Title : The Dream: Pursuing the Black Renaissance through the Murky Water of Nigerian Politics
Author : Femi Okurounmu
Publisher: Bookcraft, Ibadan
Reviewer : Ọlatokunbọ Awolọwọ Dosumu
There are some special people in all cultures whose stories and those of their country travel along the same route. That is what I see in this book, The Dream… . It contains incredible details about persons, places and events in our national history. The author of the book describes it as his “memoirs”, as opposed to his “autobiography” , a subtle distinction which becomes apparent to the reader as you browse through its contents.
The book’s subtitle, “Pursuing The Renaissance Through The Murky Waters of Nigerian Politics”, foregrounds its structural and thematic import as that which is a mix of the national and the personal. The Foreword was written by an expert in Yoruba history and politics, Professor Stephen Adebanji Akintoye, while the author’s Prologue hints that his book is a fine mix of the personal history of a Nigerian and that of his country’s politics.
The story of the author’s roots and birth, first of all, highlights the simple, medical explanation for hitherto ravaging, mystical infant mortality. He was the fourth, yet the oldest surviving child of his father. It also highlights his humble beginning as the son of a roadside watch repairer. The author’s educational journey through primary schools in Abeokuta, to Government College Ibadan, and later to Harvard and MIT in the USA, are comprehensively captured in the first three chapters of the book.
When the government wanted to select the best 24 students across the country for the Nigerian-American scholarship programme for American universities in 1960, not only was he chosen; he was also one of the two students given admission to Harvard from where he proceeded, on merit, to the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he obtained a DSc degree in Engineering.
Although he vouched repeatedly for the liberalism that was mostly on display throughout his stay at Harvard, he, nevertheless, recounts an unpleasant experience at a restaurant in the company of a friend who was also a Nigerian. They had insisted on being served with a clean tray but the manager thought a dirty, used tray was good enough for them because, according to him, they “don’t get such good things in (their) home country.” Even when they insisted that as members of the public they were entitled to good service, the restaurant manager retorted: “You don’t belong to the public.” They were also arrested by the police.
The author’s post-school political and social activism occupies the next three chapters. In June 1969, he chose to leave a lucrative job at United Aircraft Research Laboratories in the USA, to take up the job of Lecturer in the University of Lagos ‘to sensitise and mobilise Nigerians towards playing a leadership role in achieving the Dream of restoration of pride, dignity, and global respect for the black race.”
The author very quickly became active, with the launch of the Black Renaissance Movement on June 25, 1970, and the Free Education Association on September 20, 1975. Chief Gani Fawẹhinmi was a prominent member of both organisations.
The politics of the Second Republic, the roles the author played in the formulation of the stellar programmes of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), the elections of 1979 and its controversies and, very importantly the how and why he missed being running mate to the late Chief Bisi Ọnabanjọ, his appointment as commissioner, the 1983 electoral heist with the eventual collapse of the second republic are very comprehensively treated in these chapters.
Chapters 6, 7 and 8 exhaustively discuss the state of the nation under the post 1983 military regimes. They contain a chronicle of the “horrors” of life in detention from 1984-1985, his own perspectives on the Babangida years, his role in NADECO and the struggle for democracy, the Afẹnifẹre and its involvement in the transition to civil rule in 1999. The author feels that Afẹnifẹre did so well during this period that “by the time the Abubakar transition elections were concluded, the Afẹnifẹre had acquired a legendary mystique and reputation within Yorubaland and beyond.”
If chapters 7 and 8 triumphantly tell the story of Afẹnifẹre’s exploits and victory, the next two chapters are about the Pan Yoruba organisation’s challenges —in particular, the interplay of forces within and outside the organisation, the author’s appointment and resignation and withdrawal of resignation as the General Secretary of the Afẹnifẹre.
The last three chapters of the book look into the author’s involvement in the search for a solution to the intractable problems of Nigeria as a nation. Here, you will read about Dr Okurounmu’s appointment as the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee of the 2014 National Conference convened by President Goodluck Jonathan. You will read about his very many visits to Yoruba leading political figures in furtherance of that assignment, among others.
The title of the final chapter is, “Can the Dream Become a Reality?” That is, surely, the question of the age. The author bemoans the destruction of values in all facets of national life. It is, however, not a total resignation to fate as the author recommends a wide-range of institutional and structural reforms which he hopes may salvage whatever remains of the country.
The Dream… is more than the personal story of Senator Femi Okurounmu. It is a brisk, lucid account of the journey of Nigeria through shaky dreams at birth, to its nights of leadership nightmares and the uncertainties of the future. This book is a great resource material, which I believe, is very timely, particularly now that we are locked in an unprecedented and desperate search for the very soul of our nation.
Being an abridged version of a review presented by Dr Ọlatokunbọ Awolọwọ Dosumu recently.