Tales of a Troubadour: Decades of deliberate ‘journey-about’

…Great causes have only prevailed through the vigour and energy of resolute men who attempted and succeeded in making the impossible possible.

—Tales of a Troubadour, P. 199.

 

BY now it is clear to all that Dr. Wake Okediran is a plier of many trades, and has become master of them all. He is a physician, politician, novelist of deep insight and of course a biographer. In all these, he has shown the path of diligent pursuit and attainment of dreams. Many people know him as a son of Ebedi in his display of mutual social responsibility to his constituency of writers by the location of the Ebedi Writers Resort funded by him in Ebedi/Iseyin his town of birth. In Tales of a Troubadour, the author refers to himself as ‘a recorder of men and events’ (p. 220) and the reader encounters him as such due to the travelogue’s presentation of certain iconic ideas, people, especially writers and politicians, memorable places as well as their historicity. I noted a few concepts surrounding them like travel as a means of education, history and culture, travel as a facilitator of knowledge about people and places, as a reflection of personal and national politics and observing people and their roles in, and contributions to society. Furthermore, the book marks out effect of travel on family and friendship, how travels affirm the self, and the travelogue as a showcase of national literature, and the possibilities of travel as pain.

* The memoirs of travel as a means of education. It is often said that travel is the best form of education. Wale Okediran helps the reader to form ideas on local and global issues and shape the opinion of the reader by teaching him about the lands of voyage in the stories of his sojourn across sundry lands. He encountered and described people in a manner that they could as well be characters in any fiction, even as Tales of a Troubadour is non-fiction. The local name for items of people’s material culture could be learnt from the book, even mores and norms concerning marriage, and cross cultural appreciation of culinary expertise, nuptial rites, and agitation for states creation, ethnic bias, and the Nigerian National Anthem, among others. The author says: “For someone visiting Ibibio land for the first time, this kind of sharp ethnic polarity in tastes and customs was a good education for me” (11). The travelogue encapsulates history and culture: the ways of life of people, be they nationals and non nationals are freely reflected in Tales, especially local politics, food, diplomatic and intercultural relations. Other examples are allusion to python worship, the Chinese fortune cookie, history of lands, history of lands, and World War I and II all aptly referenced in his book.

* Furthermore, we realise that a travel journal becomes compiled tales that emanate into a travelogue which further facilitates knowledge about people and places. Apart from places visited in Nigeria, the reader travels with the author to Liberia, Zimbabwe, where one learned about racial segregation and press censorship, (Pp. 19-26), The Gambia, Russia, United States of America, Tanzania, especially Dar es Salam, and semi-autonomous Zanzibar are compared with Nigeria A comparison of the local and international travel experiences prove Nigeria to be a slow starter in providing destination satisfaction to travellers. Why is this so? The sights that people may travel to see from within and outside Nigeria and thereby generate, increase and multiply income there from remain under-tapped. The tales may prod Nigeria Ministries of Interior and Culture to take proactive and not reactive action in this regard. More importantly the prospects of the military and civilian citizens of Nigeria in active service should be profiled for assessment. Why were our soldiers not catered for in Liberia? Why were their infractions not dealt with? How can Nigeria repair the huge infrastructure deficit it currently faces? Is it possible for Nigeria to speed up development and bridge its development gap in Africa and beyond?

* The reflection of personal and national politics as a means of judging today for a better tomorrow comes out clearly in the book. The tales manifest the politics in places visited more than two decades ago and disclose the mutations that they underwent or are currently undergoing. Some of the experiences can never be the same again as the countries have since undergone political, social, economic and other forms of change. Russia and Tanzania are certainly good examples of such change. Here, the economic hegemony of the whites over the indigenous Zimbabweans (p. 18) is a case in point. Again, his two visits to Liberia evince political leadership after recovery from internecine war and the ravages of Ebola. The political and economic turn-around of Tanzania under President Magufuli, is used to propagate accountability sanitation, and health in African politics. The questions from readers after every reading from Tenants of the House by the author especially in America, are pointers to the international interest in Nigeria’s local politics. For example, when he is asked “Can Corruption be tamed in Nigeria?” What is the government doing about the ‘Boko Haram’ problem? (p. 125), he only offers meek responses perhaps because he is no longer in active governance.  The political slant of the travelogue is depicted in the author’s assessment of world politics and governance, the functional institutions in UK, USA, Russia, vis-a-vis his analysis of the two visits to Aso Rock as a legislator to further screen leadership in Nigeria tells us that the governance deficit in the country is one that needs to be rejigged and reworked for the future of the country called Nigeria. The twenty eight chapters of the book relive the writer’s visits to eight countries in Africa, Europe and America, and his passage to Nigerian cities like Yenagoa, Yola, Sokoto, Abeokuta, Kano, Uyo, Akwanga, and Kaduna. For a young writer, or anyone with the intention to venture into writing, the book creates the need to observe people and their roles or contributions to society. Akintayo Abod in a review of Tales of a Troubadour dwells on the political, educational, tourist and health contributions of local and international travel, especially domestic tourism in the author’s homeland.  Wither Nigeria’s tourist sites? With Okediran’s popularization of this genre, hopefully we shall experience an increase in the writing and publication of travelogues in Nigeria.

Although not a bildungsroman, the tales by Okediran reflect a growing-up experience through journeys from one part of the country to another as well as aspects of opinion formation, recognition of the influence of cultural heritage and moving from one aspect of knowledge production to another. How does a man grow up? How does a writer grow? By knowledge, from the things he does, by experience, by learning about what to, or not to actually express, repress, or totally avoid.

* Creativity and the human/Nigerian condition: Here, one may ask why most of the experiences of the places he chronicled were pleasant? Were all the people he encountered and places he visited pleasant or savoury? Of course they were not. The usual demeaning attention Nigerians receive at international ports of entry into other countries is not written about.  The answer is simple- the free flow of movement is a pointer that if human beings are ‘water’ as we say in local parlance, movement of persons should not be restricted, especially if the traveller could afford it and bear the costs. However, national suzerainty and political integrity of most countries would demand that travellers are screened before entry. In some areas, the troubadour’s eyes are obfuscated from the poor human condition, especially if they are unseemly or unacceptable. Why not speak about the slums of Europe the way the lens of foreign journalists capture the slums of Africa? One wonders if this was a form of political correctness, or Okediran the chronicler of travels merely wanted to escape the repercussions of doing this, if any, as an African, nay Nigerian. Or did the author not encounter cities like Kampala and Lagos outside Africa? Did the author have any disagreeable experience? This reviewer doubts if he experienced any or may deliberately not want to record such. Tales reflects the feat of the author in highlighting environmental planning and sanitation, in other climes, as acts or resources not common in Africa. When shall amenities like water, power and other infrastructure be provided without struggle?

*Effects of travel on family. The many travels must have affected his family as a result of his absence. Was Okediran alone on these journeys? One must say here that the author managed to paint the picture of saintly sojourn in these cities, villages and countries. He is therefore the alternative of Olabisi Ajala, who acquired women and sired many children in many of the countries visited by him. The cost of the travels on pocket and body could also be biting. We must also appreciate God on behalf of Okediran for safety of life on these trips. Okediran must have left things behind in places he visited like impressions, culture, and took same with him from those places, though they may be abstract items and not just mementos like friendship and linkages. The comparison of the Nigerian ethos with those of other countries by the reader from the author’s portrait could be bewildering like the comparison between Nigeria and Tanzania, or Nigeria and America that despite the abundant human and material resources in the former country, there is entrenched poverty. Readily to our minds comes Ajala, already mentioned above, who left children and women in the countries which he visited. I hope that this cost of travel is not laid on Okediran many years from now! The book provides a very clear evidence of the Nigerian hospitality. Every chapter is replete with the benevolence Nigerians accord their fellow citizens at home and abroad and the essence of humanity is underscored by the writer. Tied to this is the notion of Identity and travel. In the collection of travel tales, the author accentuates his identity as son of the Nigerian soil, demonstrated in the book reading tours undertaken by him in the United States of America. His identity as writer and Nigerian is never shrouded. Through the cerebral event, his audience set targets for him on the subject of upcoming political writing to be undertaken by him in future. This agenda-setting exercise by the reader of Okediran’s works proves to me as reviewer and reader of Okediran’s book, that he is indeed accessible and quite appreciated by his readership.

* Travel as self-affirmation-Through writing, Okediran affirms himself, and continues to extend the circumference of writing. One self-affirming stamp on the travelogue is loyalty, noted by this reviewer as reciprocal. All over the world you find this web of loyalty woven by Okediran and his friends. The degree of bonding between Okediran and his friends and vice versa is quite high. As a loyal man, with much socio-political capital, one sees this devotion is extended to writers, (both senior to him, or younger than he is), friends and colleagues at home and across our international borders. The book helps to fix in time the author’s friends, former teachers, fellow travellers, writers and most of who are now reference points on support in friendship across time and clime. In many towns and countries that he visited, Wale Okediran had friends dating from decades, or years prior to the trip.

  • Mabel Evwierhoma, a professor of Theatre Arts teaches at University of Abuja.

 

The welcome and hospitality extended to him at the airport, bus, boat, and train stations in Nigeria and outside Nigeria permeate the book and should be a lesson to younger writers.

* Travelogue as showcase of national literature. Tales of a Troubadour helps to shape the image of Nigeria as a country on the verge of becoming. But for how long shall this be? The collection of travel stories bear in them questions that help to form what the future entails for Nigeria, or what the future of Nigeria entails, as the fused whole of many parts, with unifying symbols of cultural affirmation, national import like sport, civil liberties, diet, goals, optimism and national ideology.

There are implications of the author’s use of the word ‘troubadour’ in the book’s title. It reminds one of Dennis Brutus’ poem, on chivalry, where the troubadour traverses all his land. We therefore can verify that the troubadour (Okediran) as lover of nation and the ideals of Nigeria, the troubadour as teacher and inspirer, noble and responsible to those around him, especially his audience, and the troubadour as preacher, using his tales to decry deficits at all levels and promote the just cause of national cohesion and value for life prove what Okediran is as a sociological writer. Consequently Okediran as traveller-author through the book promotes the human essence, inter-racial appreciation, the re-jig of Nigerian politics, and inspires the reader. Why can’t Nigeria be like these countries despite her human and material resources? The next point therefore refers:

* Travel as pain – especially for a Nigerian when you consider the hope lost and joy deferred as we journey though the undulated terrain of ethnic and religious politics in a fragmented nation. In this regard, the fear for health, risks of horrid shuttle experiences on different means of transport, gastrointestinal challenges, security, inclement weather conditions, are expressed by the author. At times, the traveller feels the pain Nigerians abroad express on homecoming. He narrates to the reader: “More disturbing was the remark of an elderly professor who vowed never to go back to Nigeria again” (p. 125). The reason was not farfetched, as the reader is informed that these arose out of ‘shocking experiences’ when people like him from abroad visited home (p. 128). Such accounts have increased and assume national importance. Can Nigeria be like as efficient as any of the small nations visited by the traveler-writer like Tanzania in terms of infrastructure and efficient delivery of service? Why are we doing this to ourselves in Nigeria, causing deliberate pain to one another? The weightiest of the query I found in the book was from a Nigerian Diasporan in America who asked Okediran after a reading session: “When are we going to divide that country? (p. 156). If despite the better political climate and peace that he encountered on the travels Wale Okediran did not brain drain or brawn drain, especially as he saw many of his peers in successful medical practice outside Nigeria, it meant only one thing: He sees much hope in the country and it is this optimism that I want Nigerian writers to fan into embers that consume us and generate a patriotic zeal to make Nigeria one and great again. But is this possible? Isé ló somo nù bí ókó – work throws man like a stone to distant places. The published tales are evidence of this careful labour at compilation and publication of the stories. The output from creativity is definitely, a meal ticket for both physical and psychological satisfaction- writing has put food on his table, here food would be the physical one that satisfies his biological need, and that which is psychological for pleasing his readers.

The author is a man full of understanding, taking one tourist destination as a scene/venue to preach human consideration and connectedness. Here, we note the troubadour as preacher. As painter, he should be commended for painting the cities, villages and countries he travelled to in life-like, yet positive light, using humour, at times jokes even where certain restrictions against democracy existed and when such liberties or amenities did not exist in Nigeria his home country. As a teacher, Okediran the troubadour teaches us to be tolerant and he used the places visited as his classroom and scripting board for us. He has met the high, the low and the mighty in his journeys and the summation of this reviewer is that:

Life is a journey. You may not have a travelogue to speak of your experiences, but life is never mute- life speaks and reveals through us its indelible imprint as we voyage through it, like the imprint of the author’s mother Mama Okediran on him, as a teacher who taught her son well.

 

Counsel

The documentation of travel is a piece of history, sliced out for the reader to savour, but not all travel is pleasure as we have noted. At times, it is work-turned pleasure, and pleasure-turned work. It is my opinion that the author may have to specifically devote some period of residency at the Ebedi Writer’s resort to the production of travel writing by the fellows. Be the genre poetry, like Samarkand and other Markets I Have Known, prose like Gulliver’s Travels, or non-fiction as In a Free State, or even the dramatic like Who’s Afraid of Solarin, the epistolary travelogue, like Clarissa or other experimental forms that combine two or more of these, we know now, that the travelogue is a veritable means of education. The book is handy and would easily fit into a pouch. The print is legible enough for young readers. Further editions should made available in order to facilitate the accessibility of the book all and sundry. It is my belief that the picture on the cover should have displayed a cross-cultural exposé of the man who travelled and journeyed about continents, or included a local tourist attraction and not feature the Red Square alone. To me, this may also be a positive marker of the book as it panders to another market, for global saleability.

As we gather here today, may we experience hope- for a tomorrow of beauty devoid of blood-letting. Tales of a Troubadour is an immense contribution to travel literature in Nigeria and a piece of history through which we get a view into past and present lives of different people in order to aspire to greatness. Despite the genuine need for writers to imitate Wale Okediran and travel across Nigeria, document their experiences and for people to heed the call for domestic tourism as well, the insecurity in Nigeria has generated fear that restricts or prohibits travel. Despite this prohibition, Tales of a Troubadour makes the reader’s mind a museum for the carefully collected tales told simply by Okediran, of people and places. Like the Medieval Troubadour, Okediran has done the reader and the Nigerian literati service, and proved one responsibility of the writer- to reflect the society. This he has done. I strongly believe that EVERY reader of this book shall be its recommender to the reading public here in Nigeria and beyond. I do not expect the publisher to leave here with any copies. The audience is therefore pressed to obtain copies to know for example, ‘What happened to the author’s suitcases in America, or his eyes in the train in Russia?’ I wish the author more in his pen. As I sang to him in Abuja, join me to sing to the Ebedi son: ‘He’s a man of many words, been to many places, seen so many people’ by Tony Wilson. Thank you.

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