protagonist is led to tell his story all by himself. Most autobiographies utilize this method of narration. Whether one would conclude that the novel is autobiographical leaves more to be seen as an autobiographical novel has more than what we have seen in Nanna’s Diary.  Autobiographical novel is defined as; “one type of biography which tells the story of its author, meaning it is a written record of the author’s life”. If the above  definition of autobiography is anything to go by, then Mammah’s Nanna’s Diary does not fit into the autobiography classification since it is a supposed Nanna’s exile  memoir, recreated not by the protagonist himself, but by the author; Richard Mammah.


No doubt, the author has adapted the historical life and times of Chief Nanna Olomu (1838-1912) as a template in exploring a few philosophical issues such as courage, determination, defeat and the ability to cope with these challenges. It’s imperative to note that there are two narrators in the novel, the protagonist, who tells most of his story all by himself, and engaging the first person narration; ‘I’, and the author who moderates the narrative. He comes on to introduce the subject matter and disappears almost immediately. In the prologue, we see him introduces the story thus: “In which Nanna introduces his diary…January 11, 1900”, Again, in chapter two, he comes on as soon as Nanna is done with stating the reason why he has chosen to document his execrable and traumatic experiences at the hands of the British imperialists. This continues to the end of the story.


It’s important to note the accuracy of place and dates. The author, through the role of a moderator makes the story easy to comprehend. Again, the protagonist is guided as he tells his story. Only important events and incidents are narrated, therefore, the reader is saved the trouble of unnecessary details.


            There are quite a number of songs in the narrative. The use of songs in the narrative is not arbitrary.  Among the Itsekiris where both the author and the protagonist hail from, most heroic deeds are recounted in songs. Nonetheless, the Itsekiris use song to express their moods, which could either be joyous or sorrowful. Commenting on the work of another Itsekiri author, Fred Agbeyegbe in an earlier review, I had pointed out: “One visible device used by Agbeyegbe is song which gives his plays an unmistaken aura of the folklore tradition”, (Okofu, 2007:102).


Beside entertainment or relaxation, songs encourage, motivate, empower and energize. Again, songs are used as warning against imminent danger. Indeed, we have seen all of these in the narrative. In the light of the above, it is then instructive that Meki Nzewi is of the view that song is indispensable to African story (drama) (433). In the same vein, Ossie Enekwe (1981) captures the importance of song in African theatre when he says: “in Africa… dance, mime and music are of the essence in the theatre” (152).


In pages 32, 35, 40, 63, 64, 68 and 73 of the novel are songs which express the various moods of the protagonist. For instance, “Niko ma tse ne edu umale…eyemi dede we ewo oluwa” indicates a new beginning for the protagonist who being converted to Christianity decides to take refuge in thy Lord, (Psalm 9:9). In page 35, he sings; “Iyio nene iyiore/ iyio nene, iyiore…” Sometimes, anger is better expressed in songs. The song explains the precarious state Nanna has found himself in for welcoming the British to his domain. “Jesu olugbe ku gbemi” on page 40 is a recommitment to the Christian faith. This is reaffirmed in pages 63 and 64 with the thanksgiving songs “ene dokpe/ene dokpe urun oluwa tse gbene/ene dokpe”



Mammah’s effort has shown that literature can be engaged to preserve our rich cultural heritage and more importantly, the historic exploits of our past heroes and heroines.  Also, the novelist has shown that literature can complement history in all ramifications. Nevertheless, we must admit that the novelist has been able to move some steps ahead of historians and dramatists in this regard. His ability to focus on the solitary life of the protagonist in exile is a step far ahead of all efforts on Chief Nanna Olomu, the last Governor of the Benin River. In this regard, one must acknowledge Mammah’s sheer dexterity and uncommon commitment in capturing the life and times of Chief Nanna Olomu while in exile, and upon returning home to Koko after regaining freedom from his British abductors.




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