In his acceptance speech as the Silverbird Man of the Year at the 2016 Silverbird Awards Presentation, Senator Dino Melaye said some words of huge significance fifteen minutes into his speech presentation.
Melaye said, “In an unjust society, silence is a crime.”
He has since used the exact words severally in less pleasant circumstances and on very controversial issues. While for Dino, this statement may have become some sort of overflogged cliché he uses every time he feels his rights and interests are threatened, these words, however, have never lost their meaningful essence and semantic importance. It is why I begin this analysis with the anecdote since it captures just about every message Niyi Osundare seems to pass in his poem, “Not My Business.”
“Not My Business” is a poem of twenty-six lines patterned into eight stanzas. The poem touches on the indifference to the instrumentality of oppression and tyranny on the basis of not being affected.
The poem goes on to prove that oppression and tyranny should be of everyone’s concerns as no one is spared of their debilitating effects in the long run.
“Not My Business” was written in criticism of tyrannical regimes in Nigeria, particularly Abacha’s tyrannical rule, where anyone who speaks against the dictator and his policies was tagged an enemy of the state. The person would then be arrested and meted out punishment as deemed fit by the dictator and his cronies.
The Ogoni Nine are good examples of Nigerians whose lives were snuffed out by the dictatorial regime.
“Not My Business” therefore echoes the position that in an unjust society, silence is not a option but a sign of weakness that eggs on the perpetuation of the injustice.
In the poem, the poetic persona watches as soldiers, as the oppressive machinery of the state, brutally suppress the political dissent of his countrymen without doing anything as little as raising a finger in objection to the inhumane tyrannical rule.
What the poetic persona cares for instead is his means of sustenance symbolised by “the yam.” He is indifferent to the plight of his countrymen on the account that his sustenance is not in any way threatened.
But it isn’t long before they come for him too.
The poet’s choice of names (Akanni, Danladi, and Chinwe) shows that the oppression is not selective. It cuts across ethnicities and genders. “Akanni” is a Yoruba name; “Danladi” is of the Hausa extraction; and “Chinwe” is an Igbo name. This shows that in any oppressive system, everyone is receptive to the brutalities of oppression and suppression. It is only a matter of time before the wheel of time catches up with the people who at first may seem to be the sacred cows.
The first stanza of the poem (lines 1-4) narrates how the soldiers come for Akanni, a Yoruba man, one morning. “They … beat him soft like clay.” The soldiers take him away for further maltreatment. This stanza paints a picture of the brutalities and flagrant abuses of human rights rife under the military regime.
The second stanza (lines 5-7) shows the reaction of the poetic persona to the brutality of the soldiers against Akanni. The poetic persona rhetorically excuses the incidence as not his business since “they don’t take the yam” from his “savouring mouth.” In other words, the actions of the soldiers do not interest him since they do not deprive and deny him of his sustenance.
Again in stanza three (lines 8-11), the poet throws up the visual image of Danladi “dragged out” by the soldiers “to a lengthy absence” after they have “booted the whole house awake.” This again shows the brutal attempt to silence the citizenry by arresting people with dissenting voices. They keep them in detentions without trial or even worse, try them in kangaroo courts where they stand no chance of fair hearing.
The “lengthy absence” may of course be likened to the self-induced disappearance (SID) in Ngūgī wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow. It is a comic term for when the state simply disappears its citizens whose positions on issues conflict with those of whoever wields the authority of the state. The tyranny of soldiers and the oppression of citizens as expressed in “Not My Business” is obviously not peculiar to Nigeria alone.
That the soldiers “booted the whole house awake” shows that no one is excluded of the oppressive machinery of the state. The poetic persona just chooses not to acknowledge this.
The fourth stanza (lines 12-14) is a refrain of the second stanza. It reiterates the poetic persona’s indifferent stance. He is not bothered by the arrest of Danladi as it doesn’t trouble his peace and put a halt to his sustenance. It is clear that the poetic persona puts himself and his interests ahead of the welfare of others. This justifies why he is not bothered when everyone around him is falling into the cesspit of oppression and suppression by the state.
In the fifth stanza (lines 15-18), a Nigerian of Igbo extraction, is sacked at her workplace despite her “stainless record” without any “query, warning, or probe.” In the manner of the other two victims of military dictatorship, her job loss may not be unconnected with her criticism of some government policies.
Her “neat sack” demonstrates the destructive power of the military regime. The tyrant at the helm of affairs does not only torture, maim, imprison, and kill the citizens but also deprive them of their livelihood for no good reason.
The sixth stanza (lines 19-21) is yet another refrain and it shows that the poetic persona does not give the least worry to the oppression around him in so far his daily meal is guaranteed.
However, it is not long before the cup of injustice is filled, overflowing to the doorstep of the poetic persona. The next stanza captures this.
In the seventh stanza (lines 22-24), the mechanism of oppression the poetic persona has chosen to turn a blind eye to finally catches up with him. He is in his monotonous routine of wanting to “eat my yam” with “my hungry hand” when he freezes with “a knock on the door.”
The next stanza (lines 25-26) confirms his suspicions that the military oppressors have come for his head too in their normal routine.
“Not My Business” demonstrates to us that when there is an issue of oppression and the likes, we shouldn’t because it doesn’t affect us now and keep mum about it. This position resonates with the Yoruba saying, “the death that kills one’s neighbour is proverbial of the eventuality of one’s death.” In other words, what happens to one’s neighbour, if not addressed, will eventually happen to one too.
Figures of Speech
“Beat him soft like clay” (l. 2)
“Booted the whole house awake” (l. 9)
“What business of mine is it/so long they don’t take yam/From my savouring mouth?” (l. 5-7; 12-14; 19-21)
“What business of mine is it
so long they don’t take yam
From my savouring mouth?”
(l. 5-7; 12-14; 19-21)
“the belly/Of a waiting jeep” (l. 3-4)
“my hungry hand” (l. 24)
“my bewildered lawn” (l. 25)
“a waiting jeep” (l. 4) and the jeep (l. 25) are symbols of the suppressive mechanism of the military government. “the yam” is a symbol of the poetic persona’s sustenance.