Situating Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Purple Hibiscus’ in the child welfare policy context in Nigeria

Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, illuminates a succession of horrific crimes committed by one man against his children and his wife. Its publication in the UK in 2003 coincided with the passage of the Child Rights Act in Nigeria. Reading Purple Hibiscus against this policy and legal backdrop raises numerous questions about child welfare policies and practices in Nigeria. 

To discuss the child welfare implications of this book the School for Policy Studies held an event seeking to explore the parenting and child welfare policy and practice implications raised by Purple Hibiscus within an emerging child rights era in Nigeria. 

Blog by Ms Olatoun Gabi-Williams (Founder of Borders Literature for all Nations, Lagos, Nigeria)

“Situating Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus in the Child Welfare Policy Context in Nigeria”. This is the title the organisers gave to this seminar which centres a deeply troubled fictional family living under military rule in 1980s Nigeria. Key elements of the seminar were: a reading of a novel excerpt which puts the violent hysteria of the immensely wealthy and influential family patriarch on display, my own review of the novel, and a panel discussion.

The review provides the justification for the meeting of child welfare stakeholders from Nigeria with our peers at Bristol’s School for Policy Studies which took place on Wednesday, 27th October 2021. Viewers will recognise in the Achike’s family crisis, a crisis that has its roots in a time that pre-exists the family – the colonial mission school the father attended as a child. By the end of the seminar, child welfare stakeholders were reminded of the mandate of social work in any situation involving the violation of child rights: the protection of these rights – now made possible in Nigeria by the passage of the Child Rights Act 2003. It has been adopted by over 24 states in a nation of 36.

This seminar was deeply concerned with the dangers colonial legacies may pose to the human rights of children in families. Their rights to life/survival, to development, to protection, to participation in the world around them and to dignity. Mindful of the African family structure with its strong inter-generational links, mindful of how inherited patterns of thought can function like generational curses in a family, a community, a nation, the seminar brought into focus the novel’s atomic vision of brokenness in a parent begetting brokenness in his dependents and it forces a reckoning with this peculiar brokenness which begets its own chain of brokenness.

The seminar was framed in the spirit of two inextinguishable uprisings, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth which attests to a direct link between mental disease in Africa and the colonisation of Africa and Decolonizing the Mind by Kenyan author, Ngugi wa Thiong’o which examines the politics of language, the premier weapon of epistemic violence wielded by imperial forces. With its gaze turned towards the tyrannies of europatriarchal and afro patriarchal knowledge, the seminar also channelled the spirit of Swedish/Nigerian feminist, Minna Salami, whose Sensuous Knowledge, is a pioneering work of epistemology.

But if the spirit of decoloniality is burning here, so too are questions about parenting: the panel examined the social exclusion wrought not by poverty but by wealth underlined by colonial attitudes; the panel shone a light on a Nigerian/ African/ global demographic that ought to be too rich and too famous to parent their children under the radar but that is exactly where the rich and powerful have been parenting: off the social work grid, out of sight, behind the high, fortified walls of their homes.

Dr. Tayo Ajirotutu of Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Lagos and Tunde Koleoso, Rtd. Assistant Director of Social Welfare at Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Social Development were my colleagues on the panel. While we were able to address a few of the questions [from my moderator’s script published on BORDERS, a publicity platform and journal for the African book industry], here is a distillation of important research questions:

How prepared is the mental health care system of Nigeria, a former colony, to provide interventions for Eugene Achike’s condition?

Does the Nigerian mental health care system possess the approaches and resources for intervening in cases like that of Achike’s wife and children who are casualties of a lifetime of violence perpetrated by the family patriarch?

In this era of universal child rights, how much social work in our communities involves the children of the rich and powerful?

In this era of universal child rights, how much literature in childhood studies, social policy studies, family policy studies and social work practice is dedicated to the rich and powerful?

If it were discovered that the rights of the children of a rich and powerful family have been violated in this era of child rights laws, does the existing child welfare system have the resources to intervene effectively and to protect the child?

How have the real-life mission school contemporaries of the fictional Eugene Achike, (octogenarians today) raised their own children? [Type of education, enforcement of discipline, prohibitions, emphases, the language and culture of the home in post-colonial Nigeria]

How did the children of mission schools who rose (like Eugene Achike) to positions of leadership in political life and industry, raise their children? [Type of education, enforcement of discipline, prohibitions, emphases, the language and culture of the home in post-colonial Nigeria]


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