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Land of cemetery: funereal images in the poetry of Musa Idris Okpanachi



This paper focuses on Musa Idris Okpanachi’s poetry: The Eaters of the Living (2007), From the Margins of Paradise (2012), and Music of the Dead (2016). Nigeria, even after the military had relinquished power over a decade ago, is still faced with the issues that provoked the trope of protest in much of the poetry published between the mid-eighties and late nineties. Okpanachi’s poetry revisits these issues, demonstrating that democracy has been no less horrifying than military despotism. Dark, haunting images of blood, corpses, and cemetery recur in all three collections, depicting the regularity of death in the nation. I argue that Okpanachi employs funereal imagery to comment on the state’s morbid relationship with its citizenry. The Nigerian state is represented as murderous, so death fulfills its political objective. I conclude that although Okpanachi articulates a cynical commentary on postcolonial Nigeria, he marshals his creative energies to illuminate the political moment of his time.
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Land of cemetery: funereal images in the poetry of Musa
Idris Okpanachi
Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike
Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike is currently a PhD student in the Department of English and Film Studies at the
University of Alberta.
Land of cemetery: funereal images in the
poetry of Musa Idris Okpanachi
This paper focuses on Musa Idris Okpanachi’s poetry: The Eaters of the Living (2007), From the Margins of Paradise (2012), and
Music of the Dead (2016). Nigeria, even after the military had relinquished power over a decade ago, is still faced with the issues
that provoked the trope of protest in much of the poetry published between the mid-eighties and late nineties. Okpanachi’s poetry
revisits these issues, demonstrating that democracy has been no less horrifying than military despotism. Dark, haunting images of
blood, corpses, and cemetery recur in all three collections, depicting the regularity of death in the nation. I argue that Okpanachi
employs funereal imagery to comment on the state’s morbid relationship with its citizenry. The Nigerian state is represented as
murderous, so death fulfills its political objective. I conclude that although Okpanachi articulates a cynical commentary on postcolonial
Nigeria, he marshals his creative energies to illuminate the political moment of his time. Keywords: democracy, funereal imagery,
necropolitics, Nigerian literature, Musa Idris Okpanachi.
Nigerian creative writers tend to employ poetry as a cultural medium to document
historic political moments. Nigeria’s current democracy is over seventeen years old,
and it presents a theme definite enough to provide stimulus for poetic exposition. Not
much contemporary poetry has interrogated the present political moment with the
same fervour and urgency displayed by the previous generations of poets. In addi-
tion, compared to the volume of critical studies on prose, poetry criticism in Nigeria
is still paltry. It is not surprising to note that scholarship on the poetry of Musa Idris
Okpanachi, a university scholar and award-winning poet with three published poetry
collections to his credit, is little. This paper aims to stimulate interest in Okpanachi’s
poetry and to examine his artistic vision within the ethos of social commitment, while
foregrounding his contribution to the discourse of democratic struggle.
Nigeria remains one of the countries in the world where death seems to occur quite
regularly, even though it has not been at war since 1970, when the civil war ended.
Thousands have died avoidably since the military handed over power to a civilian
administration in 1999. I use the term “avoidably” because the government tends to
ignore certain contentious issues of a sectional and religious nature that ultimately
snowball into sporadic and mass killings. The menace of the Fulani herdsmen, for
instance, has been treated casually by the federal authorities. Why has democracy
transformed this oil-rich nation into a “land of cemetery”? This is the question Musa
Idris Okpanachi reflects on in his poetry.
A question that I examine in this paper is: What might Okpanachi’s preoccupa-
tion with images of blood, corpses, graves, and cemetery tell us about his vision and
his homeland? To answer this question, I begin by examining the funereal imagery
in the texts. Next, I point out the significance of this imagery within the context of
social commitment. I read Okpanachi’s poetry as a stand against power. Evident in
the poetry is the tone of marked disenchantment with the body politic, but this feel-
ing is informed by the poet’s appreciation of the functionality of art. Using Achille
Mbembe’s concept of necropolitics, I argue that Okpanachi employs funereal imagery
to comment on the state’s morbid relationship with its citizenry. Okpanachi represents
the Nigerian state as murderous. Generally, death is perceived as a social issue, but to
Okpanachi, it is political, its means legitimated by an operative (il)logic of violence.
Death, therefore, fulfils a necessary objective. By utilising satiric and hyperbolic
elements, and limpid diction interspersed with sepulchral images, Okpanachi calls
attention to the disposability of human life. He decries the degeneration indicative
of abysmal political leadership, while articulating social concerns and deprecating
the political elite for their treachery and despoliation of the citizenry. I conclude that
although Okpanachi articulates a cynical commentary on postcolonial Nigeria, he
marshals his creative energies to illuminate the political moment of his time.
Tradition, despotism, and dissidence
Military rule in Nigeria officially ended on 29 May 1999, a historic moment that
heralded the restoration of democracy. Prior to 1999, the presidential election, hav-
ing been held on 12 June 1993, was annulled on 23 June 1993 by General Ibrahim
Babaginda, then military head of state, in rather controversial circumstances. This
action, ill-timed and divisive as it was, not only terminated the Third Republic but
also threatened national unity. The consequent denunciation of the military action
was vocal and sustained at the time, though such activism routinely culminated in
opponents of the junta being rounded up, incarcerated, or even eliminated. This
political moment, as Isidore Diala observes, nurtured the explosion of “anti-military
poetry(2) in the Nigerian literary tradition. In a similar vein, Olaniyi Okunoye
has argued that the military rule was a catalyst for the growth of Nigerian poetry.
He chronicles the way Nigerian poetry, given impetus by the failure of the military
from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, crystallised a poetics of anti-establishment (64).
However, the installation of Olusegun Obasanjo, an ex-military head of state, as the
president marked a return to democratic rule, inaugurating the Fourth Republic.
The independence struggle in the 1950s, the civil war in the late 1960s, and the
military rule in the 1980s and 1990s, have all featured prominently in various poetic
136 TYDSKRIF VIR LETTERKUNDE • 55 (2) • 2018
works by Nigerian poets. Many of these poets belong to the third generation of Ni-
gerian literary tradition. They are so categorized because they were born in the 1960s,
after the nation’s independence from Britain. Notable among these poets are Ogaga
Ifowodo, Maik Nwosu, Promise Okekwe, Remi Raji, Esiaba Irobi, Unoma Azuah,
Chiedu Ezeanah, Toyin-Adewale, Pius Adesanmi, Obiwu, Uche Nduka, Nnimmo
Bassey, Afam Akeh, Angela Nwosu, Emman Shehu, Onookome Okome, Amatoritsero
Ede, Joe Ushie, Olu Oguibe, Idzia Ahmad, Obi Nwakanma, Obu Udoezo, and others.
As Chinua Achebe rightly posited in 1983, “[t]he problem with Nigeria is simply
and squarely a failure of leadership” (1). The abiding motif of political leadership,
whose failure this generation of poets locate in the military dictatorships of General
Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (1986–93) and the late General Sani Abacha (1993–98),
is central to their poetry. Aboh comments that “this generation of poets engages their
poems as avenues to register their contempt with a system that makes them slaves
in their own country. […] Above all, these poets have continued to forge the link
between the poets and their society; making their poems an outlet for the people’s
socio-political expression” (2).
Okpanachi belongs to this third generation, in part by age and in part because his
poetics evinces a similar consistency in the demonstration of commitment to tradition,
thereby continuing the trope of dissidence in the Nigerian poetic tradition. Romanus
Egudu, Egya Sule, and Olaronke Temiloluwa Onibonukuta have examined Musa Idris
Okpanachi’s poetry. Romanus Aboh examines the significance of modal verbs on the
speaker’s attitude in the poetry of four Nigerian poets. In undertaking a linguistic
analysis of Okpanachi’s poetry collection The Eaters of the Living, he points out the
way the poet unflinchingly engages issues of national weight. Egya Sule identifies the
poet as representative of “the oppressed people of the country”, against the “despot
and her cohorts” (“Poetry as dialogue: A Reading of Recent Anglophone Nigerian
Poetry” 85). In another essay, “Imagining Beast: Images of the Oppressor in Recent
Nigerian Poetry in English,” Sule surveys a representative sample of Nigerian poems
and highlights the usage of bestial imagery in Okpanachi’s poems to denigrate and
delegitimize the ruling class, thus revealing its inhuman tendencies.
Morbidity, democracy, and (necro) poetry
Achille Mbembe’s critique of power illuminates the nexus between politics and death,
and how the state has grown necropolitical in its relationship with its citizens, so as
to exercise control over mortality. Although Mbembe applies his concept of necrop-
olitics to theorize the realities of social life under colonial occupation, as experienced
by the people in Israeli-controlled Palestinian territories, and in the apartheid state
of South Africa, I find his concept pertinent as a framework to understanding the
Nigerian state’s investment in an economy of death. Sovereignty for the Nigerian
state implies that it must decide who may live and who must die (see Mbembe 12–4),
in that politics assumes the form of a “war without end” (Mbembe 23). Unsurpris-
ingly, the police, the military, and the other state apparatuses, completely repres-
sive in the Althuserrian sense, cease from protecting and providing security for the
citizens. Rather they function as death-machines, dealing death at will, wielding the
power of life and death over citizens. But citizenship in such a state approximates
the status of the “living dead” (Mbembe 40), since the necropolitical state has already
transformed the land into a death-world. The state apparatus, vested with the right
to kill, indubitably believe that to kill is right. A perverse logic thus underpins and
authorizes the economy of death, such that death becomes so commonplace the
political elite appear to glory in and celebrate it.
If military despotism provided the dominant theme in much of Nigerian poetry
published between the mid-1980s and 1990s, civilian misrule became the operative
theme for Okpanachi’s poetic ruminations. It is troubling—and very ironic—that
more Nigerians have possibly been killed in various sectional, religious, and polit-
ically-motivated killings in the last 17 years of civilian administration than in the
almost 30 years of military despotism. One may attribute this morbid situation to
state apathy and irresolution. Okpanachi is a poet invested in the political discourse
of nationhood. I now analyse selected poems in which funereal imagery recurs in
The Eaters of the Living (2007), From the Margins of Paradise (2012) and Music of the Dead
(2016). I shall focus primarily on the latter publication because the imagery is more
pronounced in that collection than it is in the earlier collections.
Okpanachi’s debut collection, The Eaters of the Living, opens with “Silence of time”,
a poem which, on the surface, might indicate the woebegone days of military rule,
but on a closer reading will reveal that the images are synonymous with the civil-
ian government in recent times. Considering that the poem was first published in
2007, eight years after the end of military dictatorship, its overarching imagery of
“bones crushed / under the menace of boots”, of “curfew, emergency”, “riots on the
streets”, “blood flooded”, “butcher ”, and “knife” (Eaters 10) exemplify the political
realities of Nigerian democracy. However, the images of grave and cemetery make
their first appearance in “We give you this country”. Irony is employed in this poem
for a climactic effect.
We give you this country
Because your heart desires it
Because it is where you
Spread yourself
To defile the land
To rape the maid
To change the constitution
Even from your grave. (Eaters 12, my emphasis)
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The instruments of repression forged to enforce silence populate the “Code of silence”.
In this poem, terror seeks “the blood of / Our youths / Who dare face / The Sun” (Eaters
13), and bravery is punishable by death. Another poem, “Manifesto”, depicts the familiar
terror emblematic of “an iron rule” (Eaters 14) that threatens and obliterates freedom.
The ruler, rather than bringing a harvest of plenty to his people, promises a season of
plagues. In fact, he brings the “gift of a coffin”. Bloody images fill the following lines:
I shall bleed your head
To make you reasonable
And inject you with poisoned
Bayonet to keep you alive
I give you the flower of my love
That will lure you to death
Here is my manifesto
Written with your blood. (Eaters 15)
A hint of cannibalism is discernible in the ruler’s glee: “Welcome to the state din-
ner / As guests to be eaten” (Eaters 16). In the eponymous poem, “The eaters of the
living”, the poet uses the verb “eat” as a metaphor for the rapacity of the state. The
refrain “They eat” is used as a rhetorical device to underline the consummate greed
of politicians who consume “everything and everyone” (Eaters 28). The following
lines illustrate this rapacity:
They eat like termites
They eat like locusts
They eat like cancer cells
They eat the festering sores of the people
They eat our phlegm
They eat our corpses
They eat the skin of the poor. (Eaters 28)
The poet’s identification of his role as a politically conscious poet enables him to en-
gage with issues that excoriate as well as indict the necropolitical state. Poems such
as “The mirror” and “The spectators” reiterate the images of blood. In “Dialogue”,
specifically, we are told that the ruler “celebrates / with the champagne of blood”
(Eaters 39). Dark images pulsate in “The concert of cannibals” and “Your excellency”.
In the former, the land is described as “where corpses sprouted / into gravestones
of memorial poetry”, whereas the latter tells of vultures hovering “over the carcass
/ of the nation” (Eaters 56, 59). The use of animal imagery is a motif in Okpanachi’s
poetry, and this clearly inflates the viciousness of the state. The conflation of the
politicians with beasts is to deny them subjectivities and sensibilities, thereby pre-
senting them as predatory. Politicians are therefore “a pack of wolves” that “trade /
with our blood” (Eaters 67).
There are sparse representations of the funereal in From the Margins of Paradise.
Notwithstanding, the theme of death remains evident in “Love me and leave me”,
a satirical poem chronicling the ruler’s “brutal rituals of love”:
Love me your own way
Tie me to the stake
To celebrate my free will
Give me the liberty that is a chain
And spell my freedom
In the colour of death
Hate me to love me
Torture me to love me more
Burn me to cherish me
Kill me to give life. (Margins 29)
The vile triumphalism of the political cabal finds accent in “Children of the night” in
the collection From the Margins of Paradise. Members of this class boast:
We murder in the name of democracy
We plunder in the name of austerity
We massacre in the name of security
We maim in the name of justice
We pillage the land
Until you become paupers
We are the predators
You forever remain preys
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We are the bloodsuckers
The vampires of the new nation. (Margins 56)
Images of graves, corpses, and cemetery in this collection appear for the first time
in “When they die”. It is a poem about the pomp that occasions the funerals of
politicians. Grave is mentioned four times, caskets, and coffins twice, and cemetery
once, all pointing out the fact that the ruler himself cannot escape death even
when flown “on a private jet / in a million caskets of delight” (Margins 58). The
image of death is pronounced in “The legion of cain,” as it describes how politi-
cians tend to “toy with life / to remain immortal” (Margins 62). Though the biblical
reference—the story of Cain and Abel—is not developed, killing is implied in the
stanza below:
They write the laws
With golden edges of the sword
In the blood of the innocent
Across the throne
Here the gallows are tall
Here the play of the dead
Has a silent audience
Here your rights die before you. (Margins 62)
The image of the vampire is recognisable in “A dirty tea party”, though more horrid
images are presented subsequently:
Slabs for the unborn
A headstone for the foetus
We vote in the ballot of graves
In democracy of coffins
And bury people in shrouds
Of ballot papers with their legs
Jutting out of the graves. (Margins 104)
Not even babies and the unborn are exempted from the brutality of the state and
its repressive apparatuses, and so Okpanachi’s poetry provides us with a lens, even
if darkly, through which to interrogate the ways in which death has structured the
post-military reality of many Nigerians. For the poet, democracy has only created a
condition in which politics has become the work of death (see Mbembe 16).
Music of the Dead opens with A Long Silence”, a prose poem which presents in
dense rhythm a montage of uncanny scenes of “an age stranger than time and cha-
meleon” (Music 1). In this strange age, the news of people dying is common, but the
causes of their deaths might seem ludicrous were it not strange. For instance, “the
common news” in this prose poem is that “somebody dies from sneezing, another
one from seconds of coughing, one from being shot several times by an invisible bard
of death, yet another from laughter and one after a feather carried by the breeze hit
him” (Music 12).
Due to the commonness of death in the land, the poet bemoans the fact that “the
graveyards are full; the country is a cemetery in the hands of the dead” (Music 2).
The bard of death, personified by the ruler, and the shepherds his minions, have
ushered in an age where it is “so easy to die” (2). Aside from the plethora of horrific
imagery, the poet further uses words signifying death such as “extinction”, “drown-
ing”, “killing”, and “immolation”. The poem prefaces the kind of imagery one will
mainly come across in the collection—imagery denoting various acts of dying.
Democracy of Cemetery” tells of a child who dies “[f]rom gunshot wounds/from
the bullet(ing)” of the “local council dog” (Music 4). Its use of the funerary imagery
of “blood”, “shroud,” “grave”, “pall”, and “undertaker” restates the commonness of
death in the body politic, as foreshadowed in the opening poem. The sequence of
poems in “Dogs and Angels 1-111” narrate the manifestations of brutality orches-
trated by the ruler and his “butchers” and “dogs” (Music 10–1). Death is evoked in
the poem, but more striking is the poet’s appropriation of a biblical narrative to
amplify tragic experiences:
A male child must perish
Rivers must run blood
Vermin must take over the land
So Pharaoh must be born
Pharaoh must be born again
To extinguish rights and mind
To beatify people with blood
On gallows of love. (Music 9–10)
The above poem references the plagues of Egypt, ten calamities that occurred during
the reign of Pharaoh. Here, a similar tyrant is born anew, his reign no less brutal than
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his biblical counterpart. The poet tells us that the tyrant is known to “spill rose blood
as souvenir / to the land of cemetery” (Music 11). The country, though depicted as a
cemetery, becomes the “treasured garden” of the new Pharaoh who, rather ironically,
chooses to sequester himself in the Rock, fenced in by “graves becoming hedges”
(Music 12). The Rock here operates as a synecdoche for Aso Rock, the presidential villa
in Nigeria, where the ruler deems himself safe from the “reach of death” (Music 12).
Death is implied in “The Forerunner”, a poem portraying the ruler ’s perversity
as he turns the world on its head and leaves behind a trail of death (Music 18). The
ruler’s perversity is further elaborated in “Scoundrels”, and we find that the ruler
has inaugurated a “new game of war”, in which he is wont to “put babies on death
row” (20–1). In the rule of scoundrels, not even babies and children are spared
from terror and violence. The image of death recurs in “Spider”, and again terror is
evoked in the aliases by which the ruler is addressed: “the mastercraft of fear ”, the
“sorcerer […] [who] pulps people / to disinfect his hands with [their] blood” (Music
22, 23). The image of the sorcerer-ruler “turn[ing] children to jerboas / hunted by
snakes” (Music 22) is ghastly (jerboas are hopping desert rodents found predominantly
in northern Africa). Grisly images teem in “The Sharks”, a poem that opens with
“Crows have inherited / the blood of children” (Music 26). The poem forewarns of
danger that both children and the unborn face. The political class is represented as
the “undertakers of power” that presides over the “democratic coffins” and voting
is tangentially described as “to drown” in “the high seas” (Music 26, 27), after the
following grisly image:
We have dug 150 million graves
For people to vote with their bodies
Submitting to the undertakers of power. (Music 26)
The theme of death finds some resonance in “Black Flower”, a poem which recounts
the “seasons of massacre” orchestrated by the political cabal who has “death written
on their tongues” (Music 28). In the seasons of massacre, the undertakers of power
are found to be “play[ing] solitaire with corpses” (Music 28–9). A desolate city is
portrayed in “Without a Name” where “human faces hanging / Upside down sprout
everywhere” (Music 30). This poem echoes T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Journey of the
Magi”, and the city where the Magi visit typifies what Mbembe calls death-worlds, a
kind of “social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life
conferring upon them the status of living dead” (Mbembe 40). In this city, “blood rains
from the sky”, “vultures feast on carcasses”, and “children drink / spices of hemlock”
(Music 30–1). There is indeed no innocence, no beauty, no redemption, but depravity,
ugliness, devastation—and of course death in this necropolis. A biblical reference is
also utilised to nuance its narrative depth: “The star of the Magi trails blood / Splashed
across the sky” (Music 30). What is recounted in “Without a Name” is something
mournful: death, not birth, is presaged by the star of the Magi. Moreover, the bibli-
cal Magi are heralds of good news, but in the poem, they are harbingers of death,
seeking not a new-born king but “a mangled messiah” (Music 30). The penultimate
line consolidates on the funerary: “Hearses carry casks of musk / To the graveyards
for the predators / Who nail roses on the Cross” (Music 31).
Emmanuel Obiechina contends that the poet must “become the sensitive needle
that probes and locates our emotional traumas, our anxieties, elations and fears, no
less than our hopes and aspirations” (211). There is no artistic creed that demands
that every poet be involved in social activism or political revolution, although there
is something remarkably altruistic and noble about a poet choosing to identify
with the collective struggle of the people against authoritarian forces. Okpanachi
employs his art to decry statist hegemonic systems authorising death. He explores
one of such systems in “The Constitution”. The constitution referred here is not
the supreme document encapsulating the people’s hopes and aspirations, but the
type that “will write the codes / of pains” and “punish with laws written by swords”
(Music 68). It is constructed to inflict more hardship on the already impoverished
people, while herding them closer to their death. It also ensures that anyone who
defies its stipulations will have “their faces marked with red-hot iron” (Music 68).
This fiery image referenced in the opening poem alludes to the branding of people’s
faces (with the mark of the beast, perhaps) during the reign of the biblical antichrist.
We can make out the sense of glee exhibited by the makers of this constitution in
“The Hawkers of Blood”. As the heirs of the “primitive gods of war”, they celebrate
death and declare that
Mass murder is our carnival
Death sits between our eyes seeing
The world through the lens of war. (Music 77)
The scenes recreated here recall the devastation in certain parts of Nigeria master-
minded by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram. Their attacks have resulted
in the deaths of thousands of citizens. The briefest poem in the entire collection is
“The News”, and it enumerates various representations of dying such as “Maiming
/ Massacre (mass acre) / Murder / Mangle / Mutilate” (Music 78). Gog and Magog are
identified in the Bible as two nations that will wage an apocalyptic battle against the
children of Israel. As a result, there will be a slaughter so great it would take months to
have all the dead buried completely. The poet only appropriates these biblical names
but not the narrative in titling his poem, “The Gog and Magog”. Although the poet
barely hints at war, he peppers the poem with a few dark images. The politicians are
described as murderous, their “paunches are / the mass graves of the people” and
they “play ninepins with human heads” (Music 80–1).
Irony and satire are strong features of Okpanachi’s poems, and he employs them
144 TYDSKRIF VIR LETTERKUNDE • 55 (2) • 2018
effectively in “You the People’s Choice”, a poem satirizing the ruler as Pharaoh.
Intolerant of opposition, his reign marks “the season of madness”. We learn that he
“Lick[s] their blood off [his] fingers / And eat[s] their flesh as right” (Music 85). It is
not only the state that the poet criticises, for he also charges against everyone who is
complicit in the dehumanisation of the citizenry. He calls them the “new butchers”
in “My Father’s House”, a poetic parody of Our Lord’s Prayer or the Pater Noster, one
of the most-widely spoken prayers in the world. In this poem, the poet implicates
the “professional murderers” before God:
The judge who miscarries justice
The hangman who unfurls the noose
The tailor who sews the shroud
The butcher who stitches the flesh
The list runs on:
The carpenter who makes the coffins
The undertaker who closes the graves
The executioners of mourners of the beloved
The priest who lies against God
The poet whose tears are the streams of treason. (Music 92)
The atrocities of these butchers are set in relief in “King of Cemetery”. The poem’s
depiction of events may well be the most bizarre in the collection, for we are told
that the butchers “rape the dead in their graves”, while ensuring that those “they
bury alive” do not leave the cemetery (Music 96).
Charles Nnolim argues that the postcolonial writer must take a stand for or against
power, for she cannot afford to stand by and watch her land consumed by forces of
misrule (223). In his poetry, Okpanachi fulfills what Breyten Breytenbach expects of the
writer that he be the questioner, the implacable critic, and the exponent of the aspirations
of the people (166). Okpanachi, in an interview I conducted with him in 2014, declared
that “Poetry is a veritable voice of dissent against anything that works against human
rights, freedom and humanity” (n. p.). This underwrites and sums up his pact with
society, his artistic vision. His fascination with funereal imagery is not that he delights
in the horrific, but that he is attempting to expose the spectrality of death and to focus
the reader’s attention on the morbidity of postcolonial experiences. He denounces
unbridled pursuit of power and its abuse, while revealing that although the nation is
no longer brutalised by military junta, it nonetheless remains in a stranglehold.
Taken together, Musa Idris Okpanachi’s The Eaters of the Living, From the Margins of
Paradise, and Music of the Dead signal the extent to which Nigeria has foundered in its
democratic journey. His opus offers us a way to reflect on questions of mortality and
citizenship in a world haunted by death. Death has become so banal that precarity
marks the life of citizens. The citizens of this macabre postcolonial world may have
only succeeded in replacing one set of death-merchants with another, since the
civilian government seems even more deadly and exploitative than the military was.
It is the proclivities of the political class to despoil and destroy rather than nurture
and salvage that Okpanachi has captured rather too trenchantly, even if grimly. This
class is therefore portrayed as non-humans, a metaphor that is typically associated
with African tyrants. By employing images both dark and haunting in his poetry, the
poet intends to alert the people against the danger of inertia, lest they be left with “a
country of cemetery.” Okpanachi’s tones may be ironic, insistent, and cynical—but
underneath all of this is the poet’s unstinting commitment to the democratic struggle
of the postcolony.
I would like to acknowledge the insightful comments of the anonymous reviewers.
I am furthermore grateful to Professors Onyemaechi Udumukwu, Lahoucine
Ouzgane, Albert Braz, Isidore Diala, Nduka Otiono, Egya Sule, and my friend
Abubakar S. Abdulkadir for encouragement.
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The paradigmatic antagonistic relationship between the Nigerian poet and the despot in his guise as a military ruler has often been examined in terms of a hegemonic contestation of power between unequal rivals. The military state’s typical response to the poet’s “truth” with the display of excessive might, often involving the emblematic battering of the poet’s tongue by the imposition of silence even in its eternal form of death, entrenches the notion of a powerful antagonist pitted against a weak opponent who nonetheless incarnates the spirit of the masses. A close reading of anti-military Nigerian poetry, however, underscores that the situation was replete with paradoxes: the inability of power to ignore apparent powerlessness; the ultimate triumph of powerlessness over power; and the fascinating replication in the counter-discourse of the (discursive) strategies of the dominant hegemony it battles against. This study highlights these trends in contemporary Nigerian poetry inspired by military despotism by paying particular attention to the work of the “third generation” of Nigerian poets.
Full-text available
Recent Nigerian poetry in English seems to concern itself with the most pressing socio-political condition in Nigeria, especially the prolonged military despotism in the past decades whose consequences are still felt in the society. One of the strategies the poets use to dramatise and historicise the situation is the dialogic approach. Their poetry reveals a dialogue between the poet and the people, and between the poet and the despot. The poem that emerges from this act of dialoguing, it will be seen, is conditioned by how the poet perceives the personae with whom he dialogues, i.e. the dialogue between the poet and the people and the dialogue between the poet and the despot differ. The poem is also polyphonic, able to depict to a greater degree the social contradiction in an oppressed society. Using selected poems of younger Nigerian poets, I intend to show the process - and the possible effects - of this dialogisation in recent Nigerian poetry.
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In spite of the fact that about thirty years of military rule impacted negatively on various spheres of Nigerian life, this essay argues that it also served as a catalyst for the growth of Nigerian poetry. It contests the critical standpoint that exclusively identifies socially sensitive poetry in Nigeria in the closing decades of the twentieth century with a particular 'generation' of poets and situates the phenomenal growth of Nigerian poetry within this period - which also coincides with the military era - within the flowering of a vibrant civil society and activist writing. It maintains that more poets and tendencies than have been associated with the experience contributed to its making and suggests that this tradition constitutes a major component of the corpus of Nigerian poetry of English expression. In reappraising the growth of Nigerian poetry in the last three decades of the twentieth century, this paper argues that writing against dictatorship - the defining character of this tradition - has enriched Nigerian poetry in more ways than critics have suggested. It correlates developments within the political sphere with corresponding responses in the Nigerian poetic imagination to define the unique character of this major phase in the development of Nigerian poetry.
This essay analyses recent poetry in Nigeria, especially poetry produced after 1988, the year in which the anthology Voices from the Fringe, edited by Harry Garuba, announced the emergence of a new generation of Nigerian poets. One of the peculiarities of this poetry is its formation and deployment of animal images, specifically the use of ugly, destructive, carnivorous animals as metaphors in the construction of an oppressor-figure. The poetry is linked to its immediate environment and the oppressor-figure is frequently seen to emblematize the irrational, anti-human, cruel military dictators that oppressed Nigeria in the 1980s and 1990s. Concentrating on selected representative poems, the essay identifies and analyses this use of bestial imagery, concluding that poetry has been a form of cultural production that has played a part in dethroning military oppression in Nigeria.
Modality as a Discourse Strategy in New Nigerian Poetry
  • Romanus Aboh
Aboh, Romanus. "Modality as a Discourse Strategy in New Nigerian Poetry." Journal of Nigerian Studies vol. 1, no. 2, 2012, pp. 1-18.
The Trouble with Nigeria. Heinemann Educational, 1983. Breytenbach, Breyten
  • Chinua Achebe
Achebe, Chinua. The Trouble with Nigeria. Heinemann Educational, 1983. Breytenbach, Breyten. "The Writer and Responsibility," African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory. Eds. Tejunola Olaniyan and Ato Quayson. Blackwell, 2007, pp. 165-71.
"Uche Peter Umez interviews Poet Musa Idris Okpanachi
  • Musa Okpanachi
  • Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike