A poetic reconnaissance of the Niger-Delta in Benji Egede’s songs of fuellessness and testament of hope Part 2
This seemingly endless strain of melancholy continues in “A Note to Nkunlunkulu” as Egede solicits God’s intervention for a dissipation of the cruelty and startling problems crushing the entire region of the Niger Delta.“A Note to Nkunlunkulu”, conveys his appalling art imaged in ‘Nkunlunkulu’, a Zulu name for God, who is able to save and deliver the entire region or land from the aching problems. The poem captures God’s greatness and power to deliver the oppressed.
Of course, the problems of the region erode the people’s confidence in the nation’s leadership, and as such, under this circumstance, Egede must fulfill his role as a chronicler and watchdog of his region by raising an alarm to the one who can deliver absolutely. In this poem, Egede employs symbols and images that capture leaders that are tyrants and cannibals who have re-incarnated in the persons of ‘the Does and the Barres’, the Amins and the Abachas’. These terrifying imagistic symbols ignite terrors, and the significance, resides in the harmful effect of postcolonial degradation. Egede’s poetic engagement of the Niger-Delta struggle for a habitable space entails exposing these tyrants within the context of his poetry. However, he strongly believes in the intervention of God against such destructive strangulation:
All- seeing Nkunlunkulu/ just to remind you that/ the Does and the Barres/ the Amins and the Abachas/ have furnished multiple mattocks and hoes/ for grave diggers’ use/ … where do we go from here?/ You alone have the answer (“A Note to Nkunlunkulu”(31), Songs of Fuellessness)
Poems such as “The Waste of Koko”, “Home Locusts”, “Warning”, “My Kind of Wear”, “The Pauper’s Song”, and “A Song of Zobiawalare” memorable verses which fit very much into the tradition of outrage against political injustice, exploitation and environmental disaster. They are poems that sue for a radical emancipation of the region, be it political, economical and otherwise.
“The Waste of Koko” is woven around ecological imperialism. As we have often noted, in all the phases of the Niger-Delta crisis, there is always some powerful foreign interest represented amongst us by some chiefs or community henchmen. This is what Egede, as a creative writer explores in this poem. He captures the very essence of their distortive and treacherous activities and their cooperation with national traitors to harm the region. The poem is Egede’s own way of reacting against imperialist capriciousness and bringing sanity to the region. He vehemently engages in the crusade against the supervisory and hegemonic occidental values to the detriment of the people and the environment of the Niger Delta: Must we fold our arms/ When koko kowtows to imperialist whims/ over a coke and fanta gesture?/ Must we fold our arms/ when our acre of gold/ grows into an arid treasure?/ Must we fold our arms/ when a mad man/ defecates in our pot of soup?…/ let everybody know that we should waste no time/ to check the waste of koko/ or else that waste/ will waste us in no time.
To Egede, resistance is the solution to this malady as unveiled in the last stanza of the poem above. He sees the waste as not only harmful to the people of Koko but also disastrous to the environment or ecosystem. He, hereby, calls for a total stoppage of such harmful deeds of the imperialists supported by the chiefs of the land. Associating writers from this region with the landscape has become an important subject of study with great attendant, social question. It is in this trend and concern for the environment that Benji Egede advances with such polemic attack in his poem, “Home Locusts” just to stave off the unfortunate predicament of the people. In “Home Locusts”, Egede showcases the place of land in the life of the people.
An average Niger-Deltan believes that land is a gift and must be protected with all sense of seriousness from every invader. Egede, in this poem, is very much daring to not only declare, but hold on tenaciously to this view. Here, his stern reaction to social injustice is projected. The poem reveals his practical and enthusiastic approach and reaction to social injustice.
The imagistic symbol of the ‘locusts’ is employed to depict the oppressors’ viciousness or depravity. The poem displays a very traumatic experience of the region of the Niger-Delta, perverted by invaders. His use of the oral narrative strategy in the poem is to Africanise his poetic form. The imagistic symbol of the ‘locusts’ is employed to enunciate the oppressors’ destructiveness: Once upon a misery plenitude/ locusts invade our land/ locusts invade our crops
a teutonic invasion/ locusts build empires for locusts/ locusts build empires for locust gals/ a nairaen empire/ home locusts sack our land/ holy locusts sack our land/ a just holocaust! …/ We must our home locusts kill/ to save our land (“Home Locusts”(29), Testament of Hope)
In “Warning”, Egede’s poetic intervention advances further to show that injustice will soon, someday, degenerate into a fierce fiasco. Hence, he prophetically envisages counter repression because the people of the land can no longer take the condition any further. What he sees coming is a trail of resistance primed in combative action against reactionary forces, more directly. The lines are magnificently and stylistically couched in metaphors.
The colour ‘red’ symbolises violence, revolution and freedom from oppressors or invaders. Egede is primarily concerned with the unsavory state of affairs in the Niger Delta region. A close examination shows that the poem is a quick response to the unceasing hitch, pain, acrimony, violation, repression and killings that have plagued the region for so many years. To Egede, there must be a counter reaction against injustice, if the land must gain sanity and be free from oppression. His distinct dissenting voice unveils this in the following lines:
I can see red in weary eyes/ that sing the plight/ of ungodfathered folks/ I can see red in rags and tatters/ that crown our greatness/ I can see red-fresh bedeck/ questioning cornices of our eyes in seasons of famished hopes/ I can see red in the land/ red- fresh marks our way/ Red is freedom/ in struggle/ red is great/ red is multi-colour/ red kills to save. (“Warning” (30), Testament of Hope)
“My Kind of Wear” reveals Egede’s devoted artistry to serve the exploited Niger-Delta peasantry. As a literary activist, his works vividly convey his understanding of the relationship between the oppressed Niger-Delta/ Nigerians and the crop of leaders. To Egede, oppression is one environmental facet that opens room for corruption, and corruption, in turn, is one major problem that has created a deepening crisis within the fabrics of human society. It makes room for scandalous wealth among the ruling class with immeasurable poverty, misery and degradation among the masses. This is why Benji Egede, in his own right, passionately continues with the rhetoric of resistance against such repression:
My kind of wear/ for race hate is/ life inspiring garment/ embroidered in living lyrics;…/ living lyrics that tell/ the world./ the evils of oppression…( “My Kind of Wear”(48), Songs of Fuellesssness)
What we find in this poem is a contingent of Benji Egede’s definite ideological stance in the campaign and exposition of social injustice and capitalism. It is a poem which shapes Egede’s vision along a progressive line, unveiling the social situation which inspires his tone and thematic thrust towards social issues. His distinct voice exposes the very entrenchment of the exploitative capitalist corruption. In the “The Pauper’s Song”, Egede amplifies the paradox of hunger in the midst of feasting. He traces this tragedy to the evil exploitation of the political and business barons. Egede castigates them, and at the same time spearheads a revolt that the people have the right to their own share of the national cake:
They say khaki can be agbadaed/ to shield us from the rain of want/ yet they take pleas for privatization …/ Tomorrow is agbada/ surely today is khaki…/ for my generation/ the condition remains the same:/ hunger, fear, anger, tear/ must we begin to fold our arms/ pretending that all is fine/ in our land?…/ we have a reason to insist/ on our share/ of the national cake (“The Pauper’s Song(47), Songs of Fuellessness)
In “A Song of Zobiawalare”, the poet unveils the outburst of an angry oppressed mob that is no longer at ease with the aching state of the land being crumbled by exploitation. The poem depicts in bold relief the plight of majority of citizens who on account of the insensitivity of the leaders are denied of their humanity. The poem depicts a land in total disarray. Egede, symbolically exposes the plight of the majority of the citizens in the region who have been denied of their humanity due to the callousness and insensitivity of those in power over the years. The word “zobiawalare” is coined by the poet from five syllables of the following Nigerian Languages: Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba and Edo. Imageries such as ‘farmhand’, ‘toiling baboon’, ‘the major rejected’ etc connote harshness on the people and callousness on the part of the leaders:
Where are the farmhands/ Zobiawalare/ the toiling baboons/ Zobiawalare/ the rejectamenta/ Zobiawalare/ the minors deserted/ Zobiawalare/ the blind of colours/ Zobiawalare/ amputees in travails/ Zobiawalare/ the jobless in town/ Zobiawalare…/ the vermins must leave/ Zobiawalare…/ ten per centers/ Zobiawalare…/ The lords of law/ Zobiawalare/ the moguls of power… (“A Song of Zobiawalare”(51), Songs of Fuellessness)
The “Travails of a Dying Calendar” has the same thematic thrust with “A Song of Zobiawalare”. It depicts the adverse effect that this untold hardship has on the people. It is this deplorable condition of affairs in the land that triggers the following rancorous voices:
At the hour of our ingathering…/ we witness the ordeals/ of a dying calendar/ we want parity!/ we want disparity!/ we want that parity!/ we want this parity!…/ pay our Hatiss now/ or our hearts remain at unease! (Travails of a Dying Calendar”(60)Songs of Fuellessness)
In addition, the spirit of daring is captured in the political sphere through the act of revolt and strike by the masses. The poem largely exposes the vexed question of leadership within the enclave of the Niger-Delta region. Egede uses the repetition in stanza 2 to show the dauntlessness and indisputability of the participants involved. In addition to arousing the empathy of the reader, the repetition equally unveils the intensity of the annoyance of the actors; it announces the workers’/strikers’ position and demands.
In “Prophecy (For my Land)”, Egede, as part of his polemical wits, captures the ceaseless plagues of tyranny and political injustice pervading the land and environment. Egede, in his prophetic caste, declares a chaos as the people are tired of being plagued by this incessant wickedness. The poem is a thundering wave directed at political despots whose leadership has brought misery, chaos and distress to the environment. The resonant effect of the use of repetition seems to lie in the implication that the poet and all those against oppression in the land are actually determined to revolt and mount resistance against the oppressors when the time comes, those he refers to as ‘the children of confusion’:/ Now that the uniform/ has hatched buttons/ … for the gum of tyranny/ we shall be there/ we shall be there/ when the time comes/ to witness a royal retinue of/ our mushrooming kingdom of force and fear/ crowned landlords for life.
(“Prophecy(for my Land)”(20), Testament of Hope”)
“Prayer” is a poem whose poeticism ironically wishes ill-luck to those responsible for the slow progress and retardation of the poet’s immediate environment. Here, Egede’s provocative rage is orchestrated. His poetic bullet is aimed at the species of corruption. His voice gives no room to the callous tormentors towards the wastage of lives and the environment. The last three lines of the poem expose the inherent tenets of the message aiming at total emancipation:
May it be well/ for the eagle/ may it be well/ for the eaglet…/ whoever says no to the other/ may his big left toe/ set against an early morning stump.( “Prayer”(42), Testament of Hope)
As one of Nigerian’s new evolving writers trying to redefine African poetry, Benji Egede’s poetic voice is dominated by issues around him as we have seen in the selected poems and as such, his revolutionary dialectics is contextualized with a view to providing solution to the problems. His poetry collections under study – Songs of Fuellesssness (1998) and Testament of Hope (1998) are consistent with the usual literary and aesthetic practice of environmental emancipation.
The two volumes focus, not just on the landscape of the Niger-Delta (micro society) but also the entire Nigerian nation (macro-society). Egede, in trying to broaden the parameters of his discourse unveils the diverse problems in the region of the Delta by painting the devastating pictures of the region. His selected poems radiate his pathos for a sick society and as such, his polemic strand is spurred by these heinous and dastardly acts.
The Niger-Delta and its ecological landscape then become his artistic resources for his eco-critical poetics, predicated on resistance of all forms against the capitalist foothold in the region. Benji Egede’s poems convey situations characterised by all kinds of social upheaval and acrimony, plight, injustice, oppression, class status, capitalism, exploitation, revolt within and beyond the Niger Delta region.
His poetry attacks the very structure of advanced capitalist society; organization, conscientising the masses and steering them for consensual social control. His poetry portrays his reasons(s) for his aesthetic resistance, since it x-rays pictures of a society terrorized by horror and enslavement. His thematic preoccupations span the entire contours of repression, resistance and revolt in which observable physical disintegration and decay in social life correlates in the region of the Delta.
To Egede, poetry becomes a bohemian tool to checkmate such repression that has become hydra headed, ranging from oppression to exploitation of diverse kinds. His aim is to save his people and the entire citizenry from their peasant plights and from all sorts of ecological dissonance. Some people have acted out of desperation, raging like raving lunatics in a bid to putting an end to this ecological injustice and callousness. Egede, on his own part as a poet, invests his rage in his poetry, orchestrating resistance and revolt as a perpetual solution to the repression of ecological tyranny. With the dynamics of poetic resilience, Benji Egede has redefined in more critical and practical ways, the role of the poet and his poetry. His tone, in his poetry, oscillates from that of neglect and pain to radical resistance. This is as a result of the adverse repression in the land. This traumatic condition is what establishes his thematic preoccupation. His ideological and political essences are important contributions to the formation of contemporary radical poetic aesthetics.
• Edem lectures at the Nigeria Police Academy in Wudil, Kano.