BRINGING HOPE TO THE HOPELESS; A TESTAMENT OF FAITH
A Book Review by Lindsay Barrett
TITLE: THEY CALL ME MAMA! From the underbridge diaries.
AUTHOR: Dolapo Osinbajo
PUBLISHER: The Author: LAGOS, NIGERIA
Although this book might well be regarded as a venture into vanity publishing on the part of a privileged citizen the story that it tells and the extraordinary professionalism of its production makes it much more than that. It chronicles a striking experience in brief but passionate anecdotes that reveal a depth of faith and sacrifice on the part of the author that is unique. It also chronicles a level of concern for the underprivileged that is rarely found among the Nigerian elites today. The basic narrative tells of an extraordinary initiative taken by some members of a parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Lagos to minister to a gang of homeless “area boys” residing under a bridge in Victoria Island. These poignant memoirs gain resonance when readers realise that the main location of the stories has since been converted into an attractive leisure park now known as the Muri Okunola Park. Somehow Mrs. Osinbajo”s reminiscences have taken on the cachet of historic recall as it now turns out that she has recorded a piece of modern Lagos folklore in which she participated but which has joined the annals of disappearing reality. However the dramatic veracity of her memories makes it quite clear that while the “boys” of “underbridge” might have moved elsewhere the problems that they symbolise remain constant in society and the need for concern and courage in dealing with them will always be there.
The writing of this work appears to have been inspired not only by her personal faith and her participation in the missionary outreach to the delinquent populace under the bridge but also by a conviction on the author’s part that the “lost” and rootless members of society can be redeemed by an encounter with faith. She includes narratives of how the boys to whom she and her team ministered reacted to their efforts but most of her testament deals with their conduct as individuals who have been forced into a life on the fringe of society. Her keen powers of emotional observation and a sharp sense of social justice lend a powerful edginess to the little tales of personal idiosyncrasy that are the core of the work. She also deploys a dry sense of humour that serves as a cushion for what must have been moments of deep despair as she describes the misconduct that is commonplace among the gangs of homeless youth that exist in similar enclaves all over the mega metropolis. As a consequence this book serves as a cautionary narrative about a key issue of modern life in Lagos, which is further proof that it is much more than a glamorous exercise in personal literary expression. In fact this is a work that deserves to be called inspirational, not least because the author places less emphasis on her participation and focuses more profoundly on the dilemmas faced by the lost young people who formed the core of the homeless gang under the bridge. This method serves to give almost poetic resonance to the strange and somehow dynamic lives that she portrays here.
Dolapo Osinbajo is certainly a talented reporter as well as a stylish storyteller. These gifts served her well in producing this narrative of her adventures on the edge of society. However a major instructional purpose is also served as she describes some of the experiences that she and the team encountered. She realises that in attempting to transform the mental outlook of the “boys” it will be necessary to effect much more than a change of attitude if the problems that generated their downfall in the first place are to be solved effectively. She suggests that the foundation of these problems is often to be found in the circumstances of their past lives and family background. As a consequence she often falls back on prayer and faith as agents of support in the struggle to convince them to change their ways, especially because they are often very articulate defenders of their irregular lifestyle when engaged in arguments about the rationale or justification for their conduct. Mrs. Osinbajo discovered that talent and ambition were not lacking in most of them but simply misplaced. She describes some programmes that were devised to encourage them to reorder their priorities and values and in doing this points readers in directions that enhance the purpose of charitable human endeavour. It is in this light that her work evolves into an inspirational manual for sharing humanity’s burden with ones fellowman. The deeper significance attached to the experience of sharing her life with the hopeless in order to give them hope thus becomes an exemplary lesson for the average reader in much the same way that meaningful sermons are said to strengthen both the faith and the everyday lives of believers who absorb them.
This book was put together long before the author’s status as a celebrity was elevated by her husband’s selection as President Buhari’s running mate in ;last year’s election. It cannot be denied however that that circumstance enhances the relevance and excitement of reading this work. In that light Rainbow Book Club’s decision to make it the book of the month for February 2016 was an unusual but highly appropriate one.