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.