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Violence and Identity: a Review of Dul Johnson’s ‘Deeper into the Night’

Dul Johnson, Deeper into the Night

Makurdi: SevHage Publishers, 2014, 273 pp.

ISBN: 978-9-7852595-4-4

Price: N1,500

With two collections of short stories, a huge experience in the TV industry and a disturbing absence from the literary scene, Dul Johnson has burst onto the scene with two works: Deeper into the Night, a novel, and Melancholia, a play. Even a cursory reading of the two books is likely to convince one that the long wait is eventually rewarding. Although Deeper into the Night is a first novel, and Melancholia the first published drama of the author, there is nothing amateurish about them. What you see instead is the virtuosity and elegance of an old hand, which is what Johnson is, having been in the creative industry (TV drama and writing) for more than three decades.

Deeper_into_the_Night_Cover            Deeper into the Night is a novel of bravery and courage on two levels. On the first level, the novel is about a brave and courageous community faced with external aggression that incredibly turns into internal aggression; on the second level, the implied message of Johnson in this novel cuts him out as someone brave and courageous enough to bluntly say what he thinks concerning the perennial inter-ethnic crisis in Nigeria, especially in Plateau State from where he hails.

Gwantim is the name of the community (also the name of its founder) at the centre of the crisis of consciousness, identity and survival; a community likely to be seen as the main character of the novel. Mamzhi, the protagonist turned antagonist, whose chilling tale of heroism and villainy is tied to the fate of the community, is the son of Nimfa who in turn is the son of Old Gwantim, the founder of the community. Mamzhi is Old Gwantim’s first grandson. In his grandson, Old Gwantim sees a great man and therefore initiates the boy into the traditional cult of power.

Old Gwantim dies leaving the community, much against his wish, to Nimfa who does not only impose himself as the community leader but is attracted to the Hausa/Fulani/Muslim’s leadership system. He courts the emir of Karara, a neighbouring Hausa/Fulani/Muslim community, gets himself a chieftaincy title, and learns to dress like the emir, wearing “mosquito net and big gowns” (64). Nimfa’s romance with the emir of Karara is symbolic of the cultural contact/clash between the Hausa/Fulani people who have migrated to Tarokland and the Tarok people of Plateau State.

At the same time, Taktim, a community next to Gwantim, is having an important visitor: Alhaji Maiguguwa Nisa who claims to be sent by the emir of Karara. He has come to the community to stay, to lead his Muslim brothers, to do business. Alhaji Nisa “arrived with his four wives, many children and all his property, all at once and at sunset” (33). Clever and cunning, Alhaji Nisa seems to outwit the entire community; he settles down and, having imposed himself as a religious leader, begins a systematic acquisition of property. His wealth and influence grow in leaps and bounds. Tyem Zhimak, founding father of Taktim, decisively confronts Alhaji Nisa. The argument between the two, the author succeeds in showing, dramatises the age-long tension between those who see themselves as “natives” of the land and “strangers” who at first harmlessly come, are welcomed, and then turn themselves to greedy colonisers. Tyem Zhimak puts the issue clearly before his opponent: “You do not come from here; you came from Karara, unless you lied to me. I gave you land to live on, now you take my land, and my farm” (49).

To resist what they clearly see as an intrusion, an imperial control, plus an actual attack from the powerful Hausa/Fulani/Muslim emirate, the Tarok communities of Gwantim and Taktim join efforts in displaying a rare feat of warfare. Mamzhi is the dreaded warlord that leads the community to victory. Earlier Mamzhi had gone to the city of Jos during which a religious crisis broke out. He got enlisted to fight under the command of the fierce Nigeria civil war veteran Ogenevwo Ogrewevwo. Now home, Mamzhi’s source of power lies in the war tactics he learnt in the city and the spiritual power bestowed on him by his late grandfather.

The crucial, rather melodramatic, turn of the novel is Mamzhi, a hero beloved of the Tarok communities, becoming so powerful and bloodthirsty that he becomes a monster among his own people. He begins by forming a group of young men who will protect the communities from further attacks. He and his group gradually turn themselves into terror, killing even group members who disobey him. They kill Iliya for being sexually involved with Jolene whom Mamzhi sees as his girlfriend. Elders of Gwantim who question Mamzhi’s power are not spared. At this point the community realises that it has an urgent issue to tackle: doing away with Mamzhi the monster it has created.

Nanzing, called the Strange One because of his spiritual prowess, leads the project of disarming Mamzhi. The process involves neutralizing Mamzhi’s power located in his hair with substance from a woman’s genitalia. Jolene’s effort in this regards fails. Mamfa, powerful as Mamzhi, and his team are deployed, but they also fail. Eventually, Nanzing himself, at the cost of his life, disarms Mamzhi.

Deeper into the Night is thought-provoking on different fronts. Some will find its view on native-settler tension controversial, given its implicit but no less provocative satire on the folkways and religion of the Hausa/Fulani settlers. A critical question here is whether in telling his or his Tarok people’s story, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie does in Half of a Yellow Sun, should other people’s stories necessarily get marginalised, mis-told? Are all settlers greedy grabbers? While Johnson’s characterisation of the Hausa/Fulani/Muslim settlers raise such questions, it is gratifying that he humanises Ali, Alhaji Nisa’s son, portrayed as ideologically different from his father. The novel is equally, and in fact more openly, satirical of Christianity. Tyem Zhimak satirises and trivialises the Christian concept of three-in-one God in an argument with his son Iliya.

The novel’s impressive message, though, is that violence comes in many forms, linked and interpenetrative. So that in tackling one form of violence another form is likely to be created. Building one form of violence to confront another one might, as Deeper into the Night clearly shows, be counter-productive. This message reverberates throughout an aesthetic of intricate plotting, effortless narration, bitter humour, and traditionalism in the novel.

E. E. Sule
E. E. Sule
E. E. Sule is the pen name of Sule E. Egya, a professor of African Literature and Cultural Studies at Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University. He is a fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and of the African Humanities Program. Besides academic work, Egya also writes poetry and fiction. His poetry volume What the Sea Told Me won the 2009 ANA/NDDC Gabriel Okara Poetry Prize, and the AWF/Anthony Agbo Prize for Poetry. His novel Sterile Sky was long-listed for NLNG Prize for Nigerian Literature in 2012, and won the 2013 Commonwealth Prize, Africa Region.


  1. Well done sir. “Deeper into the Night’ is also full of humour and surprise. One thing I can also relate to is how the supposed solution to the people’s problems, Mamzhi also becomes a problem to them. In seeking a savior, the savior becomea a cruel oppressor. Mamzhi is like many soldiers who are aent on peace keeping missions and become great terrors to people because of the power the hold in their hands.

  2. Deeper into the Night is very apt for the Nigerian politico-economic and religious situation. The use of prose to very clearly demonstrate the use and abuse of power confirms the role of the writer as the moral compass of the society in which he finds himself or herself. Wonderful review.

    • “Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s a theme, using Mamzhi for example. He enjoys a little power and turns it to rule all.

  3. Well, it is my first time to read a piece from the Jos setting. So, with all attention, I read it. And to add to my interest, the fact that my mentor, Mr. Zeal Adegoke requested I get the Professor’s books and read, increased my interest.

    Meanwhile, they are questions I would love to ask Prof. Dul Johnson. Here they are: ‘Like Chinua Achebe in his novel, “A Man of the People”, is Prof predicting a religious war, that will cut-across the two major religion in Nigeria? After all, this is all I see. The fact that, these threats, in form of letters, did not just limit itself to Gwantim and Tarok, gives me this impression. After all, the Prof was clear enough, portraying the colonizing agenda of the Muslim characters in the novel, with the exception of Ali. Though, I am convinced that this difference comes from the fact that, he never loved his father for throwing the mother out. And he knows, too, that Nisa was wicked. In fact, at the beginning of my reading, I told myself (that) the book”—Deeper Into the Night—”, was perhaps, another recount of colonialization yet to take place in Nigeria. But instead of bringing in the “Whites”, he chose to use the Muslim. Could there not be similarities between these groups: The Whites and The Muslims?

    More so, why the hyperbolisng of the hero and who also is the villian:
    “In a twinkling of an eye, Mamzhi crumbled to the ground, a mere piece of cloth, which immediately sprang back, a foot taller than the giant…” (89)? I mean, that exaggeration makes that scene, to me unrealistic. Maybe my doubt is coming from the fact that, I don’t believe magic. And for a realistic piece as this, I less expect it.

    And, how could Mamzhi, a child with no knowledge of warfare, until page 89, give such a lucid and exact answer to Ogenevwo (OO)? That brings me to question the characterisation. Can they be a lucid justification for this?

    However, I would not forget so fast to mention here that, they are some similarities between some of the phrases and events in this book, “Deeper Into the Night” with Achebe’s ” Things Fall Apart”. Take for example: Tyem Zhimak says clearly before his opponent, Nisa: “…I gave you land to live on, now you take my land, and my farm” (49). While in “Things Fall Apart”, when Okonkwo is dead already, and the white man’s representative wanted seeing him; not knowing he has committed suicide, Obierike points to the hanging body of Okonkwo, saying to the White man that they ( the white men), came to their land with their religion. They thought the white man was foolish. They gave him a place to erect their worship house. Now, they call their own (the Igbo’s) religion useless, even their own brothers too, now join them to say so. By so doing, they have put a knife into what joined them together. So that, things are fallen apart, and the center cannot hold ( Things Fall Apart, 148, paraphrased).

    Apart from that, is not the crises over power: first external, then, internal?

    I love this book, as much as I love “Across the Gulf”. The Prof has done great work.

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