Books | A Review of Tafa Osisiye’s “Sixty Percent of a True Story”

60 per cent of a true story by Tafa OsisiyeGROWING UP in the 21st century can be fun, especially for the young and vibrant. Different people approach the fast-paced life in the city differently. Some folks are more adventurous than the others.

Tafa Osisiye’s “60 per cent of a True Story” is a confessional spiced with as many elements of fiction as possible to shield its author and other characters from outrage and judgment from the prude and censorious. It captures select portions of the life of a brilliant young man, sometimes too curious for his own good, who navigates through life in the big city that is Lagos.

Osisiye starts out with vivid recollections of childhood far away from Lagos – a distant memory that establishes him as an ever-curious soul. “Am I too short to be in the university?” the teenager asks his elder sister, often changing topics once he perceives intolerance in the disposition of the subject of his torture. The talkative boy soon morphs into a Political Science undergraduate at the University of Lagos from where he eventually graduates top of the class at age 21. Amidst experimentations with sex, booze, clubbing, advance fee fraud and what not, he gets called to be part of a Presidential candidate’s cracker team of young vibrant strategists.

The narrative is sublime and swift. It keeps you glued to the pages as the writer introduces interesting people he encounters in the university. “If people were colours, my roommates were a kaleidoscope,” he writes. “You meet Sir Henry the short and compact man who had been married twice and liked to make long calls at night. Brawn, six feet tall, sports an afro, has bowlegs, walks in carrying a large bottle of 501 Brandy, and has a guitar strapped across his back.” Brawn would introduce Osisiye, “a simple lad from Akure” to weed smoking and other vices: “I met people who smoked the substance and were very intelligent or claimed to use it for creative purposes like making music,” Osisiye muses.

Osisiye battles to understand faith and the religious folks. He tries to keep his sanity as depression forces him to seek help. He learns, unlearns and relearns; always moving with the ‘bad’ guys, yet wriggling out of tight corners and living on the fast lane.

The story begins to fall apart towards the last 40 per cent as the story shifts to the voices of some other key characters – Korede the eccentric and Chris the wealthy – to whom he dedicates entire sections to. The engaging dialogues from the first half of the book begin to give way to lengthy narratives that struggle to hold the reader’s attention. While these sections could have been better strewn together, Osisiye somehow gets the reader moving along.

The shortcomings notwithstanding, “60 per cent of a True Story” is a brilliant documentary of the realities of a young man’s life in contemporary Lagos. It documents the UNILAG that I also attended between 2006 and 2010 from interesting angles. It also reminds one of a similar book – Phil Adel Leigh’s “Diary of a Jambite,” which I read several years back before UNILAG.

Originally published in The Guardian Newspapers.

Books | A Review of Chude Jideonwo’s “Are we the turning point generation?”

Are we the turning point generation?

Title: Are we the turning point generation?

Author: Chude Jideonwo

ISBN: 978-978-52058-7-9

Pages: 187

Publisher: Kachifo Limited (Under its Kamsi imprint)

Year of Publication: 2014

Category: Non-fiction – Essays, Leadership, Governance, Nation building

Everyone has said something about Nigeria’s numerous problems and opportunities. There’s nothing new under the Sun. Nevertheless, for the ignorant, the forgetful, the curious, the historians and the curators of knowledge, Chude Jideonwo has written a collection of short, engaging essays, speeches if you like, that his generation, the one before, and the ones to come should take seriously.

In “Are we the turning point generation?” Chude – arguably one of Nigeria’s most influential young people below 30 – x-rays the past of our beloved country with boldness and wit beyond his age. He borrows a leaf from some of Chinua Achebe’s most important works; highlights Lee Kuan Yew’s narrative on Singapore; plus stories from Israel and China. He is unashamed and fearless to tell the truth.

“Government is the single most important force for change in any society – print that and paste it on your door if you want to do something to change your country,” he writes. That’s a simple, sound and insightful piece of advice. It took me several years to realize how the wrong people in government can sabotage the most brilliant of ideas from private and non-governmental initiatives.

Chude acknowledges the relevance of activists, freedom fighters, the opposition, radical lawyers, dogged journalists and progressive clergymen in governance; nevertheless he emphasizes the equally crucial need for competent and vision-driven individuals with the capacity to transform the government from within. “Many capable leaders will be flawed and will have undesirable attributes, but Bola Tinubu need not be flawless if he could create the political environment for a visionary like Babatunde Fashola,” he argues.

“Nations are not changed by the innocent and the unscarred, and people who have an unblemished record. In reality such people do not exist…”

He questions the existence of “the Nigerian dream” – whatever that means – and cautions against neglecting the country’s peculiarities as a nation and the dangers of outright transplantation of ideas and solutions from other parts of the world.

“How is it that perfectly reasonable and principled people get into the Nigerian government and suddenly begin to speak in tongues that normal people cannot understand? How come what is crystal clear to everybody else is not at all clear to those who make and drive public policy? Governance should be made unattractive to those who only want the easy life. Our government is one continuous owambe party, and it’s time for the music to stop.”

Chude is sharp and crisp as he sets aside sentiments whilst highlighting the failures and successes of some of our country’s past and present leaders. “Mr. Ribadu was clearly not a politician and didn’t have the skill set to convince, to persuade, to influence, maybe even to inspire. It was like watching a train wreck… the failure of his candidacy was spectacular. Mr. Ribadu was a fine public official, a model for effectiveness in service that has and will inspire a whole new generation – that much remains.”

He draws important lessons from these examples as he urges Nigerians to continue to ask the right questions and identify and support people with an agenda for our country – one of competence, development and nation building.

The headline question remains: Could our generation, Generation Y, be that critical generation in which Nigeria takes a decisive turn and step into the reality of the ever-elusive dream of a Nigeria that works like the most advanced of economies? “The young have it in them to be as clueless and as corrupt and as close-minded as the old. Our social media savvy and general openness to technology will not by itself save us.”

Chude does not pretend to have all the solutions. He presents a 52-point road map for incremental change as an alternative to forceful radical change. However, the onus lies on each one of us to step up and save our nation. “We are all we’ve got, and this should be the turning point generation. Let’s keep faith. If we stumble, let’s rise. When we fall, let’s rebound. Let’s refuse to let Nigeria go; let’s insist that it must work.” I agree.

Originally published on BellaNaija.com.

My Next Big Thing!

Last August, I had the privilege of participating in the Farafina Trust Creative Writers’ Workshop, annually organized by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in partnership with the Farafina Trust. It had been my third attempt and the quality of writers who made the final shortlist of 22 was a testimony to how much the workshop had grown and how competitive it had become. A total of 987 entries had reportedly been received from around the globe. Every participant at the workshop brought a unique trait and contribution to the table and I still battle the sense of nostalgia when I recall the two-week life changing experience.

Yewande Omotoso

One of us (the participants) whom we would all have voted as Class Captain if such was allowed is Yewande Omotoso, a young Nigerian born in Barbados. She grew up in Nigeria with her Nigerian father, West Indian mother and two older brothers. She and her family moved to South Africa in 1992 and have lived there ever since. She is an architect; space and buildings being a passion of hers second only to words and literature. She has lived in Cape Town and currently in Johannesburg, working as a designer, freelance writer and novelist. Later in the year, she would go on to win the English First-time Published Author Award at the 2012 South African Literary Awards for her debut novel BOM BOY. The Nigerian edition is to be released in the first quarter of 2013. I can’t wait to lap up the story and interview her exclusively! You can follow her on twitter @yomotoso and read her blog at 1of6billion. One more thing, you can purchase a copy from Amazon here: Bom Boy or an e-version on African Books Collective.

Recently, Yewande invited me to participate in The Next Big Thing, “an opportunity for writers in the blogosphere to tell readers what they’ve been working on, and introduce them to the works of other writers they may or may not already be fans of. A kind of chain cake except there’s no baking involved or a relay race without the baton or hotpants and everyone’s a winner.” She answered questions about her next big thing HERE. Its working title is “Your House is on Fire” [what a title! :)]. We had a privilege of listening to her read excerpts from it at the Farafina workshop, and I tell, you just have to be on the look-out!

The last two paragraphs have been about Yewande, and I guess I should await my check already, right? Let’s get to Part 2 of this post!

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Gbenga Awomodu

I can imagine the joy people feel when hold copies of their first book, novel, short story collection, poetry collection, whatever it is! I have stories to tell, but I am not in a hurry to get them out there. The Next Big Thing (literature) I am working on slowly but surely is what could be my first published novel. Here’s more about it:

What is the working title of your book?
Ababuo. Incidentally, that happens to be the name of the main character at the moment.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I had been obsessing over the Ghana-must-go bags and the story behind the name. I heard many tales about how really good/competent Ghanaian teachers were, especially those who taught Maths and English in Nigeria. I had some childhood friends whose parents hired a Ghanaian as a private tutor in the 90’s. It is fascinating how a nation whose citizens were kicked out of Nigeria a few decades back is beginning to find its bearing. I also find it intriguing the huge amounts of money Nigerians now spend sending their children over there for education and other benefits. I imagined how some of those Ghanaians who were brutally evicted from Nigeria felt at the time, and how those of them still alive reflect on that experience now. I wanted to explore various characters and ideas surrounding bilateral relations, etc.

What genre does your book fall under?
Historical fiction; hope nothing much changes about that in the end.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Would I want to even get the novel or parts of it adapted into a movie? Maybe, but I am wary of filmmakers and actors/actresses not interpreting the characters adequately. One thing I am sure of is that the movie would cast a handful of Ghanaian actors alongside that beautiful accent.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A young girl, trapped in a foreign land, is fascinated about returning to her home country amidst news of economic resurgence, and she has to overcome vices and inhibitions, both internal and external, to lift her family; but she must also survive the political intrigues she stumbles into in her journey.

When will your book be published?
2015. I would rather not follow the self-publishing route for this particular book. Hopefully, my final draft in the first quarter of 2014 would catch some lovely agent’s fancy.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Now, that’s a tough one. The final draft is still in my head!  I am still having those lengthy conversations in my head, and getting to know the characters better. If my baby-steps approach works, I would have spent between 9 months and a full year writing the first draft. That would include lots of research and perhaps stealing into Ghana if I ever get a holiday this year. I agree with Yewande Omotosho who wrote in her post “I find it takes longer in the beginning and then it speeds up at the end.”

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The multifaceted analyses transformed into a narrative might interest the geeks and political analysts. Nevertheless, fiction should also be interesting and entertaining, so I’m not lost on those.

Oops! The chain cake stroke relay race moves on to Adebola Rayo and Mazi Fred Nwonwu who will blog about their next big thing on Wednesday 16th January 2013.
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Adebola Rayo is a full time writer and editor. She works at Kachifo Limited, publishers of Farafina Books. Her short stories and articles have been published in several newspapers and magazines. Rayo’s next big thing, she thinks, is a collection of a few long short stories. Some of the stories are fiction, and some are faction (fictionalised telling of actual events). She blogs at all4words.blogspot.com where she will be posting about her next big thing next week.

Chiagozie Fred Nwonwu, who prefers the Igbo male title, Mazi, to the English Mr. is a writer and freelance journalist. Melrose Books—who are taking a crack at fiction, away from their traditional educational publications—will publish his short story collection ‘Footsteps on the Hallway’ in the second quarter of 2013. Mazi Nwonwu blogs at fredrnwonwu.blogspot.com and publishes book reviews at 7venhillsmedia.wordpress.com. His short story ‘Masquerade stories’ was recently selected for Africa’s first Science fiction anthology. By next week, I am sure he would have decided which is truly his next big thing, either a Crime Thriller set in Lagos [Working title is: ‘Death is a Woman’] or a science fiction short story collection.

Photo credit: www.elisedillsworthagency.com

Friday Review: The Perfect Church, a Book by Ebi Akpeti

Ebi Akpeti’s The Perfect Church is a tale of lies, conviction, repentance and grace. It deftly explores the deceitful nature of many who struggle as Christians, beyond the veil of titles and religious activities. Pastor Benson is the head of The Perfect Church, and proudly so, but a rare visit by Pastor Williams reveals more than a crack in the wall, and you just want to find out how perfect a church could really be. Other familiar characters like Mr. & Mrs. Ojo, the ideal couple, Brother Tony, the head usher, Sister Angela, the choir leader and head of the Singles’ Fellowship, as well as Mr. Banana, a politician spice up a beautiful plot. Despite a string of typos, which make the reading slightly bumpy for the curious reader, Ebi brings to the fore, again, the disturbing tales of hypocrisy which thrives in many places of worship in this generation. She also highlights the benefits of genuine repentance and the untold doom that often awaits the obstinate sheep. If you are looking for a quick, entertaining yet inspiring read suitable for an otherwise boring 90-minute transit, this book should do the magic for you.

Title: The Perfect Church
Author: Ebi Akpeti
Pages: 60
Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 978-1-4490-6676-5 (sc)
Publisher: Sub-Saharan Press
Year of Publication: 2010