Oil On Water by Helon Habila Book Review — Oluwaseun Ekundayo

Oil On Water by Helon review by The Luminaries Bookclub

Oil on Water is a story depicted through the experiences of two characters — Rufus, who is a young journalist yet pubescent in his career and Zaq, an accomplished journalist. They both embarked on a mission to negotiate with the Militants for the release of a white woman — Isabel Floode — who was kidnapped.

Rufus takes us through his journey, using the flashback technique to relate the present situation he was into. Though as a reader, if care is not taken, you might get lost on what are present and past events. The use of first-person point of view such as “I and We” used by him tells us the whole narration is from his view. We are able to understand each characters emotions, hidden expressions, decisions from how and what he tells us in the book.

The story majorly occurs at the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria, while the other events occur in Lagos and Port-Harcourt. The setting of the Niger-Delta region happens mostly in the Forest, surrounded by Islands where Militants and Soldiers use as abode. The Soldiers are there to fish out the Militants from their hideouts. The forest has always been a good shield for Militants to take their captives to. Little wonder why most of the events happened in between islands in the forest.

The major themes in the book are environmental pollution, penury and poverty, kidnapping and abduction, violent and death, lack of employment, fear and mystery, faith and love. In the midst of the war between the indigenes and the government in favour of the oil companies, some of the characters find solace and love.

A prose work which entails the story of people who live in fear and abject poverty because of a natural mineral resources which is supposed to be a blessing but ends up to bring them division, betrayal, and loss of their birthright and root (lands).

The book is about two journalists, a young one Rufus and Zaq, an older man, who are on a mission to find out about the state of a white woman who is believed to have been kidnapped with the help of her driver. In the course of their journey, the two journalists experienced first-hand the livelihood of the Niger-Delta people, uncertainty of their tomorrow. While on the same journey, Zaq was able to find peace in the place of religion, while Rufus was able to find love.

The book stands for “Truth”. The truth the government doesn’t tell us of the situations in the region. The truth the media don’t print out, the truth the researchers hide at the expense of people’s health. The truth about the real stand of the Militants:

“…we are not the barbarians the government propagandists say we are. We are for the people. Everything we do is for the people, what will we gain if we terrorize them? …That is why I am letting you go, so you can write the truth…” — Chapter 21.

The author Helon Habila is an author who used to be a journalist; you can definitely not doubt his expertise in narrating his story through the eyes of a journalist. He is known for his two previously published works ‘Waiting for an Angel’ and ‘Measuring Time’.

For people who have little or no knowledge of the happenings in the Niger-Delta, Oil on Water is a great exposure. How they live in terror and fear of what will become of them on their land. I would definitely like to read some more of Helon Habila books with the show of his creativity and expertise through the eyes of a camera, the lens of a camera and words of a journalist.

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An archive of book reviews written by members of The Luminaries Bookclub