Poetic trip through forest of Nigerian history

In his new collection of poems titled Scented Offal, columnist and writer, Sam Omatseye, x-rays Nigeria’s political history, AKEEM LASISI reports

If Nigerian history and politics are a booty, the muse of columnist and creative writer, Sam Omatseye, can hardly get tired of feasting on it. He seems particularly drawn to the contradictions that define the country’s past – the type that have continued to heat the polity and make fundamental progress a wild dream.

About two years ago, Omatseye released a novel on the Nigerian Civil War, titled My Name is Okoro. The book is another account of the strife, from the perspective of the minority group. While the novel is still trying to consolidate itself in the market, Omatseye has published a collection of poems, titled Scented Offal, a long poetic journey through the forest of Nigerian existence. Compared to Omatseye’s earlier volumes of poetry, Scented Offal is unique in style, in the sense that it is a one-poem collection.

In the ‘Author’s Note’, the writer says the idea of the poem came in the course of writing My Name is Okoro. “It came as droplets,” he notes. “Before I realised it, the floodgates opened. I was hoping to write a poem of a page or two, but I had in my hands a long, tempestuous tale of my fatherland.

Scented Offal is my own way of coming to terms with the many-sided grind of Nigerian history, especially since the 19th century. A century of tribes and fights and harmonies unrealised in a rage of battles among brothers who would not confess to any sort of kinship. And when they confessed to it, it was  hard not to hear a party snigger. The grudge and concord roared over a century and a half covered in this volume.”

Because Scented Offal is a verse of history, the poet is considerably truthful in the account he gives. He starts with pre-colonial Nigeria, through to the Independence period and the struggles that have continued to charactise the country’s existence. The collection is neither fiction nor faction. Historians are thus likely to agree with Omatseye on the sequence of events. Where he brandishes poetic licence is in the analysis of the happenings and the judgment he passes on some of the actors. For instance, he poetically reviews the roles played by politicians such as Herbert Macaulay, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello.

The poet is piqued that pre-Nigeria people were far from being saints when it comes to tribal wars: We are born from / The snap and flare of conflict/ In blood were our bones stirred/ In blood shed and shared/ We fought for land and bribes/ Fierce and fuzzy like prides of lions/ We cowed kings of fellow kinsmen we named foes

The poet believes that one of the fundamental problems with the nationhood borders on the way it was formed by the colonialists: No one named it/ Nor carved it/ They did not even own it/ Its fruits were/ Nourished in foreign ether/ White hosting guns with god.

While recalling incidents of military coups, violence of the ‘Wild Wild West’, the poet dwells intensely on the Nigerian Civil War, where, although he is not promoting warfare, he highlights Biafran gallantry and legacies of the war, in spite of the fact that the Igbo side was eventually subdued.  He writes about them.

Scented Offal is a well-produced volume, lean enough to be devoured within an hour or two. The poet’s use of language is friendly and Omatseye’s usual deployment of anecdotes will sustain the reader’s interest in the narration. Some people are likely to take him on on some of his commentaries – especially the way he x-rays the founding fathers of Nigerian politics. But that is actually the beauty of creative writing: to provoke  different interpretations and judgments.

But for a word like duelled, which could have been better spelt in the British English – duelledScented Offal is well proofread.

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Contact: editor@punchng.com


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