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A new wave of Black consciousness


Title: The Dream: Pursuing the Black Renaissance through the murky waters of Nigerian Politics.
Author: Femi Okurounmu
Publisher: Bookcraft , Ibadan
Pages: 669
Reviewer: Dr. ÌlatokunbÍ AwoÍowo 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. It contains incredible details about persons, places and events in our national history. The author of ‘The Dream’ 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 question then is: Is this account that of the author’s own life or that of his country?

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 rather long sub-title, an explanation of the dream, is thus an early pointer to how the author’s life journey has consistently intersected that of his country.

The 13-Chapter, 669-page book opens with an Acknowledgment by the author of persons and institutions who made it possible for him to write the book. This is followed by a Foreword by no less a personage than one of Africa’s foremost Professors of History and an expert in Yoruba History and Politics, Professor Stephen Adebanji Akintoye. Following this is a piece the author titled the Prologue which, in actual fact, reads more like the synopsis of the entire book. It is in the prologue that you would see clearly that what you are about to read is a fine mix between the personal history of a Nigerian and that of his country’s politics. It includes the author’s unshaken belief that only structural re-engineering of Nigeria, through federalism, can birth its dream of being a truly great nation.

Although we have 13 chapters in this book, I have chosen to review this riveting story along the lines of the following thematic segments:

Femi Okurounmu – his persona, his early life and education 

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 who was, nevertheless, enlightened and determined enough to aspire to give his son the best education he could. 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.

The journey to Government College, Ibadan was his first out of Abeokuta and it was in preparation for his resumption at the school that he acquired a pair of shoes for the first time in his life. We see shining all through the book the providential brilliance of a poor but very fortunate student, who, at critical junctures, was also at the right place the right time. For example, when in October 1952 GCI was to give scholarships to the best 10 students, Femi was number 10 on the admission list of 48. One point below this and his father would have been unable to afford the fees. His unending pride in the fact of his association with GCI is impossible to miss, as is his great disappointment about the unfortunate degeneration of the facilities in the school over the years.

Again, when the government wanted to select the best 24 students across the country for the Nigerian-American scholarship program 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. A spurious chest x-ray reading and subsequent wrong diagnosis almost cost him this opportunity of a lifetime.

He gave painstaking details of his life changing experiences in Harvard where he majored in Engineering Science and Applied Physics, but also took ‘mindset-changing and consciousness-expanding’ courses in the Humanities and Social Sciences. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a Magna cum Laude (with Highest Honours).

The author believes that Harvard changed his life and focus radically forever. He writes on page 66-67 of the book.

‘My three years at Harvard had had the greatest transformational impact on my life, changing me from the bookwormish, shy, overprotected and politically indifferent Zacchaeus Akanbi Okurounmu, with a single-minded focus on becoming an engineer to the mentally liberated, politically combative, fearless activist with broad intellectual interests, a heightened perception of global racial relations, and a burning desire to change the position of black people away from the bottom of the totem pole of mankind. It was at Harvard that I learnt that education means much more than acquiring a profession or learning a skill and that a complete education imposes on the recipient, the additional burden of becoming an instrument of social and political change in his community.’

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.’ The enraged students called the police for assistance, but the police arrived and arrested them, even though they were the complainants. The school had to intervene to prevent them being put on trial!

At the social level, readers will see in the book a young man who was quite the ‘ladies’ man’. Indeed, there is an account on Page 62 of how what he described as his “dating hobby” almost cost him his life during his first year of post-graduate studies. He met a girl at a get-together, invited her to his flat the following weekend which he believed she enjoyed. According to him, “But the following Monday, I got a call from her doctor who congratulated me for escaping with my life, and informed me that my weekend guest had psychopathic disorders and had in fact contemplated driving a kitchen knife into me while I had my back turned to her in the kitchen. Fortunately she had a change of mind and went to report to her doctor…I had God to thank for my escape.”

Mercifully, his life was spared to meet, in 1970, the love of his life, Margaret AdesunbÍ Ashak¹ KushimÍ. They got married in 1971 and have remained happily married since then. They are blessed with successful, happily married children. They are also blessed with many lovely grandchildren.

Pursuing the Dream

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. Hear him, ‘I returned with a consuming passion – 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 Faw¹hinmi was a prominent member of both organisations. It may surprise many that the author instituted a scholarship scheme for secondary school students, which was halted in 1979, upon the inception of the UPN Free Education Scheme.

The author narrates, on pages 101-102, his first encounter with the Sage, Chief Obafemi AwolÍwÍ, subsequent to the prominent role he played at the 67th birthday of the sage, organised by the Free Education Association in 1976, describing that encounter as “beginning  a relationship that would endure till the end of his (Papa Awo’s) life in 1987.”

Incidentally, the official quarters allocated to him by UNILAG was on Saburi Ajose Crescent, Surulere, the same street on which the rented house Chief AwolÍwÍ lived in as Federal Commissioner for Finance was located.

Second Republic Politics, travails under military dictatorship and Political Activism

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 ÌnabanjÍ, his appointment as commissioner, the 1983 electoral heist with the eventual collapse of the second republic are very comprehensively treated in these chapters. He also recounts his role as UPN’s Coordinator in Southern Gongola (now Taraba) State and his justifiable pride in the party’s electoral successes in the area in Chapter 5.

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 Af¹nif¹re and its involvement in the transition to civil rule in 1999. The author feels that Af¹nif¹re did so well during this period that “by the time the Abubakar transition elections were concluded, the Af¹nif¹re had acquired a legendary mystique and reputation within Yorubaland and beyond.” Even the author himself says he “felt ten feet tall” as the leading architect of the victory in his home state, Ogun, where he emerged senator-elect.

If chapters 7 and 8 triumphantly tell the story of Af¹nif¹re’s exploits and victory, the next two chapters are about the Pan Yoruba organization’s challenges – in particular, the interplay of forces within and outside the organization, the author’s appointment and resignation and withdrawal of resignation as the General Secretary of the Af¹nif¹re.

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. You will read about one of such visits to, and discussion with Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the company of myself Dr AwolÍwÍ Dosumu. You will read about the 2015 presidential election and his opinion about what should, or should not have been allowed to happen, especially in Yoruba land.

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. All our institutions, he said, “have broken down and become dysfunctional due to the lack of honourable men to run them.” As he laments the state of the nation, Senator Okurounmu avers that there is virtually “no commitment to nationhood.” 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.

 Conclusion

The Dream, as a memoir, shows in graphic details how the trajectory of the life of an individual and that of his country sometimes follow the same direction. We see a well-mannered man who has kept his childhood friends, with almost all of them who are still alive still in his life. We see a F¹mi Okurounmu, an exceptionally brilliant man who left the green pastures of the United States to pursue a dream of a better Nigeria, as a means of achieving the larger goal of renaissance for the black race. We see a man who had the choice of staying abroad, pursue a career in the US and rise to the very top, but who chose to come home, only to meet a system that kills dreams. Nevertheless, he kept his head high, unbowed, and has refused to give up on his ideals, even to this day.

I dare say that until we have many more of his type, that is, those who can pierce through the fog that beclouds most of our compatriots and, not only envision, but also keep in perpetual focus the belief in a better future, the dream of a prosperous Nigeria will remain elusive.

Overall, I would say that 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. When you read the author saying: “No force can resist the urge to be free,” you appreciate the fact that this book is also a defiant denunciation of Nigeria’s manacling propensities.

The Dream is competently written with very easily accessible language. At the level of narrative structure, its linear ordering of chapters is a great boon to its easy reading and comprehension aided by the almost hundred pages of appendices and a detailed index. I cannot see any error of grammar, syntax or lexis in the book.

Finally, I think that this book is a great addition to the lengthening list of valuable books on our contemporary history, a 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.

I thank you for your attention.

Ambassador (Dr) ÌlatokunbÍ AwolÍwÍ Dosumu

July 11, 2019



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