Title: STELLA: Her Journey & Her Legacy
Publisher: Books with a Vision
Reviewer: Yinka S. Kareem
Antoinette-Rita’s previous books are poetry books: Purple & Blue – Inspirational Poems and The Blue Ocean – Peace, Power, Prosperity (Volume 1); she fell in love with poetry at an early age. Unlike many poets, she began writing poetry at the age of 6 and songs at the age of 9. She has received among other international awards including, The Young Poet Award, courtesy of the International Society of Poets, held in Florida, United States of America in 2004.
Antoinette-Rita’s STELLA: Her Journey & Her Legacy is an anthological biography (including poetry and photographs) of the life of Chief (Mrs.) Stella Obasanjo, the erstwhile First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Sixteen key personalities and other 32 individuals give anthological accounts and tributes about the life and legacy of Stella Obasanjo in the book.
This contribution, STELLA: Her Journey & Her Legacy by Antoinette-Rita to biographical literature of First Ladies in the world is phenomenal. When she discovered, as a committed female writer, that no publication on Stella Obasanjo was in the public domain, she decided to blow the trumpet of Stella’s legacy. The book is therefore not a commissioned biography or imprimatur of Stella Obasanjo’s biography. Her description of the book underscores the fact that the book is a legacy book; she writes: “…legacy book about Mrs. Obasanjo…” (19). This statement by the author could as well serve as the epigraph of the book. However, her commitment towards the proclamation of the legacy of a fellow woman is noble.
In STELLA: Her Journey and Her Legacy, Antoinette-Rita organises her materials well and also uses them effectively. With the two chapters, “Introduction by Antoinette-Rita” and “A Life Remembered”, she asserts that she is more than an interviewer and a compiler of the comments and the tributes of others on Stella Obasanjo. What others do not mention about Stella, Antoinette-Rita discovers with the keen eyes of a good biographer. For example, she includes in her own story that Stella Obasanjo received the 2000 African Civic Responsibility Award, based on her philanthropic works.
With “A Life Remembered (A Poem)”, Antoinette-Rita exhibits her creativity by incorporating poetry into the anthological biography of Stella Obasanjo. The inclusion of the poem is appropriate because it is a poetic tribute – an ode. This ode to Stella Obasanjo is encomiastic in line with Pindaric odes; but it has irregular stanzanic structure like the odes of Abraham Cowley. With simple diction and the use of dramatic monologue, Antoinette-Rita addresses both Stella Obasanjo and her readers. She also effectively uses other various poetic devices in this poem, which is also biographical for it conveys the life history of Stella Obasanjo.
STELLA: Her Journey & Her Legacy bears one major “weakness” of anthological biography – lack of chronological narration of events. But in the book, Antoinette-Rita masterfully takes care of this defect which are evident in two main chapters, by her inclusion of a chapter titled “Mrs. Stella Obasanjo; A Chronological Summary” before these two chapters. Her summary of the life of Stella Obasanjo from when she was born on November 14, 1945 to her demise on October 23, 2005 is indeed an antidote to the defect inherent in anthological biography.
Two chapters titled “The Story of Chief (Mrs.) Stella Obasanjo” and “Tributes to the Life of Chief (Mrs.) Stella Obasanjo” embody the anthological biography of the former First Lady. At the beginning of each chapter, Antoinette-Rita gives introductory lists of the 16 commentators and the 32 individuals who give tributes in honour of Chief (Mrs.) Stella Obasanjo. However, at the end of the list of names of the 16 commentators, she writes the phrase, “Be inspired”. The addition of this phrase reveals the direct and conversational approach of the author to her reader in the middle of the book. What appears to be intrusive is, however, deliberate and appropriate; it is the voice of the public speaker in Antoinette-Rita that is speaking. A young public speaker, a carer of her disabled mother, who is committed to inspiring others to take care of fellow humans, is calling on her readers to be inspired by the story of another “carer”, Chief (Mrs.) Stella Obasanjo.
In the first chapter, containing the anthological biography, the author presents the journey and legacy of Stella Obasanjo through an array of commentators from all walks of life, and different backgrounds, who are of diverse relationship with Stella Obasanjo while she was alive. The accounts from this group of 16, consisting mostly of individuals who were part of Stella’s journey from her early days, are perceptional. However, in a separate chapter, the author presents the life history of Chief (Mrs.) Stella Obasanjo through the perspectives of different people who give peripheral accounts of her life and legacy, based on the perceptible achievements of Stella Obasanjo in the public domain.
The presentation of the accounts of the group of 16 in a separate chapter from that of the group of 32, is effective because the testimonies of those who did not have any intimate relationship with Stella Obasanjo complements and corroborates that of those who were close to Stella during her lifetime. The inclusion of the testimonies of the group of 32 in the anthological biography of Stella also shows that Antoinette-Rita has not presented a whitewash biography.
STELLA: Her Journey & Her Legacy, from the pen of Antoinette-Rita is also not a cosmetic or face-saving biography of Stella Obasanjo; it also contains some flaws in the character of Chief (Mrs.) Stella Obasanjo. With this, the author exhibits one of the qualities of a good biographer. According to the account of Mrs. Victoria Ebohimen, Stella normally yelled at those who were close to her; but she adds that it was a yell in love (114). Apart from this, her taste in fashion was exquisite and flamboyant. She bought lots of dresses, shoes and handbags; many would definitely frown at this, under a depressed economy, but come to think of it; she “… gave clothes to many ladies with a free heart” (116).
Overall, the collage of accounts and tributes from 48 people unanimously presents Chief (Mrs.) Stella Obasanjo as a loving and willing “carer” who loved God; cared about Nigeria, Africa, her parents, siblings, husband (whom she stood by while he was imprisoned by Abacha), children, members of the extended family, workers, aides and friends. She also cared about the womenfolk, the disabled and orphaned children; her Child Care Trust and her fight against genital mutilation are testimonies to this. However, she is also presented as a “carer” who takes care of herself, her beauty.
Antoinette-Rita’s convincing presentation of Stella’s biography would have been more convincing if she has included the tributes of women who directly benefitted from the campaigns organised by Stella against female genital mutilation. Tributes from disabled children or parents of these children, who benefitted from Stella’s Child Care Trust, would also have been a plus to the book. The photographs included in the book testify to the external beauty of Stella; but the inclusion of photographs with Stella in the midst of disabled children or in the midst of women she uplifted would also have pictorially shown her inner beauty and her caring for others.
In future, some typographical errors in connection with Yoruba names will have to be corrected in the book; the title of Oba Dr. Olusanya Adegboyega Dosunmu is Olowu Kangunere not “Kangumere” (42). The author will also have to make Mr. Richard Taylor, OBE, a more reliable witness; in his account of Mrs. Stella Obasanjo, he uses the phrase “I first met Stella Obasanjo” on two different occasions; this is confusing (98). The failure of the author to number the lines of “A Life Remembered” also makes it difficult to make reference to the lines in the poem. The numbering of the lines would go a long way in enhancing the appreciation of the poetic tribute to Stella Obasanjo.
Antoinette-Rita’s silence on the cause of Stella’s death and her not mentioning in the book that she died in Puerto Banus, Spain, when she mentions that Stella was born in Warri, Delta State, Nigeria, however, shows that she is indeed interested in the legacy of Stella more than her journey. After all, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo dwells on this aspect of the journey of the life of Stella in his autobiography, My Watch.
Overall, STELLA – Her Journey & Her Legacy is an interesting and well written anthological biography in simple language about a “carer”; a unique “shero”, Chief (Mrs.) Stella Obasanjo. We cannot but agree with Antoinette-Rita that, “She came, she handled, she conquered!” (34).
This is a book recommended for everyone to make the world a better place to live as we care for one another.