Friday, August 26, 2011
By ADEBAYO SOWEMIMO
If you are looking for a book that is fun to read, didactic and irresistibly hilarious, then your best bet is Opilgue: Not a Laffing Matter, a compilation of the Opilogue column published in TELL between 2003 and 2010, by Dele Omotunde, deputy editor-in-chief of the magazine.
Omotunde’s choice of this genre of ‘opinion-in-dialogue’ called Opilogue is both unique and fascinating, a genre that is worthy of emulation but, I dare say, almost impossible to clone. It is a captivating style that lures the reader into the 75 dialogues, which discuss issues of serious concern to the author and his society.
The book straddles issues like ethnic marginalisation, women equality, politics, education, religion, sports and others situating them in a country the author calls Niagara which bears close semblance to his native country, Nigeria.
Virtually every dialogue or monologue in this book reeks of humour, which Omotunde uses to drive home his points, making serious issues look less stressful such that the reader can laugh them off. Yet the author in his usual satirical way warns that the issues are no laughing (Laffing) matter. This literary approach sets him apart from the crowd of columnists who raise the adrenalin as they inadvertently fuel tension and create fear while discussing issues of public importance. Omotunde’s style, on the other hand, calms the nerves as he informs, educates and entertains his readers even if they have to cry later when they fully grasp the import of his ‘mischief’. Pieces such as If I Must Die, Take a Message to Mama, This Heart Must Not Fall, and Their Chop-and-Chop Excellencies, and almost all the dialogues evoke this feeling.
Rich in its surreal form, most of the write-ups connect images, events, and objects in a strange yet fascinating and intelligent manner to not only send didactic messages, but also enthrall readers using some literary devices that blend with his rich African culture. This is best illustrated in Requiem at Ifa Mosque Cathedral, Death of Honour, These Things Called Human Beings and Return of the Farmer among others.
Although he talks about the tragedy of the state of affairs in Niagara, he imposes his poetic licence on the subject matters to drive home his point. After all he had in the prologue to the column asked and obtained the poetic licence “to write on anything I can think or unthink of!” And this licence the author uses to the maximum in all the articles he presents in the book.
Not a Laffing Matter proves that writing as an art, it is about creativity needed to do a well-informed critique of the absurdities being perpetrated in the state of Niagara without inviting the angst of its leaders, who in most cases ride roughshod on the people. Omotunde in some of the episodes also gives the impression that he has the spiritual weapon to peep into what takes place on the other side of life where the departed from Niagara hold court. His vision of heaven where he situates some of the characters is vivid and creative. The allocation of ‘residential’ quarters to these characters is a message and a warning to the living lords on earth to beware of life hereafter. Readers may want to verify this in Dividends of Deathocracy and Even Niagarans Can Kill God.
A thread that runs through the write ups is the message to the effect that Niagara is the Nigerian version of a land flowing with milk and honey; of brilliant and hard-working men and women who, unfortunately writhe in penury while their leaders gallivant about in abhorrent affluence. This the author illustrates in pieces like Death of Honour, Requiem at Ifa Mosque Cathedral, Farewell Umoru, Weep Not for Lamidi and Weep Not Crocodile (in memory of Kola Olawuyi, late presenter of a television programme, Nkan N’bee).
And his pen can be both informative and illustrative like in Mama’s Got a Brand-New Drug – where he plays on the medicinal and erotic benefits of banana.
Others could be narratives of special emotional and dreadful circumstances like Darfur, Not Yet Valentine, a paradoxical ‘speech’ of the main character before a phantom African Union, for war-torn Darfur on Lovers’ Day while suing for peace and love to reign.
Most of the articles in the compilation are fresh in ideas, distinct in thought, revitalising in presentation and alluring in style. But as different as the pieces are, a common thread that runs through them is the command of language, the flexibility and beauty in its usage, the ease and comfort with which the author relates with the characters in the realm of conversation and rich African culture including loaded proverbs employed to drive home the messages.
The use of African names, proverbs and languages, especially Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo, is predominant in some of the write-ups. This is obviously employed to draw people’s attention to the fact that local languages may go into extinction if not used. They will be as dead as Latin. The author is thus sending the message that people should not forget their language or culture. This is why he tries to make the characters speak the languages that fit them or their social-economic status. Depending on the character – area boys, military officers, politicians, legal luminaries, academics, musicians and diplomats – their language matches their social status.
You cannot help but fall in love with the book in spite of very insignificant slips, obviously printer’s devil – like ‘codemnation’ for condemnation, ‘prade’ for parade, ‘haamburgers’ for hamburger, in the Prologue. And both Baba Iyaboh My Foot! (2) and Biko, This London Na Wa o! (31), but there is no (32), the next piece is Requiem at Ifa Mosque Cathedral (33). There is The Redeemed Harvest of Names (2), but the preceding piece is missing from this compilation.
But these do not take anything away from this refreshingly different form of journalism, which elicits deep thoughts in a hilarious manner. Certainly, this book is more than a laughing matter.
‘A thread that runs through the write-ups is the message to the effect that Niagara is the version of a land flowing with milk and honey; of brilliant and hard working men and women who, unfortunately, writhe in penury while their leaders gallivant about in abhorrent affluence’