Dialogue with my Country By Niyi Osundare

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Niyi Osundare's poetry, as exemplified in this volume, portrays the realism of a keen and critical intelligence.

Dialogue With My Country, Niyi Osundare’s latest book, which is a compilation of articles written under his 24-year-old column in Newswatch, makes a debut

Niyi Osundare, poet, writer and professor of English, is an angry man. Last week, many who gathered at the presentation of his book titled: Dialogue With My Country, caught a glimpse of his feeling of anger which emitted from the pages of the compilation of his column in Newswatch magazine. For 24 years through the magazine, Osundare had used the pen as a dagger to disembowel the high and the mighty in the society.

Keith Richards, managing director of Promasidor, who reviewed the book, aptly captured Osundare’s anger in his review. “While this is a collection that contains both wit and wisdom, it is fundamentally an angry book. The quiet rage may be contained in a wrapper of humour and softened by the style and pedigree of his prose but Osundare is true to his belief that the basis of all art is justice.”

According to Richards, not only were the issues raised in the column relevant today, but they were also prescient. When Osundare’s column criticised the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, of the time, he didn’t envisage that to date Nigerians would still be talking about the seven-point agenda and though he decried the National Electric Power Authority, NEPA, the Power Holding Company Nigeria, PHCN, is still a problem. He had written against campuses emptied by cultism in the past, yet today, they are laid to waste by Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU. In March 1993, he wrote surely, Nigeria’s democratic experimentation must be the most expensive in the world. He probably had not imagined that today the cost of the legislature would be colossal.  “It is no wonder that the satire and ridicule that appealed to Newswatch readers originally should be so contemporary till this very moment. It is no wonder that Osundare’s wit and humour, his passion and connection barely disguise his anger and frustration,” Richards said.

Richards said the book is a must read for those who want to know more about Nigeria. For one, it prompted memories and sometimes a bitter smile of reminiscence for older Nigerians.  For younger Nigerians, especially those educated abroad who are disappointed with the economic situation in the country today, it facilitates a greater understanding of those with a touch of grey hair. For expatriates ready to learn more of the background to the frustrations and anger felt by those who thought that this democracy would be the realisation of years of hope, it provides insight.

Dan Agbese, editor-in-chief of Newswatch magazine couldn’t agree more. Agbese, who was the moderator at the book presentation, had also edited Osundare’s column for the past 24 years and attested that the writer was indeed filled with a unique kind of rage that was surrounded with a bout of humour. “To me, he projects two charming personae. As a man, he is humorous but when he sits before his word processor, all traces of humour and laughter vanish because as a writer and social commentator, he is an angry man. Angry at a country that promises so much, yet delivers so little. Angry at our leaders, in khaki or agbada, for failing us and making a career and fortunes from our misfortunes,” he said.

Agbese said the title of the book: Dialogue with My Country is like a cruel pun on the word ‘dialogue’ because columnists in Nigeria always seemed to be talking to themselves.  Agbese believes that Osundare’s choice of the book title was meant to be understood as a dialogue of the deaf because though Osundare had been talking for 24 years, nobody has been listening.
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