Tuesday, 26 July 2011



Just like any living organism, most especially human beings, literature of any given community is full of life, vibrating with the freshness of its diachronic expeditions and the relative smoothness of the synchronization of what entails in the present circumstances, as well as periscope the future. But then literature just like the human being that put it to bed, has a time to be born, a time to live and a time die. No matter the degree of its beauty , ugliness or the circumstances of its birth not to talk about the expositional grandstanding it partakes in the course of life, literature just like the human being that created it, has a life span and contain the experiences one feels, sees or partakes in the course of life, most especially taking into cognizance that the materials one come into contact with in the debilitating struggle to eat to live and live to eat or those that one used in the concoction of history are periodically and profoundly found spread in the subjectivisation of a given literature that is been nursed to fruition.
Ngugi puts it more succinctly, according to him; man and literature is one and the same thing. Since man himself is a product of his history, time and place so also is his literature. As such, when we classify every man according to the dictates of his history and class, we also apply the same barometer to his literature; as every class within a given community has its own history; its literature is also bound to be inclusive of its class structure and belief system.
Consequently, a study of any literature signifies the study of the history, environment, politics, socio-cultural indices that make up the people in the course of life. This is also found in the study of any given literature. Only to add that it is not any man of letters that undertakes this Herculean task, it is the task handled by the literary historian. Saddled with this all encompassing job and trained in the excavation of archival materials, some extinct for many centuries, others very hard to find, others still not well documented, while others still shrouded in mystery, the literary historian regurgitate and historiography on what his/her hands can lay on to restructure the literary past, so as to be able to tell us with measure of precision what happened to our literature, how it lived, why it died and the caricature of its meandering along the path of greatness or otherwise. The literary historian is not a prophet of doom or a soothsayer, but an analyst of time past, a tracker of literary happenings as well as a gauge of the good, the bad and the ugly. The literary historian on his own does not produce a literature; he is only after the motivations that helped in the production and/or destruction of a given literature.
Why this long drivel? I think we need it, so that we can possibly put all our thoughts, ideas, feelings and world view on this important phenomenon that has been given very little attention as far as the Hausa literature is concerned. It is not my intention to highlight on the nitty-gritty of the essence of literary history, but to examine some past happenings as it relates to the future development of Hausa prose fiction and the current thinking by Professor Abdallah Uba Adamu on Hausa Prose fiction despite the factual desiccation alluded to in his thesis. I intend to look back a little at the debates that ensued some few years ago on the merits and demerits of the Kano Market Literature, also known as Soyayya books, chapbooks or Contemporary Hausa Novels. I am are going to examine three main areas as it relates to the Great Soyayya Debate vis, after the storm has died down (?), what were the points raised or missed, how do they correlate with the present status of Hausa literature and the future of Hausa prose fiction in particular? Is the KML dead? If not, when? Or more appropriately phrased, is the KML the in thing for ever, if it is not dead or won’t die? Finally, some points will be made to show how the debate opened new vistas in the development of Hausa prose fiction and how writers of Hausa fiction, critics, academics, publishers and even the government can learn a bit on how a little literary phenomenon can snowball into a big wonder kid of intellectual brainstorming all over the world.
   Let me begin with definition of terms as they relate to the arguments we are about to begin. This is necessary as it has become more compounding when ever we are discussing the KML, for people to ascribe to so many other literary materials as of the same coloration or straight jacket all that come their way in the form of prose fiction as Market or Popular literature, just because they happened to have one or two characteristics of such kind of literature. Others on the other hand feel the use of the term market, chapbooks, Soyayya genre or what have you, are contemptuous and derogatory to this kind of writings.
Lets begin with the most apt and enduring criticism of the acronym KML. Abdallah Uba Adamu has been alluding to the same thing, when discussing the origin of Kano Market Literature said 1999 a I quote, it (Kano Market Literature) is ‘a contemptuous comparison between the booming vernacular prose fiction industry based around Kano State (with centre of commerce as its apothegm) and defunct Onitsha Market Literature which flourished around Onitsha market in Anambra state in the 1960s’ (sic). And just recently in the said article under review said ‘modern Hausa prose fiction writers for the most part, were vilified as hopeless romantics by critics of the Contemporary Hausa Novel which they contemptuously labeled the Kano Market Literature, to alludes to its alleged commercial, rather than creative impetus.’ This has been the consistent argument on the choice of market identification for these pamphlets. That is why I am forced to ask what is wrong with the Professor? Why is he is frenzy about the issue?
I am sure that was what prompted other researchers to try to make a demarcation albeit inconclusively between the KML, the Soyayya books and the more general one, Hausa Popular Literature, which according to such critics ‘the parallel drawn (by Ibrahim Malumfashi’s use of the term, ‘Kano Market Literature’ has been disputed, and so Hausa Popular Literature’ has become a more favored term’. I am not sure if there has been such an understanding or agreement as to the name tag to be used for this kind of writings since the debate began in 1991(in Hausa) and later in English. According to the most literature I am able to lay hands on, the only place the tag Popular Literature for these works was first adopted was in 2002, Abdullah Uba Adamu, Ibrahim Sheme, Yusuf M. Adamu prefer to call it ‘Hausa Literary Movement’ or ‘Contemporary Hausa Novel’, Others since 1996 refers to them as ‘Love novels,’ or some times ‘Kano Market Literature’ or ‘Hausa Popular Literature’ etc. One is not trying to join issues with researchers on this issue, but a clear prognosis is very much necessary for us to be able to understand why the term ‘Kano Market Literature’ was used in the very beginning. We have to disabuse the minds of researchers on this phenomenon, so as to put the records straight for posterity.
The use of any name tag by any critic of literature on any aspect of literary movement has to be understood in the context of intellectual argument. If as Abdallah Uba Adamu has been reiterating that the use of the term KML is contemptuous, done in malice, hate, as well as denigration of the writings and the writers, that is why others prefer to call them anything other than that, then one can with certainty say that proper academic work has not been done, and that is my worry abut this later-day literary historians. What they are not aware is that that there is a striking resemblance between a market literature and a popular one. Literary historians will tell you that any literature that is market oriented, pre-supposes its popularity among the general public. The peculiarity of the environment for its availability and marketability also signify populism as well as the politics, socio-economic determinants of supply and demand. In this respect trying to sift out what is popular from what is marketable is horrendous, because they are so intertwine that it becomes difficult to separate, as such it has to do with choice.
Our worry in literary history as far as this issue is concerned has to do with not following the traditional nomenclature in analysis. If a certain literary movement occurred somewhere and a similar one occurred elsewhere, we view them in their territoriality, at the same time with their conceptuality and other determining factors to see to their sameness or other wise. There is no critic that will pegged down a given literary phenomenon based on subjective disequilibrium as a result of rage, animosity or contempt, that is the first point missed all along during the Great Soyayya Debate and of course by Professor Abdallah Uba Adamu!
We now ask the following questions? Was it really in contempt that we ascribe market to the literary movement that was the vogue since 1984? Are the critics of the name-tag really serious about their arguments or are they just on ego trip so as to take their own pound of flesh from the ‘antagonist of the literary movement’? Could a sustain campaign to change a bastard to a legitimate child ever change the status quo?
In trying to answer some of these questions, we need to go back to the basics. What prompted the correlation between the Kano Market Literature and the Onitsha Market Literature, mere contempt or an academic exercise?
The gestation period of a given literary phenomenon is always full circle, sometimes it begins with the good side, later it turns soar and pick up again to its full throttle. Others on the hand will have a long span, only to be intermittently disrupted at one period or the other with a particular kind of writing very much against the tide known and accepted, but all the same very much attractive and enticing. These periods are what we call the exceptions of the rule; all the same it is part of the literary tradition of that society.
This is found not only among less developed states but even among the most developed states, for example, ‘the 17th and early 18th century English literature was full of ‘popular’ or ‘market’ oriented literary pieces, which came about as a result of the perfection of the printing technology and the abundance of readers of such genre spread within the English landscape then,’ as such the Elizabethan conglomerate was born, bred and died with its class formation at that interruptive stage.
The same thing can be said of the Onitsha market and its literature, according researches in this magnificent field of study, there was a time in the early decades of the 20th century when people with minimum education (standard 6) secured employment as teachers, clerks in shops at Onitsha and office clerks in government departments. Over the years, people discovered that the standard 6 certificate was no longer enough to enable people secure jobs. A large number of those young people who could not go to school at all as well as those with the minimum educational qualifications found their ways to Onitsha either to trade or to work as apprentices to qualified carpenters, masons, tailors, builders and other technicians. This same class of people created their own reading matter, and it is this same kind of works that were christened the Onitsha Market Literature. As such, when the OML came on board, what researchers and other interested people did was to place the literary movement on its proper pedestal. No contempt was intended, that is why many libraries across the world documents and itemizes them according to the dictates of their birth and the circumstances that helped in their up bringing. Significantly then, the term OML as attested by the University of Indiana library cataloguing section is ‘used to designate the popular pamphlets that were sold at the large market in Onitsha, Nigeria, in the same middle decades of the 20th century. It was purportedly written by and intended for the "common" or "uneducated" people.’ that pervaded the Onitsha market and its environment then.
In this instance, what kind of semblance can one find between Onitsha Market Literature and the Kano Market Literature now? Among the extant references on this phenomenon, there is not one that disputed the characterization of the KML in terms of the motivating factors that paved its assemblage as well as its life span and the history it always leave behind. Funny enough it is still our inimitable Abdallah Uba Adamu the antagonist that refused the term KML and always feel on his edge when ever it is mentioned that is telling us since 1996 how identical KML is with OML, a sampler!
‘Romance forms the framework upon which most novels in the KML is based. This is manifest in their plot, style, language, characterization, settings and cover designs. This is in 1996.
‘They focused their attention on the most emotional concern of urban Hausa youth; marriage, the economic boom of the country had gone into nosedive by the time these stalwarts arrived. Thus they were not guaranteed schools to proceed after high school; and no automatic scholarships await them’ from the same Abdallah Uba Adamu in 1999!
Let’s look at it more closely! What differentiates the OML and the KML from the above citations or more succinctly what are the major characteristics of a market literature?
·        They are books with very simple grammar and sentential constructions.
·        They have very little number of pages.
·        They are very much cheap and sold in the open market.
·        They exist at a certain period in time and they die or lose appeal later.
·        Their crafters as well as the readers are predominantly from the low educated group.
On the other hand researchers have amply demonstrated the nearness of the two traditions. In Northern Nigeria we see a lot of studies in that regard which testify to that meandering of the two, without recourse to contempt or malice, but as an academic and/intellectual exercise. ‘As a literary phenomenon,’ Novian Whitsitt an American that wrote extensively on that issue says, ‘Kano Market Literature possesses aesthetic, thematic, and social similarities with the Onitsha chapbooks that were sold in the eastern Nigerian market from the forties to the sixties.’ The difference between the two groups is one of language. Onitsha Literature, written predominantly in English, catered to the tastes of the more or less literate, Westernized Nigerians. Written in Hausa, Kano Market Literature contributes to the growing body of indigenous African written literature, and it has the potential to reach a large constituency of Hausa speakers, many of whom have a poor command of English. In terms of contents, most of Onitsha Literature pertained directly to the wave of change in the social climate of the time. The emerging Chapbooks coincided with the social migration from the rural areas to the urban quarters in this eastern region of Nigeria. For the most part Onitsha authors wholeheartedly accepted and embraced the new values, making the literature an ally of change. Western norms integrated well with Igbo cultural attitudes of democracy, work ethic, and achievement.
Consequently as is evident in most of my postulations since 2002, Kano Market Literature possesses the same popular allure that the Onitsha Chapbooks did, and the plethora of book stalls attests to their success. In choosing a literary style, ‘Soyayya’ writers have followed their Onitsha predecessors not blindly, because most of them do not know about its existence or ever come across the books that thrived in Onitsha, but they ‘found the mode of "romance" effective in communicating social concerns.’  Romance has without measure found the allure of many popular or market literature writers, most a times subconsciously. This become necessary because regardless of time and place, the tensions between tradition and modernity in epochs of social transformation have continuously revealed themselves in the social and cultural dynamics of courtship and marriage; hence, the social value of romance literature lays in its placing such a subject center stage. The contemporary Hausa romance novel shares with Onitsha literary concerns of offering advice to a public experiencing social and cultural ruptures in an era when traditional values must negotiate the onslaught of modern life, as such when this kind of inter-marriage is found in between pages of a Chapbook, it is not the language or the environment that matters, but communicating, how ever dull.
In trying to find out more of the similarities or other wise between the two literary traditions we have to begin with the two cities involved. Let’s begin with Onitsha, ‘it is a large Nigerian city situated on the eastern side of the River Niger. It is an important commercial, educational, religious and cultural centre in Igbo land…. Onitsha has the reputation of having the largest market in West Africa.’
What about the city of Kano, this is what Yusuf Adamu (Abdallah Uba Adamu’s disciple) said, the nerve centre of the north, a commercial centre that existed more than one thousand years ago. It attracts people not only from all parts of Nigeria, but most of the West Africa and had trading relations with the Arabs for a very long time.
What about the resemblance in terms of output? The first book in the Onitsha Market Literature series was published in 1947. This was quickly followed by other titles some of which were so slim that they numbered less than 20 pages each. In a relatively short time, these Chapbooks and novelettes became popular in Eastern Nigeria, especially among secondary school boys and girls and among thousands of traders in Onitsha market. From the Eastern Region the popularity spread to the Cameroon, Ghana and other West African countries. The 5-year period, 1958 to 1962 may be described as the heyday when the total number of books published each year was near the 50 titles mark. The language used in the books was suitable for most of the people in the society because not many of them were educated to primary and secondary school levels. By the time the Biafran war ended in January 1970, the publication and selling of the Onitsha Market Pamphlets and Chapbooks was dying a natural death.
What about the Kano Market Literature? When Talatu Wada Ahmed wrote and distributed her first book Rabin Raina in 1984, no body has the semblance of imagination that this will transform to a movement that later cut across linguistics divide as well boundaries within Nigeria, West Africa, Europe and America. It captured the imagination of the young and old, men and women, literate, semi-literate and such others. When Ado Gidan Dabino and his ilk dominated the scene in the 1990’s nobody thought that the phenomenon will ever subsides or relax or even die, because it has indelibly found a root in the minds of the people and it was paying well, of course very few fore saw its demise in the distant future!
Why would one want a literary movement dead! It has nothing to do with sadism, antagonism or hate. Let’s try to find out why did the OML die? Okoro, a prolific researcher in that regard offered a suggestion, ‘despite the popularity which the Onitsha Market Literature enjoyed for nearly a generation, by the year 1975, that literary phenomenon had ceased to exist. To many people, especially those who enjoyed comfortable living as a result of this special book trade, the demise came rather too quickly and too unexpectedly. Why was this so? He gives an obvious answer; the Biafran war of July 1967 to January 1970 had abruptly halted the progress of the pamphlet business.
The same scenario can be gleaned from the Kano Market Literature movement, in as much as the hey days of the literature produced thousands of copies and hundreds of new writers and attracted the attention of leaders of thought, governments, academics, religionists as well the larger society, the KML business was interrupted with the advent of the Kano Video Literature during the late 1990’s. Unlike Yusuf Adamu (another antagonist of the KML tag), while trying to defend the notion that the video phenomenon did not halt or hamper the development of the book industry of the KML, we would want to argue otherwise, because we have ‘only about 16 percent’ of the bourgeoning video market producers as authors cannot suffice for an excuse, the fact remains that the video industry has totally overtaken that of the book industry, in terms of marketability, profitability and acceptability. Thus, just as the civil war interrupted the OML and helped in its death, such also is happening to the KML, the film or video industry is slowly but efficiently killing it. The OML lived for nearly 30 years, the KML is now about 23 years old, what will become of it in the next decade we don’t know, but I think I can fathom. I am doing that gauging what transpired after the civil war to the fate of OML. There were people who loved the Onitsha Market Literature so much that they were determined to reactivate their business. Before long, they discovered that they were facing many odds. Their printing presses and other production equipment had either been stolen or destroyed beyond repair. Buying new machines would obviously cost them more money. Moreover, the resumption of the production of new pamphlets was capital-intensive. The cover price for each new title produced would be increased considerably. Some of the well-known pamphlet authors had disappeared from Onitsha, and some even lost their lives. With that daunting task they abandoned the whole trade and looked elsewhere to eek their living. What is the situation right now as regards the KML? I leave that for other researchers to dig up.
I think by now we are more situated to understand the ‘market’ and the ‘popular’ in our literature. As a way of recapitulating, since we are of the view that ‘market and popular literature includes those writings intended for the masses and those that find favor with large audiences’ we might as well try to distinguish it ‘from artistic literature’. Evidences abound for us to clearly demarcate between the ‘fake’ and the ‘original’. ‘Popular or market literature,’ unlike ‘high literature,’ generally does not seek a high degree of formal beauty or subtlety and is not intended to endure. The growth of popular or market literature has paralleled the spread of literacy through education and has been facilitated by technological developments in printing. With the Industrial Revolution asserts the Encyclopedia Britannica, works of literature, which were previously produced for consumption by small, well-educated elites, became accessible to large sections and even majorities of the members of a population. But the boundary between artistic and popular literature is murky, with much traffic between the two categories according to current public preference and later critical evaluation. Abubakar Imam and his ilk during the early 30’s in Northern Nigeria were popular literary figures, but today they are adjudged as belonging to the ‘classical’ period. The same scenario is found with Shakespeare, while he was alive he could be thought of as a writer of popular literature, but he is now regarded as a creator of artistic literature. Indeed, as asserted by researchers all over the world the main, though not invariable, method of defining a work as belonging to ‘popular literature’ is whether it is ephemeral, that is, losing its appeal and significance with the passage of time, and most importantly what came after its demise, well, not its demise, after all it still thrives. Abdallah Uba Adamu and his ilk believe that ‘although the home video has affected the growth of the Hausa Literary Movement, the future is not bleak, it is bright, very bright and the movement lives on. This hope amidst hopelessness and despair is what is pervading among the ‘protagonists’ of the KML, they always confront you with the notion, things are really changing, especially with the coming on board of books that may be regarded as not all that ‘popular’ or ‘market’ in outlook, vis, Ina Son Sa Haka in 2001 by Balaraba Ramat, Ruwan Raina by Amina Abdulmalik in 2002, as well as Ci Talatarka by Sakina A. Aminu, ‘Yartsana by Ibrahim Sheme in 2003, and Babinlata’s Mubarak in 2004 and of course Mace Mutum by Rahma A Majid in 2008. ‘Most protagonists’ of the KML are happy and jubilating that the ‘soothsayers’ of the literary movement are doomed, because the literary movement is not dead, is not dying and will not die.
This is another point raised, suffice to add, still another point misrepresented in the Great Soyayya debate y Abdallah Uba Adamu and his ilk. Why do we say so? It is a fact as confirmed by literary historians and other researchers that with the passage of every ‘popular’ or ‘market’ literature oriented escapade, what follows is sometimes regarded as ‘high’, ‘artistic’ or ‘original' literature etc, because it usually come with a completely new thrusts, far reaching creative talents, and manipulative literary craftsmanship, away from the norm and usually the writers are from within the groups that made the last literary epoch stand the taste of time. Sometimes it looked like a transition from the old block to a new one. This was what took place in England, Germany, and Eastern Nigeria and so on. This is true of the OML, ‘one Nigerian novelist who may be said to have spearheaded the transition was C.O.D. Ekwensi. He wrote for the Onitsha Market Literature as well as ‘serious’ novels for the more sophisticated readers. Both the pamphlet writers and the intellectual West African writers used their writing as media to provide insights into the contemporary West African life. The pamphlet writers concerned themselves with surface appearances, while the intellectual writers tried to dig deep into underlying causes and explanations.
As such in between 1950 and 1970, a period of 20 years, some classic novels written by Nigerian authors were also published. If we look closely, we find that the same period coincided with the time when the Onitsha Market Literature was in vogue from 1947 to 1975. These include The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola (1952); People of the City, by Cyprian Ekwensi (1954); Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe (1958), and One Man One Wife by Timothy Aluko (1959). These works represent a transitional period from the novelettes and chapbooks of the Onitsha Market Literature, to a more serious fiction written by intellectual authors.
In this wise, even if we have more than a hundred of writers not just five that seem to deviate from the norm, it does not mean the KML is alive and kicking or will not die a natural death. What is happening right now is what we have saying for the past 10 to 15 years, the KML is a vogue, it is not everything about our literature, it is transient and bound to give way for something special, consciously or unconsciously.
The ‘new’ works by the Balarabas, the Aminas, the Sakinas, the Shemes and Babinlatas of this world despite creating a new boundary, a new beginning and new insights are not all together out of the ring arena, they are wrestling within the context of having the upper hand, either because the writers are more sophisticated in education and world view than the larger group that participated in the duel before them or on the hand it could be that the ‘new’ writers are aware of the role a creator of literature is supposed to play in the society, they are scratching the inner of the problem not just the surface as ewe have been telling them to do. Our hope is that just like what happened in England after the 18th century, in Nigeria after the civil war, with the outburst of creative potentials that withstand the rigor of criticism, officialdom crackdown and market forces, our current trend in the production of Hausa prose fiction will in no distant future follow the footsteps of greatness, so that as soon as the final curtain is raised, which hopefully is going to be sooner than expected, a new beginning will commence, and literary historians will be left alone to dig into the archives so that they can properly place what transpired in between 1984  to date in its proper context for posterity.
Finally, as a way of recapitulation, let me say a few things about how I feel about how we look and treat literature and literary criticism in this part of the country, and why I join the pray in debating the phenomenon.
The most apt, cogent and plausible argument one can give as to the reason for engaging in a debate of this kind, for me is because it stimulates the brain and open up new windows for research, study, analysis and some times re-focusing of existing ideas, views and/or opinions that may herald societal development. The Soyayya debate though took vitriolic and harsher tones towards the tail end; it all the same served the purpose one wanted it to serve. It has opened up the area for much wider scrutiny, not only within the country but all over the world. I feel enthrall to see the nearly 1,800 books/pamphlets/chapbooks churned out in the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and the sudden interest shown by students and teachers in seeing ‘live’ the ‘antagonist’ of the Kano Market Literature at SOAS, Oxford, Cambridge and University College London, where one was privileged to present some of his thoughts to the wider world.
Academic works, such as books and journal papers and articles, undergraduate and postgraduate projects/dissertations and theses, as well as the numerous newspaper and magazine articles in both Hausa and English are a testimony of the vibrancy and articulatory achievements that endure after the debate, for that only, one feels satisfied and fulfilled to the extreme. This is not an indication that all went well in between the debate and after. I for one have been trying to get out of the shadows of hate, rage, castigative insinuations from co- debaters and even those who are mere passengers in the literary topsy-turvy. It has been tasking and hazardous sometimes, as it has surpassed the realm of intellectual brain storming to creating a divide, cliquesim, amber of hate and destructive personal relationships. That did not dampen the morale, and like I had cause to say somewhere, I found myself in the tick of it as an intellectual hobby; I was not and still am not at war with anybody, it was not for personal gain as many would want to take it. I am sure that was and is not the point of contention in an atmosphere of educative endeavor, which is just by the way.
I am concluding this discussion on this note as I now found it bewildering that what I took to be an intellectual hobby was taken by others to be a war zone, my thinking, just as I said somewhere, the debate for me was a fora where many people participated and contributed without any hope of gaining political ascendancy, that is why when the debate was halted I wrote, disagreeing with that decision, I am of the opinion that debates on topical issues that affect the people and environment should be given prominence by any right thinking person. And by the way the NNN was not the creator of the forum; it only served as its catalyst as did Weekly Trust, Nasiha newspapers, and Rana and Gwagwarmaya magazines. Probably that was why the The Arewa Literary Series, (TALS) introduced by the NNN could not see the light of the day, because the soyayya debate was not a creation of any body, it was a creation of a given momentum found worthy of commentary, probably because of the meandering of so many eruptive, emotive and to some extent myopic reasons and/or motivations and contestations.
I am sure the dust has not settled yet, in fact the debate went on in other fora like the Internet for many years, where most people are not aware of it, and to me that is where the emotive personification of the ideals of the debate were laid bare, as well as the innumerable tendencies for misleading the public were crafted and adopted. One is not calling for another debate, but why not, if it is going to be decent, intellectual and factual and with an intellectual referee to whistle loud and clear for offside, foul or fans gallery that will shout hoarse when a classical goal is scored!


By Ibrahim Malumfashi

A Poem published in 1992

If you care to look round the habitation
Your eyes open, looking with ease not trepidation
You will find my abode, and that of my neighbour.
I live up there, if you can not locate it with ease
Where only millet grow with haste to sustain the
Peasantry and those in power and business
I live up there, where the environment
Is wicked, harsh, tormenting and degrading
The air so dusty, the sun scorching mercilessly
It rises early, and set down late than later                     10
I live in that country, the nation
Cursed and deluded by infants
They call “her”
The most populous black nation
But in her, is nothing but darkness
Accursed by its peasants
And discarded by the leaders

Move slowly, just round the corner
You notice a slum, where paupers hang around            20
You see the cycles parked perpendicularly
It is not a sign of affluence
But of servitude, modern slavery
After the corner, you notice the mansions
Architects dream buildings
Colourful and lined up, like parade at ease
I live in that region, but not in affluence
Because as you move around, you notice
Where I am abode
Where Mother Nature refuses to bless                           30
The serenity is absurd, like Siberia
Chaotic, as you have all that matters     
Affluence and poverty
The paradox of living in an angered country
House break-in, stealing, hemp smoking
And prostituting
Gambling, heavy drinking and thuggery
All night political meetings
Birth and death, amidst                                                             40  
The harsh environment
Merry making, hatred and agony
But then peace reigns sometimes
At night or day time
When the house-holds are out, making ends meet
Or in the early morning
When all seems as dead
That is my time of stock taking
Of imagination and good dreams
Of our daily living                                                                    50
In this kind of morning in my neighbourhood
I found abode for reminiscence
Lost in thought
And the mirror image of my society
I see in the mirror, reality
The wealthy and the paupers
The tall, big and barroic architecture
The slums and the ghettos of riverine Calais

One early morning in my neighbour hood
Far way from the buildings                                                      60
By the herds of cattle looking for fodder
I heard the reading
From the sociology student son of my neighbour
The voice trailing and voicing discontent
From the mind of Lerroine Berret (jnr)
“A nation is an amalgam”
He said
“Of critical decisions
Made at a crucial fork in the road”
“A nation is a choice                                                               70
It chooses itself at fateful forks
In the roads
By turning right or left
By giving up sometime
Or talking something”
He continues
“And in the giving up and the taking
In the deciding and not deciding
The nation becomes”
Which nation?                                                               80
‘And even afterward
The people and the nation defined by the fork
And the decision that was made there
As well as the decision that was not made
Engraves itself into things, institutions,
Muscles, tendons”
I see. Do you also know?
“The first decision requires a second decision
And the second decision requires a third
And it goes on and on                                                    90
Until one day, the people wake up
And discover that they are mad
Corrupt and divided, and that
They built war, hatred and blood
Into the very air they breathe? ”
As even the sky
Could not have been an ingrate.
The womb, where my nation is
In between the roads                                                      100
But where are the roads?
Is it the straight one that leads to despair?
Or the bending one that forces the vertebrate
To break to pieces?
Or that which straighten and bend our souls?
How can the people take one leaving the other?
When we are blind, despite the shining retina?
We are not on the road to anywhere
As there is no road for us to follow
But long, tortuous and hazardous landscape                          110
Leading to valley of despair, called a nation
Agoraphobia, all over

Early that morning
As I hurried to my cooling spot
The breathy airs, making my veins shiver
I felt at ease with myself for a time
I felt that I can live with this forever
Despite the agony that is in my soul
Despite the uneasiness and dilemma
Moving with cattle speed                                               120
The dampness of the weather
Soak at my feet and trouser
Just before the bend to my quarter
The house well fenced, like Maximum Security Prison
With a big bowl, like a beggar’s dish
Looking up to the sky for star’s information
I heard the chill came
With high frequency
As a hand tried to switch from MW to SW
News from abroad                                                         130
America, Britain, Russia
I stood there, my gaze fixed as if in a dream
It then came to me
The sudden bathos
In our daily living?
Our loyalty, patriotism and nationalism
Broken down to ashes
While our ideal, lay with either Capitalism
Socialism, or Communism                                             140
Or that hollow grip of neither East nor West
They are nothing but empty words
As their grip and thousand times attributions
Will not fill the beggar’s bowl
Nor will they help to make his soul at ease
From its AIDS of many years
Degrading, hypocritical and sycophantic life
Is what the reality is
That is how we are
Because I care                                                                150
I care for my land, people and myself
The state machinery care less for me
The people live with empty words
The state with the reality

All day along
Their anotheria nervosa officials
With their apocalyptic tongues
Have been asking
“What have you done for your nation?”
Not what the nation has done for me.                                     160
“National self reliance, or
Foreign Economic slavery
The choice is ours”
They rant about.
No the choice is theirs
They are the reschedulers of our debt
With the Paris and London clubs
Not once was I ever invited
To say my mind on that donkey’s load
They dined and wined over my fate                               170
They came back with brocades and wrist watches
And a lot of hard currency
To wine and dine at home over their “victory”
In getting through their sucker punch
That deadly, poisonous, Tysonic punch
This only makes me and my neighbour
Shriveled like plant without nitrogen
I come to think of it
Why are they saying?                                                    180
“The farmer, the doctor, the teacher
Help make this nation great?”
Why should I? Why should they?
When did you know that I exist
Or they exist?
Is it when your urban granaries emaciated
Or when the streets you live in
Are dingy and unkempt?
Or when you need a tender-loving hand
Over your little new born baby?
“My nation!”                                                                  190
I almost shouted to the hearing
Of the early morning birds that scuttle around
Hopping from one branch of tree to another
Not aware of my turmoil and burning heart
“What have you done?
To show your appreciation for my hard work?
Is it now I am a citizen of this nation?
When you have milked her out                  
Destroying the keys to the treasury                               200
And throwing any evidence to the ocean
Leaving us with nothing but crumbs?
“My nation?
What have you done for me
When my little daughter was sent off from school
for lack of writing materials?
What have you done for me lately?
When my darling wife was sent off
From the public clinic, for lack of drugs?
What have you done for me                                           210
When my little son died of hunger
Amidst the plenty in you?
What have you done?

As I move stealthily towards my abode
And through you with mind binoculars
I see nothing, but ghettos

Gidan Igwai, Mile 9, and Maroko

when I look again
I see the slums of
Rigasa, Owo, Ohafia, and Damboa                               220
I then ask
What is the purpose of government?
Exploitation? Cheating? Harassment? Or
Sucking the blood and tears of my kind?
I am the government they said
But how?
When I woke up every morning
With empty stomach?
When I walk hundred of kilometers
To get water for my family?
How can I be such an irresponsible governor
When the treasury is with me?
No! I am not the government
But some others
Who can move mountains to get their way
Who banked the treasury abroad
And withdraw in pieces.

There and behold, I look into the horizon
As the helicopter hopped over my head
Waving to me, piloting with laughter                                      240
With sad mind and blocked thoughts
I waved back
The sky cloudless, the rising sun diminishing
Reddish, big, dissolving and scattering
How I wish I can fly, and ran way
Like the birds do, and be safe
From this tormenting livelihood
But then I am not a coward
As I heard over the radio, blaring
“The country needs us
We have no other country but Nigeria”                         250
I say, who are ‘US’? Who are ‘WE’?
The call was not for me, as I passed the house
Nor for my neighbour, who was just then
Feeding the animals, from the grasses by his hut
Why should I care with the nation’s agony?
When I walk on foot
Hundred of kilometers to sell my one kilo ware?
Why should I care?
When I carry water on my head
Hundred of kilometers to my desolate village?              260
Why should I care?
When I roam about with my family
Hundred of kilometers to mere consulting clinics?
Why should I care?
When the call was not for me
But for the caller?
Take it, if I do care
And then my blood pours in gallons
From labouring to make the nation great
They only laugh at me                                                   270
Why should I care?
When the nation calls for me
For reconstruction, social rejuvenation
Economic revitalization, cultural revolution
And national development?
Why not my “nation”
And that of my neighbour
Give my neighbour and me, an amphetamine
And see the reaction.

The local national news was on                                     280
When I arrived at the verandah
With empty garage, full of assorted things
Baby doll, tins of different shapes and sizes
Stones, dust and pieces of grasses all over
A sign post, where the young go to play
To release the tension from aggressive parents
I sat down facing the eastern side
It was then I heard a lot of agro
With alacrity and at an apogee
Of disaster over an alfresco meal
They can’t help it, but to altercate
Like ambidextrous individuals
They were totally lost, but not my neighbour
He was never taken in by amnesia
Because of the catastrophic disequilibrium
Of the nation state
He never prayed for the west
To amortize in any way
The nation’s economic debt                                           300
“Why” he always ask
“A bedraggle nation like ours needs a bail out”
He was never malignant, but firm
A benign individual my neighbour
But very bellicose in stature
Always with a bludgeon carrier
Which he referred to
“For making those exploiters blotchy”

Now when I look into the eyes of my neighbour
A labourer tilling the soil                                               310
By his two room dinghy huts
I see disaster
The parable of the dinghy huts
Is like that of the spider
When it spun its web around a window
Small wind carries it off
Or if the owner of the house
At the end of every month
Clears off the rubbish, the dirt and dust
The spider gives way                                                     320
The spider is shelter-less, homeless and lost
A refugee with no official UN status
From an opening I saw the wife
With her bosom stature
Raising the pestle, marinating it with the mortar
To get the morning meal ready
I saw the perspiration on her shoulders
The tiredness and the exhaustion
But pest ling she does with ease
From the husband to the wife                                        330
My eyes ran helter-skelter
I see in their eyes-smiles
Smiling for nothing
But dejection, uneasiness and uncertainty
I thought that over
How can a nation have hope on these people?
They live not because they want to
Because death has deserted the family
For years
With plain grain stuffed in their stomach                      340
I watch them pray, my ears prickle
‘Beyond” hands up in their sky, like the vicar
“Oh you death, that merciful sleep
That peaceful atmosphere
That dark but joyful thing
Come a- visit to this household
Bless this household with your mercy
Come! come!! come!!!”
As their hands collapsed by their side                                     350
And I see those tears
My heart hardened the more
Why then won’t I talk, against the rulers?
Those gnomes of individuals
When I can see the signs?
Why then won’t fight
When I have the strength to fight?
Why then won’t I vilify?
When I have the pen to write?
Why then won’t I implore?                                           360
When I can feel the tension?
Why then won’t I rebel?
When I have the will to do?
Take it from me, I vowed
If I should get hold of a viper
I will throw it at the government house
Inside their meeting chamber
If I should have my way
I will set ablaze                                                     370
Their meeting chamber
If I should have my way
And I am able to get hold of their necks
I will conduct a vivi section
Bringing out their viscera
Cutting into them with force - to pieces
Why won’t I make so much vituperation?
When the state is vitriolic to me?
My state is a miscreant state
Why then won’t I be misanthropic
Why should I mollycoddle the state?                                      380
When it has discarded me like a moraine?

Sighing from my inner thoughts
I saw him coming, shaking hands
I feel the rising temperature, tension
Aggression and uncertainty for the future
We are intrepid, my neighbour and I
Very much intransigent
Wait till you hear and feel
The grip and gnashing of teeth
Then you will understand                                              390
Looking at three of them by the wayside
The children of my neighbour, lost
Eating off by Marasmus and atrophy
The little boy holding the stack of corn
That surrounds the building
Lean, with protruding stomach and big eyes
The small buttocks
Being carried by small poles of legs
And swinging hand of stick                                           400
In the horizon, a car’s siren comes through
Looking from hideout, I saw the ambulance
The doctor came to the neighbourhood
Not to the neighbour on my left
To the government official on my right
From the window, I can see the stethoscope
Diagnostic experiments full of grammar
My neighbour, nor his wife could not decipher
Malnutrition, no, not that
Protein calorie-under nutrition                                       410
The officer’s son
Protein calorie-over nutrition
The little girl he called hers’ measles
What a trajectory
It should have been missiles.

You eat to live and move about
You move about to get food to eat
In my neighbour’s house
The food
Is millet, dried corn, sorghum, and grind cassava                   420
No vegetable, legumes, tubers, fruits and nuts
With their exhaustive body
Pneumatic blood, combine
To produce in them bad dietary system
In the end, mental acuity
From the distance I see the eldest child
That loving lone star of her parents
Moving with hardness and trepidation
The body full of rashes
Like the stem of a baobab tree                             430
Knees swollen
The hands, like that of a stillborn calf
By the stack of sorghum
Very near the peg of the animals
Stood the mortar, the pestle hanged above
The head of the eldest child
Just beside the mortar is a small river
Where the dish washing and bath
For the small ones are carried out
The wife, stand with stack of used dishes                      440
Full belly, not with food but feotus
Strapped at the back
A lactation child
Whining like a bee
The head as big as water melon
The legs from the wrapper
Like spider’s hind leg
Long, soft and brittle
That night I could not sleep
I put a note by my side                                        450
With a drawing of the day’s stock taking, annotated
“Fragile, handle with care
Look around, there are signs
Look around and feel tension
Look round and say your mind
On the manifestations of socio-economic
Crises of this land”

Then come the month of August
Some eight weeks after my vigil                                    460
There am I by the wayside
Looking into the eyes of my neighbour
That early morning
His land lost its greenish
Deforestation - to get the pot at home black
With years of soil erosion, famine
And desertification
The rain comes in trickles
When it floods, the plants give way
When the plant ripen, come drought                             470
Ad locust invasion
Looking into the eyes of my neighbour
I see
Hunger! poverty! death!
I have almost lost hope of survival
But then a ray of hope shines
As I look into the eyes of my neighbour
I see the will to fight
Even with small stick of millet
I can see those coming                                          480
The children: the kwashiorkor, the marasmus
And the small pox ones
Beware the ides of poverty
Ethanmatous diseases and
Vitamin deficiency
Over there, theropthalmia
And that from palm oil: Avitaminosis A
With all these
And their delayed skeletal maturation
They will fight to death.                                       490
Looking into the eyes of my neighbour
I can see the question
Why won’t there be rebellion
Destruction and death?
Yes, but wide spread in-action!

I was at the market place - month end
I saw people moving
Thousands of them without transportation
I saw human wagons                                                     500
Walking aimlessly with black nylon bags
Collecting non - nutritious food stuff
At the same time
I saw the ‘V’ boots and the ‘Cocaines’
Winnowing the near empty streets
Some parked at the market place
I can hear the selling and the buying
Like pendulum
From one side I heard
“Oga, give me the rotten tomatoes”                               510
They are cheap and more, but poisonous
On the other side, I saw
The slave girl buying basketfull
Of tomatoes with garlic and onions
I saw also the old woman buying
While the house - boy bought
Two thighs of mature ram
So also the bones
For master’s dog and cat                                               520
While the old woman bought them
Not for dog, nor for cats
But the dog in men and women
The cats in children of the paupers’ lot
With that, I see nothing in the horizon
But riots, killings, destructions, agonies
Maiming and wailing
As two forces come, face-to-face
When capitalism, which respects wealth
But rejects human values evolves                                  530
So said my elementary teacher
The rational ones got to crush it
Before it is too late
When capitalism, which breeds politician
Not statesmen
Show its head
The masses got the destroy the monster
When capitalism which makes combatant soldiers
Political prostitutes, tax collectors, power mongers
War weary and in - active                                              540
Rear its head once again
Let me see heads rolling
When capitalism, which makes
The Imam and the Vicar, money watchers
Come forth from the hiding
Let’s not resort to prayers
But fireworks and bombs

I say unto us
We can no more blindly
Be patriotic, flag saluters, flag wavers                           550
National anthem singers and National pledgers
When we live on an Island
Full of poverty
In the vast oceans of wealth
And prosperity
I say unto us
Rebel! Fight!! Die!!!
Die with one of them or all
Never die alone
Let me hear legs being broken                              560
Skulls being damaged
Hands being scattered
Let me see blood pouring
Like the vomit of an angered ocean
Let me see bit and pieces
Of ears here, eyes and noses there
Let me hear the cry and agony
From the high Iselbergs of Rigasa                                 570
To Sultan Road, Dawaki Road and Kinkino Close
Let me see the stones shattering
The ultra-paradise
On earth buildings by Jabi Road
Let me hear the music of glasses falling
And breaking
Buildings collapsing

I say unto us
Be men and fight                                                  560
Let me see the cars racing
And being bludgeoned by the waysides
Smash the windscreen and tinted glasses
Bring out the master and his wife
Stand at attention
Drop a leg over their pampered loins
Let the stick poke into their gray hair
Let me see the colour of their
Modular oblongata
Death! Why care                                                  570
When thousand die in silence!
From the slums of Epe
Let the train moves on
The first wagon makes a halt
By Ikoyi, very near the barracks
The others, at Victoria Island
Meet the rest at Broad Street
Never come together
Until you have done the damage
All over the nation                                                         580
Razed down mansions
Destroyed buildings and corpses
Move with care my people
You have nothing to lose
But your poverty - stricken condition
Move, before it is too late
From every corner
Of this nation
From the desert regions
To the aridified sections                                       590
To the arable landed regions
Where ever you are
Out and fight
The spirit is there, add the will
Never again shall we live
A timid life
We are tired of social inequality
By man against man
They say by God                                                  600
What a deceit
Our God is not a human god
Who stays up there in Aso Rock
Or many of the state houses
Or the banking and business sectors
Our God is not a god
That lives on the throne of authority
Passing decrees and edicts
Our God’s way of governance
Is by mercy through guidance                                        610
Not by terroristic soldiers and policemen
Not by hoarding and shoddy dealings
Now take it, granted it is by their god
I say hit them hard
The mansion owners
The government parasitic officials
Let them die, and lets see
If our situation does not improve
Then we are made the way we are
By their god                                                                   620
But if we change the situation
Then we have killed them and their god
I say move, it is urgent!

The cries came through the window
Of my neighbour
I heard someone saying
“I hate my hater
I am going to maim my maimer,
Oh, I am full of sorrow”
The smile showed on my face                                        630
From the mirror
A very hard smile, as my mouth etched
Looking from a far
I see the flies as they buzzed along
The ants scuttled into hiding
As the raging fight ensued
Between the husband and wife

“Why should we continue to suffer?
For years I have been producing                                    640
These suffering young ones
Who we cannot feed nor cloth
And now you want me in bed.
I am tired, don’t you have sense
Of justice and fair play,
Why should we continue to bring
Forth children who have no future
Why don’t we live the way we are
Without dragging some innocent ones
Into despair and dejection?”

The tears dropped with force                                         650
From my eyes, I could not resist
I saw him coming, towards me
I hastened to him, comforting
And patting him on the back
Like a small child
He collapsed in my outstretched arms
Raising the head up, looked at him
The tears came again
Looking again into the eyes                                           660
I saw things
And they tell me
The squirrel, however hard it digs
Some earth it must leave for others
The antelope, however fast it ran
It must leave some bush behind
The frog, however good it can swim
It can only do that in cold water
Very soon I see it happening
Swarm of heads, all over the places
Death everywhere                                                670
On the telly, the gnome
“Why the turmoil? Why the killing?
Why the ranting? Why the shouting?
Why the flag cutting? Why the rebellion?
Why the abusive words?
Why the youth and even the elders?
Why the hatred? Why the animosity?
I say                                                                     680
Hunger! Poverty!! Death!!!
Then the news came
My heart beating, blood clotting
Mind lost, eyes closed, hands shaking
As they tell me
The government has been ousted
Everywhere, I see the people
With armour, tanks and pistols
With an escort, death
Taking their souls                                                690
The tanks rolled in pieces
The masses all over the places
Singing songs and dancing
The court could not hold
Co courtiers
The ministries, no work
No ministers
The churches could not congregate
No vicars                                                              700
The mosques deserted
No Imams
The vehicles could not move
No drivers
Only the masses
On their two - wheel canter
They move, singing
Clapping, shouting, smiling
As they move in unison                                       710
Singing the freedom song
“We have overcome the tyrants
We have indeed
Overcome the tyrants!”