Content Analysis of Gbemisola Adeoti’s “New minimum wage”

“New minimum wage” by Gbemisola Adeoti is a scathing critique of Nigeria's minimum wage issue and the broader problem of economic inequality.

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Protest against poor minimum wage.
A woman protesting against poor minimum wage. Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash
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New minimum wage” by Gbemisola Adeoti is a scathing critique of Nigeria’s minimum wage issue and the broader problem of economic inequality. It demonstrates how the working class’s modest demands for basic sustenance are met with patronising responses from the ruling class, while the gap between workers’ and politicians’ salaries remains vast. Adeoti’s poem pits the meager earnings of workers against the lavish compensation of politicians and the elite.

For as long as one can remember, Nigerian workers have been advocating for a living wage that reflects the country’s economic reality. However, they are offered a minimum wage that is not only inadequate but also perpetuates the exploitation of workers.

Nigeria has faced challenges in setting a fair minimum wage, with workers demanding a higher wage to combat the effects of inflation, corruption, and economic hardship. “New minimum wage” thus reflects this ongoing struggle and the frustration with the government’s response.

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Analysis of “New minimum wage”

“New minimum wage” is a poem of three stanzas with a total of 19 lines.

Stanza 1 (Lines 1-5)

Stanza 1 of the poem begins with an irony. It paints a portrait of a “fairy land,” otherwise blessed, which is actually a place of scarcity (“dearth”) that affects only the masses (“teeming folks”). This land has abundance of resources and wealth that can go round, but it appears the “mouldy milk” only flows in “few throats.” The wealth is concentrated among a small number of people.

The poet thus describes a fantastical land where the majority live in penury while the minority live in opulence. We are introduced to a society where there is economic inequality.

Gbemisola Adeoti
Gbemisola Adeoti

Stanza 2 (Lines 6-17)

The poem continues with its tale of a fairy land where a few people flaunt around with the nation’s wealth while the majority live in abject poverty. This stanza introduces us to the major actors in this economic struggle: the “thundering bellies” and “benign king” who represent workers, who find it hard to live from hand to mouth, and the government respectively.

The hungry workers demand a meager increase in their wages. They are asking for very little – just “crumbs of porridge” and a “pint of lemonade.” Their needs are modest, yet even these are not being met. The government,  symbolised by “the benign king,” instead wants the workers to work more on their “thundering bellies” for them to have an increase in their pittances. He insists that the “growers” and “millers” must weed “the palm tree field” to “be fed/and well fed.” What the government is inherently saying is that the workers are undeserving of a pay rise; the living wage they’ve always clamoured for. The ruling class believes workers should work harder to access the nation’s wealth.

The poet is evidently satiric in his description of the king as “benign,” as he is far from being kind when he cannot give his workers a living wage in view of the harsh economic realities. He embodies the inhumaneness of those in power.

Stanza 3 (Lines 18-19)

The final two lines of the poem sarcastically announce a new minimum wage. However, instead of celebration, it’s met with an “age-long dirge.” Again, the new minimum wage is inadequate and merely continues the long-standing pattern of worker exploitation and poverty.

Themes in “New minimum wage”

The poem is a delight to read. For me, apart from “Ambush,” it is one of my favourite poems from Gbemisola Adeoti. As short as the poem is, it captures the working realities in Nigeria. “New minimum wage,” for one, addresses the issue of economic inequality. It depicts the vast disparity between the wealthy few and the struggling masses in Nigerian society. While at it, the poem also criticizes how workers are expected to toil endlessly for minimal compensation, as seen in the king’s response about weeding the palm tree field.

Another focal point in the poem is its portrayal of the government’s indifference to the plight of the general populace. The ruling class is disconnected from the realities of the common people. They, like the giraffe in Niyi Osundare’s “The Leader and the Led” who eyes are too far from the ground, are far-removed from the plight of the masses.

Figures of Speech

Irony

Irony is evident in the first line of the poem where the poet uses “fairy land” to describe a place of scarcity and struggle. It also manifests in the term “benign king” (l. 11), which is used for a ruler who is indifferent to the people’s suffering.

Metaphor

Thundering bellies” (l. 7)
“Palm tree field” (l. 16)

Symbolism

“Mouldy milk” symbolizes wealth that’s concentrated among few, perhaps Nigeria’s crude oil, and by extension, her other natural resources. “Growers” and “millers” represent the working class.

Alliteration

Mouldy milk” (l. 4)
“flow in few throats” (l. 5)
“Growers must grub” (l. 12)
“Millers must munch” (l. 13)

Personification

(lines 2-3)
“where dearth haunts
the teeming folks,”

Hyperbole

“Thundering bellies” (l. 7) exaggerates to emphasize the intensity of hunger.

Euphemism

“Crumbs of porridge” (l. 8) and “pint of lemonade” (l. 9) understate the basic needs of workers.

Assonance

Repetition of the ‘ee’ sound in “need to weed” (l. 17).

Oxymoron

“Benign king” (l. 11) could be seen as contradictory given the king’s unsympathetic response.

Allusion

“Once upon an age” (l. 6) alludes to fairy tale openings. It is used to reinforce the ironic “fairy land” setting.

Synecdoche

“Throats” (l. 5) and “bellies” (l. 7) are used to represent people (the part representing the whole).

Repetition

“Fed” (l. 14) and “well fed” (l. 15) are used for emphasis.

Tone and Mood

The tone of the poem is critical and satirical. The poet is clearly criticizing the economic system and the government’s approach to the minimum wage issue.

The mood of the poem is disheartening and bitter. The portrayal of widespread poverty and the inadequacy of the new minimum wage creates a sense of disappointment and frustration. The stark contrast between the suffering of many and the indifference of the ruling class evokes a feeling of bitterness.

Further Reading:

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