Ayodeji Rotinwa speaks to Bobo Omotayo, on the release of his book, Honourable, his second work of side-splitting satire, whose subject matter is decidedly sombre.
“I could hardly breathe for laughing. Such is the billowing humour this book is laden with. Its telescopic take on the average Lagos lifestyle and landscape, replete with social climbers, desperate fortune and fame seekers was refreshing, biting and honest’’
‘’The book is beautifully made; the illustrations and photography, amazing; the short stories convey excellently what the Lagos and indeed the ‘Naija’ life is about- image is everything’’
So the reviews read when Bobo Omotayo, author and public relations/branding strategist’s first book, ‘London Life, Lagos Living’, a satirical swipe at Lagos high society, culture, lifestyle, social behaviour of the today’s Lagosian, hit bookstands in late 2011. It was regarded as breath of fresh air. Its writing style was largely colloquial and it even employed swear words at will. It was a book that did not follow any conventional structures of literature of any kind but rather formed its own; a book that dictated its own tune and danced vigorously to it.
In light of the fact that such a style had never been employed at such lengths, Omotayo ran a risk that carried value in weight. However, it was a risk that paid off and handsomely so. In the first two weeks of publication, every single copy of the book took speedy flight off bookshelves into the hands, bags and Amazon Kindles of sold readers. Omotayo was onto something. What made London Life, Lagos Living such an enduring success? Some readers say it was the refreshing mixture of words with illustrations and photographs. Many put it down to its conversational style of writing; a format which Omotayo feels is appealing to today’s reading audience. For this same reason, that Bobo won the hearts of readers at the first time of asking, the cognoscenti of Nigerian literature and critics took him to task, stating emphatically that there was no place for such a loose, informal writing style. He was also knocked for dwelling on something as seemingly inconsequential as the vanities of high society.
Fast forward to May 2013. Omotayo has presented to the world, critics and followers alike, his second literary offering, ‘Honourable’, which retains a number of core ingredients from his first book, topmost of which is the colloquial format and the use of imagery. However, the book is an effervescent departure from his first work. It deals with hot-button, eternally topical issues- Nigerian politics (or ‘politricks,’ depending on who you ask) and politicking.
Omotayo is ever ready to discuss these topics at the slightest provocation. That much was apparent as this reporter took a seat in the sweet-scented cafe that is Orchid Bistro. He even looks the politician part. He is garbed in his, now trademark, traditional Yoruba attire, complete with cap, which he lent more popularity (amongst twenty/thirty something’s) when it appeared on the cover of his first book. He is also nursing what this reporter would later discover to be a lethal glass of ‘iced tea’. Pleasantries and small talk sorted, he launched into what the book is about. “‘Honourable’ is “a ‘mockumentary’; a satirical take on the realities of the Nigerian political scene. It is one man’s reflections on the idiosyncrasies of Nigeria’s political space - a deep stab at some of the unique issues that continue to plague our development as a modern political environment.”
Inspired by a real-life political campaign to which he had a front-row seat, ‘Honourable’ will most likely take many of Omotayo’s readers by surprise. While his first book was humorous, the subject matter was certainly not one of overwhelming substance- high society, at least by literary standards. The Honourable is however, more so. He admits he has, since the book’s release, been severally confronted and asked why he decided to take this new route. “I was never trying to write London Life, Lagos Living part two. I am an artist that evolves and I write on subjects that are interesting to me and are entrenched in the fabric of Nigerian society. With my first book, it was high society which we as a people are obsessed with and with Honourable, it is about Nigeria’s unique brand of politics. I am deeply fascinated by our political landscape”
The state of Nigeria’s political landscape is however, hardly anything to laugh at except one is looking at the tragic-comedic value but Omotayo finds a way to squeeze out a few laughs from the reader after which one is unwittingly invited, via a number of deftly placed subliminal messages, to see beyond the veneer of humour and light heartedness, to take action, to be involved, to put in the work so that the realities that are so derided are one day are no more. One is also challenged to reconsider issues that are embedded in our culture, related to politics that according to Omotayo, shouldn’t be. For example, how we believe age, marital status and gender should be the top yardsticks for choosing our representatives and leaders and other qualities such as merit, ability and track record are relegated to the background. “Why is Sirleaf-Johnson being the President of Liberia a big deal, because she’s a woman?” Omotayo asks rhetorically. “Oh, he’s too young to be successful in office, what does that mean?!”
All these, however, depend on the interpretation of each reader. The book is tricky that way and would most likely mean different things to different people. For the discerning reader, though, Omotayo’s message is as clear as crystal. One message Omotayo is particularly eager to pass across is that youth participation in politics must increase. “Dinner table conversations end at the dinner table. Yes, our system has defects but what are we doing to change it? Segun, the main character capitulates the first time he fails at running for office. We have a defeatist mentality. I want readers to be annoyed by how Segun backed out and think how we (youths) can be different as opposed to Segun”
So far, ‘Honourable’ has gotten mixed reviews. Some readers are impressed he has tackled a serious topic and made it so humorous. Some simply don’t understand the subliminal messages and don’t see past his mockery of the system. Many critics still fault his conversational style.
Will he strike gold a second time? This remains to be seen...