REVIEWER: MICHEAL ODUBAJO
In a fashion strikingly akin to the biblical Lazarus who against impossible odds escaped from the crushing clutches of the grave by dint of a force greater than that of death, the author of the book spiraled through many battles and struggles, fierce and formidable enough to consume him but he trumped them all and found himself at halcyon shore by the help of an invisible hand which stirred him – though through rough roads – to a fulfilling future.
The title of this highly emotional autobiography is an apparent metaphor for the author who, in spite of his failings and frailties, weaknesses and limitations, and abuse and misuse, like a trojan, bore the burdens of adversity and rejection from those who should make light his affliction and towers miles above the resentment, he once endured. The author was, or so it seemed, in a horrible stench of a social and psychological wreck, smitten and stricken by breaking experiences that could have completely upturned his destiny but for the gracious hand of providence which brought him to heights that may have been impossible if his soul hadn’t escaped the snare!
The book Lazarus: A Triumph of Destiny chronicles the life story of Mr. Isreal Ayodele Lazarus Oshunremi whose drift to the valley of aggression was halted and transposed to the mountain of inspiration where he mentors millions of youths around the world today. This memoir of a book, which was foreworded by the Alake of Egbaland, His Royal Highness, Oba Michael Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo, CFR, is set over 18 inspiring and instructive chapters and each part focuses on different aspects of his life. The book is a novel of education of some sort as the author takes his audience on a journey of awareness and education from innocence and deep-seated ignorance about learning difficulties and sundry associated issues.
The book Lazarus: A Triumph of Destiny chronicles the life story of Mr. Isreal Ayodele Lazarus Oshunremi whose drift to the valley of aggression was halted and transposed to the mountain of inspiration where he mentors millions of youths around the world today.
From the introduction to chapter 3, (titled Family Background and Struggles 1 & 11 and From Pillar to Post), the audience is afforded insight into not just the difficult and unusual circumstances of his birth which sadly resulted in psychological and physical complications but also the many battles and struggles he had to face. The abrupt detachment of the author at four from his foster parents in the UK – what seemed like his support system – and his reluctance to leave foreshadowed what actually awaited him in Nigeria. But as it were, he had no power against it: his was a constant and perennial battle against attrition. He found himself stuck in the middle of a massive tripartite standoff: his home, his schools and the society completing the nerve-wracking triangle. He was starved of acceptance at home and fed with rejection at his many primary and secondary schools – with the exception of a few – while the society watched in complicit perplexity.
Chapters 4 to 8 (titled Academic Struggles/Challenges 1 & 11, A Broken Bond, Sango-Ota High School and The Dash for Freedom respectively) encapsulate the author’s academic struggles across schools that clearly outnumber the fingers of one hand. In these chapters, his titanic battles with learning difficulties are spotlighted. His challenge was unfortunately blamed on laziness, non-challance, and sadly spiritual manipulation (according to Mama Adura’s prophetic assertion) resulting in the worst forms of physical, emotional, and psychological abuse by ‘The Man’, his father, and the vast majority of his teachers. For this reason, he saw the classroom as a theatre of torture and began to recoil from it while he gladly embraced the field of football, his love even to date. But his school principal at Sango Ota High School saw differently: he saw him as a pride to the school in spite of his academic struggles. He gave a deciding vote to make him a labour prefect and encouraged him to be the best he could be. Today, the author is living up to the prophetic word of his principal – a pride to the world! The events that later unfolded after his poor WASSCE results were released would traumatize him so much that, in search of meaning and acceptance, he made a dash for freedom into the waiting and welcoming hands of neighborhood aggressors.
The motif of this work suggests that whatever we do to any child today remains registered in their memory and someday, we will be honoured and possibly rewarded.
In chapter 9 (A Fresh Start), we gain insight into how the author returned to the UK against all odds. He escaped from the rejection and abuse of his home and society but not from himself – his fears, insecurities, and inadequacies. His struggles with spelling errors and pronunciation of basic words courted resentment from his colleagues and robbed him of his confidence. It was for this reason that he was relieved of his first job in the UK. He became dejected and turned to alcohol for solace but none came until his turning point came in chapter 10 (My Turning Point: Get Saved) when the seed that would later overwhelm his life challenges was sown. The author recognizes that his rebirth into God’s family brought a huge mental shift which resulted in a gradual all-around transformation. In chapter 11(The Truth Sets Me Free), the author came face to face with the truth he had always suspected but for which he had no evidence. His learning difficulty was no fault of his: he was diagnosed with autism, dyslexia, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) which were sadly not recognized as forms of learning disabilities in Nigeria at the time. This speaks to the unfortunate realities of corporal punishment seen as a way of transforming pupils/students dubbed dullards in our academic institutions by those who should know. This is a daily routine for students in Nigeria, especially those in public schools.
Chapter 12 with the title ‘ Under the Hood: Autism, Dyslexia & ADHD, the author delves into the negative influences of Asperger’s Syndrome, autism, and dyslexia- under which he had groped for years – on learning and recommends practical ways of coping with the conditions in order to avoid turning their sufferers into aggressors of worst monstrosity. In chapter 13(Moving Forward), the author recounts how he leaped forward in faith and took up a mentoring job in a new environment where bigger opportunities were thrown up culminating in his motivation to pioneer Inspiration Youth Club (IYC), a mentoring and life-skills organisation. With support from his immediate family and team members, he grew from being an underdog to an influencer for positive advancement.
Chapter 14, The Birth of Inspiration Youth Call, records how his enterprising spirit came to the fore, setting up a football team (like he had done while growing up in Nigeria) in the UK with the help of friends and his church. This gave him access to many youths in the surrounding communities whom he mentored, paving the way for engagements with various government organisations and serving people with learning difficulties and mental health struggles. His passion for youth mentoring and accomplishments in this regard brought him fame and acclaim in the UK and in Nigeria. In chapter 15 titled ‘Things Fall Apart,’ the author highlights how his obsession with writing his autobiography made him detach from his family. His fellowship with God also took a nosedive paving the way for the enemy to strike. He continued to struggle with rejection but learned to overcome with the help of God through positive affirmations and declarations. Chapter 16 is devoted to mentors who had in one way or another influenced the author positively. In an epistolary style, chapter 17(A Thought-Provoking Conclusion) conceptualises the concerns of a child in relation to how he/she expects to be treated by his/her parents. He closes the chapter by reinforcing some points for healthy parenting and mentoring.
The last chapter, titled ‘Final Thoughts,’ records the author’s pride in his home country in spite of his traumatic experiences in Nigeria for 19 years! He captures his treasured nuggets and encourages his audience to personalise confessions that are deeply rooted in God’s infallible Word.
There are many points made in this book that struck and resonate with me first as a father and second, as a teacher. The first is intentional parenting. Parents’ choices have far-reaching effects on the wellbeing of their children. The author’s early separation from his mother, his sudden severance from his foster parents in the UK, his father’s high-handed approach to raising him, his father’s serial experiments with many women and parceling the author out to live with varied people occasioned by the father’s incessant job losses and hunting had damning and devastating consequences on him. Besides, the father’s inability to invest adequate and productive time into his life brought a serious minus to him growing up. Closely aligned to this is the effect of unstable homes on children. It cannot be overemphasised that children need an atmosphere of love that is stable and secure to reach their full potential. There is a hero in every child but the right environment is needed to unleash the potential. How parents treat and talk to their children influences how the children perceive themselves and the world around them.
The evil of radicalisation plaguing our society today enjoys a special mention in the work. The seeds of radicalisation and fanaticism are sadly sown in the home where there is extremely physical, emotional, and psychological abuse, a home where there is no love from parents to children, prolonged deprivation, and discrimination due to odd personalities. Children from such homes are more vulnerable and more probable to gravitate towards radicalisation in search of meaning and acceptance. When life becomes hopeless, fear is banished!
It is pertinent to mention the invaluable importance of a mother’s love and attachment to/with her children especially at a tender age. This has been found to be necessary for the development of a total child.
It is striking to note that learning difficulty is not always a result of laziness and corporal punishment is miles away from its solution. The author’s sad experience lends a critical weight to this assertion. Given how much of that the author was subjected to by his father and teachers, he would have been a genius, if not more. In many places in Africa, particularly in Nigeria, many children are daily led like sheep to the slaughterhouse of all kinds of physical abuse and mental torture in the name of corporal punishment. It is largely seen as a resort for children whose heads seem like rocky soils on which very little can germinate. This mentality offends every sane and sound logic in this age of information!
Autism, dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are real and there are people suffering from these conditions. They are confidence wreckers and impediments in the way of understanding and using the four skills of language (which are listening, speaking, reading, and writing, plus spelling). However, early diagnosis not only improves the child’s ability to reach their academic potential, but also prevents the development of low self-esteem and behaviour problems that further interfere with their ability to learn. Nigeria’s educational system obviously needs more awareness in this regard so as to plug into the help that is available.
The motif of this work suggests that whatever we do to any child today remains registered in their memory and someday, we will be honoured and possibly rewarded. No doubt, chapter 16,’ People Who Made The Difference In My Life’ made quite an impression on me. What a mark of honour to those the author considers his mentors! Devoting an entire chapter to the author’s mentors is a huge statement about the depth of his gratitude.
Autism, dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are real and there are people suffering from these conditions. They are confidence wreckers and impediments in the way of understanding and using the four skills of language (which are listening, speaking, reading, and writing, plus spelling). However, early diagnosis not only improves the child’s ability to reach their academic potential, but also prevents the development of low self-esteem and behaviour problems that further interfere with their ability to learn.
The principle espoused in the book is grossly consistent with traditional theism. The author sees God as the master mariner and ultimate controller and guidance of the affairs of all men. Hard work, determination, resilience, and unmoveable hope and faith in God all enjoy a pride of place in the author’s thoughts in the book.
The author’s qualification to write on the subject matter of the book is not in doubt. His qualification rests on his heuristic and practical experience of sundry issues related to learning disability to which he proffered practical solutions in the book. Besides, many of the issues discussed in the book are related to learning and education, issues on which the author has acquired academic qualification and competence, given his BA (Hons.) in Education and Community Studies from the University of East London.
It must be stated that the strengths of this book lie in the overwhelming relevance of the issues discussed in it. I must confess that issues of learning disabilities still remain a gray area to many people including education practitioners. Issues of verbal, physical, and emotional abuse are rife in our homes and schools and our society is ignorantly silent. That the author has found his voice to talk about this dysfunction in our society is greatly commendable. The simple and easy to follow language used to craft his story in a no-holds-barred fashion is simply spell-binding. From the glossy, exquisite cover design to the largely readable fonts and layout of the pages, the audience is treated to a sincere, emotional, and involved reading. A cognizance needs to be registered of how the author in a careful and effective way, sublimely deploys an eclectic style to blend prose with highly imagistic poetry and laced his pages with very thought-provoking nuggets. The effect of this experiment is undoubtedly divine as it completely captivates the audience soaking them in empathetic avowal. However, some occasional omissions, spelling, and grammar errors are noticed on a number of pages. The author also seems largely silent on his marriage and immediate family. One would have expected information like the aforementioned to enjoy a special mention in an autobiography. This book bears some semblance with scholarly work in that many of the assertions made about learning and learning difficulties are evidently strengthened by various experts’ opinions. It must also be mentioned that the treasured pictures of the author’s mentors and awards which adorned the pages of the book sign authenticity to some of the issues discussed in it.
There is a hero in every child but the right environment is needed to unleash the potential. How parents treat and talk to their children influences how the children perceive themselves and the world around them.
In summary, the author’s unusual circumstances of birth sadly bolstered by the hostile environment of his nurture skewed him up for fatal failure in life but with determination and resilience, he wrestled his way through a most harrowing experience like the biblical Jacob who led life like a rudderless ship until he found a sure anchor in God. Little wonder, one of the author’s names is Isreal. He is living up to his name!
All said, I cannot but unreservedly recommend this invaluable book to all members of the public – parents: you will be more intentional at parenting and ultimately become better parents; teachers: you will move from ignorance to awareness and become better teachers; schools and society: you will gain immeasurable ideas to organise schools and society to be healthier for children to learn and fly; to all teenagers and young adults: you will find inspiration, courage, and strength to carry on knowing that there is sure hope for you. If Chief Lazarus Ayodele Isreal Oshunremi could triumph against all odds, you too will. You may be brought down but not destroyed! You may be knocked down but not knocked out! Your anchor surely holds within the veil! This 197-page book is worth its value by every standard and I assure you of positive influence after reading it. Happy reading!