Reviewing this book has been somehow tricky. First because it is not a regular book that dwells on a single or particular subject, say Sociology, Performing Arts or the likes. It is a rainbow sort of book with many colours in terms of covered subject matters all of which one must have a great mastery.
It is a book with many parts – Politics, Sociology, History, Law, Human Rights, Journalism, Psychology even Science. So from what perspective does one tackle this multi – disciplinary challenge of a book review? Thank God, the book can be safely classified, broadly, speaking, a book on journalistic writing. So, the task of reviewing it will be approached from this perspective, using a-four level criteria.
Content arrangement and delivery:
Letters from the Street has been carefully arranged into three parts – Features, Tributes and Interviews. This you will agree is an excellent compartmentalisation acceptable in standard journalistic circles. This has made it easy for the reader to distinguish whose opinion you are reading, who has provided the facts, whose interests the facts are serving etc. Leaving through the pages of this book, you are not in doubts about this. The distinction and clarity are crystal clear for all to see.
Depth and presentation of facts:
Whether it is the features section, the tributes or the interviews, you are confronted, face-to-face, with articles and contents well researched and in-depth. Presentation style has been pretty straight-forward to make it easy for the ordinary man on the street with a fair English fluency to be able to read and understand. No bogus use of high-sounding words, no verbosity in being over-detailed, no over emphasis. In short, the writing has seen a transformation of the writer from a trained Performing Arts graduate to full-blown journalist. Again, the training in Performing Arts has come in handy in presenting perspectives with an infusion of dramatic effects in terms of choice of words with visual and picturesque connotations and denotations.
Moreover, in the series of interviews published, the book has presented series of attempts – a failed one though – at nation building in Nigeria. The challenges at nation building, the issue of leadership, the matters of corruption, greed, ineptitude, conflict and competition for power, power abuse, etc are presented for our leaders and politicians to learn from history and correct the course of a repeat of our inglorious past. For those singing and dancing to the drums of warmongers in Nigeria, the interview with Pa Jen, a first and second world war veteran, gives a conclusion of the matter. “War is evil, it destroys only.” Read it up in this book.
Journalistic tools and writing style:
Journalists, because of space constraints in the print have fashioned a unique way of writing which succinctly puts the information across addressing the essential needed by the reading public. Journalistic writing tool and style, I am educated are captured in the 5 Ws and H – WHO did WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW? I have seen a generous dose of this deployment throughout the length and breadth of this book. It is a nice piece of journalistic artistry.
The ultimate goal of every journalist is to serve as a catalyst for societal development and advancement. This is done by giving ‘Voice” to the voiceless, highlighting the cause of the oppressed, defending the defenceless, challenging the ‘status quo’ and holding government accountable to the people.
From the ordeal of Citizen Ibrahim Abiodun in the land of liberty, the Ifowodo episode to the Tongedi Island neglect and abandonment, Letters from the Street has attained the ultimate – from my point of view- in the quest for societal change for the better.
Letters from the Street has come at the right time to provide deeper and better perspectives to our struggle as a nation on the way to nationhood. As a matter of fact, as politicians jostle for 2019, we see a repeat of those issues and events that characterised the days of Babangida and Abacha transitions and self–succession attempts.
The catch is whether at all as a people we have learnt from history. The spate of insecurity in the land, the state of the economy, the level of poverty and hunger in the land have challenged every Nigerian to rededicate ourselves to the cause of common good and societal development. This in my opinion is what Semiu Okanlawon has set to do by putting together this masterpiece of a journalistic write – up at this auspicious time in history.
The publication is, therefore, commended as a reference material for students and scholars alike in History, Politics, Law, Arts, in fact, all fields of human endeavour and all those genuinely committed to a better Nigeria.
• Prof Jeleel Ojuade is the Director, Advancement Centre, University of Ilorin, Nigeria and President, Association of Dance Professionals and Scholars in Nigeria.