• Monday, December 04, 2023
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Book review: ‘Pelewura’ by Femi Olugbile

Book review: ‘Pelewura’ by Femi Olugbile

I suspect that the irony is not lost on you – a Chartered Accountant has been entrusted with delivering a clinical review of a book: “Pelewura” written by a medical doctor, Dr. Femi Olugbile about a market woman who according to the author was: “an illiterate who could barely write her own name and had to rely on Akowe (clerk/translator).”

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However, she was smart. A really tough cookie. She wielded enormous power and profound influence in her market, Ereko where she sold fish and sixteen other markets in Lagos – Oyingbo; Oluwole; Oke Arin; Olowogbowo etc. Not only did she bring a new dimension to “market forces”, she was much to the chagrin of the British Colonial Government, a force to be reckoned with.

Let us pause in order to heartily congratulate the author for capturing the essence of Lagos and its cadences – beginning from when the Colony of Lagos had a population of only about forty-two thousand!

Now, we have to contend with a sprawling and effervescent Lagos State and an explosive statistically intimidating twenty million people during the day and double that figure between nightfall and dawn. Those who know, know!! It goes without saying that the author is a man of truth and integrity. We must commend his boldness because whatever you have put in a book, you can no longer deny. It will be there for eternity.

Besides, in Nigeria (and Lagos in particular), an event such as a book launch has grave political significance and consequential reverberations as we strive to remind ourselves how we got into the mess in which we find ourselves. In other words: where did we go wrong? By skilfully chronicling the major events that engulfed Lagos in the colonial era, with Pelewura as the centrifugal force, we have been provided with a peep into the maelstrom and offered a unique opportunity for introspection as well as self-examination.

However, we have to contend with the assault of Artificial Intelligence [AI] and the dire warning of Elan Musk, the richest man in the world:

Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk, renowned for his outspoken warnings about the potential dangers of artificial intelligence (AI), has once again cautioned about the risks posed by a “benign dependency” on these complex machines, tweeting that it can be dangerous to civilization.

Musk believes that over time humans may forget how to operate the machines that enabled AI in the first place as they become reliant on them to perform even simple tasks.

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In the prior tweet, Musk recommended users read E.M. Forster’s 1909 dystopian short story, “The Machine Stops,” which predicted a future in which humanity is overly reliant and subordinate to machines.

The story’s eerie quote, “Above her, beneath her, and around her, the Machine hummed eternally; she did not notice the noise, for she had been born with it in her ears,” was shared in response to Musk’s tweet by a Twitter user.

Other notable eerie lines from the short story include “She had never seen him in the flesh, his photo she had, and his voice when they spoke together, was her nearest approach to human contact.” and “The Machine stops. You know what that means. We have come to the end.”

Concerns about the dangers of AI have been a recurring theme for the entrepreneur lately. During a recent two-part interview with Tucker Carlson, Musk said that “AI is more dangerous than, say, mismanaged aircraft design or production maintenance or bad car production” and that “it has the potential of civilization destruction.”

Musk’s strong opinions on AI have been well-known for years, and he has been a vocal advocate for caution in its development. He was among a group of tech luminaries who signed an open letter urging a moratorium on its development and has dismissed other tech leaders, including Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, for having a limited understanding of the field.

We cannot ignore the unusual spectacle on BBC. The British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak interviewed Elon Musk. It lasted fifty minutes. Musk predicted that tech will make paid work redundant. He also warned of humanoids that can chase you anywhere.

The climax was delivered by Elon Musk: “We are seeing the most disruptive force in history here. There will come a point where no job is needed – you can have a job if you want to for personal satisfaction but AI (Artificial Intelligence) will do everything. It’s both good and bad – one of the challenges in the future will be how do we find meaning in life.”

That means in the future, books would be written by robots!

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At any rate, here we are under cover of light (not darkness) and hope (not surrender) to re-assess our state and status as Lagosians in the scheme of things – post the recent elections. We are still in a crisis mode combined with a moral challenge over which our shared values, as documented in the book we are launching today, will survive or be jettisoned – honesty, integrity, uprightness, determination, hardwork, and justice.

Contrary to the assumptions and prejudice of our detractors we are not inadequate but competent beyond measure. The author has gone to great lengths to skilfully remind us that Alimoto Pelewura was combative – a warrior for justice on the side of the poor and downtrodden when it came to government overreach in matters related to taxes, property and racial discrimination. In this worthy endeavour, her major ally (and perhaps fellow conspirator) was the legendary Herbert Macaulay. My grandfather, Dr. J. K. Randle is given brief mention as the founder of the first political party in Nigeria – The Peoples Union (1908) and saving the life of Pelewura through surgical intervention when she was invaded by fibroids.

Also, he chose to ride a bicycle as his mode of transportation even though he was vastly wealthy. His house was at 31 Marina, Lagos (now known as the Royal Exchange House).

We are obliged to vote on the side of Dr. Olufemi Olugbile against the accusation that the book which is ostensibly about Pelewura is actually dominated by Herbert Macaulay!! Perhaps, the good doctor made a deliberate choice – to emphasise that even though they came from opposite sides of the social divide, they were soul mates.

Pelewura is variously tagged:

(i) “Pepper her as soap pepper the eye.”

(ii) “Slowly he began to undo the sash of his sokoto.”

(iii) “Eko duro gedegbe.”

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(iv) “There was a greeting for every situation, including going to the toilet.”

(v) “If I find anything to complain about, this ground will be taller than you.”

(vi) “Thank you, our wife.”

(vii) “Eni a fe l’amo, a o m’eni to feni.”

(viii) “………she, (Pelewura) his wife, appeared to have resigned herself to the fact that they would remain childless, even if she continued to make the rounds of Babalawo and elewe omo whenever he insisted.”

(ix) “………..she (Pelewura) was a powerful woman who had been “cooked in the pot” by her illustrious mother.”

(x) “………..on the lips of children and adults could be heard orin ote and orin efe.”

(xi) “Shopona will attack your head.”

(xii) “If I slap your face the ground will be taller than you.”

(xiii) “She could see (reason) with some of what he (Herbert Macaulay) said but not all of it.”

(xiv) “Eko o gba gbere.”

(xv) “I could have done without much of their wahala.”

(xvi) “It was a case of a dani l’oro fagbara ko ni.”

(xvii) “If I hear any further sound from you, this ground you’re standing on will be taller than you.”

(xviii) “B’oji o ji mi” lifestyle was the norm for a market woman.

(xix) “We will show them pepper.”

(xx) “She was bringing home a kiriyo husband.”

As for the great Herbert Macaulay, he is very much larger than life:

(i) “ejo n’igboro – a snake on the loose / the snake rampaging in the undergrowth.”

(ii) “The Wizard of Kirsten Hall. (on Balbina Road)”

(iii) “Among all human monsters with whom we have been brought into contact, none has displayed the devilish ingenuity of this man” – wrote Henry Carr of Herbert Macaulay.

(iv) “For several years he was painted as a liar, a thief, a cheat, and an agent provocateur by the colonial government and its supporters.”

(v) “She (Pelewura) realized a fresh that the stuffy local elite who stood on their privileges and decried Macaulay as a loudmouth and rabble-rouser were not more cultured than this man who mixed it up with the lowliest. He was an easy man to love.”

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(vi) “As usual, Herbert Macaulay was the man at the centre of the storm. To the government, he was public enemy number one, the ogre they saw in their worst nightmares.”

(vii) “He could be a rascal.”

(viii) “Herbert Macaulay, gadfly extraordinaire……………..”