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BOOK REVIEW: A Journey Of Guided Discovery: A Review Of James Yeku’s Where the Baedeker Leads



Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
Professor Toyin Falola


Toyin Falola

The first time I started to read James Yeku’s poetry collection, I wondered why he chose that title for his book. First off, not many people would know what a Baedeker means. However, the earliest glimmer of revelation hit me, and some tens of pages into the collection, the revelation was fully confirmed. When one considers the author, the content of the poetry collection and the title, one would understand the aptness of the double entendre in the title, or should I call it multiple entendre? To fully understand, we must first know what a Baedeker is. A Baedeker is a guidebook that comes in handy for travelers. Karl Baedeker started the publication of these traveler’s guidebooks, and decades after his death, the Baedeker has become known as the symbol for quality guidebooks.

BOOK REVIEW: A Journey Of Guided Discovery: A Review Of James Yeku’s Where the Baedeker Leads

James Yeku

James Yeku is an assistant professor of African digital humanities at the University of Kansas. He was born and grew up in Nigeria. He lived the better part of his childhood, adolescence and even his young adulthood in Lagos before moving to Canada, and later Kansas, the United States. Where the Baedeker Leads is proof that the human is restless—always in transit, whether mentally, intellectually, spiritually, or physically. Amid the human’s eternal journey, the importance of a helpful guide, the Baedeker, cannot be overemphasized. Family members, friends, a university degree, an appointment—all these have the potential to serve as the Baedeker.

Where the Baedeker Leads is a chronicle of a man’s experiences in two different worlds and the noted similarities between these two worlds, despite their stark differences. It also gives a clue into how people note experiences and formulate perceptions by relating them to other things they have previously encountered. What relationship is there between Lagos and Saskatoon? For how long does a human feel alien in a new environment till they blend in and call and see the new place as home?

James Yeku’s Where the Baedeker Leads is a 95-page collection of 57 poems. I love that this poetry collection touches on every aspect of concern that a contemporary Nigerian in the diaspora could have. From Saskatoon to Móremí, Dr. Yeku speaks to us of the issues that affect a Nigerian in Kansas the most: of police brutality and the #EndSARS agitations; of the Buhari era and its adverse effects on the life, economy, and standard of living of Nigerians; of love; of settling down; of kidnappings.

READ ALSO: BOOK REVIEW: Olayinka Oyegbile’s The Dirty Leap: Dramatizing Disillusionment And Dystopia

The collection opens with “Saskatoon,” a poem that, through vivid imageries, aptly narrates the beauties that endear one to Saskatoon. The reader understands that Saskatoon is a good place for people who love comfort and pastoral life through the poem. Yeku acquaints us with the people of Saskatoon and the vital role they play in the bubbly and loving nature of the city. Saskatoon is its people, radiant souls tipsy with dreams. One does not need the words of a magi to know that Saskatoon is a city of welcoming and amiable people.

In “Isolation,” the poet hits us with the reality of what was left of the world at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The imageries are consistent, and they appropriately describe the state we found ourselves in during the enforced lockdowns worldwide. Yeku takes us through the experience of a man in isolation—the dread for the pandemic, the loneliness, and the longing for physical human interactions. He whets readers’ appetites with the hopes of what could yet come by asking them to imagine scenarios where they are back on the streets, in the midst of the hustle and bustle. He ends the poem with a thought-provoking line that reminds us that humans crave things they had earlier detested in moments of deprivation. Typically, people do not like the stress that often comes with hustles and bustles, but at the height of a pandemic and the enforced lockdowns, they craved even the slightest amount of activity.

James Yeku is a poet rich in language and language use. He knows how to pick his words and string them together to spark the sound effects and elicit the correct responses. “Traveler” is a short but thought-evoking and powerful poem. In this poem, Yeku relates different forms of traveling to reinforce the same phenomenon and message. From the people who travel through their thoughts and minds in the form of a daydream to the poet’s words that travel on a mission to achieve his aims, to the poet who travels as he writes to achieve his dreams, every entity travels with a destination in mind; and a journey that the Baedeker guides lead to an arcane of futures, and a world of endless possibilities.

In “Away in Lagos,” James Yeku yet proves that he is a master of alliterations and metaphors, which are two of the most robust tools of outstanding poets. Through the deft use of these tools, he creates an impressionable image of Lagos in the reader’s mind. You do not need to have visited Lagos to understand the message of the poem entirely. He not only compares Nigeria’s beautiful city to its counterparts in other parts of the world, but he also draws a not-often-talked-about issue of how Lagos residents (known as Lagosians) continually leave the city they call home in search of greener pastures; how they would rather have winter than the harmattan of Lagos; and how in many cases, their moves are often ill-advised and not well thought out. At their arrival in their city of destination, the reality of what they left behind hits them; then, they start to feel uncertain about actualizing the dreams that made them flee in the first place.

“#EndSARS” evokes memories and brings to the fore the realities of the average Nigerian. In this poem, the anger and frustration of the Nigerian are strongly brought forth through the poet’s choice of words. Like every Nigerian, the poet is angry at the country’s political leaders, law enforcement officers, police brutality, and a system that continually fails the citizens. “#EndSARS” shows hopelessness and despair and how people would revolt when they are pushed against the wall.

“Bubu” is yet another poem from the collection that laments the fate of Nigerians. For six years now, Nigerians have witnessed what can be deemed one of the country’s worst governments. The country’s state is more lamentable at the deafening silence the government gives to the people despite justifiably raised concerns and agitations. It is one thing for a government to strive and yet be unable to deliver on the job, but it is outright unacceptable and grossly wrong for a government to not deliver on the job yet see no need to be accountable to the people. And what happens when the Buhari-led government eventually decides to speak out? Citizens are fed speeches reeking of nonchalance and a stark dissonance from the experiences of the people. The government speaks without empathy and from a reality different from that of the populace. These are the issues that are rightly addressed by the poet in “Bubu.”

READ ALS: BOOK REVIEW: Adetanwa Odebiyi’s Twisted Love And The Dangers Of Favoritism In A Nuclear Family

James Yeku has successfully woven together  words that speak volumes. Through them, he has been able to touch on diverse issues that affect the people. Where the Baedeker Leads is a book that provokes you to reason, rethink, and discover. It is a collection that everyone would find at least one poem to relate to. Though it is rare to find a book that suits everyone’s taste, I have read Where the Baedeker Leads, and I must say James Yeku has committed time and intellectual resources to put together poems that are unified in their diverse message and will always find a place to rest, as they journey from the pages of the book, through readers’ minds.

Where the Baedeker Leads by James Yeku is a 2021 publication by Mawenzi House, Toronto, with support from the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, and the Canada Book Fund.

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.


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The Public Academic In The Eyes Of Change: No Time To Cry



Prof. Tunji Olaopa

Being a review on ‘The Unending Quest for Reform’ being a book by Prof. Tunji Olaopa  

By Olufemi Awoyemi

Professor Olaopa is the quintessential academic with high socio-political values, a deep sense of the urgency for action, and an abiding enthusiasm for the possibilities of the future if the proper actions are taken. He reminds me of the character Sekoni, in Professor Wole Soyinka’s 1965 novel, ‘The Interpreters.’ Sekoni was feisty, sincere, cerebral, and messianic. He needed to see a better society, he needed to see his people do better. But unfortunately, Nigeria happened to him. The same society that he craved to improve, spat him out like a discarded cigar butt and stamped his remaining dignity and self-awareness into the dirt. Indeed, his friends (and perhaps enemies) learned a bitter lesson: inciting meaningful change is a dangerous enterprise

Society all too often makes the capital mistake of assuming that to see comprehensive socioeconomic progress, political leadership must be top-notch, a cut above the ordinary, and committed to seeing new concentric heights of prosperity and progress. The assumption, as well-intentioned as it seems, is wrong. No matter how sincere and hardworking the political leadership of a country is, if the bureaucratic structure needed to turn ideas into projects, programmes, and processes is effete, ineffective, and evasive, the possibilities of political and economic success are slim. The bureaucracy that drives the engine of public policy is more important than the lofty ideas that inspire leadership. No leader succeeds without a bureaucracy that gives life and meaning to political ideas and ideals. A measure of how well a leadership will perform can be gleaned from how well politicians have structured the public service to meet clear and consistent social and economic objectives.

If a nation’s public service bureaucracy is corrupt, inept, and incapable of introspection and self-correction; the country is sentenced to a life of struggle, pain, and poverty. No matter how rich a country is in natural and human resources, if the bureaucratic structures that turn the wheels of administration are clogged by the grit, grease, and dust of poor public service management, the nation cannot progress. Citizens become frustrated, treasuries get looted, and resources get depleted. In the words of Francis Fukuyama in his book, ‘The Origins of Political Order’, stable democratic societies require three characteristics: a strong state, the rule of law, and accountability. 

These considerations, however, skipped a fourth and powerful democratic feature, the need for a professional and forward-looking public service bureaucracy.  In many democracies, public service hides behind the finger of political gamesmanship and in many ways shapes the outcome of a politician’s dreams, wishes, and aspirations. The politician may have his or her say, but the civil service bureaucrat often has his or her way.

The author alludes to the innate difficulties in turning good policy into institutional action. His early epiphany of the difficulties in administration occurred while he was ‘sucked’into the vortex of student union politics at the University of Ibadan. In chapter eight of the book he points out that ‘With unionism, I began so early to fathom some of the heavy tasks of decision-making, policy formulation and design. By being invited to be a part of the University of Ibadan’s evolving strategic plan at the time, I was drawn into the inner sanctum of serious and institutional policy infrastructures that all the theories learnt from my public administration classes would not have afforded me

He further observed that ‘Most outsiders to politics and administration are only satisfied with the superficial analysis of the layman: politicians and administrators are greedy; there is more than enough to go around for all Nigerians. It is so easy to come to such a conclusion because politicians and administrators do not themselves help matters. In a country where public officials steal with impunity and the newspapers report, on a daily basis, news of massive theft of our common patrimony, it takes little reflection for the ordinary citizen to surmise that governance is an easy business. Is it not to just provide electricity and build schools?

In her insightful book ‘China’s Gilded Age’ Professor Yuen Yueng Ang explained that corruption is a universal phenomenon. Nevertheless, in countries like Nigeria, public office corruption is shaped in the manner of  ‘petty theft’ and ‘grand theft’ rather than ‘transactional theft’ that involves ‘speed money’ and ‘access money’ as is the case in more developed economies like China. In China, a corrupt public official would enhance and promote business activity by helping the entrepreneur meet his or her business objectives. In Nigeria, the public officer would prefer to create stumbling blocks that frustrate enterprise and then insist on ‘compensation’. The different corruption vectors to a large extent determine the pace of entrepreneurial growth and economic development. 

Contrary to popular opinion, corruption is not a socioeconomic deal breaker. What is a deal murderer is the lack of professionalism in Nigeria’s public service and the predominance of ‘grand theft’ as against ‘speed’ or áccess’money. The absence or the non-compliance of public officers with standard operating procedures (SoPs) rips at the heart of the civil service, smashing its credibility to smithereens. The consequence of an institutionally weakened public sector operation is typified by the poor state of Nigeria’s port operations. Public policies mean little, if anything if they are not accompanied by globally recognised best governance practices and unrelenting commitment to projects, procedures, or policy deliverables.

Olaopa precociously, or perhaps viscerally, understood this in his active days as a student union leader and more contemporarily as a resident academic in the federal public service. He came to the realization that policy success is less a matter of hope and desire as it is a matter of goals aligned to procedures set for implementation. The goals of governance are usually clear, but what appears hazy is the how and when of execution. Tackling execution at the highest professional standard is the ace in the hole, the theatre of maximum conflict with vested interests.

To navigate the minefields of policy inertia, change agents must have a multidisciplinary mindset that enables cross-disciplinary frameworks and models to interact to produce solutions that rise above the one-story narrative, which is usually wrong. Most often in life, our situations are dictated by multiple factors that interact intricately to create situations that easily confuse the innocent or simple. To suggest that corruption or a lack of professionalism is the one single factor responsible for Nigeria’s purportedly poor public service quality would be wrong. From the 1960s to the mid-1980s, Nigeria had amongst the finest public services in the world. Its cerebral and feisty public servants attracted great global praise and admiration.

However, by the mid to late 1980s, something began to go terribly wrong. The public service lost its lustre and Nigeria’s finest minds saw the civil service as an intelligent person’s mental graveyard. Unwilling to be ‘buried’ in this scary environment Nigeria’s clever and brightest voted with their feet by going into the more virile, creative, and agile private sector where material rewards were better. The slow descent from the honeypot of the intelligent and disciplined to the dungheap of the discontented and amoral was decisive in reducing the quality of decision-making and the impact of policy implementation of the public service. The previous statement is a tad sweeping.  Nigeria’s public service still retains the loyalty of fine people, with great brains and admirable character, but that population is fast receding, and without remedial measures being taken urgently, Nigeria’s public service will feast on the carcass of a bygone era.

Professor Olaopa’s book is a call to the working of imagination rather than memory. It is a call for the country to wake up and improve its public service personnel and governance oversight. Improving the standard operating procedures (SoPs) for government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) would provide the foundation for effective policy administration. Policy and planning excellence rests on laid-down templates and procedures that are taken as minimal standards of operations. In other words, excellence in the public sector would require workable systems and reliable workers. A linchpin of reliability is honour. A point the public sector academic makes in chapter nine of his memoirs. According to Professor Olaopa, ‘An honourable public official is the one who sees to the execution of a policy to the best of his ability even if he disagrees with the policy choice. This is an honourable act because it demonstrates that the bureaucrat’s sense of duty and service overrides his personal wilfulness. This is especially more so within the context of the bureaucratic corruption that exerts enormous pressure on the public servants and, even more so, the reformer, to compromise on her ideals and principles. Honour is also what insists that a reformer must be bound by the force of her conviction about the need to transform the public service. And it is precisely this that also demands that such 108 The Unending Quest for Reform The Making of a Public Servant-as-Reformer a reformer cannot prematurely seek honour and recognition’.

But beyond commitment to accepted standards and rules, Professor Olaopa expands on the concept of optimized communities or Opticom,  a framework for rural development advanced by Professors Ojetunji Aboyade and Akin Mabogunje. The concept relies on the rural community and its interactive relationships as the hub of socioeconomic growth and development. Effective administration of rural economies would promote the sustained growth of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and allow for the dispersion of talent, skills, creativity, and knowledge across communities in a way that tackles the urgent challenges of poverty, lack of financial inclusion and the alienation of relatively low-income Nigerians from the broader economy and production value chains.

The top-to-bottom command structure of the Nigerian bureaucracy and economy has not served the country well. Olaopa like his mentors  Aboyade and Mabogunje, argues that it is important to reverse the order of administrative relevance by making the rural communities centres of excellence and aggregating these centres into a national culture and structure of inclusive and sustainable growth and development. Olaopa’s commitment to the sustained progress of the public sector in the interest of the communities and country is reflective of a mind schooled in the philosophical thoughts of Plato and honed by the practical craft of governance gathered over years of being at the centre of federal public sector authority and might.

I recommend Professor Olaopa’s book to all those interested in engineering a better bureaucratic framework to support a fit-for-purpose public service aimed at the greatest interest of the largest number of citizens. In the general scheme of things, while good ideas are needed to direct society to achieve optimal benefits for citizens, the success of the ideas rests delicately on the quality of public bureaucracy expected to translate those ideas into reality.

Where bureaucracy is weak, unimaginative, and lethargic, the best of ideas and programmes buckle under the weight of public incompetence, mischief, and thievery. Ultimately great administrations are the products of the collaboration between intelligent politicians and outstanding administrators. Where political vision and administrative competence are misaligned, the consequence is nearly always socioeconomic pain.


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22nd Africa Conference 2023 Holds At University of Texas



Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
Prof. Toyin Falola

The 22nd Africa Conference 2023
University of Texas at Austin

March 30 – April 2, 2023

Come join us for the 22nd Austin Africa Conference, the premier gathering for Africanist scholars, activists, and enthusiasts! This year’s conference promises to be an engaging and thought-provoking event, featuring a dynamic lineup of speakers, panel discussions, and networking opportunities.

Whether you are a seasoned researcher, a passionate activist, or simply interested in learning more about the rich and diverse cultures of Africa, the Austin Africa Conference has something for everyone. With a wide range of topics and themes, including politics, culture, history, and development, there is sure to be a session that piques your interest and inspires lively conversation. You can join Day 1 and 2 Virtual Panels below.

VIRTUAL A (Thur, 3:30AM – 5:30AM Austin CST // 9:30AM – 11:30AM WAT)
Meeting ID: 895 1525 1670
Passcode: 642798

VIRTUAL B (Thur, 5:45AM – 7:15AM Austin CST // 11:45AM – 1:15PM WAT)
Meeting ID: 816 3786 0400
Passcode: 180438

VIRTUAL C (Thur, 7:30AM – 9:00AM Austin CST // 1:30PM – 3:00PM WAT)
Meeting ID: 851 1195 8266
Passcode: 334322

VIRTUAL D (Thur, 9:15AM – 10:45AM Austin CST // 3:15PM – 4:45PM WAT)
Meeting ID: 823 5398 9771
Passcode: 714482

VIRTUAL E (Fri, 4:00AM – 5:30AM Austin CST // 10AM – 11:30AM WAT)
Meeting ID: 895 0979 6469
Passcode: 390399

VIRTUAL F (Fri, 5:45AM – 7:15AM CST // 11:45AM – 1:15PM WAT)
Meeting ID: 824 9012 0462
Passcode: 049090

For the in-person participants, the conference offers the chance to connect with like-minded individuals from around the world, building relationships and networks that can last a lifetime. With attendees coming from all corners of the globe, the Austin Africa Conference is truly a melting pot of ideas and perspectives. Here is why:

· Panel Session A1 – A2 (Fri, 9:45AM-11:15AM Austin CST)

· Panel Session B1 – B2 (Fri, 11:30AM – 1:00PM Austin CST)

· Panel Session C1 – C2 (Fri, 2:00PM – 3:30PM Austin CST)

· Keynote Lecture (Fri, 4:00PM – 5:30PM Austin CST)

· Dinner Reception (Fri, 5:30PM – 6:30PM Austin CST)

· Panel Session D1 – D3 (Sat, 9:00AM – 10:30AM Austin CST)

· Panel Session E1 – E4 (Sat, 10:45AM – 12:15PM Austin CST)

· Panel Session F1 – F2 (Sat, 1:15PM – 2:45PM Austin CST)

· Panel Session G1 – G3 (Sat, 3:00PM – 4:45PM Austin CST)

· Plenary Session & Closing Remarks (Sat, 4:45PM – 5:30PM Austin CST)

· Open Bar (Sat, 6:30PM – 7:00PM)

· Dinner Banquet (Sat, 7:00PM – 9:00PM)

Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to engage with some of the brightest minds in African studies and make lasting connections with fellow enthusiasts. Save the date now and prepare to be inspired!

Download the conference program



Olayombo Raji-Oyelade,

Victor Angbah,


Toyin Falola,

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Toyin Falola, Memories Of Africa: Home And Abroad In The United States



Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
Prof. Toyin Falola

By Olusegun Olopade

Toyin Falola, Memories of Africa: Home and Abroad in the United States (Atlantic Migrations and the African Diaspora) | © March 2023

Book Details

Publisher‏: ‎ University Press of Mississippi (March 24, 2023)

Language‏: ‎ English

Paperback: ‎ 256 pages

ISBN-10: ‎ 1496843487

ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1496843487


Memories of Africa: Home and Abroad in the United States suggests a new lens for viewing African Diaspora studies: the experiences of African memoirists who live in the United States. The book shows how African Diaspora memoirs beautifully and grippingly depict the experiences of African migrants over time through political, social, and cultural spheres. In reading African Diaspora memoirs from the transatlantic slave trade period to the present, a reader can understand the complexity of the African migrant legacy and evolution.

Author Toyin Falola argues that memoirs are significant not only in their interpretation of events conveyed by the memoirists but also in demonstrating how interpersonal and human the stories told can be. Memoirs are powerful because they are emotionally captivating and because important themes and events circulate around a particular person (in this case, the memoirist).

Undoubtedly, a memoir is significant because it can teach anyone about a part of the human experience, even if the “facts” are not described without bias. Through this sort of narrative, the reader cannot help but enter into the memoirist’s mind and, therefore, feel more empathy for them. In doing so, the reader can “feel” what the memoirist feels and “see” what the memoirist sees as clearly as is humanly possible. In this way, the historical events and life lessons become tangible and poignantly real to the reader.

Editorial Reviews

Memories of Africa makes a significant contribution to the study of the African Diaspora, African intellectual history, to our understanding of African autobiography, and more importantly to life studies. Falola provides fresh insights that will reinvigorate the field. — Olabode Ibironke, author of Remapping African Literature.

Memories of Africa opens a new dimension to the understanding of the experiences of home, space, and place, and their interactions in African and diaspora studies. — Adetayo Alabi, author of Oral Forms of Nigerian Autobiography and Life Stories.

Toyin Falola is Professor of History, University Distinguished Teaching Professor, and the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin, USA. He has received over thirty lifetime career awards and sixteen honorary doctorates. He has written extensively on the African Diaspora, including The African Diaspora: Slavery, Modernity, and Globalization.

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