Book title: What It Takes
Author: Lola Akande
Publisher: Krafts Books Limited, Ibadan
Number of pages: 317
Year of publication: 2016
Reviewer: Tony Okuyeme
Lola Akande’s new novel, What It Takes, is a sad, vivid expose of a typical Nigerian university doctorate programme that gleefully cannibalises the best of its own. It is a story of discouragement of excellent academic pursuit, depicting the prevalence of favouritism, ethnicity, nepotism, corruption, lust, needy culture and other negative tendencies currently ravaging the knowledge industry in Nigeria.
It draws attention to the unfortunate entrenchment of recurring high level corruption in Nigerian universities, which makes anyone who wants acquire a Ph.D and becomes a university lecturer, believe they must punish students because they have gone through a similar experience. When Funto Oyewole, a middleaged single-mother, procured the PhD admission letter to the National University of Nigeria (NUN), Abuja, could not contain her joy.
Even though, she lost her job in the civil service, she is full of hope that there is a bright future for her. But little did she know what it really ‘takes’ to realize her dream; that it will indeed take more than intelligence, sheer brilliance and hard work to get a doctorate degree.
In What It Takes, a middle-aged and ambitious woman, Funto Oyewole, who is the heroin, shares her experience, about her dreams, hopes, aspirations, enthusiasms, disappointments and misery as a doctorate student, and how her zeal was gradually giving way to anxiety and frustration, a situation that accelerate her aging process, as her hope of earning a PhD through hard work appears to be a mirage.
When the elated and enthusiastic Funto Oyewole arrived on the campus in Abuja, to begin registration, she was shocked. Everything appears to work against her, which almost got her dropping the idea. Her first shock came when she goes in search of a supervisor for her literature studies.
The Head of Department (HOD) informs her in asa- matter-of-fact note how difficult it is to find a PhD supervisor due to a mirage of problems confronting universities in Nigeria, as “the number of academic staff in every university is grossly inadequate; hence, what has to be done is left in the hands of a few academics, who can only struggle to cope”.
When she tries to get Dr. Durojaiye, to be her supervisor, the man unequivocally demands for sex as a precondition: “All I ask of you is a piece of the ‘action’ and you’ll get my consent to supervise you in return. Fair bargain, isn’t it?”
Confused and exasperated, Oyewole then goes in search of a lady, Prof. Lara Owoyemi, to be her supervisor, but she was stunned when the professor tells her that if she is serious about becoming a PhD candidate under her supervision, she must have N30,000, “to get the consent letter you are required to submit at the PG School. After your registration, I will spell out other terms of engagement to you.” Eventually, Oyewole ends up with Prof. Charles Ephraim as her supervisor, who, according to the HOD, demands three things of his students: “The first one is patience, the second is patience, and the third is patience.”
In the unfolding scenario, the situation becomes further complicated for Oyewole, who by now is reduced to tears as Prof. Ephraim orders her against her wish to fill in as a part-time student.
Oyewole, indeed, learns the hard way what PhD actually means, when Prof. Ephraim also insists that she must spend an entire year in understudying her project before writing a word of the dissertation, stressing that, “In Nigeria, PhD means, Prostrate, Hard work and Dobale. You are Yoruba; you know the meaning of Dobale. It means you will prostrate to them, you’ll work hard and you’ll prostrate again. It also means you’ll do more of prostrating than hard work.”
However, encouraged by her bosom friend, Folake, who provides her with accommodation, and spurred on by the desire to improve her status, she continued to work hard. She eventually finished writing the thesis, but was confronted with the fear of submitting the entire work to her supervisor.
And when she eventually did, Prof. Ephraim recommends a new list of books to be found in South Africa, U.S., Canada or England, which will entail rewriting the entire thesis, stressing, he has misplaced the chapters she gave him.
Confused, Oyewole seeks the HOD’s help in appealing to Prof. Ephraim, but it fails to achieve the desired result, and instead, the angry Ephraim swears that he would no longer supervise her work. She soon realises that intelligence, diligence, hard work and commitment are not necessarily “What It Takes” to earn a Ph.D in a Nigerian university.
So, in a desperate attempt to achieve her goal, she submits to the idea of seeking an intervention from a ‘so-called’ prophet. Eventually, Prof. Ephraim agrees to resume the supervision of her thesis. The novel ends on a happy note, as after more than a decade, she realises her dream of becoming Dr. Funto Oyewole.
Akande holds a doctorate degree in English Literature from the University of Ibadan. She teaches African Literature in the Department of English, University of Lagos. Her first novel, In Our Place, was published by Macmillan Nigeria Publishers Limited (2012). Her short story, ‘Camouflage,’ was published in the anthology, Dream Chasers (Nelson Publishers Limited, 2013). What It Takes is her second novel.