Report on “The Other Side of Truth”, by Beverley Naidoo


1) Introduction:
The Other Side of truth is a very profound book about political refugees and liberty of speech. The plan of this report is as follows: Characters Summary Themes Nigeria About the Author A Book inspired by true stories My Opinion on the book Conclusion

2) Characters:
Sade Solaja is the main character, and narrates the story She is a 12-year-old Nigerian girl, courageous and imaginative. She loves school and her native country, and uses her memories of the Family House in Ibadan, of her desk, of Iyawo and Oko (2 sculptures she had in her bedroom in Nigeria), or of her mothers sayings to keep hope and courage through the challenges she faces. Femi Solaja, Sade’s 10-year-old brother, closes up easily and relies on Sade a lot. When they are separated from their parents, he becomes moody and refuses to talk to his sister about how he feels; he clams up completely. He loves playing football. Folarin Solaja is Sade and Femi’s father; he is an outspoken journalist for Speak, an uncensored newspaper. He is in danger because of his articles; Nigeria’s government doesn’t allow liberty of speech, and any journalists who want to tell the truth are threatened, as well as their families. Uncle Tunde is a lawyer in Nigeria. He manages to find Mrs Bankole, to smuggle the children out of the country after their mother’s death. He is a very good lawyer, able to get to the bottom of things: “Papa used to joke that Uncle Tunde should have been a detective rather than a lawyer because he was so good at getting to the truth” (page86). Mrs Bankole, a suspicious Nigerian lady, is paid by Folarin Solaja to smuggle the children out of the country. She also takes stacks of bubbas, sandals and bangles with her, which results in them being searched at their arrival in London. She then abandons the children, with hardly any money, in the street, after threatening them so they don’t tell her name to the police.

Dele Solaja is another of the children’s uncles. He works as a teacher in the London College of Art, and the children are supposed to meet with him when they arrive in England. However, they cannot find him: he went into hiding because of threats he had received from the Nigerian government, because of his involvement with Nigerians for Democracy in London. They wanted Nigeria to be expelled from the Commonwealth until there were proper elections for a new, democratic government. The Graham family are Sade and Femi’s first foster family. Mrs Graham is very understanding and takes good care of them; but Kevin, the eldest son, is awkward and cruel, as he does not like having strangers in his home, and will stay even after the children go into a new foster home, when Sade integrates his school. Jenny is a social worker who finds a more permanent foster home for the children. She is kind and gentle, and reminds Sade of her statue of Iyawo that she left in Nigeria. She will introduce Mama Appiah to the children, guessing, and rightly so, that she will remind them of home (of their Aunt Mama Buki, more specifically) and be able to support and help them better than herself. Mama Appiah is the adviser for refugee children from the refugee council. She comes from Ghana, and is a strong, confident and gentle with Sade and Femi. She reminds Sade of Mama Buki, and starts trusting her quickly. Mama Appiah will stay in contact with both of them even after they have been placed in their new foster home. Mr Nathan is the refugee lawyer that Mama Appiah brings the children to. He manages to get temporary admission in England for them. Gracie and Roy King are Sade and Femi’s new foster family. They are Jamaican, and live not very far from Mrs Graham’s flat. They are kind and understanding to the children, and do their best to make them feel at home. Mariam is a young Somali girl who, like Sade, had to flee her country to survive, when she was a small child. Her father was arrested by the military, for helping rebels. Then President Barre’s army bombed their entire town, Hargeisa, so Mariam, her mother and her brother Hassan left and walked all the way to the capital, Mogadishu. There, they left for Kenya in a small boat packed with hundreds of people; against all odds, they survived, and lived for 6 years in a refugee camp in Kenya. One year before Sade’s arrival, Mariam’s family received a letter from her uncle, announcing that her father was dead and asking them to come and live in London with him. They accepted, and Mariam’s mother and uncle now own a small store next to the school. Marcia is a young, popular Jamaican girl in Sade’s class. She is a bad student, and smokes, argues with the teachers, and bullies other students with the help of her cronies, including Donna and Kevin Graham. She orders everyone about, and picks on Sade the most. “Mr Seven O’Clock” is a television reporter. Sade and Femi go to see him to tell him their story, so that it will pass on television. That way, they will get publicity for their father’s plight and get public support.

3) Summary:
The story begins in Nigeria, with the death of Femi and Sade’s mother. She was killed by agents of the corrupt government, the “Brass Buttons”, to force Folarin Solaja, the children’s father, to stop writing for Speak, an uncensored newspaper. The children then have to flee the country, where they are not safe. Their Uncle Tunde arranges for them to be smuggled to London, where their Uncle Dele lives, with Mrs Bankole. Their father should then join them there. However, instead of finding the hoped-for safety, they are abandoned by Mrs Bankole in the middle of London, a strange city they know nothing about. When they are found by the police, they are put into the care of Mrs Graham. They meet Jenny, Mama Appiah and Mr. Nathan, who try their best to help them by getting the children temporarily admitted in England, and by finding a new foster family for them: Gracie and Roy King. Sade had to lie to officials about their name so as to no get her father into trouble, and the kindness displayed by the adults makes her feel guilty about her lies. She is also sad about Femi’s sulliness, and feels very homesick. Matters don’t improve on her first day in her new school; she feels lost in the English education system, much less harsh and demanding with students than in Nigeria. Even though she finds friendship and understanding with Mariam, a fellow refugee, and Mr Morris, the English teacher, she starts getting bullied by Marcia, and her gang. She is forced to steal a lighter for them, for example, in Mariam’s uncle’s store, something that she feels very guilty about. She starts dreading going to school, as she doesn’t know how to deal with bullies. One day, Mama Appiah arrives at the house with good news: she has found the children’s father, who managed to get into England thanks to a false passport. However, he was put taken to a Detention Centre because he didn’t ask for political asylum, because he was so worried about his children. The Nigerian Police then announce that he is wanted for the murder of his wife. Desperate, Sade and Femi decide to try and meet a television reporter, in this case “Mr Seven O’Clock News”

4) Themes:
Political oppression and human rights abuse:



Bullying: “We have to stand up to bullies, Sade girl! Otherwise they get inside your head. That’s how they succeed in controlling us. The Bully-Boy Soldiers rule us today because most people let them. They frighten us into believing they are all-powerful. Without their brass buttons, they are nothing.” (P.118)

Corruption: “Everyday we are robbed under our own nose. And it’s no use complaining to the police. Why? Because they are the robbers.”

The influence of the media:

5) Nigeria:
Recent history:
During the colonial era, Nigeria was a British colony. It became an independent country within the Commonwealth on October 1, 1960, with Nnamdi Azikiwe as maiden GovernorGeneral. In 1963, Nigeria declared itself a Federal Republic, with Azikiwe as the first president. However, in 1965, the opposition took control amid dubious electoral circumstances. This led in 1966 to several back-to-back military coups, which in turn led to the the three-year Nigerian Civil War, from July 1967 to January 1970. More than one million people died during these three years, after which the country was governed by a federal military regime. In 1979, Obasanjo, the head of state at the time, transferred power to the civilian regime of Shehu Shagari, and Nigeria returned to democracy for a short while. However, this government was viewed as corrupt and incompetent, so it was generally viewed as a positive change when the regime was overthrown by Mohammadu Buhari’s military coup in 1984.

Several different forms of regimes then followed, until late 1993 when General Sani Abacha took power in another military coup. Abacha proved to be perhaps Nigeria's most brutal ruler and employed violence on a wide scale to suppress civilian unrest; the novel The Other Side of Truth is set during Abacha’s reign and his campaign of suppression against journalists. The regime would come to an end in 1998 when the dictator was found dead, under suspicion curcumstances.

Economy: Nigeria is classified as an emerging market, and ranked 37th in the world in

terms of GDP as of 2007. Economic activity is centred in 4 main cities: Lagos, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, and Abuja. Beyond these, development is marginal.]Previously, economic development had been hindered by years of military rule, corruption, and mismanagement. However, the restoration of democracy and subsequent economic reforms have successfully put Nigeria back on track towards becoming one of the Major Economies in Africa. Petroleum plays a large role in the economy, as well as mineral resources including gold, lead, natural gas and tin, and, most of all, agriculture (about 60% of Nigerians work in the agricultural sector) .. Nigeria also has one of the fastest growing telecommunications markets in the world, and a highly developed financial services sector. Last but not least, it also has a large manufacturing industry which includes leather, textiles, car manufacturing and plastics.


Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with 141 million inhabitants in 2005. This accounts for approximately one-sixth of Africa’s people. Fewer than 25% of Nigerians are urban dwellers, and there are over 380 ethnic groups who give the country a great cultural diversity. The major ethnic groups include the Hausa-Fulani, the Yorubas, the Igbo the Kanuri and the Ijaw; Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo are the most widely used Nigerian languages. The majority of the population is either Muslim (50%) or Christian (40%). Nigerians have an overall life expectancy of 51 years, and a population growth of 2.5%.

Social issues:

Despite its vast government revenue from petroleum mining, Nigeria faces many social issues, primarily due to a history of inefficiency in its governance. Human rights: Although Nigeria is now a democracy, which has played a large part in the release of political prisoners and the revocation of military decrees that allowed for unfair trials and arbitrary detention, its human rights record has remained poor, and government officials at all levels continue to commit serious abuses. The most significant human rights problems include: abuses by security forces such as summary executions, arbitrary arrests, prolonged pre-trial detention, or torture of prisoners and suspects; judicial corruption; human trafficking; child labour; female genital mutilation (FGM); restrictions on freedom of assembly, press, speech and religion; and infringement of privacy rights. Some of these human rights abuses are described in The Other Side of Truth: restrictions on freedom of press and movement, for instance, in the case of Folarin Solaja and his children; or the killing of his wife as a retribution for the articles he wrote. It is however important to remember that the story takes place during General Abacha’s de facto presidency, during which government abuses were at their highest, such as the hanging of Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Health issues Since the Bamako Initiative of 1987, medical accessibility has greatly improved, as well as health care efficiency and cost. However, the life expectancy of the country is low and about 20% of children die before the age of 5. The Nigerian health care system is continuously faced with a shortage of doctors known as 'brain drain' due to the fact that many highly skilled Nigerian doctors emigrate to North America and Europe. In 1995, It was estimated that 21,000 Nigerian doctors were practicing in the United States alone, which about the same as the number of doctors working in the Nigerian public service. Retaining these expensively trained professionals has been identified as one of the goals of the government. This continuous shortage is one of the main obstacles in the way towards achieving the standards of Western countries. Education: Nigeria provides free, government-supported education, but attendance is not compulsory at any level, and certain groups, such as nomads and the handicapped, are under-served. The rate of secondary school attendance is only 32% for males and 27% for females. The education system is dysfunctional, because of decaying institutions and ill-prepared graduates, but it remains better than in most African countries.

6) About the author:
Beverley Naidoo was born in May 1943 in Johannesburg, South Africa, into a white, middle-class family. As a child, she didn’t question the privileges white people had compared to black people under apartheid laws; however, when she went to university in Witwatersrand (where she graduated in 1963), she began to question racism and integrated the anti-apartheid movement. This led to her being imprisoned in solitary confinement for 8 weeks at the age of 21. In 1965, she went into exile and came to England, where she studied at the University of York to become a teacher. She went on to teach primary and secondary school in London. She also became involved with an anti-apartheid group and began looking for ways to educate young people about the dangers of racism in general and of the South African apartheid system in particular. She married another South African exile, with whom she has two children. She wrote her first book during the early 1980s, for the Education Group of the British Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa, an activist organization that aided victims of apartheid and worked to raise the world's awareness of human rights abuses in South Africa. She has since written several children’s books including Chain of Fire (1989), No Turning Back (1995), The Other Side of Truth (2000), and A Web of Lies (2004), mostly about young characters from different backgrounds facing tense conflicts and choices, such as living in Africa post-apartheid. She has received several awards for her books, such as the Carnegie Medal and a Nestlé Smarties Book Prize (Silver Award) for The Other Side of Truth, in 2000.

7) A book inspired by true stories:

Ken Saro-Wiwa:

Ken Saro-Wiwa (October 10, 1941 – November 10, 1995) was a Nigerian author, television producer, and environmental activist. He was a member of the Ogoni tribe, an ethnic Nigerian minority whose homeland has been targeted for crude oil extraction since the 1950s and which has suffered extreme environmental damage from decades of indiscriminate oil waste dumping. In 1990, he began devoting most of his time to human rights and environmental causes.Initially as spokesperson, and then as President, of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Saro-Wiwa led a nonviolent campaign against environmental degradation by multinational oil companies, especially Shell. He was also an outspoken critic of the Nigerian government, which he viewed as reluctant to enforce proper environmental regulations on the foreign oil companies operating in the area. In 1992, Saro-Wiwa was imprisonned withou trial by the Nigerian government for several months. From 1993 to 1995, he was the Vice-President of UNPO (an international, nonviolent, and democratic organisation) General Assembly. At that time, MOSOP organized several peaceful marches of more than half of the Ogoni population (around 300,000 men and women), drawing international attention attention to the Ogoni people, and Ken Saro-Wiwa in particular. The same year, the Nigerian government occupied the region militarily. Saro-Wiwa was arrested again and detained by Nigerian authorities in June 1993, but was released after a month.] On May 21, 1994, four Ogoni chiefs were brutally murdered. Saro-Wiwa had been denied entry to Ogoniland on the day of the murders, but he was arrested and accused of incitement to them. He denied the charges, but was imprisoned for over a year before being found guilty in 1995 after a hasty trial, and sentenced to death by hanging by a specially convened military tribunal, on charges widely viewed as entirely politically motivated and completely unfounded. His execution, as well as that of several other MOSOP leaders, provoked international outrage and resulted in Nigeria's suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations for 3 years (exactly what Sade’s Uncle Dele had been asking for in the book). Many of the witnesses who testified against Saro-Wiwa later admitted that they had been bribed by the Nigerian government to support the criminal allegations, some of them in the presence of Shell’s lawyer. The trial was widely criticised by human rights organizations, and half a year later, Ken Saro-Wiwa received the Right Livelihood Award for his courage as well as the Goldman Environmental Prize. A memorial to Saro-Wiwa was unveiled in London on 10 November 2006. It consists of a sculpture in the form of a bus, and was created by Sokari Camp, a Nigerian artist. In The Other Side of Truth, the case of Saro-Wiwa is used by Uncle Tunde as an example of what could happen to Folarin Solaja if he doesn’t leave Nigeria: “For goodness sake, Folarin, look at what they’ve done to Ken! The whole world was shouting: “Saro-Wiwa must not hang!„ But did His Excellency Commander-in-Chief, General Abacha, and his soldiers care? Of course not! So what will hold them back with an unknown writer called Solaja?„ This shows how much power non-democratic governments have, and how the liberty of the country’s people can be restricted. Although the situation in Nigeria itself has greatly improved, there remains a lot to be done in countries such as North Korea, for instance.

Damilola Taylor

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Damilola moved to the United Kingdom in August 2000 with his family, to seek treatment for his sister’s epilepsy. He began to attend his local school, where he was doing very well, until, at the end of the week, he returned home to tell his mother he was being bullied, and had been beaten up. The family reported it to the

teacher on the next Monday, but he was unable to do anything as he did not know who was telling the truth. On the same day, 27 November 2000 ,Damilola was cut on his left thigh as he was heading home. Running to a stairwell, he collapsed and bled to death in the space of 30 minutes. It is uncertain how he got his fatal wounds; the theory accepted by the Metropolitan Police is that Damilola was attacked and stabbed with a broken bottle. The alternative theory is that Damilola fell on broken glass in an accident. In 2002 four youths went on trial for the murder of Damilola;they were subsequently all aquitted after it was ruled that the prosecution's key witness was unreliable, and that Damilola’s wounds were consisten with a fall on a broken bottle. In 2005, new DNA techniques led to the arrests of 3 boys, two of them underage. Their trial began in January 2006; in April 2006, the jury returned a not guilty verdict on the charges of murder and assault with intent to rob, but with the possibility of a re-trial for manslaughter. On 9 August 2006, the two brothers, after a one-month re-trial, were convicted of the manslaughter of Damilola Taylor, and sentenced to eight years in youth custody. The total cost of the investigation is thought to have reached £20 million,and both brothers are set to be paroled in 2010 after serving half of their sentence; since neither brother has shown any remorse for the crime, it is hard to say when either may actually be released on parole. Beverley Naidoo chose to write The Other Side of Truth “in memory of Damilola Taylor and to other young people and their families who seek new lives in new countries.”

General Abacha (1943-1998):

Abacha was a Muslim of Kanuri (an African ethnic group) extraction. After attending the Nigerian Military Training College in Kaduna, he was commissioned in 1963 in the Nigerian Army. He took part in three coup d'etats, the first two of which brought and removed General Muhammadu Buhari from power in 1983. In 1985, under the dictatorship of General Ibrahim Babangida, Abacha was named Chief of Army Staff. He was then appointed Minister of Defence, in 1990. In 1993, he took over power from Ernest Shonekan, who had himself been put into place by Babangida. Abachi’s government. He then ruled as Nigeria’s de facto president during 5 years, surrounded by 3,000 armed men loyal to himself. Abacha was married to Maryam Abacha and had seven sons and three daughters. Human rights abuses: Abacha's government was accused of human rights abuses, especially after the hangings (over which Abacha himself presided) of the environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and several other Ogoni activists. His regime suffered severe opposition both internally and externally, by pro-democracy activists who made the regime unpopular. Abacha responded by banning political activity in general, and by strongly controlling the press. Paradoxally, he sent Nigerian troops to Liberia and Sierra Leone to restore democracy to those countries, while denying it in his own. During his regime, a total of $3 or $4 billion USD was reported taken out of the country's coffers by Abacha and members of his family. At that time, he was listed as the world's fourth most corrupt leader in recent history. Death: General Abacha died in June 1998, while at the presidential villa in Abuja in the company of General Jeremiah Useni (Chief of Staff from 1997 to 1998) and Musa Abdullahi, who was claimed to be the unofficial strategist and mastermind of Abacha's plan to

transform himself into a democratically elected dictator. He was 54, and allegedly died of a heart attack. He was buried on the same day, according to Muslim religion, without an autopsy, which led to speculations that he may have been poisoned by political rivals. After his death, Major General Abdusalami Abubakar, Nigeria's defence chief of staff, was sworn in as the country's head of state. A transition to democratic civilian rule was announced soon after, which led to the election of President Olesegun Obasanjo. As for the recovery of the stolen money, Abacha's family agreed to return $1.2 billion that was taken from the central bank in 2002; the remainder still belongs to the family.

President Barre:

8) My opinion:
I thought this book was well written and very realistic. It is accessible to all public, and really makes us think about how much worse our own lives could be, and how well off we are in Switzerland. It also broaches the subjects of human rights abuse, political oppression, corruption and bullying, all of them serious and ever present; it shows how much harder we should be trying to abolish them definitively, and brings out “desire for justice and freedom within and beyond our shores” (Jon Snow). On the other hand, although the story in itself was definitely thought-provoking, I found it a bit too simple and childish, destined for children more than for adults. I would have preferred a longer and more complete book, with more action and perhaps better suited to students our age.

9) Conclusion: