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.

On Becoming a Man: Birthday Musings – It’s Reflection Time

“So teach [us] to number our days, that we may apply [our] hearts unto wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12

Yes, we meet again in a bit. And, I feel old. No, I feel young. Honestly, I feel… I refuse to be confused!

Today, I hit the midpoint of the twenties and I get that feeling that I am not that young anymore. I remember birthday celebrations in the elementary school – the days of good ol’ Cabin biscuit packets and assorted sweets. The ideal was two packets, but if your parents were more financially comfortable, you had a big cake, three or even four square packets of Cabin and lots of chocolate to complement, plus Ribena or Caprisonne drinks for everyone. On rare occasions, when we had multiple celebrants, it was heaven on earth. At home, birthday parties in the neighbourhood were a delight, though sometime in Primary 6, an incident happened that made me stop attending such events. I had attended a friend’s younger sister’s birthday and we had done the usual MJ steps and all, but the celebrant’s mum made a passing comment that suggested I was probably the oldest kid at the event (of course there were some adults around), and it filtered into my ears. The shy ‘me’ who had made superb efforts to have fun could not allow it rest. Thus, began my overly bookish years in the secondary school. I decided to attend a Boys-only secondary school in order to focus on ‘the more important things’…

Continue reading here: On Becoming a Man: Birthday Musings – It’s Reflection Time

April Fool’s Day: Tell Me, Have You Been Fooled Today?

Newspapers too can fool you!

Newspapers too can fool you!

Hi there, today is that day again – April Fool’s Day. It is that day when everyone, regardless of their age or class, is susceptible to the avalanche of false stories that fly around at alarming rates. It doesn’t really matter much whether you like to play pranks or not. You could be the next target; so, either you return the ‘favour’ or just laugh after you find out you’ve been punk’d!

So, have you been fooled today? Ashamedly, I must admit I have been destabilized today – just once though. There I was scrolling down checking my daily newsfeed from when I saw the headline “Buhari withdraws from Presidential race; backs Mallam Nuhu Ribadu”. I was like, “I can’t believe this! Really!?” I had opened the main page and already drawn the attention of one of my superiors to the news before I finally smelt a rat. I quickly scrolled to the bottom of the post to discover it was all good old foolery! Apparently, the CP-Africa guys had played their game well because, had they referred to President Goodluck Jonathan as the one who had stepped out of the presidential race, I would have caught them right from the headline. (They have now added an emphasis plus a cartoon at the top of the post)

I can now imagine how diverse these jokes can be. Maybe a wife would even remorsefully inform her husband, “I don’t love you any more” only to turn around and laugh out loud “April Fool!!!” :) So, tell me your own April Fool’s Day ordeals. Have you been punk’d? How many people have you fooled today? Have you experienced any nasty or uncouth or utterly senseless attempts by other people to fool you by all means? Shoot!

In other news: The picture used in this post is from JO Photography blog. My good friend, Jide Odukoya, is exhibiting a series of photographs from across Nigeria in a two-month programme he has tagged: “60 Days Through My Lens“. There will be a photograph or group of photographs every single day from today Friday 1 April 2011 to Monday 30 May 2011. Show him some love and feed your eyes and imagination with moments from around Nigeria.

Also, if you don’t mind being fooled every day, you can follow Satire Network News (@SNN_headlines by @sir_scribbles) on twitter for a weekly dose of some of the most untrue tales in the world! Tune in every Friday for SNN’s weekly broadcasts. If it never happened, or is too hilarious to be true, you’ll hear it first on SNN. I discovered this source some months back and it’s been super hilarious. Go grab some fun folks! Happy April Fool’s Day! -GN!

Guest Post: Cashless: Diary of a Lagos Commuter by Abdallah Dindi

Maryland, Lagos

As usual, I closed from work that Wednesday. I hopped down the stairs and crossed to the other side of the road. In two minutes I was in front of an ATM machine down the street. The machine spoke to me; I checked my account balance and headed straight to the bus-stop. I looked forward to a safe journey home, a modest dinner, and a refreshing sleep at night. But something happened that evening after the bus moved.

Several minutes into the journey, the bus conductor began to ask for the bus fare. This he did with neither respect nor decorum. The way he treated other passengers in front of me earned him a spiteful and condescending frown from me. Who’s this rude and impatient fellow? I thought to myself. My confident countenance was buoyed by the fact that I was so sure I had the N500 note in my pocket to pay him – the money that also held promise for a decent dinner.

Still frowning, I dipped my hand into my pocket to fetch the note. It brought out nothing save a bruised N10 note. I thrust it into the other pocket, this well was dry too. In split seconds, my frown diffused into thin air. I had started to search my brown envelope for the money when the conductor came around the second time demanding his money, his tone getting worse with less patience. By now, my frown had melted away completely and my face told of deep anxiety. I searched my pack painstakingly and my fingers probed the corners of my pocket again and again. Same story. I had to face reality. Even if my money had been stolen or misplaced, it was definitely not on this bus. How was I to convince this red-eyed conductor to accept N10 for a N30 journey?

I quickly consulted a fellow passenger next to me for help, but he shook his head and soon hopped off the bus at his stop. I moved on to the next person, a guy like me. I tapped. I nudged, and made my humble petition in low tones, like a criminal nabbed red-handed in crime. But this fellow turned a deaf ear, nay, a blind eye to my plight and request. He looked straight out of the window, his eyes fixed on a distant object like someone in a trance. Shame engulfed me now. I felt desolate, deserted and betrayed. I withdrew. I decided to rise to the occasion and do like a man; to open up to the conductor.

With a steady voice that belied my anxiety I announced to him that I had just a third of the fare and if he so wished I could alight at the next bus-stop.

“Ehn!” he barked. His temple creased in mistrust and furious furrows formed on his forehead. He refused and demanded that I pay the full fare. I gave no response, the creased N10 note still in my hand and a defiant resolve painted on my face. As we travelled further, he probably saw the futility in holding a penniless and stubborn man for common N20. Then he beckoned to his driver to halt at the nearest bus-stop. The bus stopped.

I rose from my seat thinking he would spare the last N10 I had on me. That was wishful thinking. For when I got to the door, I met a wide, red palm stretched before me. I placed the money in his hand and hopped off the bus. I hopped into the uncertainties that held sway that evening! –GN!

Photo credit: Gbenga Awomodu