Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Papa has got a brand new drug!
Brand new what?
I said Papa has got a brand new drug.
What type of drug is that?
He calls it "opilogesic". You need to have one.
Show me a sample.
Here it is!
Look at you. So it's a book you're calling drug?
Yes, because apart from it's literary worth it is also good as a therapeutic companion to relieve you of mental stress.
Na lie! Iro ni! It's a lie! You mean NOT A LAFFING MATTER can reduce tension in my system?
Yes! Yes!
Can you prove it?
Why not? The taste of the pudding is in the "whacking".
Meaning what?
Meaning you should get a copy today and swallow it ink, line and index.
I dey laugh o! Me I dey laugh like Baba for farm.
Hear! Hear!! Hear!!!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Madhouse Called Niagara


Part of what lends Opilogue: Not a Laffing Matter its irresistible, tantalising power is the tragedy in our comedy and the comedy in our tragedy it lucidly portrays. Such is the surprising paradox of many of the pieces in this collection that they will repay contemplation. Once you understand what comedy of humours is all about as a mode of literary production, you will enjoy Dele Omotunde’s Opilogue. Wikipedia defines comedy of humours as a genre of dramatic comedy that focuses on a character, or range of characters, each of whom has one overriding trait that dominates their personality and conduct. This definition is not as accurate as that of Webster’s Dictionary, which says that the comedy consists in the portraiture of characters in whom one humour is overdeveloped, making them ridiculous when judged by some norm of behaviour. Satire, irony, parody, mockery and paradox are, therefore, some of the components of this mode of writing.

This book, to be sure, is not a collection of plays; it is a collection of melodramatic pieces of journalism, an interface between literature and journalism – a combination of fact and fiction. The people Omotunde writes about remind us of those marvellous characters in Aristophanes The Frogs, Ladies’ Day and The Birds. They remind us of Wole Soyinka’s Brother Jero, the charlatan, and those shameless characters in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Devil on the Cross who boast in the open about how they loot in Kenya. It also recalls John Milton’s defiant Satan. Peter Enahoro, Sad Sam, Dan Agbese, Niyi Osundare, Adebayo Williams, Olatunji Dare and Reuben Abati have used some aspects of this genre in their journalism. What distinguishes Omotunde from these other worthy satirists is that he predominantly uses Socratic Method, not necessarily in its purest form, to dramatise the state of our conditions and the conditions of our state. He tactically removes himself from the pieces in order to give his reader a false sense of neutrality.

This book is not a collection of plays; it is a collection of melodramatic pieces of journalism, an interface between literature and journalism’. See also www.tellng.com

Since its debut in 2003, Opilogue has not been a conventional, mainstream column writing engagement. In its grotesque, comic, ironic and absurd transformation of people and events, it turns exaggeration into an art form spiced with appropriate proverbs and interesting turns of phrase. This collection, then, is full of genuinely funny moments and comic tenderness, yet it is also very remorseless in its rage. To whom and to what does Omotunde turn the heat of his rage? I have given a hint of that already: lunatics and demons. Omotunde masks them in the same way that he invents Niagara as a name for Nigeria and Peoples Destruction Party for PDP. The masking of the bunch of lunatics and demons in Opilogue is not for fear of litigation or any artistic timidity. If anything, at the heart of the creative strategy in this collection of 75 Opilogue essays published in TELL, is intransigence itself. The author just wants the essays to be engaged at different layers of meanings. But I have chosen to tear all the painted masks to enhance my own interpretation. After all, I am a responsible citizen and critical student of Omotunde’s country.

The list is long. For lack of time, let us close-up on a few distinguished ones. For his astonishing buffoonery, hypocrisy, cunning, intolerance of better, dissident or opposing views, greed for power, encouragement of sycophancy, and for nurturing private and sick ambitions, which he packaged as national interest, General Olusegun Obasanjo is on top of this list. In the imaginary conversations, which he had with Remi Oyo, Folake Soyinka and Major Hamza Mustapha; in the imaginary meeting he held with the women in his cabinet; the chats he had with Nigerians on both radio and television; the talks he held with Matthew Kerekou and the madman Robert Mugabe who was very afraid of death but enjoyed killing his compatriots to remain in power, Omotunde uses the fantasies of Obasanjo to interrogate his horribly negative thoughts.

Next, of course, is the vampire of Ibadan, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu. He was mad at Governor Rashidi Ladoja for preventing him from having unfettered access to the state treasury, from choosing his own commissioners and chairmen of government parastatals and board members. He regaled us with how powerful he had become. He had many houses, slaves, cars and a young beautiful woman to boot. What did Ladoja have, he boasted to a journalist, that he did not have except that he was the governor in Agodi while he was the godfather in Molete? He said he would deal ruthlessly with Rashidi. And he did so with the support of the federal government under Obasanjo.

It is simply riveting reading the fictional broadcast of Chris Ngige from his hellhole in Anambra. A victim of another godfather across the Niger. Like a rattled rat he squealed, asking the whole world to save his life. The venality of Chris Uba had no limit. He had the full backing of Alhaji Tafa Balogun, the inspector-general of police, and, again, President Obasanjo. As if that was not enough to belittle a country, one day at the Heathrow Airport in the United Kingdom, a melodrama played itself out right on the tarmac. A band of deranged Niger Delta activists were protesting the arrest, for money laundering, of Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the Governor-General of the Ijaw nation himself. How could these neo-colonialists arrest the people’s general? What impudence! The protesters would not leave the tarmac if the man was not released immediately. In the alternative, Britain could keep part of the money and wire the rest to Nigeria. They reasoned oddly that Britain must be foolish, in the first instance, to make noise about the money it should just have kept for itself. Yet at that time the militant Niger Delta youths were up in arms against Nigeria for stealing all the resources belonging to the Niger Delta. Hostage-taking was rife. The militants whose leaders included Alhaji Mujahideen Asari-Dokubo just kidnapped a ‘whiteman’. It was only in the course of interrogating him that they discovered that the man was Ben Murray-Bruce!

The country, in this book, is a madhouse where Atiku Abubakar, whose hands were not clean, talked like Martin Luther King Jr.; a land of opportunists like Orji Uzor Kalu who talked about Igbo marginalisation only when it was convenient; an asylum where the judiciary took bribe and brazenly perverted justice; a prison-house where the policemen remained incorrigible crooks; a stinking cathedral where pastors praised dollars and naira, not Jesus Christ; a ‘Fuji House of Commotion’ where Ayo Fayose’s sister, Bimpe Sorinolu, took her brother-governor to the cleaner in the media; a haven for Charles Taylor, a war monger and a plain thief; a theatre of the absurd where Umar Musa Yar’Adua, the dead, held the living to ransom for months; a country of fanatics and rookie bombers like Farouk Abdul Mutallab.

If these represent a group of negative archetypes who are condemned in this book, there are positive archetypes too who are celebrated. They are the Avatars. Intellectuals like Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, Elizabeth Anderson and Christopher Hitchens have argued rigorously and almost convincingly that there is no life after death. In the imaginary Godstown of Omotunde, however, the ancestors and Avatars met and had a national conference. Justice Atinuke Ige, the wife of Bola Ige, who hardly discussed politics publicly when she was alive, became a powerful debater of Nigerian conditions. Both husband and wife had brainstorming sessions in heaven. Ige who had now made many friends including William Shakespeare, Langston Hughes, Steve Biko and Oliver Tambo shouted Pin-Di-Pi! when Atinuke told him that one of the people being tried for his murder had won ‘neat and square’ in Ige strongholds. M.K.O. Abiola, who by this time, now lived in the God’s Reserved Area, GRA, in heaven, was holding talks with Kudirat his wife when Ajibola Olanipekun walked in. He informed them how and why Nigeria had become a den of assassins. All those whose lives were cut short by the bullets of assassins actually formed what they called Association of Assassinated Nigerians in Heaven. Barnabas Igwe and his wife were members, Papa Alfred Rewane, was a notable and active member. Omotehinwa and Olagbaju were members. Ken Saro-Wiwa and Adaka Boro were members. There were many others.

Obafemi Awolowo, a politician who was given to finding practical solutions to political problems on earth, was still agonising over many great opportunities, which he thought Nigeria was missing. Professors Claude Ake, Chike Obi and Ayodele Awojobi, Raji Abdallah, a NEPU leader, Walter Sisulu, Tai Solarin, Aminu Kano and Malcolm X always enjoyed Awolowo’s company. Gani Fawehinmi was happy to meet Dele Giwa in heaven. Giwa specifically wanted Gani to describe how he was killed, and what has been done to track down his killers. When Beko joined Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Olikoye and Dolupo in heaven, they reminisced on the essence of the struggle, which was the life of their family. We are reminded of the necessity of struggle against poverty, oppression, insecurity and bad governance. Every meaningful, effective struggle, we are told, is not a tea party.

With these refracted, mediated representations, Omotunde appears to be telling us: Let the spirit of the avatars guide us in our quest for greatness. Let the fog of the lunatics and demons clear. Let it clear.

Ajibade, executive editor of TheNEWS, identifies lunatics, demons and Avatars in OPILOGUE: Not a Laffing Matter at a public presentation of the book in Lagos, May 17, 2011.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Redeemed Harvest of Names

“He said if an ifa priest could become an ‘archbishop’, why can’t he become a pope?”

I know oko mi Adio like my palm. What else do you expect, anyway? We’ve been married for years. We eat together. We pray together. We play together. We even sleep together. Are you surprised? We do virtually everything together. And this very much I know about him: he is a very religious person. He wakes up reading the Bible. At midday, you will see him with the great book memorising its verses. At night he is also at it, fondling the robust Holy Book like a newly wedded wife. But of recent, oko mi Adio says he wants to take his romance with the Book to the next level. He has quit his well-paying job, ostensibly to engage in evangelism. But nobody can convince me that he is not up to something. I confronted him with my suspicion and I could not fault his reasoning.

What did he say?

He said all his contemporaries have become pastors and have prospered. He, too, wants to join the multitude to worship the god of prosperity. I was alarmed! How could anybody dare say that? He flared up, calling me names. I tried to dissuade him but it was obvious his hunter’s dog was destined to get lost in the wilderness of wishful thinking. He insisted he must become a pastor by all means. He said he is no longer interested in the god of poverty. I cried foul! He said if I liked, I could cry turkey or eagle, he would not care a hoot. He said if an Ifa priest could become an ‘archbishop’, why can’t he become a pope? His logic baffled me a bit. He even went further to lay a premise for his unprofessional calling. He said many “men of God” in Niagara today did not go to any major seminary or study theology in any divinity college. He gave instances of spouses of pastors taking over ministries after the demise of the breadwinners, and sons becoming deputy pastors and assistant bishops with “executive fiat”. I concurred and he thanked me for agreeing with his inordinate intention to set up his own ministry. The problem now is what name to give his proposed ministry.

Why should that be a problem? Why not just “OKO MI ADIO EVANGELICAL MISSION OF IGBOTAKO AND IGBOBINI?

Never! Oko mi Adio does not want a name like that. He wants a name that will draw crowds and dollars. And this is where he ran into a problem. To overcome this, he went out in search of specimen names and he became more confused than ever as to what name to adopt or adapt. The first day he went out, he said he almost ran back home because all he was seeing was fire, fire, fire everywhere!

Was the town burning?

No! He said virtually all the names of churches he saw bore ‘fire’ and he started wondering if he had not willingly entered hell in his quest for his daily bread. I told him he should not worry. The fire brigade is always there to rescue him even from hell. The first signboard was truly frightening: FIRE FOR FIRE MINISTRY! What could this be? Oko mi Adio said this must be a church for armed robbers and the police who are always slugging it out in their regular fire fights. He said he would never name his church like that. He can’t be ducking from bullets in the church. He had hardly moved forward when he saw another one, ANGELS ON FIRE, CHAPEL OF PEACE. He just hissed. He said how could he set up a church where angels will burn when he is not the Hitler who built the gas chambers for the extermination of Jews. No way, he said. But he had not seen anything yet. As he walked along some other streets, he saw a row of “fire ministries”. My friend, oko mi Adio had never been so alarmed.

What did he see?


Enough of fire! But how did he react to the line-up?

You can trust oko mi Adio. He just dismissed the names as those created by ignoramuses who have chosen to play with fire, despite the warning of Osibissa, in a country where the fire service is always short of water. He said he would prefer to stay far from the madding crowd. But he had not walked very far again when he saw another church name HOLY GHOST ON FIRE MINISTRY. Initially he liked the name saying instead of the congregation running helter skelter for water all the pastor needs to do is preach to them to dole out naira notes to buy “anointing water” with which to quench the fire. On a second thought he felt today’s pastors truly need FIRE MINISTRIES for practical lessons on what most of them may end up experiencing in hell. That seemed to have given him a new attitude to the “anointing business” and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

Please, I don’t understand. It’s confusing to me. Can you come again?

I mean that oko mi Adio started to read meanings into the names instead of just throwing them away paint, brush and signboard. So when he saw the HIGH TENSION MINISTRY, oko mi Adio suggested that it could be a church for NEPA men and their megawatts expectations. Then he brought in his diabolical interpretation. He said it could be a church where the electrocution of evils takes place. But is oko mi Adio ready to name his own church after that? No, he said. Why? Hear him: “Many prospective worshippers may be scared away with their tithes and weekly offerings”. Can you beat that? However, this must be stated. If not because my husband was determined to make hay while the opium (that’s what he calls religion), lasts, he would have been frightened out of the business project with the kind of names he encountered at the beginning, names that have to do with the elements, fear, disaster and violence: HURRICANE MIRACLE MINISTRY, HEALING TSUNAMI MINISTRY, STATAN IN TROUBLE MINISTRY and so on. Oko mi Adio was flustered. He said after what hurricanes/Andrew and Katharina did in the United States, he can never name his ministry ‘hurricane’. Neither would he joke with tsunami. He said a tsunami will definitely wipe all tithes, weekly and harvest offerings away, leaving his wallet wet and empty. You need to see how oko mi Adio was looking while narrating his story. He looked frustrated. I said he should not worry. He could stay at home while I go out to help him sort out more names and promised to come back with what I thought was best for him.

For the concluding part, see 'The Redeemed Harvest of Names 2' in the book, Opilogue: Not a Laffing Matter.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Subway to Surrealism

In name and content, this is an unusual book written in an unusual way. If you have canons (of criticism) to fire after going through it, then you are at the wrong warfront. Do not expect the usual style of writing acknowledgement or introduction to a book because the author is a self-confessed non-conformist. A radical? Bury the thought. Just sit down and savour the aroma of a literary cuisine laced with African condiments. Welcome to the surreal world of Opilogue.

The idea to compile opilogues into book form is not mine. The truth must be told. It is the readers' wish. When I set out in May 2003 to experiment with the art of conversation in writing opinions, little did I know that many a reader would fall in love with the style. Again, the truth must be told. Writing opinion in dialogue format is not original to me. Many outstanding writers with a bolder claim to intellectualism have experimented and mastered the art of reducing hardcore opinions to witty, humorous conversations easily accessible to both the professor in the university campus and the pedestrian on the sidewalk. Langston Hughes, the great African-American writer, is one of the literary touchstones in this respect. His column in The Chicago Defender in the 1960s was a must read for fellow African-Americans and Hispanics.

To Hughes, humour is a weapon of no mean value against one's foes. "In the Latin American countries", he said, "the humorous magazines are often more dangerous to a crooked politician than the most serious articles in the intellectual press..." Thus, in his daily column, he used humour to treat issues of segregation and social inequality in Jim Crow America. In Opilogue, however, humour wears a less belligerent garb. Like one critic once noted, humour can be likened to a rubber sword. "It allows you to make a point without drawing blood".

Opilogue is carved out for entertainment. There is no pretence about that. But should that be the be-all and end-all of Opilogue? Should art only be for art's sake? This has always been a recurrent issue among critics. This I'd say of Opilogue: It operates at more than one level. It is a combination of fact and fiction or what is today known as FACTION. It does not pretend to be "a factual representation of the truth" as neo-classical theorists would say but a fictional representation of fact! Wait a minute. What is going on here? Well, you had better get used to this somewhat abrasive phenomenon because Opilogue, on a different level, is oxymoron in motion. Call it poetic licence!

Talking about poetic licence, Opilogue often takes advantage of this writing tool to “creatively break” the rules in order to expand the frontiers of humour. Well, in the realm of satire and comedy, the writer is at liberty to play on the follies and foibles (o my cliché!) of mankind and use both the congruous and the incongruous, the ridiculous and the sublime, the moderate and the exaggerated, to beam a searchlight on the profane and the perfidious, yet clapping and yelling when there is something to crow about. That has been the journey traversed by Opilogue. Every bone is meat. No matter how gory the story in the Opilogue is, the reader will find some laughlines. Dividends of Deathocracy, published May 12, 2003, set the tone for those opilogues in the category of tragedies. Others include Requiem at Ifa Mosque Cathedral, Weep Not for Lamidi and Farewell Umoru which appear in this collection.

Each Opilogue has its special circumstance though others are borne out of practically creative desires to tackle some issues other writers may consider inane or innocuous such as Knowing Me Knowing You, The Ghanageria Siamese Twins and Diplomatic Yabis. Others are blatantly socio-political commentaries. But whether in social or cultural or religious expositions, Opilogue tries to limit its setting to Niagara, an imaginary country that sounds and smells like Nigeria. That's where the similarity ends though. Any resemblance in the names of characters with those of actual persons, dead or alive, is just an accident which, unfortunately, is not covered by any insurance policy.

The opilogues in this volume have been carefully selected and, deliberately, not much of annotation has been done to explain the circumstance of each one so as not to limit the reader’s interpretation. The joy of Opilogue, like poetry, is in the elasticity of interpretation and appreciation. For example, Far from the Madding Cow is one Opilogue that will be a hard nut to crack now except the reader can connect it with Dividends of Deathocracy. Same with some of the predominantly satirical pieces

Want to read more? See the introduction to the book, NOT A LAFFING MATTER, an illustrated Opilogue compilation, due for launch May 17, 2011. It’s a cocktail of the satirical, the surreal and the sublime.