we Analysis of Sweet Sixteen by Bolaji Abdullahi ~ Naija Poets




The Novel

Aliya has to constantly remind her father that she is not a child but a “young adult”. He does not always agree with her. But now that she turning sixteen, he is sitting up and taking notice. The expected birthday card from him is replaced by a present and no holds barred letter_ a page for each year she had lived. It chronicles the lessons and the wisdom he has attempted to pass to her, and unburdens the burning questions she has about life. Aliya questions who she is and why she is; with her father as a guide on the journey. An engaging coming of age guide on life and loving for the teenage girl.

The Author

Bolaji Abdullahi was Commissioner of Education in Kwara state and Minister of Youth Development and Sports in Nigeria. He obtained a Bachelors of Science Degree in Mass Communication from University of Lagos. He also holds a Distinction Masters of Arts Degree in Governance and Development from University of Sussex in UK which he attended as a Chevening Scholar. A former Editor with Thisday Newspaper, Abdullahi has written extensively over the years a politics, policy and development. “Sweet Sixteen” is his first book.

The Chapter Summary

Work (Sweet Sixteen by Bolaji Abdullahi)

It was a Saturday morning, Aliya Bello decided that her father should further buttress some ideas in the letter sent on her 16th birthday. The chapter began with tutorial on how to make tea that is perfect for Mr Bello. To prove that she had mastered how to make the tea, she took the one she made to her dad and that way, the daughter-to-father interrogation commenced. Aliya told him she was no more interested in becoming a doctor in the near future_ what she now craves for is to become a lawyer (she had been reading many of John Grisham’s books lately). Funnily, Aliya had jostled career choices in the past; from pilot to the passion to become a musician and then to fashion designing and so on. Mr. Bello encouraged his daughter once more to choose whatever career path she was passionate about with the motive that only hard-work leads to success; not the kind of career chosen. He quoted Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”. Not to yield is the major key. Aliya told her dad about a girl she caught cheating in physics examination. The girl cheated to impress her parents who had always compared her with her brilliant brother. Mr Bello condemned the act of engaging in examination malpractices and also noted that it's unfair for any parent to compare children in a bias manner. He then shared the lessons he learnt about how parent should view their children in the book title "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran;a Lebanese poet who died in 1931.

The Drive (Sweet Sixteen by Bolaji Abdullahi)

While reading her father’s letter, part of the letter re-narrated a given Saturday morning when she was 12; she had a drive with her dad around the city. They saw hustle and bustle, traffic jam, people struggling with poverty, two young girls hawking in traffic (the na├»ve Aliya even envied the girls freedom) but her father reminded her that she shouldn’t take anything she has for granted, no condition is permanent_ no matter the level in life, one must always work harder because it is easier to climb up with empty stomach than a full stomach. In the course of the drive, Aliya bought ice cream from Aunty Gigis (a fast food joint) which opened opportunity for Mr. Bello to bestow 5ex education on his daughter (starting with enlightenment about menstruation, avoidance of illicit materials such as Cosmopolitan Magazine which belonged to Auntie Molara, stop watching House of Cards on Netflix, High School Musical, stop associating with friends always discussing having intercourse with boys, and more importantly, Aliya should never allow anybody touch her private part).

The Letter (Sweet Sixteen by Bolaji Abdullahi)

Bello Aliya turned 16 years old on a given Tuesday. He had always wanted her father to accept her as a “young adult” instead of been called a child. She described herself as the only child and she was fat but not too fat. Her dad (Mr. Bello) was a public relation officer, a Yoruba Muslim. Mr Bello is a lover of chess game, a very funny but strict man. On the other hand, Mrs. Bello was a nurse and a very supporting as a mother. The Bello family only celebrates achievements including weddings excluding birthday parties. Aliya further described herself as brilliant student with “A” except chemistry where her best had been “C”. She attends a boarding school and her hostel was a 2-block of 8 rooms. In her class was a boy named Bobo or Tokunbo (her admirer who bought her red teddy on Valentine’s Day). There was also a description of Akin (her classmate) who was very smart, but loved to joke with every matter_ including classroom teaching ( in a particular occasion, Miss Salako wrote Mensuration on the board but Akin pronounced it loud as Menstruation!) Until her 16th birthday, the usual birthday gift from her dad had been birthday card. On her 16th birthday, her father sent to school a gift box containing (i) a portable digital camera, with LCD monitor (ii) a birthday card written Happy Sweet Sixteen (iii) a spiral bound document with blue cover that has a bold inscription “Letter to My Daughter”; it was a 16-pages letter from her father. Each page represented yearly events from the day of her birth.

Stereotype (Sweet Sixteen by Bolaji Abdullahi)

Aliya notified the readers that Chelsea Football Club won the match Mr. Bello hoped to watch and he was good mood the rest of the day. The following day, in the morning, Aliya woke to find her parents discussing downstairs on the dining table while nursing their cup of tea. She knelt and greeted "Ekaaro ma, ekaaro sir". "Kaaro o, oko mi Ajike. Se a ji daadaa?" her mother responded (Yoruba morning greeting). There was news of Boko Haram killing on the TV which made Aliya asked opinion regarding the claim by a certain Rebecca in her class that "all Muslims will go to hell, because Muslims do not believe in Jesus and they like to kill people". Mr. Bello called it stereotype. No religion encourages the act of killing though many criminals hide behind religion to perpetrate their crimes. "The most beautiful garden is the one that has different colours and flowers". There is beauty in diversity. Mr. Bello said, "Aliya, you need to guard against it (stereotype). Don't make up your mind about people before you have had the opportunity to meet them and assess them fully. Chances are that you might be wrong." Mr. Bello then told a story of European slave traders who forcefully took people on the coast of West Africa and sailed them away but when the ship wrecked, the two survivals were the slave chief and a male slave. Though the wicked slave chief was in bad injuries almost dying, the male slave nursed him back to life and when the chief asked why he saved him, he told him that his duty is to help people not destroy them therefore "I am who I am, You are who you are".

Beauty (Sweet Sixteen by Bolaji Abdullahi)

Bello Aliya had been made fun of, because she was fat. Her biology teacher once called her latiFAT and FATima (with stress emphasis on "fat"). Bunmi in SS3 always picked on her, "Hey you, how do you even fit into that dress?" Mr. Bello said "I remember another Gandhi quote: 'Nobody can hurt me without my permission'. You see, my darling, no matter what you do, you would not be able to control how other people behave towards you. But you know what? You can control how they make you feel". "Beauty is total. Physical beauty, however it is defined is very important. But we see a truly beautiful person is one who is beautiful in character and comportment. If you speak kindly of people, you treat everyone with respect, you are not vulgar, you carry yourself with grace and self-confidence and you are generous. To me, these qualities are even more difficult to find in people than the physical beauty". "A queen is treated like a queen because a queen behaves like a queen. Respect can only be commanded by self-respect. If a queen behaves like a tramp, she would be treated like one". Mr. Bello ended it all with the story of a hunter who hunted long into the densely thick forest but to no avail. In his state of hunger, thirst and fatigue; he found a place where food and drink were free because his ancestors have paid. After the hunter ate and drank and satisfied his hunger, he wanted to go, but he was asked to pay so that his coming generations could eat freely. He told Aliya to endeavor to pass his lessons to her children.

The Gandhi Test (Sweet Sixteen by Bolaji Abdullahi)

Bello Aliya saw "the Gandhi Test" in the letter sent by her dad and she wanted him to shed more light on the subject.

They had the discussion in the family living room (though hardly used). They lived in an apartment 5 bedrooms. A huge mahogany cabinet in the room had mementos of Mr Bello travel round the world.

Aliyah also exposed that her dad and her mom had a different background: father attended village secondary school, mother attended federal government girls secondary school. Father had university education in Nigeria, mother had a degree in nursing in UK. They both met when the dad was writing a story on road accident victims as a cub reporter who was hardly paid salaries and mom was well paid nurse working in the Accident and Emergency ward of the hospital.

Mr. Bello told Aliya that it is better to always do the right thing but whenever in doubt whether an action is wrong or right; she should apply the Gandhi Test. "He (Gandhi) was the one that said you can tell that what you are doing is good or bad if you want other people to know about it or not".

Aliya thought Mahatma Gandhi was once an Indian President whereas India only has Prime Minister because India was colonized by Britain. He told her that Gandhi was an ordinary man respected by people and regarded as a leader_ he was never interested in politics. The first Indian Prime Minister after independence is Jawaharlal Nehru, the father of Indira Gandhi, who also became Prime Minister. Finally, Mr. Bello explained the difference between ethics and morals. "Ethics are rules that guides a person's behavior based on moral principles".

Dating (Sweet Sixteen by Bolaji Abdullahi)

Now that Aliya is 16, she asked her dad if it was the right time to have a boyfriend but Mr. Bello advised his daughter that relationship of such at her age is based on infatuation and wouldn't lead anywhere but derailment. The weight of emotion in relationship is very heavy for immature heart to carry. Anyone who doesn't learn how to delay gratification will derail. Mr. Bello noted that every gratification comes with price which might be hard to afford.

Before the Chelsea match commenced (Aliya had described her dad as a strong fan of Chelsea football club), she told him the story of two students caught by the school security on the basketball court having intercourse. The boy felt no shame but the girl was so ashamed on the morning assembly. He told Aliya that such cheap girl cannot be taken home as a future wife by the boy who sleeps with her on a basketball court; she would forever be a play-toy to the boy.

Mr. Bello further reminded her that relationship at age 16 is never love but infatuation with aftermath been jealousy, hatred, teenage pregnancy, heartbreak, distraction, etc.

The Structure

The novel is a simple to understand one. The author employed an omniscient narrative technique. He also added beauty with the use of dialect, brief story telling, letter, flashback, etc.

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