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Lagbo Narratives Where the Dead Dance in Text and the Living Supply the Tunes

Reviewed by Kole Odutola

Saturday, January 18, 2020.

After about five years, Muritala Sule’s biography/memoir came my way, and I have set myself the task of sharing my thoughts on it with the reading public. To do justice to this, three pillars will hold up this review if I can put my emotions in check. Let us call the first a subjective hindrance that threatens to impede my flow. I have a simple confession to make, and it has to do with my inability to keep and maintain friendships. This book has the potential of torturing any reader’s barometer of affection. To those of us with a low capacity to go the extra length on behalf of friends, it inadvertently becomes a judge of our foibles. To those whose barometer of making friends is at its highest point, this book transforms into a heart warmer of sorts. It becomes a mirror that will reflect your deeds with little distortion. In this book, Muritala Sule comes across as one with an innate ability to love, care and show deep affection for humanity.

The second pillar has its foundation in biography/life narrative studies. Here, there are two parallel viewpoints, one from Russia and the other from Nigeria. Dmitiri Kalugin’s (2015) “Soviet theories of biography and the aesthetics of personality” will share space with Ademola O Dasylva and Remy Oriaku’s (“Trends in the Nigerian auto/biography” as both will help make sense of “A lifetime of Friendships…” You may wonder why the need for these scholars in a review for general public consumption. However, you will pardon me if I do not elaborate on the references provided. My response is that a profound and delicately woven collage of stories such as written by Muritala Sule demands every critical tool that can be found for meaningful critical engagement.

On the one hand, Kalugin provides us with a lens to look at the mode of communication by arguing that there is the confluence of disciplines that come together in the construction of Biographies. He says the “task of the student of biography often consists in unravelling that knot formed by multiple interwoven specialized languages” (pg. 343). This book of looking back by Muritala Sule is multi-layered. The author deploys as many narrative strategies as possible to retain internal coherence and narrative pace. He gives a little of himself and a little of others at different times in the narration.

On the other hand, Ademola O Dasylva and Remy Oriaku remind a careful reviewer that biographies are also ways of chronicling events and lives. They present four other discursive assumptions that underlie the production and consumption of biographies. They restate the known fact that orality and literacy are valid modes of creative expressions; they asserted, “most, if not all, forms of oral literature are either steeped in auto/biography or characterized, primarily by self-narration” (pg. 303). The other two assumptions have to do with the functionality of literature and the issue of the multiplicity of genres that form the auto/biographical category. As will be seen shortly, this book by Mr Sule has the various elements mentioned by Ademola O Dasylva and Remy Oriaku. Since I promised three pillars, the third draws from Judith Barrington’s “Writing the memoir” (2002). What is the memoir? Is waiting until someone passes on, the option to throw caution to the winds? Then a writer can go to town and not feel that restrictive sense of responsibility. Can it be a case of just writing the “truth” since the dead do not bite? What has teeth are the consequences from those who still hold allegiance to the departed soul of their loved ones. In all honesty, I do not think the author of A lifetime of friendships has anything to worry about in this regard.

He had a story begging to be written. For years, he agonized about producing a book that will uplift his friend and in a permanent textual form memorialize him and others he shared his life and space with. The main protagonist in this story is a man named Godwin Rolands Igharo, hereafter named Goddy. To make the work worth our while, the author travelled to Igbanke sometime in October 2016. Since the book is about a lifetime of friendships and so, you will have some calculation to do to find out when Goddy died. The book says Godwin died in a road crash less than nine months after the 2016 return to Igbanke where Goddy was interviewed [that must be sometime in 2017].

As you will soon notice this book is not written chronologically, it starts with a specific date like an entry in a diary; Monday, 5th September 1994 and clinically goes on to tell a story of individuals and their victory in one of the social institutions of mass communication. The title chapter is an exclamation and the content too a fast moving project of recollection. Mr Sule spared no details about how one of his toils found a good soil at one of Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) stations. It is here readers first get to meet Goody, the general factotum. He soon comes across as a multi-talented streetwise man whose story like the peeling of an onion evolves gradually and painfully. It is also the story of the genesis of Nigerian cinema enterprise many like to term an industry. That Nigerian cinema with cinema houses soon gave way to the global brand now called Nollywood. Muritala Sule played a part in its growth and acceptance with the creation of an indigenous program, he and others, termed Lagbo Video. There is much to read about the intrigues, in fighting (to the point of drawing blood!) and general interest in a TV show “that was popular from its debut” (pg. 55).

When the author titled his memoir lifetime of friendships, he meant every letter of the words. There are carefully recorded instances of how a friend in need (emotionally) can transform to a nuisance indeed, but the attitude of Muritala Sule was to give even more of himself. This was not a one-way street giving, but both friends brought something to the table. As my father will always say you cannot know a friend in normal times, you know them in times of crisis. Goddy lived his life like a character from a fictional novel, he got into trouble, and he created troubles for all around him. At a point trouble, itself took him over, and they became one. As I read about the forbearance of Goddy’s friend and parents, I knew my ability to make and maintain friends must be at the lowest.

Apart from Goddy, this memoir/biography is also about the unconditional love of Mr Sule’s parents for their Son. The story plays up the support of the mother and her generosity. A mother who was ready to give all she had for the happiness of others. The African communal spirit foregrounded the narratives at all times.

A careful or close reading will yield several sub-themes that allows readers to get close to what the author thinks about specific issues. He is very passionate about not living in America (pg. 171); his complex narrative is also a running commentary about the educational system in Nigeria (pg. 163). As an academic wannabe, I cannot escape his distancing himself from academics (pg.168). He portrays them in a very positive light. He bluntly says, “Academics exists for the impact it can make on the society”, but he is not willing to join such a group of change-makers? If they are that good, why not join them, I kept asking myself.

The nature of questions is that not all have answers, but since pictures speak more than a thousand words in comparison to the written text, the author included about 20 pages of images of uneven qualities. The photos are not included in the general pagination but can be found between pages 178 and 179. The set of pictures start with Eniola and ends after 20 pages with the premiere of Oju’Nu in Lagos 1995. Readers should not fail to seek out the author’s Premier College identity card to see the version of a youthful Muritala Sule. Each of the images deserve visual analysis, but readers should be left to make their interpretations without bias.

Right from the outset, I did confess that an amount of emotional burden this work transferred to me should be held responsible for the roughness of prose. I have allowed the depth of friendship and affection to become a barometer by which I measured mine.

Between Dmitiri Kalugin and Ademola O Dasylva and Remy Oriaku, it is evident that the multi-layered use of language helped the flow of a story with multiple tributaries. The entire book chronicled events and lives of violence and the violent. The keen memory of Muritala Sule is an asset to this project. He chronicled events in his primary school when a teacher brutalized him. In passing, his encounter with Late General Muritala Mohammed was just like a dot in the narrative.

Barrington’s chapter on what is memoir helps in no small way in navigating the entire effort by Muritala Sule. She made a very pertinent observation that helps put into proper perspective a memoir writer’s choice of who to write about and who to exclude. She advises us all to engage “seriously with the truth [because] it challenges our society’s enormous untruthfulness-whether it comes from the family, which so often denies its violence behind closed doors.

Kole Odutola is an actor, poet and scholar.  He has published widely on issues ranging from the environment to Nollywood, and to new media. He is the author of Diaspora and Imagined Nationality: USA-Africa Dialogue and Cyberframing Nigerian Nationhood, published in 2012, by Carolina Academic Press. Dr Odutola is currently a lecturer in Yoruba at the University of Florida Gainsville.

Title: A lifetime of Friendships: And a career in television and Nollywood

Pages: 242 + 20 pages of pictures)

Price: 1. Hardcover – ₦4,500, Paperback- ₦3,500. (Nigerian Naira)

Author: Muritala Sule

Publishers: MS Global Productions Limited

Year of publication: 2019

A Review of Muritala Sule’s “A lifetime of Friendships: And a career in television and Nollywood”.

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