The land is a giant whale
that swallows the sinker,
with hook, line and bait
aborting dreams of a good catch
fishers turn home at dusk
blue peter on empty ships
all Peters with petered out desires.
The land is a sabre-toothed tiger
that cries deep in the glade
while infants shudder home
the grizzled ones snatch their gut
from bayonets of tribulation
halting venturous walk at dusk
The land is a giant hawk
that courts unceasing disaster
as it hovers and hoots in space.
The land lies patiently ahead
awaiting in ambush
those who point away from a direction
where nothing happens
towards the shore of possibilities.
— Gbemisola Adeoti
SOURCE: Naked Soles by Gbemisola Adeoti
Gbemisola Adeoti’s Ambush is a symbol-padded reflection of the precarious and frustrating situation of the poet’s home country, Nigeria. The poem dwells on the socio-politico-economic imbalance of a country like Nigeria.
Using the word “giant” more than once, the poet alludes to Nigeria whose sobriquet is “giant of Africa” but has failed to live up to that title. Gbemisola Adeoti, through his meticulous choice of diction, criticises the way the country is run, its forerunners and how they collectively stifle industrious Nigerians of survival; that now, they have to leave for foreign lands where Nigeria’s bad image precedes them.
Divided into four stanzas, the first lines of the first three stanzas signal the use of structural parallelism; a signification that the problems identified in each of these stanzas are of equal importance in how they affect the common Nigerians.
In the first stanza of the poem, the poet throws up the picture of the land as “a giant whale”, a sort of hindrance to the economic survival of striving Nigerians. This manifests in ways of irregular electricity, unpliable roads, inflation, etc that make it almost impossible for an upstart to keep his neck above water. The oppressive land in this context is constituted by a government that cares for its pocket rather than the people’s welfare, businessmen who profit from the dysfunction of the system and would rather maintain the status quo even if it meant quashing the common man’s “dreams of a good catch”.
In the second stanza, Adeoti paints the oppressive power of the state when he compared “the land” with “sabre-toothed tiger” that halts “venturous walk at dusk”. Here, the poet reminds us of the ferociousness of the tiger and the destructive power of its sharp pangs. By implication, the security agencies, used as the machinery of the state’s oppression, are referenced to. They are manipulated by the ruling class to turn their instruments of protection into instruments of violence on dutiful citizens whose only offence is demanding better living conditions. The security agencies rather than protect the citizenry have only managed to drive home fear into the citizenry: “infants shudder home/the grizzled ones snatch their gut/from bayonets of tribulation”.
The third stanza demonstrates the sharp practices prevalent in every stratum of the Nigerian society. Of course, it points to how corruption has become a commonplace in the country; one that has painted Nigeria a bad image in the comity of nations. Another interpretation could be that of the relationship between a “hawk”, a bird of prey, and chicks, the preys. This analogy fits in when describing the relationship that exists between the Nigerian government and its citizens.
The last stanza reinforces the ubiquity of “the land”. Even when one manages to flee the country, the Nigerian factor precedes one. Its “waiting in ambush” shows the almost impossible act of cleaning oneself of the country and all it represents. The poet for once acknowledges that Nigeria is a place “where nothing happens” from which people flee to “the shore of possibilities”.
Can’t imagine that after more than six decades of independence, we still blame our stagnancy on British colonialism and tribal differences for want of better argument. Where else in the world does a sixty-one-year old crawl and whine? It beggars my imagination. Gbemisola Adeoti’s Ambush is one of the very few good poems I have read that aptly portrays Nigeria for what it is.