A CELEBRATORY REVIEW OF IDOWU SOBOWALE’s Memoir
Title: UNEXPECTED TURNS: Farming. Journalism. Academia. Politics
Author: Prof. Idowu Sobowale
Publisher: Diamond Publications
Year: 2021. 286 pages.
Reviewer: Adidi Uyo, PhD
It is a great honour and privilege for me to do this personal review of his autobiography, UNEXPECTED TURNS: Farming. Journalism. Academia. Politics, for short, UNEXPECTED TURNS. Permit me to begin by indulging in one analogy concerning life. Life itself is the subject-matter of autobiographies. The analogy likens life to a jigsaw puzzle, and it deals with life at two levels: the Cosmic and the Personal. At the cosmic level, life is a jigsaw puzzle in which the pieces are all of us, each enigmatic. No one but God knows our positions on the board or how to fit them. And at the personal level, life is a jigsaw puzzle in which the pieces are the events in the life of every one of us. Since only you or I know all the events in our lives, the pieces of the puzzle can be properly arranged or fitted on the board by only you or me.
I have tried to combine the cosmic and personal levels of the jigsaw-puzzle analogy to come up with the following definition: An autobiography is the product of a golden privilege given a person by God to tell the story of his or her life himself or herself. In UNEXPECTED TURNS Sobowale lends credence to my proffered definition as he tells us the story of his life. In the first paragraph of the preface to the autobiography, he talks about the number of times he had planned and failed to write his memoir; then he acknowledges the mercy of our Creator, saying: “But what if God had not been kind enough to keep me till 80 years? But God, ever gracious, ever merciful, and in continuation of His benevolence to me, He has given me TODAY. I am grateful to Him.”
Officially, my assignment here today is to review Professor Idowu Sobowale’s autobiography. Personally, however, permit me to parody one of Shakespeare’s memorable lines and say that, “I have come to celebrate Idowu, not to criticize his memoirs.” Yet, the nature of the celebratory review demands that we pay attention to the accounts of the facts and events in the book, especially because they constitute the basis of our celebration.
Accordingly, we have divided our review into two parts. The first part deals with the traditional items which are found in the checklists of the typical review, something akin to the 5W’s which Idowu and his fellow journalism teachers teach their students in their basic newswriting classes. These are the so-called What, Who, When, Where, Why, and How. This is usually done by exposing the accounts of the author, and then evaluating them. Specifically, the items Purpose, Writing Style, Structure, Diction, and Tone.
The second part of our review deals with something unorthodox. It mixes the accounts UNEXPECTED TURNS with the impressions of people who know the celebrant – impressions which are exceptionally laudatory but well-deserved. But before we come to that, let us quickly dispatch the traditional items in the checklist of the typical review of autobiographies.
Eighty years ago, today, in Ashipa Ilawo, a village in Ewekoro Local Government Area of Ogun State, then a part of the Western Region of Nigeria, a child was born. His parents were Bello Fatunbi and Rabiatu Mojisola Sobowale. And that child was Idowu – a name given to a child who was born after a set of twins. Fast forward from March 29, 1941 to March 29, 2021, and behold his autobiography, with the title, UNEXPECTED TURNS. If you ask me to boil down UNEXPECTED TURNS to one digestible capsule, I would paraphrase what the author says to that effect in his preface, thus: The autobiography is an account of a young, village farm boy whose burning aspiration was to become an apprentice mechanic, but turned out to be an icon of journalism education in Nigeria, among other sterling accomplishments.
As the subtitle of the book indicates, there are four major UNEXPECTED TURNS in the life of Idowu Sobowale. But what may be considered to be the primordial and overarching UNEXPECTED TURN is the aftermath of what happened when Idowu defiantly insisted that he wanted to be an apprentice mechanic. The whole village virtually bent to his aspiration, but with the proviso that he gets a little education, first, in Lagos. He acceded to the wise counsel, and from then on Idowu spiraled into the sky or, as the saying goes, the sky was his limit. After his primary school education, he went to secondary school where, he cultivated his interest for reporting and never abandoned it.
After graduating from Baptist Academy in 1964, Idowu spiraled into the Daily Times, when destiny brought him in contact with Chief Bisi Onabanjo, himself an old student of Baptist Academy. His request to work at the Daily Express where Chief Onabanjo was Editorial Director turned out to be his ticket to become one of the initial intakes into the training institution which the Daily Times had just started at Cooper Road, Ikoyi. But the turning continued, as Idowu was moved from the classroom to the newsroom of the Daily Times at Kakawa Street, Lagos. Idowu’s journalism career had begun in earnest.
After years of serving as Reporter and War Correspondent at the Daily Times, destiny turned Idowu to Academia, specifically, the University of Lagos, first as a student, and, later, as a teacher. Diploma in Mass Communication in 1970 from the Institute of Mass Communication turned into a degree in 1974, followed by the appointment as Assistant Editor at the Daily Times. And a protest against unjust treatment to the man who controls the editorial division of the newspaper, Mr. Adagogo Jaja, finally turned Idowu from the organization to the Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, where he was appointed an Assistant Lecturer.
In 1975, Idowu left Nigeria for the United States in pursuit of his Master’s degree at Syracuse University, New York, but what one could now rightly call The Turning Bug had not stopped biting Idowu. For the pursuit of a Master’s degree turned into the quest for a PhD degree, the pinnacle academic qualifications. We need to say that the stories behind all these turns are the meat of UNEXPECTED TURNS.
Idowu returned to the Department of Mass Communication in 1978 and immediately plunged himself into the real world of journalism, seeking to put into practice his love affair with survey research, specifically, opinion polling. His rebuff at the Daily Times in 1979 turned him towards The Punch Newspapers – and Public Opinion Polling was born in Nigeria.
From Academia destiny turned Idowu onto the political arena. Having been thrust into public limelight by his work that was a bridge between academia and journalism, he was appointed Special Adviser on Education by the Governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande. It was then the turn of Jakande’s successor, Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu to turn Idowu from Special Adviser into Commissioner for Education.
Idowu’s venture into the political arena was a call to serve, all of which he wraps in gripping stories in Part Four of his autobiography. A book of 286 pages, UNCERTAIN TURNS is divided into seven parts and has two appendices. The first appendix is the Inaugural Address that Professor Idowu Sobowale delivered in 2006, at the Lagos State University, titled: “Opinion Polling in Nigeria: the Neglected Route to National Development.”
In the preface, Idowu declares his purpose for writing his autobiography in these words:
I had some compelling reasons I thought I should commend my experiences in life to coming generations. I had thought that the virtues of respect, patience, contentment, devotion to duty, empathy, sense of responsibility, and brotherly love, all of which have served me well in life, should be passed on to them for consideration.
Idowu’s writing style is in the main a combination of the narrative and the descriptive, rarely emotional. Occasionally, though, he is dramatic. His diction is predominantly simple or familiar. At no time does the reader need to resort to a dictionary to ascertain the meaning of a word. And we can say that his tone is a cross between the sober and the reflective. But on one particular occasion, Idowu’s tone was delectably humorous. Lo, how many of us can recall when we were suckled or weaned! But Idowu knows. Hear him tell the story:
Up till age four, each time my mother returned from the farm or the market, I would go to her and request to suck her breast. That was a request that was not once denied. I recall a few times after returning from the farm with my father, I would go to her and say “mother, I want to suck your breast;” and out she popped it for me.
All the characterizations, which we have mentioned about the traditional items in the typical review, are manifested in the numerous stories Idowu tells throughout UNEXPECTED TURNS, which is indeed a riveting excursion into the life of an outstanding child, father, student, journalist, teacher, researcher, colleague, administrator, and public servant. I recommend UNEXPECTED TURNS to members of the general public who want to learn about how to face the challenges of life with humility, simplicity, and equanimity; to students of journalism who want to understand the problems they will face at various levels of the profession; and to students of education who want to come to grips with the issues facing the sector in Nigeria, with a view to resolving them.